I have written this story to be used for preaching purposes and to be distributed among people uninterested in religion and philosophy, and among followers of various religions.
The idea of this story is to interest these people in Krishna-conscious philosophy, without labeling it as such, so as to make it more acceptable to people of other religions. This story is based it on Krishna-conscious philosophy but I have not mentioned Krishna's name anywhere, lest it appears biased or 'sectarian'. Hence I have used the term God for Krishna etc.
I request the readers to read it in that spirit.
The sun had begun to slowly descend over the edge of the plateau, announcing the onset of nightfall in the single, large town situated upon it. As parts of the town progressively plunged into darkness, the many brilliant and differently hued lights on the street and in the buildings came on, replacing the dwindling daylight with equal aplomb.
For now one could easily visualize the pubs, discotheques, night clubs and brothels that populated the street-side in their serried ranks, of varied grades and repute, catering to the equally varied classes of citizens now already entering and exiting them in different states of inebriation.
A little further, one could visualize the bistros, seafood and steakhouses, shops, grand malls, boutiques and showrooms.
Interspersed within these areas were the residences housing those who offered and availed of the above services.
Situated at the far north of the town, were the farms and factories which employed the poor and provided for the rich.
A unique feature of the town was that there were no motorized vehicles in the town; everyone commuted on bicycles or rickshaws pulled by the beasts of burden, including man.
The town had one more unique feature, probably more unique than the first. A feature that was almost magical, or sinister, or both, depending on the way one looked at it.
Any road that led out of the town took a winding route through the wide, dense jungle that fringed its border and ended up in some other part of the town itelf. Other than these roads, the jungle was dense and impenetrable, even to the most modern tools available at the time. It was said that the jungle was bewitched and ensured that no human or animal could traverse it. Even the birds were observed to be able to fly only upto a limit, the town's border, whereupon they were guided by a strong wind back into the town.
There was no way to leave the town.
This seemed unnecessary however, because the town was self-contained in every way; there seemed no need for anyone to leave the town, or to import or export anything.
Situated outside the town, almost on the edge of the southern tip of the plateau, was a simple hut with a small garden in front of it. In that garden, on a wooden bench, sat an old monk chanting on his prayer beads. No one knew how old he was, for everyone's grandfather and grandfather's grandfather claimed to have known of him.
The same monk now paused his chanting and looked up, for he heard the sound of someone approaching him, something that had become increasingly infrequent in the past few years.
It turned out to be not one, however, but a group of people. They were still a few hundred feet away. He observed them with interest, since they made for a curious bunch.
The first person the monk noticed, was actually not a person, but a donkey. A decidedly undecided donkey. Every now and then, it would wander off towards the right, then again to the left. It would suddenly stop to eat something fallen by the roadside, or flop onto the ground to take a nap, and then suddenly spring into action and follow a wayward, haphazard route to somehow rejoin the group.
The next person was a giant, presumably in his early forties. He was powerfully built, striding with an air of supreme confidence. He was attired simply, but appeared affluent, and his eyes shone with the light of intelligence and knowledge. He radiated the aura of one who was accustomed to always acquiring what he desired.
The third and fourth were a beautiful woman and her companion, a handsome gentleman, both in their early thirties.
The woman was dressed elegantly, and appeared to be of good upbringing. She walked with a slight limp which did little to mar her personality. She appeared to be preoccupied and wrestling with some thought in her mind.
The man was dressed sophisticatedly and wore fine, bejeweled ornaments on his body that bespoke of immense wealth. He held a partially emptied bottle of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other. With a vulgar effusiveness, he seemed to be trying to convince the lady of something, while she appeared to resist his advances.
In stark contrast to the merry, intoxicated gentleman mentioned above, the last member of the group was also a young man, but the very picture of disappointment and resignation. In addition to this, however, his eyes also conveyed a sense of determination.
The group neared the monk and greeted him. The monk returned their greeting, smiled and waited for them to speak.
The giant introduced himself as Maha and the woman introduced herself and her partner as Arundhati and Vicky respectively. The last member of the group introduced himself as Shankar.
The monk smiled at them and waited for him to continue. Shankar looked around at his colleagues, but no one seemed to want to say anything more. Hesitantly at first, he began to speak.
