Om -- The Secret of Ahbor Valley by Talbot Mundy

And I have asked this of the priests, but though they answered with a multitude of words, their words were emptiness: If it is true that a priest can pacify and coax God, or by meditation can relieve another from the consequences of his own sin, why should any one be troubled and why do the priests not put an end for ever to all sin and suffering? If they can, and do not, they are criminals. If they can not, but pretend that they can, they are liars. Nevertheless, there is a middle judgment, and it seems to me that SOME of them may be mistaken.


Chapter XXX

THE LAMA'S STORY (Continued)

A monk brought food and set it on a stool between Tsiang Samdup and Ommony. They ate in silence -- the monk watching -- the Lama tossing scraps to Diana, his wrinkles rippling into a smile each time she caught a piece of meat in mid-air. Then, when the monk went away with the remnants, he resumed his story abruptly, before Ommony could start to question him.

"My son, since the beginning of the world -- and your brain can not imagine how long ago that was -- there has never been one minute when the knowledge that was in the beginning has been utterly forgotten. There have always been men who possessed and guarded the secrets; and there always will be such men. There is not a religion in the world that is not based on the tradition that such secrets do exist; there is not a philosophy that is not founded on the ancient mysteries; there is not a modern science, however perverted and material, that is not an effort to discover and to put to use some aspect of the ancient knowledge and the Higher Law.

"There is a Law of Evolution. Scientists have touched the fringe of it, and what do they tell you in consequence? That man has evolved from the worms! There is a Law of Cause and Effect, of which one infinitely tiny fraction has been dimly sensed. To what use do they put it? They brew poison-gas, with which to murder one another! There is a Law of Cycles, as the astronomers can tell you, and as financiers begin vaguely to understand. But those who think they understand it use the secret to enrich themselves -- by each enrichment of themselves afflicting others. Men dig in the ruins of Egypt and Babylon, but buy and sell the trophies and draw the absurd deduction that they know more than all the ancients did -- even as worms digging in a carcass may imagine themselves superior to the life that once used that body for a while.

"Do you begin to see, my son, why it would be unwise to reveal the ancient wisdom by more than infinitesimal fragments at a time? I heard, when I was in Delhi, that the men of the West are studying the construction of the atom, and have guessed at the force imprisoned in it. Wait until they have learned how to explode the atom, and then see what they will do to one another.

"But you will notice this, as you grow wiser. There is a fitness in things. There is a balance in the universe and an intelligence that governs it. No man can escape the consequences of his own act, though it take him a million lives to redress the balance. Justice is inevitable. Evil produces evil, and is due to ignorance. But Justice being infinite in all its ways, there is a Middle Way by which we may escape from ignorance. I, who saw the world increasing its downward impetus, while it believes itself to be progressing upward through the invention of new means for exploiting selfishness; I, who saw the ruins of Egypt, and of Babylon; of Rome and Greece; of Jerusalem; of Ceylon; of India; I, who have lived for fifty years within a stone's throw of a city ten times older than Babylon; I knew that day follows night, and I waited for the dawn, not knowing the hour. I waited.

"I knew there are those who have won merit in their former lives, whose time comes to be born again. I knew that the key to evolution is in character, not in numbers or material increase -- in the character of the soul, my son! I knew that at the right time those would begin to be born, whose character would influence the world as mine could not. And I waited, studying the Jade of Ahbor.

"For the Jade, my son, was set here in the dawn of time by men who understood how to make a mirror for the soul, even as men nowadays make mirrors that reflect stars which no eye can detect. You laugh? That is not wise! Men laughed, remember, at Galileo. They laughed at Newton. I had not thought you were one who mocks what is contrary to common superstition."

"My father," said Ommony, "you are confirming rumors I have heard on and off for twenty years. I was laughing at the men who told me I was a fool to pay any attention to such madness."

"Nor was that wise!" the Lama answered. "It is foolish either to laugh or to grieve over other men's ignorance; the hidden motive of that laughter or grief is pride, which blinds the faculties." He looked at Ommony a very long time in silence, studying him.

