BEFORE the flashing diamond in the mysterious mountain behind the Temple began to lose its brilliance, many foreigners had visited the Island. Among them were students who came from Persia. Coming that great distance they sought more knowledge, as in their own land the truth was already beginning to be forgotten. It was hidden under a thick crust of fanciful interpretations of the sayings of their sages which were fast turning into superstitious notions. And these young men thought that in the Island, the fame of which had spread over land and sea, they would find learning and wisdom and the way to power. But yet while in such a frame of mind, they regarded some things as settled even for sages. What they said did not have much influence on me until they began to quote some of the old writings from the prophets of their country, attempting to prove that men, though god-like and immortal, transmigrated sometimes backwards into beasts and birds and insects. As some old Buddhist monks had years before given out the same idea with hints of mystery underneath, the sayings of these visitors began to trouble me. They quoted these verses from the prophet the Great Abad:
These young men made such good arguments of these texts, and dwelt so strongly upon the great attainments of Abad, who was beyond doubt a prophet of insight, that doubts arose in my mind. While the verses did not deny the old doctrine of man's reincarnation, they added a new view to the matter that had never suggested itself to me before. The students pointed out that there was a very wise and consistent doctrine in those verses wherein it was declared that murderers, tyrants, and such men would be condemned to inhabit the bodies of such murderous beasts as lions and tigers. They made out a strong case on the other verses also, showing that those weak but vicious men who had aided and abetted the stronger and more violent murderers should be condemned to precipitation out of the human cycle into the bodies of defenseless animals, in company with ferocious beasts, by the strength and ferocity of which they would at last be destroyed themselves. And thus, said these visitors, they proceed in each other's company, lower and lower in the scale of organized life, reaching at last those kingdoms of nature like the mineral, where differentiation in the direction of man is not yet visible. And from there the condemned beings would be ground out into the great mass and slime at the very bottom of nature's ladder.
Not wishing to admit or accept these doctrines from strangers, I engaged in many arguments with them on the matter, until at last they left the Island to continue their pilgrimage.
So one day, being troubled in mind about these sayings of Abad, which, indeed, I heard from the students were accepted in many countries and given by several other prophets, I sought out the old man who so often before had solved problems for me. He was a man of sorrow, for although possessor of power and able to open up the inner planes of nature, able to give to a questioner the inner sight for a time so that one could see for himself the real truth of material things, something ever went with him that spoke of a sorrow he could not tell about. Perhaps he was suffering for a fault the magnitude of which no one knew but himself; perhaps the final truths eluded him; or maybe he had a material belief at bottom. But he was always kind, and ever ready to give me the help I needed provided I had tried myself in every way and failed to obtain it.
"Brother," I said, "do we go into animals when we die?"
"Who said that we do?" was his answer.
"It is declared by the old prophet Abad of the Worshippers of Fire that we thus fall down from our high estate gained with pain and difficulty."
"Do you believe it; have you reasoned it out or accepted the doctrine?"
"No," I said, "I have not accepted it. Much as I may reason on it, there are defects in my replies, for there seems to be consistency in the doctrine that the ferocious may go into the ferocious and vicious into the wild animals; the one destroying the other and man, the hunter, killing the ferocious. Can you solve it?"
Turning on me the deep and searching gaze he used for those who asked when he would determine if curiosity alone moved them, he said, "I will show you the facts and the corrupted doctrine together, on the night of the next full moon."
Patiently I waited for the moon to grow, wondering, supposing that the moon must be connected with the question, because we were said to have come by the way of the moon like a flock of birds who migrated north or south according to their nature. At last the day came and I went to the old man. He was ready. Turning from the room he took me to a small cave near the foot of the Diamond Mountain. The light of the diamond seemed to illuminate the sky as we paused at the entrance. We went in by the short passage in front, and here, where I had never been before, soft footfalls of invisible beings seemed to echo as if they were retreating before us, and half-heard whispers floated by us out into the night. But I had no fear. Those footfalls, though strange, had no malice, and such faint and melodious whispering aroused no alarm. He went to the side of the cave so that we looked at the other side. The passage had a sharp turn near the inner entrance, and no light fell around us. Thus we waited in silence for some time.
"Look quietly toward the opposite wall," said the old man, "and waver not in thought."
Fixing an unstrained gaze in the direction of the other side, it soon seemed to quiver, then an even vibration began across it until it looked like a tumbling mass of clouds. This soon settled into a grey flat surface like a painter's canvas, that was still as the clear sky and seemingly transparent. It gave us light and made no reflection.
"Think of your question, of your doubts, and of the young students who have raised them; think not of Abad, for he is but a name," whispered my guide.
Then, as I revolved the question, a cloud arose on the surface before me; it moved, it grew into shapes that were dim at first. They soon became those of human beings. They were the living pictures of my student friends. They were conversing, and I too was there but less plain than they. But instead of atmosphere being around them they were surrounded with ether, and streams of ether full of what I took to be corporeal atoms in a state of change continually rushed from one to the other. After I had accustomed my sight to this, the old man directed me to look at one of the students in particular. From him the stream of ether loaded with atoms, very dark in places and red in others, did not always run to his fellows, but seemed to be absorbed elsewhere. Then when I had fixed this in my mind all the other students faded from the space, their place taken by some ferocious beasts that prowled around the remaining student, though still appearing to be a long distance from him. And then I saw that the stream of atoms from him was absorbed by those dreadful beasts, at the same time that a mask fell off, as it were, from his face, showing me his real ferocious, murderous mind.
"He killed a man on the way, in secret. He is a murderer at heart," said my guide. "This is the truth that Abad meant to tell. Those atoms fly from all of us at every instant. They seek their appropriate center; that which is similar to the character of him who evolves them. We absorb from our fellows whatever is like unto us. It is thus that man reincarnates in the lower kingdoms. He is the lord of nature, the key, the focus, the highest concentrator of nature's laboratory. And the atoms he condemns to fall thus to beasts will return to him in some future life for his detriment or his sorrow. But he, as immortal man, cannot fall. That which falls is the lower, the personal, the atomic. He is the brother and teacher of all below him. See that you do not hinder and delay all nature by your failure in virtue."
Then the ugly picture faded out and a holy man, named in the air in gold "Abad," took his place. From him the stream of atoms, full of his virtue, his hopes, aspirations, and the impression of his knowledge and power, flowed out to other Sages, to disciples, to the good in every land. They even fell upon the unjust and the ferocious, and then thoughts of virtue, of peace, of harmony grew up where those streams flowed. The picture faded, the cloudy screen vibrated and rolled away. We were again in the lonely cave. Faint footfalls echoed round the walls, and soft whispers as of peace and hope trembled through the air.