'Sir...we are all friends and like everyone else, we were born and raised in the town. But Sir, you see, we...we want to leave this town. We have heard rumours that there is only one way out of this town, and you are the only person who is aware of it. We would very much like to know of it.'
'But tell me my child,' asked the monk, 'Why do you wish to leave the town at all?'
'My point, exactly!!' Vicky ejaculated and threw away his now empty bottle and cigarette.
'That's exactly what I'm trying to tell these people! We have everything we need over here, why leave?!'
'And yet,' the monk continued, 'I must commend you on your desire. You have heard rightly, I think this is what you are looking for.'
He pointed towards a small hillock next to his hut. It was about twenty feet high with a roughly shaped arch cut into the side, facing the hut. The arch enclosed a nondescript wooden door that appeared to be firmly closed. There were a few trees and bushes adjacent to the hillock that precluded an immediate view of the door from the approach road.
'This door is your only way out of this town...'
The monk was suddenly interrupted by a sudden sound. Everyone turned to look at the donkey, which had suddenly trotted up to the door and begun braying at it. This continued for a while and then abruptly, it turned and trotted to a tree next to the hillock. There it repeated the the same thing. Then it urinated on the base of the tree and finally, without warning, it began galloping back the way they had come, back towards the town.
While everyone stood trying to digest what had just happened, Vicky lumbered up to the door.
'Let's see what the fuss is all about,' He muttered and tried to push the door, for it had no handle. Then he noticed the small keyhole.
'Locked! I should have known,' he fumed. He kicked the door in frustration. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he glared at the monk, 'Are you trying to pull a fast one on us, old man?!'
The monk smiled and said, 'Calm down, my child, this door is locked as you say. It requires a special key to be opened...'
'But can you not give us the key, Sir?' Arundhati said, 'We are ready to pay for it, if necessary...' She began to open her purse.
'No, no, no...please, money is not the issue...' The monk hurried to explain, 'The key can only be earned by fulfilling certain conditions. This requires the undertaking of special efforts, by committing oneself to a particular training course...and this can take years...'
'Ha ha ha ha haaa...'Vicky suddenly began to laugh uncontrollably. He stumbled close to the monk and began to patronizingly thump him on the back. He looked at the others.
'Can't you see it, guys, this old bird is having some fun with us! Hey, I like him, he's practically after my own...'
Then still laughing, he patted the monk on the head, pulled his cheeks and went back to Arundhati.
'Darling, I mean, this has been fun and all, but you know what, we are seriously wasting our time here, while one of our town's hottest nightclubs is hosting a special party tonight! We should be there, painting the town red! I hate to say this, but I think the donkey was the smartest of us all. He's already headed back home.'
So, saying, he took Arundhati's arm and began to lead her back. Arundhati resisted him for a few seconds, but finally succumbed to his persistent urging. She cast one baleful glance back at the monk and then began to go back to the town with Vicky.
The monk shook his head and smiled wanly.
The monk turned to see Maha, who had now approached the door. He knocked upon it in a dignified manner. Upon getting no response, he knocked again, but to no avail. Maha finally nodded and sighed. Then he turned to face the monk.
'Sir, perhaps it is my mistake for not introducing myself properly and elaborating my purpose in coming here.
'Perhaps, you have not recognized me. I am Mr Maha Oge and I live in the mansion at the eastern end of the town. At the risk of sounding immodest, I wish to inform you that I have more or less achieved all that remains to be achieved in this town. I have wealth, fame, influence etc...but to be frank, none of it interests me.'
He waited for the information to sink in. The monk's face however, remained impassive.
Maha continued, 'You see, Sir, I believe in simple living and high thinking. I possess the highest academic qualifications this town's University has to offer. As regards my character, I have never budged from my principles and ethics. I have done vast amounts of charity and by conserve estimates, about half the town's poor and needy have a shelter and education because of my efforts. The entire town regards me as not just a wealthy businessman, but a scholar and a nobleman.'
Finding no reaction forthcoming, Maha looked at the monk intently and continued.
'But, I too have heard of that door. You will be pleased to learn that I have spent a number of years on the research and study of this subject. I dare say, I have a fair idea of what lies beyond. It is said that very few have had the privilege of passing through that door.
I have come with the sole purpose of achieving this privilege, for I do believe I am worthy of the same.'
The monk waited patiently for Maha to continue, for he knew there was more to come.
