Om -- The Secret of Ahbor Valley by Talbot Mundy

I have conversed with many Priests; and some were honest men, and some were not, but three things none of them could answer: if their God is all-wise, what does it matter if men are foolish? And if they can imagine and define their God, must he not be smaller than their own imaginations? Furthermore, if their God is omnipotent, why does he need priests and ritual?


Chapter XXIX


"I am a Ringding, of the order of Gelong Lamas. That is neither a high rank nor a low one; but high enough to provide the outer forms of dignity, and low enough to avoid the snares of pride. I have ever found contentment in the Middle Way. I was born in Lhassa," Tsiang Samdup began, and then paused and got down on the rug, where he could sit cross-legged and be comfortable. Diana went and laid her great head on his knee.

"Just a minute," said Ommony. "How old are you?"

But Tsiang Samdup smiled. "My son," he answered, "we live as long as we are useful, and as long as it is good for us to live. Thereafter we die, which is another form of living, even as ice and water and rain and dew are the same thing in different aspects. When the appointed time comes, we return, as the rain returns, to the earth it has left for a season. As I told you, I was born in Lhassa."

He rubbed the dog's head as if he were erasing unnecessary details from the tablets of memory. Then he laid a stick of pine-wood on the fire deliberately, and watched it burn. It was several minutes before he spoke again.

"The Dalai Lama is a person who is mocked by Western thinkers. The few Europeans who have been to Lhassa have hastened to write books about him, in which they declare he is the ignorant head of a grossly superstitious religion. To which I have nothing to say, except this: that it is evident the writers of those books have been unable to expose the Dalai Lama's secrets. An army which invaded Lhassa failed to expose them with its bayonets. I, who took the highest possible degrees at Oxford and have lived in Paris, in Vienna, and in Rome -- so that I know at least something of the western culture -- regard the Dalai Lama with respect, which is different, my son, from superstitious awe. The Tashi Lama, who does not live in Lhassa, is as high above the Dalai Lama as a principle is higher than a consequence.

"There was a Tashi Lama who selected me, for reasons of his own, for certain duties. I was very young then -- conscious of the host of lower impulses and far from the self-knowledge that discriminates between the higher and the lower. To me in those days my desire was law, and I had not yet learned to desire the Middle Way, which leads between the dangers of ambition and inertia."

Tsiang Samdup paused again and stared out of the window at an eagle which soared higher and higher on motionless wings, adjusting its balance accurately to the flukes of wind.

"We learn by experience," he went on after a while. "Few of us remember former lives and those who say they do are for the most part liars, although there are some who are deceived by imagination. But the experience of former lives is in our favor -- or against us, as the case may be. Its total is what some call instinct, others intuition; but there is a right name for it, and there are those whose past experience equips them with ability to recognize that stage in others at which the higher nature begins to overwhelm the lower. They are able to assist the process. But such men are exceedingly rare, though there are hosts of fools and rogues who pretend to the gift, which comes not by desire but by experience endured in many lives.

"That Tashi Lama said to me: 'My son, it may amuse you to linger for a few lives on the lower path; for you are strong, and the senses riot in you; and it is not my duty to impose on you one course of conduct, if you prefer another. It is very difficult to rise against the will, but very easy if the will directs.' And I, because I loved him, answered I would do his bidding. But he said: 'Nay. Each man must, each minute, make his destiny. It is your own will, not mine, that directs you. Shall I fight your will, and force you to attempt the better way? Not so; because in that case you would surely fall, for which I should be responsible. But I perceive that the time has come when you may choose, and that your will is strong enough to make the choice and hold to it. You may be a benefactor or a beneficiary -- a man, aware of manhood, or a victim of the lower senses, bound to the wheel of necessity. Which shall it be?' -- And because he had discerned, and had chosen the right moment, there was a surging of the spirit in me, and as it were an awakening.

"I said to him: 'I have chosen.' And he asked me: 'Which way?' To which I answered at once: 'The higher.' Whereat he laughed; for I do not doubt that he saw the pride and the ambition that were cloaked within the answer.

"Thereafter he considered me for a long time before he spoke. And when I had waited so long that I supposed he would say no more at all, he said this: 'They who take the higher way in the beginning are consumed with arrogance; they mortify the flesh and magnify the will until there is no balance left; and when, after their period of death, they are born again, it is into a feeble body possessed by a demon will that tortures it; even as they who choose the lower way are reborn into brutal bodies with feeble wills.'

