The Turn of the Wheel
A LITTLE TALE OF KARMA.
He was the son of a small ruler in Rajpootana. His father, of the warrior caste, governed a district including several villages as well as his own small town with justness and wisdom, so that all were prosperous and happy. The ruler was called a Rajah; he lived in a building made of stone, built on a hill that commanded the town. The son, of whom this tale tells, was born after the Rajah had been many years childless, and was the only child to whom the father’s honors and power could descend. He was named Rama after the great Avatar. From the time he was born and until he could speak, a strange look was always to be seen in his baby eyes; a look that gazed at you without flinching, bold, calculating, as if he had some design on you; and yet at times it seemed to show that he was laughing at himself, sorry too, melancholy at times. Rama grew up and delighted his father with his goodness and strength of mind. The strange glance of his eye as a baby remained with him, so that while everyone loved him, they all felt also a singular respect that was sometimes awe. His studies were completed, a first short pilgrimage to a celebrated shrine had been made very early by his own request, and he began to take part in the administration of the affairs of the old and now feeble rajah. Each day he retired to his room alone; no one was permitted to come within three rooms of his; and on the fourteenth of the month he spent the entire day in retirement. Let us go with him in fancy to one of these monthly retreats and listen with his consent.
The room is an ordinary Hindu room. Hard chunam floor, the bed . rolled up in the corner, on the walls one or two flat metal placques inlaid with enamel and representing different gods and heroes. He enters and goes up to the wall in front of one of these placques—Krishna. The strange look in his eyes grows deeper, stranger, and a stream of light seems to rush from them to the object on the wall. His lips move.
“Atmanam, atmana—” he seems to say; the rest is murmured so low we cannot hear it. The words are in his own dialect, but in the mind of the hearer they translate themselves. He says:
“This weight upon my heart is not from this life. I have known no sorrow, have lost no object that I loved. My ambitions are fulfilled; the present is bright. the future shows no shadow. When, a Krishna, shall I know that which I now know not, nor what it is that I long to learn? Yet even now a ray of hope steals into my soul.”
Just as he uttered the last words a ringing sound came from the metal placque and Rama gazed steadily at it. The placque vibrated, and a subtle scent spread from it over the whole room. The air seemed to vibrate slowly, undulatingly, and then a dazzling shape of a young man seemed to form itself upon the floor, while the vibration centered in the form and the scent turned into light. Rama looked steadily at this being who stood there erect and terrifying, yet calm and strong with peace all about it. It was the calmness and power of it that terrified. As Rama looked it spoke:
“Do you forget the Upanishad, ‘Two birds sit in one tree; the one eats the fruit and the other looks on.’?”
“No,” said Rama, “I forget not. They are the personal and universal. The one who looks on is my higher se1f—Atman.”
“I am thy higher self. I come to tell thee of three words. Forget them not, forget not me. They are: Action, Law, The fruit of action.”
“These”, said Rama, “I have heard. Action and Law I know, but the fruit of action, is it that which eats within?”
The form of beauty replied: “It is the ignorance of it that hurts thee. Thou art bound in thy future. This present birth of thine is to allow thee to make the Karma for thy next birth better in the end, but which will be ever dark and painful if not now ameliorated. In this present is thy future. Potential now lies the effect in what cause you make.”
Then with one straight arrow-like glance into the face of Rama, the form faded, and the placque rang a note of farewell. Across the wall there seemed to pass a picture of poverty and riches, of huts and buildings of stone. Rama left the room the next day, and never after seemed to sorrow or to be annoyed. His old father died, and he carried on the government for many years, scattering blessings in every direction, until a rival rajah came and demanded all his possessions, showing a claim to them through a forgotten branch of the family. Instead of rejecting the claim, which was just, instead of slaying the rival as he could have done, Rama resigned all, retired to the forest, and died after a few years of austerity.
The wheel of time rolled on and Rama was reborn in a town governed by the Rajah who had once in a former life demanded Rama’s possessions. But now Rama was poor, unknown, an outcaste, a chandalah who swept up garbage and hoped that Karma might help him. He knew not that he was Rama; he only swept the garbage near the Rajah’s palace.
A solemn audience was held by the Rajah with all the priests and the soothsayers present. Troubled by a dream of the night before, the superstitious ruler called them in to interpret, to state causes learnedly, to prescribe scriptural palliative measures. He had dreamed that while walking in his garden, hearing from his treasurer an account of his increasing wealth, a huge stone building seemed suddenly to grow up before him. As he stopped amazed, it toppled over and seemed to bury him and his wealth. Three times repeated, this filled him with fear.
The astrologers retired and consulted their books. The remedy was plain, one suggested. “Let the King give a vast sum of money tomorrow to the first person he sees after waking up.” This decision was accepted, and the proposer of it intended to be on hand early so as to claim the money. The Rajah agreed to the direction of the stars, and retired for the night, full of his resolution to give immense gifts next day. No horrid dreams disturbed his sleep. The winking stars moved over the vault of heaven, and of all the hosts the moon seemed to smile upon the city as if being near she heard and knew all. The cold early morning, dark with promise of the dawn, saw the chandalah—once Rama—sweeping up the garbage near the palace where inside the Rajah was just awaking. The last star in heaven seemed to halt as if anxious that Rama should come in his sweeping to the side of the palace from which the Rajah’s window opened. Slowly the chandalah crept around in his task, slowly, surely. Slowly the Rajah’s waking senses returned, and as they came a hideous memory of his dream flashed on him. Starting up from the mat on which he lay, he rose and seemed to think.
“What was I to do? Yes, give gifts. But it is not yet day. Still, the oracle said’ immediately on awaking’.”
As he hesitated the poor garbage sweeper outside came more nearly in front of his window. The setting star almost seemed to throw a beam through the wall that struck and pushed him to the window. Flinging open the shutter to get breath, he looked down, and there before him was a poor chandalah with waistcloth and no turban, sweating with exertion, hastening on with the task that when finished would leave the great Rajah’s grounds dean and ready for their lord.
“Thank the gods”, said the Rajah, “it is fate; a just decision; to the poor and the pious should gifts be given.”
At an early hour he gathered his ministers and priests together and said—
“I give gifts to the devas through the poor; I redeem my vow. Call the chandalah who early this morn swept the ground.”
Rama was called and thought it was for prison or death. But the Rajah amazed him with a gift of many thousands of rupees, and as the chandalah, now rich, passed out, he thought he smelled a strange familiar odor and saw a dazzling form flash by. “This,” thought he, “is a deva.”
The money made Rama rich. He established himself and invited learned Brahmins to “teach others; he distributed alms, and one day he caused a huge building of stone to be built with broken stone chains on its sides to represent how fate ruptured his chains. And later on a wise seer, a Brahmin of many austerities, looking into his life, told him briefly,
“Next life thou art free. Thy name is Rama”.