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Far in the wild mountains of the south, where a primeval race of shepherds pastures its flocks of shaggy goats upon the scanty vegetation of rocky slopes, there is a deep gorge whither men seldom penetrate, and where the rays of the sun fall but for a short hour at noonday. A man may walk, or rather climb, along the side of the little stream that rushes impetuously down among the black rocks, for a full hour and a half before he reaches the end of the narrow valley. Then he will come upon a sunken place, like a great natural amphitheatre, the steep walls of boulders rising on all sides to a lofty circle of dark crags. In the midst of this open space a spring rises suddenly from beneath a mass of black stone, with a rushing, gurgling sound, and makes a broad pool, whence the waters flow down in a little torrent through the gorge till they emerge far below into the fertile plain and empty themselves into the Araxes, which flows by the towers and palaces of lordly Stakhar, more than two days' journey from the hidden circle in the mountains.
It would have been a hard thing to recognise Zoroaster in the man who sat day after day beside the spring, absorbed in profound meditation. His tall figure was wasted almost to emaciation by fasting and exposure; his hair and beard had turned snow-white, and hung down in abundant masses to his waist, and his fair young face was pale and transparent. But in his deep blue eyes there was a light different from the light of other days--the strange calm fire of a sight that looks on wondrous things, and sees what the eyes of men may not see, and live.
Nearly three years had passed since he went forth from the palace of Shushan, to wander southwards in search of a resting-place, and he was but three-and-thirty years of age. But between him and the past there was a great gulf--the interval between the man and the prophet, between the cares of mortality and the divine calm of the higher life.
From time to time indeed, he ascended the steep path he had made among the stones and rocks, to the summit of the mountain; and there he met one of the shepherds of the hills, who brought him once every month a bag of parched grain and a few small, hard cheeses of goats' milk; and in return for these scanty provisions, he gave the man each time a link from the golden chain he had worn and which was still about his neck when he left the palace. Three-and-thirty links were gone since he had come there, and the chain was shorter by more than half its length. It would last until the thousand days were accomplished, and there would still be much left. Auramazda, the All-Wise, would provide.
Zoroaster sat by the spring and watched the crystal waters sparkle in the brief hour of sunshine at noonday, and turn dark and deep again when the light was gone. He moved not through the long hours of day, sitting as he had sat in that place now for three years neither scorched by the short hours of sunlight, nor chilled by winter's frost and snow. The wild long-haired sheep of the mountain came down to drink at noon, and timidly gazed with their stupid eyes at the immovable figure; and at evening the long-bodied, fierce-eyed wolves would steal stealthily among the rocks and come and snuff the ground about his feet, presently raising their pointed heads with a long howl of fear, and galloping away through the dusk in terror, as though at something unearthly.
And when at last the night was come, Zoroaster arose and went to the spot where the rocks, overhanging together, left a space through which one might enter; and the white-haired man gave one long look at the stars overhead, and disappeared within.
There was a vast cave, the roof reaching high up in a great vault; the sides black and polished, as though smoothed by the hands of cunning workmen; the floor a bed of soft, black sand, dry and even as the untrodden desert. In the midst, a boulder of black rock lay like a huge ball, and upon its summit burned a fire that was never quenched, and that needed no replenishing with fuel. The tall pointed flame shed a strangely white light around, that flashed and sparkled upon the smooth black walls of the cavern, as though they were mirrors. The flame also was immovable; it neither flickered, nor rose, nor fell; but stood as it were a spear-head of incandescent gold upon the centre of the dark altar. There was no smoke from that strange fire, nor any heat near it, as from other fires.
Then Zoroaster bent and put forth his forefinger and traced a figure upon the sand, which was like a circle, save that it was cut from north-west to south-east by two straight lines; and from north-east to south-west by two straight lines; and at each of the four small arcs, where the straight lines cut the circumference of the great circle, a part of a smaller circle outside the great one united the points over each other. And upon the east side, toward the altar, the great circle was not joined, but open for a short distance.
[Footnote 5: The Mazdayashnian Dakhma, or place of death. This figure represents the ground-plan of the modern Parsi Tower of Silence.]