Maha delicately coughed into his silk handkerchief. 'Much of what I have achieved has come from astute analysis and foresight. Having applied the same to this case, may I hazard a calculated guess, that it is highly improbable that you should not be in possession of at least one copy of the key that opens that door? Else, you would not be in this position or talking with the authority that you display...'
Shankar, who had more or less been a silent spectator until now gasped in surprise and looked at the monk, who merely smiled and bowed in acknowledgement.
Maha triumphantly announced, 'It would therefore be wise for you, Sir, to lend me the key, for you must agree that I am more than adequately qualified to pass through that door...'
'Mr Maha, I humbly submit that you need not speak any further...the key is yours!'
And so saying, the monk removed a small key from a pocket within his robes and handed it over to Maha.
Maha bowed in gratitude, took it and strode up to the door. He slid the key inside its designated hole and turning it, he pushed the door, while Shankar and the monk expectantly looked on.
To his surprise, the door opened only a few inches, and a second later, slammed shut with such a force that Maha was thrown backwards by it. Losing his balance, he fell on the ground.
For a minute or two, Maha stared at the closed door with an expression of astonishment admixed with anger.
Then scrambling to his feet, Maha tried turning the key again and pushing the door open. This too proved unsuccessful. In anger, he slammed his broad shoulder against it, but the door remained firmly shut. Maha repeated his efforts for a few minutes more, with the same result.
Shankar was confounded. His eyes darted from the monk's face, which wore a serene expression, to the trembling and sweating Maha who stood glaring at the door in rage and helplessness.
'The Door cannot be forced open, my child, not by man, animal, nor machine... '
The monk's words seemed to add salt to his injured, crushed pride. Maha suddenly spun around and wordlessly strode past the monk and Shankar, without looking at them. Without casting a backward glance, he began to walk swiftly back to town, his lips tightly drawn into a grim expression, but his eyes reflecting his helplessness and reluctant acceptance of the truth.
The Door had not considered him worthy enough to pass through it.
The monk retrieved the key from the door and replaced it carefully in his pocket. He returned to Shankar and smiled, 'And what brings you to the Door, my young friend?'
Still shaken by what had just happened, Shankar had to force himself to draw his attention to the monk and his question. He took a deep breath and continued,
'Sir, I cannot claim to have the qualifications that my friend Maha has, so at this point of time, it does seem rather fruitless to continue with my quest...'
'If you don't mind, young man,' The monk interrupted him, 'I shall be the judge of that. But I must know your reasons for this endeavor.'
Shankar looked at him with a sigh, 'Sir, well...I...I've simply have had enough...This endless cycle of joys and sorrows that this town offers...nay...imposes upon me.
For years now, I've realized that I am a prisoner trapped in this town. I have prayed to God every night and day for a way out of my situation. Finally my prayers were answered and a few days ago, I heard that there was a way, a permanent way out.
I...I wish to walk that path, Sir. If the Door can lead me out of this existence to one of permanent bliss, I wish to pass through it.
The old monk smiled approvingly and then continued in a more serious tone, 'But as I have mentioned, you must be prepared to undertake the efforts necessary to become worthy of passing through the Door.'
'I am prepared, Sir,' Shankar grasped the monk's hand and looked at him pleadingly, 'I know that I do not possess any qualification required for it at present, but if you agree to guide me, I am willing to do anything...'
To his surprise, the monk suddenly said, 'Then let us begin your training, young man, not a moment further to waste.'
Shankar got ready to follow the monk, but suddenly stopped. He looked back for a moment towards the town and appeared confused.
The monk smiled at him, 'You must be wondering about your companions, Shankar.'
Shankar nodded, 'Yes, Master...'
'Your companions, Shankar,' The monk began to explain, 'represent the different types of human beings that exist today.
Some are like that donkey. They go through their lives in an aimless, directionless way. Not unlike a donkey, they eat, drink, excrete, sleep and mate when they can. Whimsical, irregular and impulsive in their habits and behaviour, their lives are purposeless, devoid of any goal. They are born like animals, live like animals and die like animals.
Even if they do get a chance for spiritual advancement, they do not realize the value of it. They have to spend many, many lives before they come to your stage.
