Shike – Day 260 of 306

Taitaro’s little bow of acknowledgment was barely visible to Jebu in the dying firelight. “True, Moko. The ordinary man lets the warrior protect him, and soon the warrior has made a slave of the ordinary man. The Order’s answer to this is to produce trained, dedicated military monks who can be trusted not to enslave their fellow human beings.”

“Excuse me, holiness, but a warrior who doesn’t want power is like a shark that doesn’t eat.”

“We do not desire power because we are engaged in a far more satisfying pursuit, the achievement of insight.”

“Do you mean what the Buddhists call enlightenment, holiness? I have never understood what that is.”

“Insight is the same as enlightenment,” Taitaro agreed. “It is that contact between one’s own consciousness and the Self which I spoke of earlier. It is impossible to describe fully in words. It is the discovery that everything you have been doing all along is the activity of the Self.

“We think that the earliest people did not need rules of right and wrong. They believed that everything happens as it should, even one’s own death. It is said that some of them could even decide when to die. They would say goodbye to their loved ones and sit down peacefully and let go of life. It is even said that there have been great masters who did this among those who studied the ways of the old ones.

“We believe that there is a spirit of perfect action which exists in all people even now. It is often at odds with the rules of lawgivers and priests. It prompts slaves to rebel against harsh masters and warriors to show compassion for the helpless.”

“You Zinja observe very strict rules, holiness,” said Moko. “And though you talk of liberating all men, I know that the Zinja follow the orders of their superiors in all things. It seems you do not live according to your beliefs.”

The fire had gone out, and Taitaro’s voice coming out of the darkness was almost a whisper. “We follow the rules of our Order freely, because they help us maintain the state of insight we wish to cultivate. It is just as a samurai avoids drinking the night before a battle, not because drinking is evil in itself but because it would interfere with his fighting ability. We may appear to be disciplined military monks, but the reality of our Order is total liberation.

“Our Order tries to blend in wherever it goes, keeping our knowledge alive and sharing it with those who seem ready for it. We have found that it serves us well to present ourselves in the guise of warrior monks, similar to those of the Buddhist and Shinto temples. We are permitted by custom a certain degree of secretiveness. By training as warriors we have the means of protecting ourselves from suppression. And we can prevent the profession of arms from being the exclusive privilege of a warrior class. Anyone—farmer, craftsman, trader—can join the Zinja and train in self-defence. We must blend in because our ideas are wicked, utterly foreign to the people of the Sunrise Land.

“People have been killed for saying openly some of the things I have said here tonight. That is why there are those who say we Zinja are devils.”

The Zinja are devils. Jebu, lounging in the darkness on a soft bed of pine needles, sat up with a start. Was that what it meant, then, that deadly secret Taitaro had imparted at his initiation so long ago? If the Zinja beliefs and their ultimate aims were known, the people around them would think them devils and try to destroy them. And only by knowing that they would appear to be devils could they be kept from the supreme arrogance of trying to impose their beliefs on people not yet ready for them. It was the ultimate protection from the temptation of power and therefore the Saying of Supreme Power.

Jebu lay back again, turning this new idea over in his mind as he listened to Taitaro explain the Order to Moko. He could hear the weariness in the old man’s voice and he wished he would stop and rest. Jebu’s mind wandered. He let his thoughts go back to that time with Taniko just after Kublai Khan had released her to him and before he told her how Kiyosi died. Even if he hated her now, there was no harm in remembering a happier time.

It was very late when he heard Taitaro talking about things he had never discussed with Jebu before, and he began to listen again.

“Our ideals require a way of life so strenuous that there cannot ever be many Zinja. And lately it seems to have been our Order’s karma to dwindle even more. During the War of the Dragons many of our monasteries were destroyed and more of our men and women killed than we can replace. There are now less than a thousand of us, men, women and children, and we have only six monasteries in all the Sacred Islands.

“So we have decided to disappear, allowing it to seem that we have become extinct. It is a strategy we have resorted to in other parts of the world where the Order’s position seemed too precarious.

“You, Jebu, will be one of the last to be known openly as a Zinja. In the future the Order will exist in secret, in the midst of other organizations such as the Zen monks, whose beliefs are in some ways similar to ours, the schools of martial arts and the families who call themselves Ninja, the Stealers-In, whom the samurai use as spies and assassins. Members of our Order have already joined these other groups to prepare the way for our absorption into them. Our most important work will be among the samurai. We hope to teach them to be something more than professional killers. We will share with them the Zinja ideal of the way of the sword as a ladder to the sublime.

“The world is entering a new time in which new knowledge will spread faster among the nations. The Mongol conquests have speeded this process by breaking down boundaries all across the great continent to the west. And the barbarians of the far west have sent their armies eastwards on religious wars, and their warriors have brought new knowledge home with them. People are on the move everywhere. Through this exchange of ideas the day will come when humanity will have a better understanding of the universe and be ready to hear the teachings of the Order.

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