One morning, Saint Issa, a 13-year-old Jewish mystic boy, made the fateful decision to leave home and set off by foot along the ancient silk trade route to India. His goal was to explore the eternal truths arrived at by the holy men of the far East.
Along his nearly one-year journey across expansive desserts and fertile countrysides, the young saint performed miraculous healings of the sick and taught everyone he met to look within to find the perennial truths of existence.
As his journey unfolded, Saint Issa found much solace in the majesty of nature. Most nights, he slept and prayed in the same ancient caves that were once occupied by awakened beings before him. However, on some warm and clear nights, the young saint would simply make camp under the stars. Such experiences were very meaningful for the practicing ascetic.
Each day, the Prince of Peace, as he’d later be known by his countless devotees, walked 20 miles (32 kilometres) on foot with only a walking stick, a canteen of water and an alms cup in his hand. The wandering mystic walked on and on until he finally arrived in northern India, at the foothills of the sacred Himalayan Mountains.
Before proceeding with his climb up those rarefied peaks of wisdom, Saint Issa paused to rest and acknowledged the beauty of his natural surroundings. Moved to tears, he knelt on the ground and recited a short but gracious prayer to the Creator:
“Heavenly Father, please bless my path to your illumined peaks of wisdom and grace. Oh God, first cause, last principle and the great source of love, please direct my being so that it may join in complete union with you.”
After a few moments, Saint Issa got to his feet, bowed to nature’s altars before him and began his steep ascent into the high-altitude mountains, where many seekers before him had attained enlightenment.
Saint Issa’s journey up through the Himalayan foothills, to the villages where he’d heard holy men dwelled, was about 100 hundred miles (161 kilometres) long. However, due to torrential rains, many of the mountain paths were rendered unpassable, and he had to navigate alternate routes.
The result was that a challenging seven- to eight-day journey turned into a perilous two-week test of the young boy’s will. Of course, there was no challenge too big for this inspiring being to handle. For out of his thoughts, Saint Issa manifested an endless supply of fruits, breads and vegetables.
Whenever he passed through a small village, this Prince of Peace stopped to feed the poor and desperate. As word spread of Saint Issa’s charity of spirit, men and women from all over the land travelled to the villages he walked through to receive gifts of food and to touch the young holy man’s feet. Feeding the hungry and serving the poor had always been a natural calling for the Saint, who was affectionately called by different names in the many places he wandered.
Finally, on the thirteenth day of his journey, Saint Issa arrived at a holy Indian village. The township stood at nearly 1,500 feet (152 metres) in elevation and offered a dramatic view of the Himalayas. As Saint Issa entered the community, he was humbled to tears to find all of its inhabitants standing at the town centre, waiting for him. Men and women showered the wanderer with gifts of food, prayer beads and jewellery embroidered with sacred Hindu and Buddhist mantras.
The tall and bearded long-haired saint smiled warmly, bowed and opened up his arms to hug each of the villagers. One by one, each took their turn embracing the young mystic, and many could feel overwhelming love pour from his being. As Saint Issa toured the village, several people dropped to their knees and prayed as he passed. All the while, cows, dogs, mountain goats and native Himalayan yak followed him, as if they were being pulled along on a string.
Saint Issa blessed all those he passed. He even stopped to pray over a group of bandits who were to be banished from the village the following day. After sharing his endless compassion with natives for the better part of the morning and afternoon, he wandered to the outskirts of town and found a very modest house made of wood, stone and mud.
Saint Issa had heard from a local elder that a revered hermit-sage dwelled there. Curious, the young seeker knocked on the door three times. There was no answer. He paused for a few moments and then tried again.
Following the second round of knocks, the door slowly opened and an old man emerged from out of the darkness. He was of average height, was very thin and wore his hair in long, distinct braids that stretched to his knees when unfurled. The old man stared in silence at Saint Issa, for what would’ve felt like an eternity to the average pilgrim. Finally, the old man spoke:
“I have been expecting you. You are a wise and venerable being. Yet, you will not accomplish your calling here on Earth until you are able to recall your last two incarnations here on Earth.”
The old sage fixed his gaze ever so intensely on the young mystic. Saint Issa bowed his head in reverence and asked a series of questions in response:
“Oh, illumined One, my mind has many questions. Who are you? What can be my calling, other than to serve my heavenly father in spirit? Why must I acquire knowledge of my last two incarnations?”
The old sage replied:
“My name is Vasudeva Das. I have incarnated on this planet many times throughout eternity. I chose to take birth in this form to help liberate and guide others to their own enlightenment. Your supreme goal, oh young noble one, is indeed to serve Brahman and all manifestations of IT’s spirit. However, for you, this role is to be an exalted one. You, dear Saint, are a great and liberated soul who has taken this birth to restore the path of peace that has been forgotten in the current age of darkness. It is your dharma to lead the wayward back to self-realization.”
Saint Issa dropped to his knees and bowed to the old man. He then quietly responded:
“But illustrious seer, you still haven’t answered my third question: Why is it necessary to acquire knowledge of my last two births? Does not the present hold the one within all?”