Then there are the atheists like Vicky, those who cannot think beyond the material enjoyments that Life has to offer. Consequently, they also suffer the pain and sorrow that Life thrusts into their lot, without awakening to their real situation. They mock and denigrate God, His followers and His Scriptures, and think of spiritual advancement as a waste of time.
They are almost as unfortunate as the animals, for in spite of acquiring the body of a human being, they are not much better off than the former. In fact, an animal acts and behaves from natural instinct and lack of advanced consciousness, but an atheist uses his human intelligence to go against God and the Scriptures. So without the special mercy of God and His Devotee, it is very difficult for them to attain the Supreme Goal.
Still better, are people like Arundhati, who get a whiff of their unpleasant, helpless position as prisoners in this cycle of life and death. They may understand their situation and even seek out a way to get relief from the same. But they lack the strength and resolve to persist in their endeavors. Hence they are at risk of succumbing to the attractions of material enjoyment.
However, they are still fortunate, for they have begun their quest for God. At some point in future, in this or their successive lives, they will come to a position where they will continue their quest and be successful.
'But Maha?' Shankar asked his Master, 'Why wasn't Maha allowed to pass through the Door? I would have thought that he had all the qualifications necessary; awareness of a higher purpose in life, knowledge, ethics, nobility, detachment, charity...'
'He failed the last test, my son,' The monk explained.
'It is true that Maha had all the virtues that you name, but it was his Pride about those very virtues that disqualified him.
Shankar, virtues in a person are also a gift from God and one must recognize this fact and be grateful to Him for the same.
Conceit and arrogance about one's own virtues and spiritual advancement itself renders one unworthy of the Supreme Goal.
The Spiritual Journey and its Supreme Destination is always superior to the traveler on that path, and not the other way round.
But people like Maha consider themselves equal to God. They even have the audacity to believe that it is their right to enter, or even force their way into God's Kingdom. The Door made Maha realize his true position.
Only one who has conquered Ego is allowed to pass through the Door, and Ego is the most formidable frontier that a spiritualist must conquer. This can be achieved through the right efforts. Unfortunately, Maha did not have the benefit of the same, and more sadly, does not want the benefit of the same.'
Shankar, you may not possess all the qualifications Maha does, but you have those virtues that make you eligible for the spiritual training and advancement necessary to pass through the Door, namely, humility, belief in God as a Supreme Power, awareness of your real situation in the material world, and the desire and determination to seek out a solution for the same.
And now, follow me, for we have much to do...'
Overwhelmed by everything the monk had just told him, Shankar mutely followed the monk into his hut.
Seven years later, one cold winter morning, the Sun had just begun to rise. Its rays streamed through the gaps in the thick foliage of the jungle and painted everything in their path a rich orange and gold colour. The same rays soon fell upon the hilllock at the southern end of the plateau, the hut adjacent to it, and finally, the face of Shankar who had just emerged from the door of the hut.
Shankar entered the garden where the monk was waiting for him, saluted him and humbly inquired, 'What is it, Master, of what service can I be to you?'
The monk answered him with a twinkle in his eye, 'The moment you have been waiting for has arrived, my son, you are now eligible to pass through the Door. You are now free of this material world!'.
Shankar could not believe his ears. For a moment, he stood stunned and his eyes filled with tears of joy. Then he fell at the feet of the monk and saluted him, thanking him from the bottom of his heart.
The monk blessed him and said softly, 'Go my child, the Door awaits you...'
Hesitatingly, almost nervously, Shankar got up and slowly walked to the Door. On reaching it, he suddenly remembered something and turned to the monk.
'My son,' The monk smiled, 'You now no longer need the key, the Door will always remain open for you...'
Barely able to breathe, Shankar placed his hand on the Door and gently pushed it. To his astonishment, the Door slowly swung open on its own, and a blindingly dazzling light washed over him. Shankar stood stupefied, unable to move or breathe, bathed in the effulgence.
For a few minutes, time stood still, and then to the monk's surprise, Shankar gently closed the door and stepped back. He returned to his Master, his smiling visage radiant with Realization, and eyes shimmering with tears of ecstasy.
In response to his Master's questioning look, he humbly replied, 'Master, by your grace, I have achieved That, beyond which, nothing further remains to be achieved; a glimpse of His glorious presence. I now desire nothing more than to serve Him by serving you, and those who are not as fortunate as I am, so that they may achieve their Eternal Goal.'