"Whereat I asked him: 'How then shall I choose between the higher and the lower, since both are evil?' And he considered me again, a long time.

"At last he said this: 'There is the Middle Way; but there are few who find it, and yet fewer who persist in it, because pride tempts one way and sloth the other.'

"And I said: 'I have chosen.' And he said: 'Speak.' And I said: 'Let it be the Middle Way.' Whereat he did not laugh, but considered me again for many minutes; and at the end of it, he said: 'My son, you have much strength. If you persist and keep the Middle Way, you have a destiny and you shall not die until you have fulfilled it. But beware of pride; and above all, seek no knowledge for your own sake.'

"At that time he said no more, but I became his chela. I washed his feet, and I swept the floor of his chamber, which, was less than this one and less comfortably furnished. He taught me many things, but mainly patience, of which I lacked more in those days than a snake lacks legs. I supposed that before his time should come to die he would prefer me to high office. But nay. On a certain day he sent for me and said: 'I shall die on the eleventh day from now, at noon. To-morrow at dawn take the road into India, and go to Delhi, to a certain house in a certain street, and there learn the tongue of the English. Thence, I having made provision for it, journey to England, to a University called Oxford; and there learn all that the University can teach -- and particularly all they think they know about philosophy and religion.'

"I said to him: 'Why?' And he said: 'I know not why; but I tell you what I know it is good for you to do. There is a destiny which, if you fail not, you shall fulfill. But beware of the Western knowledge, which is corrupt and strained through the sieve of convenience. I do not know, but it may be that you must learn the Western teachings for another's sake. Who can teach a horse unless he understands the way of horses? Who can make a sword unless he understands the qualities of steel?'

"And I said to him, 'Shall I be a swordsmith?' But he answered: 'Nay. I said you have a destiny to fulfill.' So I asked, 'When?' But he said, 'I know not. However, I know this: if you seek your own advancement, you will fail. And there is a certain condition in you that will inevitably bring you to a death by violence, because of lies that you yourself will tell; but because of your strength that may not come to pass until your work is finished.'

"So I said to him, 'How shall I know what my work is?' And he answered, 'That will appear.' But I said, 'If you, my great and very holy master, are to die, who then shall show me how to fulfill this destiny?' And he answered: 'It is for you to become fit to be the tool of destiny, and to hold yourself at all times ready. There are those from whom, at the proper time, you may receive the right advice.' So I asked: 'How shall I find them?' And he answered: 'They will find you.'

"Thereafter I besought him earnestly that I might remain with him in Lhassa until his death, because I was his chela, and that is no commonplace relationship. Its roots lie deeper than the roots of trees. But he answered: 'The first duty of a chela is obedience.' "

Tsiang Samdup, paused and stared through the open window at the sky for several minutes. Eyes and sky were so exactly the same color that it looked as if the substance of the sky had crept within him and appeared through slits amid the walnut wrinkles of his face.

"It was midwinter," he said after a while, "and no light task to cross the passes. But the route the Tashi Lama gave me was this way, through the Ahbor Valley, and I lay for a month in this monastery, recovering from frost-bite and exhaustion. And as I lay between life and death, one came to me who had a pilgrim's staff, and no outward appearance of greatness, who considered me in silence for a long while; but the silence appeared to me like the voice of the universe, full of music, yet without sound. He went away. But in three days' time, when I was already far recovered (for I was ever strong), he returned and led me to what I will show you to-night and to-morrow. And I saw myself within myself."

He paused again, and again the far-away look in his eyes searched the sky and seemed to blend with it.

"He carried me forth," he said presently, "I lying like a dead man in his arms. His voice in my ear was as a mother's speaking to a child. 'It is well,' said he. 'Now set forth on your journey, and remember. For you know now what you have to overcome, and also what is yours wherewith to overcome.'

"So after certain days I set forth, and in due time I came to Delhi, where I studied English. Thereafter I went to England."

The wrinkles moved in silent laughter, and the old eyes twinkled reminiscently as they looked into Ommony's.