"It is also unwise to speak of truths to men who prefer untruths," he said at last. "They proceed to indiscretions, for which the speaker is in part responsible. But I think, my son, you see the error of that way. The Jade of Ahbor is a mirror of the human soul. Whoever looks in it beholds his lower nature first; and there are few who can look long enough to see the first gleam of their higher nature shining through the horrors that the Jade reveals. When I first looked into the Jade, he who led me to behold it carried me forth like a dead man. And I had been the chela of the Tashi Lama! I will lead you to the Jade; but will you dare to look?"

He paused, his bright old eyes observing Ommony's with that disturbing stare with which an artist studies the face of one whose portrait he is painting.

"There was a time," he went on, "when those who professed to be teachers were stood before the Jade of Ahbor, that their own characters might be revealed to them. Those who could endure the test (and they were few) might teach; and those who failed, might not. For it is character that must be taught; all else depends on it. That time will come again, but not yet. To-day, if men knew of the Jade of Ahbor they would seize upon it. They would test their rulers by it, as they try their criminals. They would overthrow whoever failed the test -- and all would fail. Thereafter intellectual men would seize power, who would destroy the stone, asserting its magic property was superstition, and that one fragment of the ancient knowledge would be lost.

"And now," he paused again, "I read temptation in your mind. You think that I, who have enabled you to reach this valley, will enable you to leave it; and that is true, you shall return to India unharmed. But you think that you, and certain other men, might use that stone discreetly. Imagination tells you that to return to the Ahbor Valley; that to occupy it by force or trickery, and so to obtain access to the stone would be a good thing, which should benefit the human race. Nay, my son, waste no words on denial, for I saw the thought!

"Therefore, I tell you this: the ancient wisdom is more wise than your imagination. They who know cause and effect can foretell consequences. Lest the evils should befall, that must inevitably follow if such an instrument were placed too soon into men's hands, the means to hide the stone, if necessary for another million years, has been placed in the hands of those who guard it. My son, men fight to the death over the Golden Rule. What would they not do with the Jade of Ahbor?

"You have heard that the Tsang-po River holds more water than the Brahmaputra, which is the same river lower down? Part of the Tsang-po pours into caverns, which have an outlet below Bengal to the sea. One man (and there are more than one who know the secret) can in one moment admit a mighty river into caverns that are now dry. Then not an army of engineers could find the Jade of Ahbor in a thousand years. -- But," he spoke very slowly, "he who had deliberately made that act necessary -- having been warned, as you are warned -- would be responsible. You can not foresee the consequences, but it may be that in a million lives you can not outlive them, because all the harm that, through you, befalls others must inevitably return to you for readjustment. It is well not to deceive yourself that this life is the last."

Ommony had sat still, lest interruption break the thread of the Lama's story. But it appeared to be broken. His own personal relation to it stirred impatience.

"How, where, when did my sister and Jack Terry die?" he asked.

"Bear with me, my son. I have a great deal to tell, and not much time in which to tell it. My hour comes soon. There is a death awaiting me, and I am nearly ready."

The Lama closed his eyes, his right hand patting Diana's head, as if he were eliminating detail and remembering the thread.

"I studied the Jade of Ahbor," he resumed after a long while. "Which is the same as to say that I studied my own failings and my own strength, using the one with which to conquer the other, so that light might flow into my mind. And many times that one came to me, of whom I spoke before -- he who first led me to the Jade. Many times I journeyed into India. Many men I spoke with. And there came Marmaduke the American to Darjiling, much wrought up about the future of the world and very angry with the Christian missionaries. And as you know, he founded the Marmaduke Mission at Tilgaun and endowed it. He wished me to be a trustee, but I refused, until that one came to me, of whom I spoke before, and said it was not good to refuse the work that destiny had given me to do. Then I accepted, although it did not appear to me then that my act was wise.