When the figure was traced, Zoroaster came out from it and touched the black rock whereon the fire burned; and then he turned back and entered the circle, and with his fingers joined it where it was open on the east side through which he had entered. And immediately, as the circle was completed, there sprung up over the whole line he had traced a soft light; like that of the fire, but less strong. Then Zoroaster lay down upon his back, with his feet to the west and his head toward the altar, and he folded his hands upon his breast and closed his eyes. As he lay, his body became rigid and his face as the face of the dead; and his spirit was loosed in the trance and freed from the bonds of earth, while his limbs rested.
Lying there, separated from the world, cut off within the circle of a symbolised death by the light of the universal agent, Zoroaster dreamed dreams and saw visions.
[Footnote 6: The term "universal agent" has been used in the mysticism of ages, to designate that subtle and all-pervading fluid, of which the phenomena of light, heat, electricity and vitality are considered to be but the grosser and more palpable manifestations.]
His mind was first opened to the understanding of those broader conceptions of space and time of which he had read in the books of Daniel, his master. He had understood the principles then, but he had not realised their truth. He was too intimately connected with the life around him, to be able to see in the clearer light which penetrates with universal truth all the base forms of perishable matter.
Daniel had taught him the first great principles. All men, in their ignorance, speak of the infinities of space and time as being those ideas which man cannot of himself grasp or understand. Man, they say, is limited in capacity; he can, therefore, not comprehend the infinite. A greater fault than this could not be committed by a thinking being. For infinity being unending, it is incapable of being limited; it rejects definition, which belongs, by its nature, to finite things. For definition means the placing of bounds, and that which is infinite can have no bounds. The man, therefore, who seeks to bound what has no bounds, endeavours to define what is, by its nature, undefinable; and finding that the one poor means which he has of conveying fallacious impressions of illusory things to his mind through his deadened senses, is utterly insufficient to give him an idea of what alone is real, he takes refuge in his crass ignorance and coarse grossness of language, and asserts boldly that the human mind is too limited in its nature to conceive of infinite space, or of infinite time.
Not only is the untrammelled mind of man capable of these bolder conceptions, but even the wretched fool who sees in the material world the whole of what man can know, could never get so far as to think even of the delusive objects on which he pins his foolish faith, unless the very mind which he insults and misunderstands, had by its nature that infinite capacity of comprehension which, he says, exists not. For otherwise, if the mind be limited, there must be a definite limit to its comprehensive faculty, and it is easy to conceive that such a limit would soon become apparent to every student; as apparent as it is that a being, confined within three dimensions of space, cannot, without altering his nature, escape from these three dimensions, nor from the laws which govern matter having length, breadth and thickness alone, without the external fourth dimension, with its interchangeability of exterior and interior angles.
The very thought that infinite space cannot be understood, is itself a proof that the mind unconsciously realises the precise nature of such infinity, in attributing to it at once the all-comprehensiveness from which there is no escape, in which all dimensions exist, and by virtue of which all other conceptions become possible; since this infinite space contains in itself all dimensions of existence--transitory, real and potential; and if the capacity of the mind is co-extensive with the capacity of infinite space, since it feels itself undoubtedly capable of grasping any limited idea contained in any portion of the illimitable whole, it follows that the mind is of itself as infinite as the space in which all created things have their transitory form of being, and in which all uncreated truths exist eternally. The mind is aware of infinity by that true sort of knowledge which is an intimate conviction not dependent upon the operation of the senses.
Gradually, too, as Zoroaster fixed his intuition upon the first main principle of all possible knowledge, he became aware of the chief cause--of the universal principal of vivifying essence, which pervades all things, and in which arises motion as the original generator of transitory being. The great law of division became clear to him--the separation for a time of the universal agent into two parts, by the separation and reuniting of which comes light and heat and the hidden force of life, and the prime rules of attractive action; all things that are accounted material. He saw the division of darkness and light, and how all things that are in the darkness are reflected in the light; and how the light which we call light is in reality darkness made visible, whereas the true light is not visible to the eyes that are darkened by the gross veil of transitory being. And as from the night of earth, his eyes were gradually opened to the astral day, he knew that the forms that move and have being in the night are perishable and utterly unreal; whereas the purer being which is reflected in the real light is true and endures for ever.
Then, by his knowledge and power, and by the light that was in him, he divided the portion of the universal agent that was in the cave where he dwelt into two portions, and caused them to reunite in the midst upon the stone that was there; and the flame burned silently and without heat upon his altar, day and night, without intermission; and by the division of the power within him, he could divide the power also that was latent in other transitory beings, according to those laws which, being eternal, are manifested in things not eternal, but perishable.