It was the monk's turn to have tears in his eyes. He embraced his pupil tightly for a few seconds. Then he pulled away, his hands still gripping Shankar's shoulders, and said to him,
'My dear Shankar, you have truly achieved the Unachievable, for now you speak of things far beyond the ordinary! It was written in your destiny, as was my intense desire, that you should cleave to His Abode forever. But it appears, that by His Supreme Will, that event has been postponed to a later date, and until then, He has ordained for you to assist me in His holy work...'
'And now unless I'm very much mistaken,' the monk looked over his disciple's shoulder, 'I espie the familiar form of someone we both know, and who probably needs our assistance.'
Both turned to look at an elegantly dressed woman walking with a slight limp, slowly making her way towards them...
In this story, I have taken the liberty to inject considerable symbolism and metaphor, partly to try and make the story more interesting, and partly to increase the depth and meaning of its content.
The town, as is made clear in the latter part of the story, represents our material world. It is replete with its good and bad, rich and poor, sources of enjoyment and suffering. As with this town, the material world created by God for us, is also self-sufficient, with no want for anything else. The 'deprivation' and 'excesses' we see in the lives of people in our world is only as a result of their past deeds.
Even if one tires of the pains and joys of material existence, we cannot just exit this material world of our own free will. The 'Jungle' of the Law of Karma with its 'dense foliage' of actions and reactions acts as an impenetrable 'border' and keeps us inextricably entangled and confined within the 'town' of the material world.
A donkey was chosen as the animal because a donkey exemplifies instinctive behaviour and lack of intelligence and understanding characteristic of the animal world, but also characteristic of the kind of human being to whom the parallel has been drawn.
I have tried to portray the rank contempt that atheists like Vicky have for God as euphemistically as possible, perhaps even with a touch of comicalness as in Vicky's behaviour with the monk.
But I have come across and heard of militant atheists, who have not spared words or even actions to demean God, His Devotees, Places of Worship and Scriptures.
As expected of a true believer and lover of God, one is perhaps expected to sympathize with these people, their ignorance, their wretchedness and their incapability to perceive the presence of God in our lives and His love for us. But at my stage as a neophyte, I cannot help but feel anger towards them.
Something I need to work on, I guess...
Maha Oge is the very picture of a virtuous but arrogant, egotistic person, as evidenced by his conversation with the monk, and in fact, his very name...did anyone try spelling it backwards? ;-)
Arundhati has been portrayed with a limp, a deformity, implying that no defect in terms of physical appearance, social/ financial status, caste, Religion or anything for that matter disqualifies one from taking up spirituality.
In my first draft of this story, I had shown Maha as the person who seeks to become a disciple of the Monk at the end of the story. Later, I decided to give Arundhati that privilege instead, as I felt she was more deserving of the same.
I have mentioned Shankar coming back from the threshold of the Kingdom of God as a tribute to the sacrifice and large-heartedness of those wonderful Saints and Apostles, who do...exactly that. Even when they have a chance to escape this terrible material world forever and live with God, they voluntarily come back to this world so that they may help wretched sinners like us achieve our Supreme Goal!
Finally, the Door.
The entry into the Kingdom of God is mentioned in every Religious Scripture and since we don't know the architecture of that entrance, I have used the humble door to symbolize it.
The Door is something every spiritualist aspires for, and every Religion also describes the means to be 'worthy' of passing through it.
It is also seen that every spiritualist claims that his 'training course' or Path is the 'right means' to become qualified to pass through that Door.
While there may be some differences in the Paths recommended by 'different' Religions, I do feel that these differences are minor and the core principles are the same. I also believe that God has created different Religions, and sent forth His different Apostles to suit different types of people.
His Teachings appear to be differently worded because some understand math as 3 x 5 x 2=30 and some understand it as 2 x 3 x 5=30, and yet others will understand it as 5 x 3 x 2=30.
One may argue that in my story, I too have talked about 'only person (the monk) who knows the way out' and the monk's training course as the 'only way' for spiritual advancement. I beg to point out as explained above, the monk was the God-recommended Apostle for the people in that town. The same regards his training course.
But I do believe in God's promise, that once one becomes fit to pass through the Door to His Abode, one becomes free of this troublesome material world forever.
I pray that everyone in this material existence traverses the Door into the Kingdom of God.
And please pray to God that the same happens to me! :-)