"And you and Hannah Sanburn became the other trustees. And you and I corresponded, from which it became clear to me that you are a determined man, of good faith, having courage, but possessed by indignation against those whose vision of right and wrong is shorter than your own. And in indignation there is not much wisdom; so I avoided meeting you.

"And then came Doctor Terry and your sister to this valley -- children! -- hand in hand -- as innocent as lambs -- as brave and simple as two humming-birds -- in search of me, because, forsooth, they had been told I knew the secret of the Jade of Ahbor. She far-gone with child; he dying of wounds; the Ahbors hunting them -- for the Ahbors guard this valley as cobras guard ancient rains."

"How did they get into the valley?" asked Ommony.

"None knows. Not even I, nor the Ahbors. They suffered; they had no memory, except of caverns and of being washed along an ancient conduit underground. I heard of them, because the Ahbors asked me whether it were best to crucify them living or to cut them up and throw them into the Brahmaputra. The Ahbors said they seemed such unoffending people that it might be the gods would be angry if they should put them to further pain. They also said there was a baby to be born, and it is against the Ahbors' law to slay the mother until one month after childbirth; nevertheless, it is also against their law to admit strangers and to let them live.

"Therefore I lied to the Ahbors, inventing an ancient prophecy that a saint was to be born of strangers in this valley. Thus I rescued those two innocents, there being -- as that Tashi Lama, whose chela I was, said -- a condition in me, due to faults in former lives, that, though I may fulfill a useful destiny, I must come to a violent death through lies of my own telling.

"I lied to the Ahbors, and I had to keep on lying to them. But he who lies does well, my son, who gladly eats the consequences when he may, and ends them. Better a little self-surrender now than unknown consequences in the lives to come! I am answerable to the Ahbors. I would rather receive their judgment than that of the Unseen! It pays not to postpone the reckoning.

"The baby was born here, in this room, and those two children who were its parents died, though I did what might be done for them. I eased their death as well as I was able, giving them comfort in the knowledge that there are many lives to come, in which there is recompense for every thought and deed, as also opportunity to undo all the evil of the past. They died in peace, and I buried their bodies yonder; you can see the grave below this window -- that mass of rocks, over which the purple flowers trail.

"Before she died, that child who was your sister gave her baby into my hands. It was her last effort. She gave the baby to me, not at my request. In the clarity of vision and the peace that precedes death, she gave her baby into my hands, smiling, saying: 'I see that this is as it should be. It could not have been otherwise.' "

For five minutes the Lama was silent, remembering, his sky-blue eyes on vacancy, his wrinkles motionless.

"And so I understood my destiny," he went on presently. "I understood that in my hands lay one who was greater than myself -- whom I might serve, that she might serve the world, as I can not by reason of my limitations. That little spark of life, if I should do my duty, should be fanned into a flame, whose light should blaze across the world, and bless, and brighten it.

"And I have served, my son. I know of no regrets. Day in, day out, for more than twenty years I have fanned that flame, and nursed and fed it, letting no consideration hinder, omitting no experience that might serve, sparing her no duty, killing out my own pride, and my own weakness, lest it rob her of one element of virtue, inflicting no punishment (for who am I that I should dare to punish?), omitting no reproof (for who am I that I should dare to let the child deceive herself?)

"I obtained a wet-nurse, who was doubtless born into this valley to that very end, the wife of an Ahbor chieftain, whose recent ancestors were healthy, whose mind was modest, unassuming, calm. I made that wet-nurse stand before the Jade of Ahbor, before I trusted the flow from her breasts.

"And I received advice, as he whose chela I had been prophesied. He, who had come to me in this place and in Lhassa, came again. From him I learned that Hannah Sanburn might be trusted, and that if I should see fit to trust her no harm would come of it. I think she has told you, my son, what share she had in mothering the child."