And further, he meditated upon the seven parts of man, and upon their separation, and upon the difference of their nature.
For the first element of man is perishable matter.
And the second element of man is the portion of the universal agent which gives him life.
And the third element of man is the reflection of his perishable substance in the astral light, coincident with him, but not visible to his earthly eye.
The fourth element of man is made up of all the desires he feels by his material senses. This part is not real being, nor transitory being, but a result.
The fifth element of man is that which says: "I am," whereby a man knows himself from other men; and with it there is an intelligence of lower things, but no intelligence of things higher.
The sixth element is the pure understanding, eternal and co-extensive with all infinity of time and space--real, imperishable, invisible to the eye of man.
The seventh element is the soul from God.
Upon these things Zoroaster meditated long, and as his perishable body became weakened and emaciated with fasting and contemplation, he was aware that, at times, the universal agent ceased to be decomposed and recomposed in the nerves of his material part, so that his body became as though dead, and with, it the fourth element which represents the sense of mortal desires; and he himself, the three highest elements of him,--his individuality, his intelligence and his soul,--became separated for a time from all that weighed them down; and his mind's eyes were opened, and he saw clearly in the astral light, with an intuitive knowledge of true things, and false.
And so, night after night, he lay upon the floor of his cavern, rigid and immovable; his body protected from all outer harmful influences by the circle of light he had acquired the power of producing. For though there was no heat in the flame, no mortal breathing animal could so much as touch it with the smallest part of his body without being instantly destroyed as by lightning. And so he was protected from all harm in his trances; and he left his body at will and returned to it, and it breathed again, and was alive.
So he saw into the past and into the present and into the future, and his soul was purified beyond the purity of man, and soared upwards, and dreamed of the eternal good and of the endless truth; and at last it seemed to him that he should leave his body in its trance, and never return to it, nor let it breathe again. For since it was possible thus to cast off mortality and put on immortality, it seemed to him that it was but a weariness to take up the flesh and wear it, when it was so easy to lay it down. Almost he had determined that he would then let death come, as it were unawares, upon his perishable substance, and remain for ever in the new life he had found.
But as his spirit thought in this wise, he heard a voice speaking to him, and he listened.
"One moment is as another, and there is no difference between one time and another time."
"One moment in eternity is of as great value as another moment, for eternity changes not, neither is one part of it better than another part."
"Though man be immortal as to his soul, he is mortal as to his body, and the time which his soul shall spend in his body is of as great worth to him as the time which he shall spend without it."
"Think not that by wilfully abandoning the body, even though you have the power and the knowledge to do so, you will escape from the state in which it has pleased God to put you."
"Rather shall your pain and the time of your suffering be increased, because you have not done with the body that which the body shall do."
"The life of the soul while it is in the body, has as much value as when it has left it. You shall not shorten the time of dwelling in the flesh."
"Though you know all things, you know not God. For though you know your body which is in the world, and the world which is in time, and time which is in space, yet your knowledge goeth no farther, for space and all that therein is, is in God."
[Footnote 7: Hermes Trismegistus, Poemandres xi. 2.]
"You have learned earthly things and heavenly things. Learn then that you shall not escape the laws of earth while you are on earth, nor the laws of heaven when you are in heaven. Lift up your heart to God, but do in the body those things which are of the body."
"There are other men put into the world besides you. If you leave the world, what does your knowledge profit other men? And yet it is to profit other men that God has put you into the world."
"And not you only, but every man. The labour of man is to man, and the labour of angels to angels. But the time of man is as valuable in the sight of God, as the time of angels."
"All things that are not accomplished in their time shall be left unaccomplished for ever and ever. If while you are in the flesh, you accomplish not the things of the flesh after the manner of your humanity, you shall enter into the life of the spirit as one blind, or maimed; for your part is not fulfilled."
"Wisdom is this. A man shall not care for the things of the world for himself, and his soul shall be lifted and raised above all that is mean and perishable; but he shall perform his part without murmuring. He shall not forget the perishable things, though he soar to the imperishable."
"For man is to man as one portion of eternity to another; and as eternity would be imperfect if one moment could be removed, so also the earth would be imperfect if one man should be taken from it before his appointed time."
"If a man therefore take himself out of the world, he causes imperfection, and sins against perfection, which is the law of God."
