"Everybody knows that you are here," he said, putting up a good front. "Killing me will do you no good."

Expressing no emotion, I calmly asked, "Why would I want to kill you?"

"You know why. You are a threat to the king and I know that you are here," he haughtily replied.

"But I am the king," I reminded him.

He pointed his finger, "What kind of king abandons his subjects?"

I pointed back, raising my voice a notch, "What kind of priest falls prey to political pressure and ultimately becomes responsible for a key seekers death?"

He became quiet for a moment, looking back again toward the hut. The conversation was about to escalate out of control. "There is no need for violence," he bargained. "You, more than anybody, understand power and the corruptive influence it has on those who fall under its spell. I am just a messenger who must follow orders."

"You are not a messenger, you are a spy," I replied.

Playing with the large, gold ring on his little finger, he answered, "I have the authority to present you with an offer."

"What kind of offer?"

"One I suggest you consider carefully."

"What kind of offer can you make to a key seeker?"

"One that will benefit us both, Sire," he said, capitulating and showing some respect.

"And what is this proposal?"

"You must sign a statement, which I have the authority to seal, stating that you relinquish all holdings and authority as King of Ayatana, and swear to never again set foot in the kingdom."

I just stared at him until he looked away, and then said, "And if I sign such a statement?"

"Then the bounty will be withdrawn and you will no longer be considered an outlaw." He looked away again and then added, "And the statement will be publicly read in all the kingdoms."

"And who will believe it?"

"The statement will be witnessed by Weeja."

This was a surprise. Weeja's seal was irrefutable, but why did he get involved? If what the priest was saying was true, this meant that I could never again enter my kingdom. All that I would be left with is my quest for the key, with no possibility of changing my mind. What is it that I would ever go back for anyway? All the luxury and influence meant nothing to me now.

Yet, I felt a loneliness, a forlornness and great loss of something very dear to me. I calmly watched the emotion peak and ebb as I continued looking at the priest. The silence intimidated him and he became visibly nervous. All he knew of me was my reputation of ruthlessness and unbridled rage, and the capacity to kill - quickly and easily.

Finally I said, "Done," and he conspicuously let out a sigh of relief.

We walked up Weeja's stairs and all signed the statement, which was then sealed by the priest, his hands shaking. After the priest left with his prize, Weeja smiled and said, "The affairs of a king are so very complicated, for it is a king's duty to protect his subjects. You may now simplify your life."

If I would have heard those words years ago, before realizing the illusion of security, I would have felt guilty. But now I understood, and Weeja knew that I understood. He had saved my physical, as well as my spiritual life.

It was cool after the rain. I was comfortable and so was my heart, as if signing the document was a cleansing, a formal proclamation that my life was now renewed at a higher level, and left behind was all that I once was,. There were no swarming mosquitoes this night, a perfect night to practice the inner work until dawn.

I thought about the three characteristics - impermanence, no self and discontent, and then thought about the aspects of - body, contact, feeling, memory and thought. I had to decide which characteristic I would connect with which aspect as my subject of investigation. I decided that impermanence was right up my alley as far as a characteristic was concerned, and that memory was a good aspect to look at. I would look at the impermanence of my memory, and could not wait to begin.

I prepared my mat on the floor, lit a new candle along with three sticks of incense and began my inner work by going through the Calms until I reached the Third Great Material Calm. There I interrupted the calm, not easy as the calms are very seductive, and investigated how my thoughts and memory arise and pass. After I watched for a while, a sudden, unexpected (as they all are) flash of insight revealed to me that not only thoughts and memory, but every situation in life, like the recent one with the priest, merely arise and pass.

Then there was a very unusual occurrence. It was an extraordinary, life-changing episode where I detected each thought, one after the other, blossom in a corner of my mind. Each one appeared initially as a single picture but quickly turned into a story of many pictures in motion. I could clearly see that "I" was made up of merely one thought following another continuously - merely a series of pictures followed by the memory of those pictures.

Sometimes there would be a picture of me sitting cross-legged, followed by the next picture, perhaps a memory of Conqueror. These two memories were so fast that an illusion was formed; the memory of the picture of me watching the memory of Conqueror, but really there were two thoughts independent of each other, fast enough to create the illusion that I was watching myself remember Conqueror. This would go on and on in an endless sequence; pictures followed by memories repeatedly, resulting in the formation of a watcher or personality that appeared to be observing the stories being created by memory.

In reality, there was simply one thought following another (picture-memory-picture-memory) that merely created the image of an observer. This charade was very clear to my sharp mind. It was quite an amazing illusion and a very clever trick of the mind - the fundamental trick of the mind that creates a ‘self.'. . . I found "Weeja!"

I also noticed that I could not think more than one thought at a time, although the speed of the mind would lead one to believe there were many thoughts at once creating a ‘watcher' of thoughts. Only the unbelievable inner work was able to slow things down enough to the extent that I could observe the deception, and who was doing the observing? It was non-other than memory, and nothing else.

If this is all that I am, a memory, what is there truly to lose? Why do I fear death? What is it I will miss, or rather who is it that will miss it? Can something that never existed in the first place, except in a fanciful imagination, cease to exist? Is kamma merely a continuous dream from which one cannot wake up? Is Reality the end of all dreaming?