Ommony nodded. "Hannah is a noble woman," he said gruffly. "I imagine she sacrificed more than --"

But the Lama interrupted with a gesture of his hand. "My son, there is no such thing as sacrifice, except in the imagination. There is opportunity to serve, and he who overlooks it robs himself. Would you call the sun's light sacrifice? But you are right when you say Hannah Sanburn is a noble woman. Her nobility is part of her. It works. It overcomes the fear of what the world might say. It conquers pride. It leaves adjustment of all consequences to the Higher Law. It keeps faith. It knows no malice. It is brave. My burden, when I took that child to Tilgaun, was all that I could bear, because I loved her and I feared for her: but Hannah Sanburn's was no less -- no atom less -- when she returned the child to me.

"My hardest task has been to provide children of her own age, with whom she might play and be happy without besmirchment from their ignorance. For, though she is able now to stand alone, and to burn up trash in the pure flame of her own character, she was then only a little, very clear flame, needing care -- my son, I wonder if you guess how much care she has needed. The Tibetan children would have dimmed her light. They might have smothered it; because the lower yearns toward the higher. And though yeast is plunged into the dough and leavens it, the yeast is spent. It is not good to clean corruption with a golden broom, nor is it wise to take sap from the growing tree.

"But I have agents -- agents here and there. We, who pursue the Middle Way, are not without resources. There was Benjamin, who is a man of very faithful pertinacity in some respects; and there are certain others, whom I employed. It is easy to find children who need saving from the rapacity of the world's convenience; but it is very difficult to make selection -- much more difficult when agents do the choosing -- and impossible, my son, to find such another child as San-fun-ho, because there is none like her in the world. I tell you, great ones are not born many at a time.

"I obtained children. I obtained many children, hoping that among the many one or two might excel, as indeed it happened. The others are incapable in this life of much advancement, because of karma and the circumstances into which they had been born. It is very difficult to help some individuals, because those who are born into an heredity are so born in order that they may make that experience, and battle with it, and acquire strength for the lives to come. But they have served; they have done royal service. For, as I have educated my chela, in turn she has educated them, learning through them how to practise the wisdom, which is nothing unless put to use. And, lest they lose one rightful opportunity, I found Tibetan girls for them to teach. You have seen for yourself that those children have grown into women, who are not without nobility. Some may make good teachers at Tilgaun."

"How many laws did you break in obtaining those children?" asked Ommony, smiling. He felt less critical than curious to know how the Lama would defend himself.

"Many, perhaps. I do not know, my son. There is that which, because of errors in past lives, makes it impossible for me to do good without inflicting evil on myself. But it is better to do good than to fear evil. It is he who breaks the laws who must accept the consequences. It appears to me that I have injured none except myself and, although I must meet in lives to come the consequence of having broken even human laws, I do not doubt that the service I have rendered will provide me strength with which to meet and overcome the karma. We can not do all the self-cleansing in one life. It is enough that we do what we can, and serve others."

"I am sorry I spoke. I beg your pardon."

The Lama looked keenly at Ommony. "My son, it is not within your power to offend me, even if you had the wish to give offense, which I perceive is not so. I would not impose on you an account of my fumblings with duty, if it were not that you are entitled to sufficient facts on which to base your judgment of what your duty may be. I endeavor to be brief.

"Life -- right living is Art, my son, not artifice, and not an accumulation of possessions, or of power, but a giving forth of inner qualities. San-fun-ho has had encouragement to exercise herself in all the arts; she will not be deceived by the many who will deny the merit of her art -- no more than the lamp's flame is deceived by darkness.

"Above all, drama! Drama is the way to teach. All life is drama; and by allegories, parables and illustrations men learn easily what no amount of argument will drive into their understanding. Because of sympathy, compassion and a knowledge of what difficulties and what ignorance the greatest and the least most face, my chela can play all parts. She understands. She knows the difference between the higher and the lower, and is not to be deceived by noise, or fear, or any man's opinion.

"Nor can her head be turned by flattery; for I have let men tempt her in the subtlest ways, they not knowing that they tempted. The superstitious worship those whose art excels their own -- until the time comes when they meditate murder, and slander, (which is more cruel than murder) because they grow weary of emulation. And worship is the most poisonous of all corruption, to him who is the object of it. When an Ahbor, who was bribed by some ambitious men, broke away and stole a fragment of the Jade of Ahbor, and I learned that there were plans on foot to seduce men into all kinds of superstition with its aid, I seized that opportunity.