"My son, that was no light experience! It was warfare, and myself the battle-field. Warfare, and loneliness. Curiosity, contempt, -- courtesy, discourtesy, indifference -- all these were shown toward me. And there were very generous men at Oxford, whose pride was racial, not intellectual, who were as patient in the teaching as the sun is patient to the growing grass -- most worthy and laughter-loving men, mistaken in much, but as sure of the reward of generosity as there is surely good will in their hearts. They did not know I was Tibetan; they believed I was Chinese, because I speak and write that language, and none knew anything about Tibet.

"I came to understand that the cycles of evolution are moving westward, and that the West is arrogant with the strength it feels within itself. I saw, my son, that the West is deceived by the glitter of results, knowing nothing of causes, and that the East is in turn deceived by the wealth and ostentation of the West -- for this is Kali Yuga [the age of darkness], when delusion and a blindness overspreads the world. I knew -- for none had better right to know -- that strength can be guided into the grooves of destiny, and that knowledge is the key. But I perceived that great harm can be done by interference. There is danger in another's duty. Also I saw that my voice, however reasonably raised, could accomplish nothing, because of the racial prejudice. The West is curious about the East, but proud -- contemptuous -- and most cruel when it most believes it is benevolent. The West sends missionaries to the East, who teach the very culture that is poisoning the life-springs of the West itself. The strength of the West and its generous impulse must be guided. Its rapacity must be restrained. But it was clear to me that I could not accomplish that, since none would listen to me. The few who pretended to listen merely sought to use my teaching for their own enrichment and advantage.

"I met a certain one in London. He appeared to be English, but that meant nothing. He had the Ancient Wisdom in his eyes. I had taken my degrees at Oxford then, and I was sitting in the Stranger's Gallery of the House of Parliament. I remember I grieved; for I saw how eager those debaters were to rule the whole world wisely -- yet how ignorant they were of the very rudiments of what could possibly enable them to do it. I said to him who was in the corner next to me: 'These men boast of what is right, and they believe their words; but they do not know what is right. Who shall save them?' And he answered, after he had considered me a while in silence: 'If you know what is right, you will attend to your own duty.'

"So I went and lived in Paris for a while, and in Vienna and in Rome, because it was my duty to learn how the West thinks, and in what way it is self-deceived. And thereafter I returned to Tibet, wondering. It did not seem to me that I was one step forward on the path of destiny. I could see (for I had walked the length of India with pilgrim's staff and begging bowl) that the West was devouring the East and the East was inert in the grip of superstition, inclined, if it should move at all, to imitate the West and to corrupt the Western energy by specious flattery, hating its conquerors, yet copying those very methods that made conquest possible.

"An unfathomable sadness overwhelmed me. It appeared to me that all my knowledge was as nothing. I doubted the stars in the sky; I said 'These, too, are a delusion of the senses. Who shall prove to me that I am not deceived in all things?' "

Tsiang Samdup paused and thought a while, stroking Diana's head.

"My son," he said presently, "it was as if the knowledge that was born within me, and all the false Western doctrine I had studied, were as waters meeting in the basin of my mind, and in the whirlpool my faith was drowning. It is ever so when truth meets untruth, but I did not know that then.

"I went to the Tashi Lama -- the successor of my teacher. He was but a child, and I was ashamed to lay my heart before him, though I laid my forehead on the mat before his throne, for the sake of the traditions and my master's memory. And to me, as I left the throne-room sadly, one of the regents, drawing me aside said: 'I have heard a destiny awaits you.' I asked: 'From whom have you heard that?' But he did not say. To him I laid bare the affliction that was eating out my heart; and to me he said: 'Good. This is a time of conquest of self by the Self; I foresee that the higher will win.' Thereafter he spoke of the folly of stirring molten metal with a wooden spoon. He bade me let my thoughts alone. And because he saw in me a pride of knowledge that was at the root of my affliction, he appointed me a temple neophite. He who was set over me had orders to impose severe tasks. I hewed wood. I carried water. I laid heavy masonry, toiling from sunrise until dark. I labored in the monastery kitchen. I dug gold on the plateau, where for nine months of every year the earth is frozen so hard that a strong man can with difficulty dig two baskets-full. By day I toiled. By night I dreamed dreams -- grand dreams full of quiet understanding -- so that to me it seemed that the night was life, and the day death. I was well contented to remain there in the gold-fields, because it seemed to me I had found my destiny; the miners were well pleased to listen to me in the intervals when we leaned on the tools and rested, and when the blizzards blew and we were herded very close together for the warmth, with the animals between us in the tents.