How silly it is to regard myself with such importance. I laughed when I realized that I was simply a picture and a memory! What a tremendous relief! I had previously been deluded into thinking that I was much more substantial than that!

With many wants and desires remaining, I speculated whether I could really accept the fact that I was nothing. A John had mentioned the original seekers of Truth and their observations - that the one thing remaining after death was kamma; one's past actions and left over desires and wants. Now I could see the truth of this statement, because I had just observed, for myself, that nothing else is there. How could a something concocted of simply a series of pictures and memories survive anything, even the next moment? The only thing that seemed to give the personality any continuity was the recall of this self-memory.

I felt the body breathing, the organs working and pumping; but it was not me. I saw the mind thinking; but it was not me. I wondered what I really was. Was I really the Source? Was the Source all of me? Once this small ‘self' was out of the way, what would I then find?

Now I knew in my heart that if I was ever to find the key, it must someday become more important to me than myself, because I had seen, with my own insight, that I did not exist in the way that I had always thought. This made me more determined than ever to find the key, no matter the consequences, as I was now certain beyond any doubt that it was the secret to my freedom.

Daylight unexpectedly broke through my window reminding me that I missed the morning meeting and would be late walking into the village for food, so I decided to fast for a few days.

I tirelessly investigated my body and the four aspects of my mind in combination with the three characteristics. I had originally thought that these aspects were "me," but soon discovered them to be merely rising and passing phenomenon completely enclosed within themselves, holding me prisoner. I was not unlike the beast in the cave, being held captive by the misunderstandings of the aspects. "What you believe to be yourself is untrue," the blacksmith said those many years ago. At the time, I laughed at him, but now I understood the truth of his simple statement, as I held myself captive in my own dungeon of illusions.

I had always thought this jumble of a physical body and mental states somehow made up a whole; made up "myself." I was beginning to realize, however, that the parts did not equal a whole, they were simply impermanent parts, an illusion that had become my prison, and I wanted so badly to be taken by the hand and led out into the sun.

I diligently practiced everything Weeja had taught me, and almost unnoticeably, nine years flew by while in the presence of this master, but then I surprisingly began to feel a bit restless. I finally walked into Weeja's hut one evening and asked him for advice.

"Although I am inclined to stay here with you," I said, "I am getting on in years and I know there is more to do before I capture my key, but I don't know what to do or where to go."

"I have known of your restlessness for some time now," Weeja replied, "but you must come to your own conclusions regarding it. It is very important for you to learn the difference between common restlessness and inner guidance, because inner guidance will lead you to the key, while restlessness will only lead to recurring delusion. The inner voice in your heart will always conflict with what your logic dictates, resulting in indecision and a kind of restlessness, and although you might think this particular restlessness is a failing, it might not be. The path to the key is never direct, and the seeker must always heed that small, still voice in his heart."

"I don't know what to do," I said, "How can I be certain that I am doing the right thing? Sometimes I think that I should stay here with you and not escape into another adventure, but then I think that I am holding myself back."

"When you do leave here," concluded Weeja, "as you will someday, and after you acquire your last Great Weapon of Insight, you will be able to contradict everything; your conclusions, your desires, your pursuits - and believe it or not, your pursuit of the key. You will turn your back on everything because it keeps you imprisoned. Your ideas and your learning, your history and your heritage, your hopes and dreams; you will discard it all. You will find yourself emptying yourself entirely of security, fear, attachments, and fond memories. Your ‘self' will slowly and imperceptibly begin to slip away as the mind is increasingly able to watch everything with clarity, as if for the first time, without the burden of past, stored impressions of memory.

"You will finally face emptiness, the emptiness that in the beginning was so frightening that you had no choice but to run and hide from it with your various escapes, while knowing in your heart that you could never flee its truth. You were frightened of the only thing that can set you free. Now you are ready to see it, but until you see it, you will not accept it. That very seeing and acceptance is the only thing that will keep you anchored in the emptiness until emptiness's exquisiteness reveals itself as the Source filling your being with light. Then, in this indescribable moment when everything is gone . . . you will discover freedom, freedom in the form of inexpressible love within the context of eternity. And the ‘self' will suddenly be gone as well. A barrier will no longer exist between what you experience and the one who experiences. You will become whatever it is that is in your field of consciousness, because you will know the oneness of all things, and you will truly be free, free of yourself, never to be shackled again."

When Weeja became silent, I understood the master had just said farewell, and I walked down his steps for the last time.

I fasted and practiced without interruption for weeks. I knew that the inner voice is persistent and becomes stronger with time, so I was determined to wait it out. Sure enough, my decision to leave was confirmed when something flashed in my mind from many years ago; it was when the master Sahmad of the mountain community told me that eventually I would be destined to travel to the land beyond the sun.

Although I had no idea where this land was or how to get there, I was now compelled to gather my clay bowl and start walking with Conqueror toward the hot, dry country to the east; toward the sun. (To be continued)

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-nine years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit www.AYearToEnlightenment.com