"I let word go forth through secret channels into India that she who is the rightful priestess of the Jade will come and find it. For there was never a doubt about that, my son. I knew I could trace the fragment and lay my hand on it. I seized that opportunity. I led my chela, clothed as a boy, for she can play all parts, on a journey into India, as you know. And, my son, I have made many errors in my day; I am but an old man seeking, through the cloud of ignorance, to do my duty, knowing what the duty is, but often misled by my own unwisdom. There were times, while my chela was growing, when I dreamed of triumphs for her among India's millions. In those deluded moods it had appeared to me -- although none had better right than I to know the contrary -- that if she should seize on the imagination of the East, which might very easily be done, the East would rise out of its ignorance and teach the West. I did not see, in those deluded hours, that the East would become filled with a self-righteousness that would be even worse, if that were possible, than what consumes the West and seeking to throw off its conquerors, would plunge the whole world into war. You have heard of Gandhi? That is a man of singleness and merit, seeking, as it were, to hasten the precession of the equinox.

"Even as Gandhi has made mistakes, I made them, though with less excuse. During the lonely months when San-fun-ho was with Hannah Sanburn at Tilgaun I used to journey into India with staff and begging-bowl, making my preparations for the day when San-fun-ho should teach an awakening multitude. Unwise -- and the unwisdom multiplied by zeal! I raised too many expectations.

"He, who had come to me before, came once again rebuking me. I told him of this and that which I had done, expecting praise. He said to me: 'Blood will flow. It will be you to whom the dead may look for recompense. How soon can you repay them all?' And I said: 'But I have promised. If I fail, will they not look to me for the fulfilment?' But he said: 'Which is better? To fail to do evil, and to eat the fruit of disappointment; or to do great evil, and to interfere with destiny, and then to eat the fruit of that? I tell you, San-fun-ho will light a flame too fierce for India; but in the West she may do some good; and the East may imitate the West, but the West will not imitate the East for many a year to come, being too proud and too full of energy.'

"And then I asked him: 'Who shall shield her in the West? Lo, I have made these friends for her in India that she may have a foundation to begin with when the time comes.' To which he answered: 'Is a dollar without friends? And is she less than a dollar? Moreover, there will come to you a man of her own race, who can serve her better than you when his turn comes. He will know less, but he will have the qualities she needs. Be on the watch for him, and when you think you have found him, put him to many tests.'

"So, as I told you, I took my chela into India, recovering the piece of jade, and making use of my mistakes for the testing of San-fun-ho, since even a man's mistakes are useful, if he has the will to conquer false pride. And you have seen, my son, that my chela's head was not turned, even though we traveled with great evidence of secret influence, which is a very subtle agent of corruption. You have seen how women broke the rules of caste to approach her; how men of high position trembled in her presence; how the crowd shouted to see more of her; how her voice stilled anger and turned violence into peace. Yet she was always my patient and obedient chela was she not? And you shall see -- at dawn to-morrow you shall see whether all that glamour of success has or has not dimmed her character by as much as the mist of a man's breath on a mirror."

The Lama looked at Ommony for a long time, repeatedly almost closing his eyes and then opening them suddenly, as if to catch some fleeting expression unawares.

"And when you came, my son, hiding in Chutter Chand's shop. When I knew the piece of the jade had reached your hands. When Benjamin sent word that you were spying on me. Then, it seemed to me that in spite of many faults you might be the man whom I must test. I have tested you in more ways than you guess, and I have seen all your faults, not least of which is a certain pride of righteousness. But San-fun-ho knows how to deal with that. Now think. Answer without self-seeking and without fear, truly. For I offer you my place, as San-fun-ho's protector and servant, to guard her that she may serve the world. My time has come to die."

Chapter XXXI


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