Story type: Essay
Ananda rose from his seat under the banyan tree. He passed his hand unsteadily over his brow. Throughout the day the young ascetic had been plunged in profound meditation; and now, returning from heaven to earth, he was bewildered like one who awakens in darkness and knows not where he is. All day long before his inner eye burned the light of the Lokas, until he was wearied and exhausted with their splendors; space glowed like a diamond with intolerable lustre, and there was no end to the dazzling procession of figures. He had seen the fiery dreams of the dead in heaven. He had been tormented by the music of celestial singers, whose choral song reflected in its ripples the rhythmic pulse of being. He saw how these orbs were held within luminous orbs of wider circuit; and vaste and vaster grew the vistas, until at last, a mere speck of life, he bore the burden of innumerable worlds. Seeking for Brahma, he found only the great illusion as infinite as Brahma’s being.
If these things were shadows, the earth and the forests he returned to, viewed at evening, seemed still more unreal, the mere dusky flutter of a moth’s wings in space, so filmy and evanescent that if he had sunk as through transparent aether into the void, it would not have been wonderful.
Ananda, still half entranced, turned homeward. As he threaded the dim alleys he noticed not the flaming eyes which regarded him from the gloom; the serpents rustling amid the undergrowth; the lizards, fireflies, insects, and the innumerable lives of which the Indian forest was rumorous; they also were but shadows. He paused near the village hearing the sound of human voices, of children at play. He felt a pity for these tiny beings, who struggled and shouted, rolling over each other in ecstasies of joy. The great illusion had indeed devoured them, before whose spirits the Devas themselves once were worshippers. Then, close beside him, he heard a voice, whose low tone of reverence soothed him; it was akin to his own nature, and it awakened him fully. A little crowd of five or six people were listening silently to an old man who read from a palm-leaf manuscript. Ananda knew, by the orange-colored robes of the old man that here was a brother of the new faith, and he paused with the others. What was his illusion? The old man lifted his head for a moment as the ascetic came closer, and then continued as before. He was reading “The Legend of the Great King of Glory,” and Ananda listened while the story was told of the Wonderful Wheel, the Elephant Treasure, the Lake and Palace of Righteousness, and of the meditation, how the Great King of Glory entered the golden chamber, and set himself down on the silver couch, and he let his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of love; and so the second quarter, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, did he continue to pervade with heart of Love, far reaching, grown great, and beyond measure.
When the old man had ended Ananda went back into the forest. He had found the secret of the true, how the Vision could be left behind and the Being entered. Another legend rose in his mind, a faery legend of righteousness expanding and filling the universe, a vision beautiful and full of old enchantment, and his heart sang within him. He seated himself again under the banyan tree. He rose up in soul. He saw before him images long forgotten of those who suffer in the sorrowful earth. He saw the desolation and loneliness of old age, the insults of the captive, the misery of the leper and outcast, the chill horror and darkness of life in a dungeon. He drank in all their sorrow. From his heart he went out to them. Love, a fierce and tender flame, arose; pity, a breath from the vast; sympathy, born of unity. This triple fire sent forth its rays; they surrounded those dark souls; they pervaded them; they beat down oppression.
While Ananda, with spiritual magic, sent forth the healing powers through the four quarters of the world, far away at that moment a king sat enthroned in his hall. A captive was bound before him–bound, but proud, defiant, unconquerable of soul. There was silence in the hall until the king spake the doom and torture for this ancient enemy.
The king spake: “I had thought to do some fierce thing to thee and so end thy days, my enemy. But I remember now, with sorrow, the great wrongs we have done to each other, and the hearts made sore by our hatred. I shall do no more wrong to thee; thou art free to depart. Do what thou wilt. I will make restitution to thee as far as may be for thy ruined state.”
Then the soul which no might could conquer was conquered utterly–the knees of the captive were bowed and his pride was overcome. “My brother,” he said, and could say no more.
To watch for years a little narrow slit high up in a dark cell, so high that he could not reach up and look out, and there to see daily the change from blue to dark in the sky, had withered a prisoner’s soul. The bitter tears came no more, hardly even sorrow, only a dull, dead feeling. But that day a great groan burst from him. He heard outside the laugh of a child who was playing and gathering flowers under the high, gray walls. Then it all came over him–the divine things missed, the light, the glory, and the beauty that the earth puts forth for her children. The arrow slit was darkened, and half of a little bronze face appeared.
“Who are you down there in the darkness who sigh so? Are you all alone there? For so many years! Ah, poor man! I would come down to you if I could, but I will sit here and talk to you for a while. Here are flowers for you,” and a little arm showered them in by handfuls until the room was full of the intoxicating fragrance of summer. Day after day the child came, and the dull heart entered once more into the great human love.
At twilight, by a deep and wide river, an old woman sat alone, dreamy and full of memories. The lights of the swift passing boats and the light of the stars were just as in childhood and the old love-time. Old, feeble, it was time for her to hurry away from the place which changed not with her sorrow.
“Do you see our old neighbor there?” said Ayesha to her lover. “They say she was once as beautiful as you would make me think I now am. How lonely she must be! Let us come near and speak to her,” and the lover went gladly. Though they spoke to each other rather than to her, yet something of the past, which never dies when love, the immortal, has pervaded it, rose up again as she heard their voices. She smiled, thinking of years of burning beauty.
A teacher, accompanied by his disciples, was passing by the wayside where a leper sat.
The teacher said: “Here is our brother, whom we may not touch, but he need not be shut out from truth. We may sit down where he can listen.”
He sat on the wayside near the leper, and his disciples stood around him. He spoke words full of love, kindliness, and pity–the eternal truths which make the soul grow full of sweetness and youth. A small, old spot began to glow in the heart of the leper, and the tears ran down his blighted face.
All these were the deeds of Ananda the ascetic, and the Watcher who was over him from all eternity made a great stride towards that soul.