"Though the world be in darkness, the darkness is necessary to the light. Though the world perish, and heaven perish not for ever, yet is the perishable necessary to the eternal."
"For the transitory and the unchangeable exist alike in eternity and are portions of it. And one moment is as another, and there is no difference between one time and another time."
"Go, therefore, and take up your body, and do with it the deeds of the body among men; for you have deeds to do, and unless they are done in their time, which is now, they will be unfulfilled for ever, and you will become an imperfect spirit."
"The imperfect spirit shall be finally destroyed, for nothing that is imperfect shall endure. To be perfect all things must be fulfilled, all deeds done, in the season while the spirit is in darkness with the body. The deeds perish, and the body which doeth them, but the soul of the perfect man is eternal, and the reflection of what he has done, abides for ever in the light."
"Hasten, for your time is short. You have learned all things that are lawful to be learnt, and your deeds shall be sooner accomplished."
"Hasten, for one moment is as another, and there is no difference between the value of one time and of another time."
"The moment which passes returns not, and the thing which a man should do in one time cannot be done in another time."
The voice ceased, and the spirit of Zoroaster returned to his body in the cave, and his eyes opened. Then he rose, and standing within the circle, cast sand upon the portion towards the east; and so soon as the circle was broken, it was extinguished and there remained nothing but the marks Zoroaster had traced with his fingers upon the black sand.
He drew his tattered mantle around him, and went to the entrance of the cave, and passed out. And it was night.
Overhead, the full moon cast her broad rays vertically into the little valley, and the smooth black stones gleamed darkly. The reflection caught the surface of the little pool by the spring, and it was turned to a silver shield of light.
Zoroaster came forward and stood beside the fountain, and the glory of the moon fell upon his white locks and beard and on the long white hand he laid upon the rock.
His acute senses, sharpened beyond those of men by long solitude and fasting, distinguished the step of a man far up the height on the distant crags, and his keen sight soon detected a figure descending cautiously, but surely, towards the deep abyss where Zoroaster stood. More and more clearly he saw him, till the man was near, and stood upon an overhanging boulder within speaking distance. He was the shepherd who, from time to time, brought food to the solitary mystic; and who alone, of all the goatherds in those hills, would have dared to invade the sacred precincts of Zoroaster's retreat. He was a brave fellow, but the sight of the lonely man by the fountain awed him; it seemed as though his white hair emitted a light of its own under the rays of the moon, and he paused in fear lest the unearthly ascetic should do him some mortal hurt.
"Wilt thou harm me if I descend?" he called out timidly.
"I harm no man," answered Zoroaster. "Come in peace."
The active shepherd swung himself from the boulder, and in a few moments he stood among the stones at the bottom, a few paces from the man he sought. He was a dark fellow, clad in goat-skins, with pieces of leather bound around his short, stout legs. His voice was hoarse, perhaps with some still unconquered fear, and his staff rattled as he steadied himself among the stones.
"Art not thou he who is called Zoroaster?" he asked.
"I am he," answered the mystic. "What wouldest thou?"
"Thou knowest that the Great King with his queens and his court are at the palace of Stakhar," replied the man. "I go thither from time to time to sell cheeses to the slaves. The Great King has made a proclamation that whosoever shall bring before him Zoroaster shall receive a talent of gold and a robe of purple. I am a poor shepherd--fearest thou to go to the palace?"
"I fear nothing. I am past fear these three years."
"Will the Great King harm thee, thinkest thou? Thou hast paid me well for my pains since I first saw thee, and I would not have thee hurt."
"No man can harm me. My time is not yet come."
"Wilt thou go with me?" cried the shepherd, in sudden delight. "And shall I have the gold and the robe?"
"I will go with thee. Thou shalt have all thou wouldest," answered Zoroaster. "Art thou ready? I have no goods to burden me."
"But thou art old," objected the shepherd, coming nearer. "Canst thou go so far on foot? I have a beast; I will return with him in the morning, and meet thee upon the height. I came hither in haste, being but just returned from Stakhar with the news."
"I am younger than thou, though my hair is white. I will go with thee. Lead the way."
He stooped and drank of the fountain in the moonlight, from the hollow of his hand. Then he turned, and began to ascend the steep side of the valley. The shepherd led the way in silence, overcome between his awe of the man and his delight at his own good fortune.
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