"But when the Tashi Lama, who succeeded him whose chela I had been, came to man's estate he sent for me. And after he had talked with me a while on many matters he promoted me. I became a Lama of the lowest rank, and yet without the ordinary duties of a Lama. I had time to study and arrange the ancient books; of which, my son, there are more than the West imagines; they are older than the West believes the world to be, and they are written in a language that extremely few can read. But I can read them.' And I learned that my dreams were realities -- although the dreams ceased in those days.

"Once, that one who had come to me when I lay sick in this place on my journey southward, came to me in Lhassa, where I was pondering the ancient books and rearranging them. And to him I said, 'Lo, I have met my destiny! I see that it is possible to translate some of these into the Western tongues.' But he answered: 'Who would believe? For this is Kali Yuga. Men think that nothing is true unless they can turn it into money and devour what they can purchase with it. If you give too much food to a starving horse, will he thrive? Or will he gorge himself to death?'

"Said I; 'Light travels fast.' Said he; 'It does. But it requires a hundred million years for the light of certain stars to reach the earth. And how long does it take for the formation of coal, that men burn in a minute? Make no haste, or they will burn thee! They have Plato and Pythagoras and Appolonius -- Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammed -- and others. Would you give them a new creed to go to war about, or a new curiosity to buy and sell for their museums? Which?'

"Thereafter the Tashi Lama sent for me, and I was given no more time to study the ancient books. But I was promoted to the rank of Gelong, and became a Ringding, whose duty was to teach the people as much as they could understand. I discovered it was not much that they could understand. They knew the meaning of desire, and of the bellyache that comes from too much eating. I found that if one man learns more than another, he is soon so filled with pride that he had better have been left in ignorance; and I also found that men will accept any doctrine that flatters their desires or excuses ignorance, but that they seek to vilify and kill whoever teaches them to discipline the senses in order that their higher nature may appear and make them wise. There is no difference in that respect, although men are fond of saying that the West is quite unlike the East. East or West they will murder any one who teaches them to think except in terms of the lower self.

"There was an outcry against me in Lhassa, and there were many Lamas who declared I should be put on trial for heresy. I was stoned in the streets; and the great dogs that devour the dead were incited to attack me. So I said: 'Lo, it may be then I have fulfilled my destiny. For he who was my teacher prophesied that there is that in me which must inevitably bring me to a violent end. Nevertheless, I have told no lies yet, that I know of.'

"But the Dalai Lama sent men -- they were soldiers -- who, under pretense of throwing me in prison, hid me in a certain place. And escaping thence by night, with one to guide me, I went on a journey of many days, to a village where none knew me, where I dwelt safely; so that I thought that my teacher had prophesied falsely, and for a while again I doubted.

"But there came to me that same one who had come when I lay sick in this place on my journey southward, and he said to me; 'Have you learned yet that the stars and the seasons keep their course and the appointed times, and that no seed grows until the earth is ready?' And I said: 'How shall I know when it is ready? And who shall tell me the appointed time?' For I was full of a great yearning to be useful. But he answered: 'Who rules the stars? Until you can control yourself, how shall you serve others?' But I was burning with desire to serve, and moreover indignant at persecution, for in those days I had very little wisdom. I was a fool who puts his face into a hornets' nest to tell the hornets of the Higher Law. And I said to him: 'I am beginning to doubt all things.' 'Nay,' said he, 'for you began that once before, and made an end of it. You are beginning now to doubt your own impetuosity, and that is good, for you will learn that power lies in patience. He who will play in the symphony awaits the exact moment before he strikes his note. You forget that the world existed many million years, and that you lived many scores of lives, before you came to this pass. Will you sow seed in midwinter because it wearies you to wait until the spring?'

"And when he had considered me again for a long while, he went away, saying that he would doubtless speak with me again, should the necessity arise. And before many days there came a message from Lhassa, saying that one was dead who had charge of this monastery in the Ahbor Valley, and that the Dalai Lama had appointed me to take his place.

"So hither I came, and was at peace. And many years, my son, I lived here studying the ancient mysteries, considering the stars, and not seldom wondering what service to the world my destiny might hold in store. I made ready. I held myself ready."

Chapter XXX


Chapter XXX


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