"So, you are ready to renounce everything," a John said. Then he smiled and added, "Words are spoken with ease, my good friend, compared to the actual experience of this discipline, although there are some key seekers who live in the forest quite comfortably. Some live without irritation; not desiring the touch of a woman or the taste of exquisite foods, the security of a home or the comfort of a bed. They are fortunate, for their interest in these things fell away naturally due to the simple practice of their inner work. They were not obligated to painfully give these things up.

Disinterest in worldly enticements is a measure of progress in the quest for the key, which is one's ever-closer approach to Reality. You see, as worldly concerns naturally fade away, the Source begins to surface, and as the Source surfaces, worldly concerns fade further. They both go hand-in-hand. And why would a key seeker prefer Reality over the comforts of the world? Simply because a key seeker understands that the world is unreliable – happy one moment and tragic the next.

Physical existence is fraught with danger and pain. This is obvious to a key seeker, but hidden from those who remain blinded by physical existence.

"Other key seekers, unfortunately, have difficulties. Although they continue to desire things of the world, they force themselves to abstain from them as a discipline for the sake of their quest, and everything then becomes an austerity. For these with lingering worldly desires, the measure of their progress, or lack thereof, is the unrelenting strength of these desires and the key seeker's resulting discomfort. These dissatisfactions are not to be shunned, however, they are the whetstones that hone destinies, for suffering and dissatisfaction are precursors to greatness. Luxury and security line the road to mediocrity."

A John's words certainly rang true. My life in the kingdom was nothing but decadent, leading me down unconscionable paths where I did unconscionable things, and while the forest was difficult, I found myself becoming increasingly more honest and sincere. The outward, obvious austerities wasn't what determined the spiritual nature of seekers like a John; it was the inner peace they felt and that they silently exhibited in all situations, whether they were dire or secure. I could already see that the innate tendencies of seekers always must be to incline toward a life of simple means; a life with no extreme aversion or attachment to anybody or anything, and a life reflecting humility, kindness, and love for everything.

But because I was just beginning my quest, I had to consciously discipline myself in everything that I did so that my bodily actions were always harmless, uncomplicated, and consistent. I had to be careful of my words so that they were always agreeable and honest, and I tried to keep my mind controlled, silent, and balanced. This strict discipline, I found, was helpful and necessary until I could advance enough for the Source to begin rising within. Only then would I become the expression of these virtues naturally with no effort or restraints whatsoever.

Everything a John was saying struck a familiar but inexpressible cord deep in my heart, and I was keen to begin this training. I was now grateful for the hardships over the last five years as a preparation for this new stage in my quest, and was curious regarding what else might be required by this strict code of ethics that key seekers must follow. I decided to stay with a John just a little while longer, but soon I would have to leave in order to protect him, and the villagers, from my assailants.

"This is enough discussion for one night," a John concluded. "It is time to retire."

We settled down in a clearing where there were two large trees. One was brooding, with its leaves hanging limp and its top bent over, while the other was open and expansive, its branches splayed out reaching for the heavens. I curled up under the brooding one and curiously noticed that a John, instead of lying down by his tree, sat up straight as a board. His legs were crossed with his feet resting on his opposite thighs, looking very much like a pretzel, and he was sitting still, like a rock.

Suddenly, my mind became infused with profound peacefulness, as every worry and concern disappeared for a moment. I had never felt anything like this before and I was certain that he was influencing me somehow. I watched him off and on for an hour or so, and just as I began to fall asleep, I was startled by a powerful, low growl that was dangerously close. Conqueror instinctively backed into the forest, with me right behind him! It was a tiger, and by the depth of the growl; it was gigantic.

Suddenly, I remembered a John, and looked back to where he was sitting. He had not budged, even though a monstrous tiger was standing not more than a few paces from his tree. I assumed he was asleep, unaware of the danger, so I quietly worked my way back toward them looking for something to use as a club. I wouldn't have a chance against a tiger this size, but at least I might distract it for a moment so that a John could run. I found a stout limb and silently slipped closer. Then I heard something . . . it was a John talking to the tiger!

"Why do you frighten me with your growling? I am a simple, poor man who is quietly searching for the key, not bothering anybody and of no concern to you. You should be off doing animal things. If you are hungry and are too lazy to chase after wary and swift animals, then you can eat me, but I must warn you, I will not taste as good as what you are accustomed to. Worse than that, eating me will be a problem in your next lifetime, for to kill a key seeker has the most dreadful consequences. On the other hand, if you don't harm me, this will help you immensely in your next existence, for your close contact with me while I was deep within my inner work will assure your rebirth in a human form. Then, you will be able to begin your own quest for the key someday. So, if you would rather sit with me for a while instead of eating me, you may do so, but you must be quiet."

A John then closed his eyes and continued with his inner work, showing no further concern. The tiger looked at him for moment, then walked over, curiously sniffed his robe and pawed at his shoulder as if he wanted to play. When a John didn't respond, the tiger circled a few times before curling up next to him and falling asleep!

I stayed glued to the tree I was hiding behind, barely breathing for what seemed to be an eternity, until finally the tiger got up, lazily stretched, yawned, wiped his whiskers with his huge paw, and rambled off into the woods.

I was wide awake now, and stayed that way the entire night keeping a watchful eye for the tiger and thinking about what I had just witnessed. This little man was certainly an enigma, and I found myself confused over what the word courage really meant.

As dawn began to poke through the trees, a John bounced up from his sitting position, looked at his hand, and then motioned toward the village.

"Why did you look at your hand?" I walked over and asked him.

"I looked at my palm to see if it was light enough to distinguish the lines," he said. "When I can see the lines, we have just enough time to make the four-kilometer walk at a brisk pace to the village and arrive exactly at sunrise when the villagers will be expecting us."

"I thought maybe you were reading your palm to see our fortune." I said.

"Oh, I know my fortune and yours as well. We will soon grow old, and die! Then he laughed. But I didn't laugh with him. (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