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The Endless Flow of Life

Prologue to Sadhus: Going Beyond the Dreadlocks

Patrick Levy

Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival Receiving the Sanc Grael, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1864)

It is told that Tupala was a great king who was devoted to his subjects, generous towards the brahmins, gentle with children, respectful of wise men and wisdom, and who followed the rules of good governance.

On one hunting night, leaving his retinue far behind, he ventured far and deep into the forest and lost his way.

At dawn, he arrived in front of a hut where an untouchable was cleaning out the carcass of a bull. As he was surprised to find himself there, the King was about to ask where he was and in which province and hamlet he had arrived, when he caught sight of a dazzlingly beautiful girl. She was simple and smiling, the very embodiment of grace. And of course he fell in love with her.

At the speed of an arrow piercing through space, he forgot about the hunting, his kingdom and government. He was treated with familiarity as if he had been long awaited. He married the girl, and with her came the tannery, the livestock and the forest, the adobe house which had to be patched up after rain, the herd of buffaloes that need taking to the pasture in the morning and bringing back at night, the harvests and monsoon seasons, rough clothes and rope beds. He embraced the worship of the forest Gods and joined with the villagers in prayer. He experienced the peace that follows a hard day’s work, and suffered the anxieties of waiting for rain.

His wife gave him a son, then a second one, and then a third. He lived through seasons of happiness and years of misfortune. Sickness took away his eldest son, then his father-in-law, whom he replaced as a tanner. Then came a year of scarcity after a year of drought, and another year there was a great flood, which swept away the cattle. During one monsoon, his beloved wife drowned in the lake. Years had passed, and yet more followed.

One evening, exhausted, he fell asleep in the grasslands and dreamed a strange dream that he was a just and good king, governing his kingdom. One hunting night, he lost his way in the forest, arrived in front of a hut, saw a stunningly beautiful girl, forgot his palace and married her, became a tanner after the death of his father-in-law, lost his eldest son to sickness, then his cattle in a flood, and then his wife by drowning.

One day, his Prime Minister appeared in his courtyard, and threw himself at his feet.Sadhus: Going Beyond the Dreadlocks by Patrick Levy

‘Majesty, we have been searching for you unceasingly all this time; we have scoured the entire kingdom, from North to South and even the outer provinces to the smallest hamlets; we have covered and searched this vast jungle without rest! Thank God we have finally found you!’

As the king was returning to his capital, escorted by his guards and his Prime Minister, he woke up, astounded to find himself in his palace bed.

It had been a dream.

It had all been nothing but a dream, but this dream had had the taste, colour, texture and charm of reality. During this sleep, the king felt perfectly awake, exactly as he was now.

At this moment who was he? A king in his palace, the tanner in the dream, or the sleeping tanner now dreaming that he is a king? Or perhaps even someone else, sleeping somewhere in a distant universe about which he had forgotten everything, who was dreaming that he was dreaming that he was dreaming. And what of the small house in the forest, and the untouchable, his wonderful wife, the buffalo herd, the rough bed, his sons, the sickness, and the drowning? Were these last years merely a few hours in one night? And is life just a moment of dreaming in eternity? Are we but characters in the dream of a sleeping person? When can one know what is true? When does one wake up? Is truth just a word to be found in the confusion of humdrum existence or is it the continual and indivisible flow of thoughts and dreams?

In the morning, he left his palace in a palanquin carried by four strong brahmins. One of them, uncaring and unconcerned, carried it so roughly, bumping here and stumbling there, that the king could bear no more of it and leapt out to scold him:

“Who are you? And why are you so clumsy?”

“My King, I am tall and fat and rather ugly and I am a brahmin, but tell me, who am I really? And you, who are you? What can you be called? Are you your body? Are you your birth? And why are you a king? Where does this palanquin come from, do you know? Which kind of wood is it made of? Was the tree already a palanquin in the forest? And was the cotton flower already this robe that you are wearing? The air is everywhere, and yet when one blows a little of it in a flute, as it passes through the holes it produces a ‘la,’ a ‘so’ or a ‘re,’ and finally a melody. In just the same way there is neither a ‘me’ nor a ‘you,’ but only one existence in the endless flow of life.”

Having heard this, the king felt the power of truth in his heart beating faster and harder, and was instantaneously freed from birth and the belief in an existence.

The instant of a flash of lightning is all it takes to awaken to truth. Then, all we have to do is go there, where there is neither identity nor the possibility of losing it, neither existing nor the memory of existence, neither birth nor the fatality of death, as if one is endlessly awakening from a dream, and incessantly asking oneself: where am I?

Inspired by Vasista Ramayana and Bhagavatham.

Originally published in Sadhus: Going Beyond the Dreadlocks by Patrick Levy (Prakash Books India, 2010).

Patrick Levy is the author of Sadhus: Going Beyond the Dreadlocks.

Read more about Patrick Levy

Comments (1)
  • I just spent a weekend with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep). Indeed: which is the dream? and who is the dreamer?

    — Elyn Aviva on January 26, 2011

26 January 2011

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mysticism, love, chivalry, dreams, wisdom, beauty, embodiment, memory, Journey of Life, awakening,
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