Shike – Day 261 of 306

“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.

“The Mongols will not conquer the world. It frequently happens that after defeating every opponent an expanding empire comes up against some little, fierce, stubborn nation far out on the edge of its territories, and this little nation inflicts on the empire a stunning defeat that puts an end to its spread. It can happen here and now. If any warriors can stop the advance of the Mongols the samurai can. They are the finest fighting men in the world.”

Jebu looked out at the dark ocean to the east. The horizon was visible now, and the stars were fading in a sky more purple than black. Taitaro sounded exhausted, Jebu thought. They had, as he had feared, stayed up all of this short night talking. He did not want Taitaro to use up any more of his strength.

“There is one last thing I have to tell you, my son,” came the thin whisper from the old man seated opposite him. “The Jewel of Life and Death. It was never really necessary. I might just as easily have given you a crow’s feather to meditate on.”

Jebu was shocked. Just when he had thought nothing more could surprise him, he heard this.

“I don’t understand, sensei. How can you tell me now that the Jewel has no special power?”

“It is no different from a man who looks up at a cloud and sees the shape of a bird or a fish. The shape is not in the cloud. The man’s mind puts it there. I told you that by contemplating the Jewel you could enter another world and become one with a kami. That other world is your own mind, and that superior being is yourself. Let go of the Jewel now, my son. Keep it as a memento of your father, if you like, but do not cling to it for spiritual power. The meaning of the Jewel of Life and Death is that life and death have no meaning, except what we put into them by the way we choose to live and die.”

“Is my father saying that the Tree of Life and all the other visions I saw were only in my mind?” Jebu asked, feeling that he had lost something infinitely precious.

There was amusement in the fragile voice coming from the figure in white. “Why do you say only, my son? Is it not a marvellous mind that has such visions in it?”

It was almost dawn. “Let us watch the sun rise,” said Taitaro, “entering and exploring the miraculous worlds of our minds.”

Clouds piled on the horizon turned a glowing pink. The first blinding radiance of the sun burst over the edge of a calm sea. Jebu thought, how beautiful it is. Then he saw that the beauty was not there in the sunrise, but in the mind of him who beheld it.

“I am going to die now,” Taitaro said softly.

The words were a fist striking straight at Jebu’s heart. “Father, no. What is it? What’s wrong?” I knew I shouldn’t have let him exhaust himself talking, Jebu thought.

“Nothing is wrong. I have decided that today is my day to die.”

“No!” Jebu cried. He did not doubt for a moment that Taitaro could die whenever he wished.

Moko was on his feet, standing over the old man, who sat staring serenely ahead, his long white beard blowing in the breeze from the sea. The carpenter reached out to Taitaro, as if to hold him back from the Void, but he drew his hands away before touching the old man, as if Taitaro were already a corpse and therefore taboo.

“Holiness,” he wept, “of all the Zinja madness I’ve seen in the last few days, surely willing yourself to die is the maddest of all. You can’t leave us now. We need you.”

“It is my privilege to die when I choose to,” said Taitaro calmly. “I have earned it, and some day you and Jebu may feel as I do today. Jebu-chan, I have transmitted to you everything I can tell you. I have freed myself from all attachments to this world. Even better, I have freed myself from all the foolish fears that beset the elderly. My choice of death is right for me, Jebu, just as your choice of going to Kamakura and the Lady Taniko is right for you. You no longer need me, any more than you need the Jewel. If you want counsel, go to the Zen monk Eisen, whose temple is just outside Kamakura. You met him once, and he was one of us long ago.”

With a sigh Taitaro stood up and climbed a few paces to the pinnacle of the cliff where they had camped the night before. He looked out at the waves and the rising sun. After a moment he sank into a cross-legged seated position with his hands folded in his lap. He is looking at the last sight he is ever going to see in this world, thought Jebu. It was too much for him. He threw himself to the ground. The first few sobs forced themselves through clenched teeth. Then the tears began to run freely from his eyes, and he opened his mouth wide and let out a wailing cry of pain and protest.

Taitaro turned and looked down at him calmly. “Come, come, is this any way for a man almost fifty years of age to behave? A Zinja monk, at that?”

“You are the only person I have left in the world to love,” Jebu sobbed. “Do not abandon me now, I beg you. You gave me the choice between life and death a few days ago, and I chose life. Will you make a mockery of my choice?”

“What you say about love is foolish, my son. The world is full of people whom you love. One is right beside you. As for mockery, I would indeed mock your choice if I refused to make a choice of my own when one is called for. Life and death are the same to a Zinja. The resolve is all. This old body of mine is worn out. The Self is ready to drop it. Accept, accept. All happens as it should.”

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