The sage gently placed his hand on the young mystic’s head and replied:
“You must obtain knowledge of each birth in order to fully understand your own karmic path, and to gain appreciation of how important your current incarnation is to the world’s spiritual development. Once you gain this knowledge, your reason for taking this birth will be fully felt and realized. You shall attain great things, noble wanderer from the middle regions of the world. It will not be the false greatness of riches and esteem that you will achieve, but the greatness of a prophet, forever engrained in the hearts of the wise and faithful.”
Saint Issa bowed for a third time, and then touched the feet of the wise Vasudeva Das before departing from his luminous presence for the evening.
The Lord Buddha
For the next year, Saint Issa prayed, meditated, chanted, fasted and served the people of the high Indian village with great love and devotion. Over the course of that time, the wandering saint also set out to remember each of his recent two incarnations. After one year of practice, the young saint found little success, and at last sought out the council of the wise Vasudeva Das once more.
Just as before, Saint Issa walked to the outskirts of the village and to the home of the hermit-sage. The wandering seeker knocked on the door and waited. A few moments passed before Vasudeva Das quietly opened the door and met his guest with the same greeting, “I’ve been expecting you.”
Saint Issa then bowed to the old holy man and said:
“Illumined One, I still haven’t recalled either of my past two incarnations. I feel that I may be near a breakthrough, but my heavenly father hasn’t yet revealed such insights to me.”
Vasudeva Das stepped out of his house and closed the door. He then motioned for the young mystic to kneel before him. Saint Issa was only too happy to oblige, as the old sage placed both his hands on the boy’s shoulders and softly replied:
“To remember the self, one must forget the self. In forgetting the self, one will find their eternal self within.”
Vasudeva Das then added:
“May I suggest you start repeating the following mantra: OM TAT SAT.”
“What does that mantra mean, oh holy one?”
“OM, as you well know by now, refers to the vibration of creation heard throughout the entire universe. TAT means that which is beautiful, loving and omnipresent. And SAT is absolute bliss and truth. OM TAT SAT, then, means the ONE is the supreme reality and absolute truth. Say this mantra over and over. Day and night. Night and day. Repeat it during meditation and say it while working or at rest. This mantra, if said with the weight of your full spirit behind it, will reveal the answers you seek.”
Saint Issa touched the feet of the holy man and stood up and bowed before going back on his way. The old hermit-sage bowed in return, and a smile born of great compassion swept across his face. Saint Issa was special. Vasudeva Das knew this. It would only be a matter of time before the whole world knew it, too!
Later that afternoon, Saint Issa wandered back into the village and played with the children, tended to the sick and counselled the emotionally despondent. As would become his daily habit, Saint Issa manifested copious amounts of bread, cheese, fruit and vegetables in private to feed the poor.
When the beloved saint had finished tending to his last person of the day (a distraught father who had lost his young daughter to a venomous snake bite), he filled his canteen with water and took off to a nearby Himalayan peak to meditate for the evening.
After a three-hour climb up his chosen mountain, Saint Issa finally arrived at the high-altitude peak. He then assumed the lotus position, packed a pipe full of holy herb and began repeating the “OM TAT SAT” mantra. Following that, he fell into a deep meditation. As the physical sensations of his body gave way to the subtler rhythms of his heart, the young mystic experienced a transcendental vision:
Saint Issa saw himself as an orange sunbeam of luminescent light. A wave of clear white light, which went in and out in all directions, flowed through his being. Saint Issa then felt his being merge with this light. As his vision deepened, he felt his soul detach from his body and take flight into the sky.
The young mystic then saw the unfolding of all reality laid out before him. Looking from above, he saw babies being born and dying. He saw beautiful celebrations, offerings to Gods and Goddesses and wailing mothers in mourning. He saw acts of kindness, but also selfish instances of pride, anger and envy. He saw men smiling and shaking hands. But he also saw men senselessly killing one another on the battlefield.
He saw it all. Good and Bad. The white and dark forces. All of the dualities of humanity lay exposed there before him. It was then that Saint Issa acknowledged that suffering was as much a fact of life on Earth as joy. As his heart bubbled over with compassion, the young saint felt the suffering of the whole world within his being. He then asked himself what the root of all this suffering was.
Deep in this state of meditation, Saint Issa began to internalize what he’d been taught by various eastern sages over the past year: The root of all suffering was selfish desire and attachment: attachment to possessions and attachment to fame. Even the desire to “do good” could turn into an attachment, if not grounded in pure awareness.
Saint Issa began to see that suffering could end if one learned how to live without selfish cravings. Suddenly, his vision deepened yet again, and this time, he saw himself in a different body. He was sitting under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya, India, meditating to achieve awakening. Then, in a flash of absolute knowing, it dawned on Saint Issa that he’d been Lord Buddha 500 years earlier! He and the Buddha were the same being! Filled with waves of excitement, he began to recall all the details of his most recent and blessed incarnation.
He remembered his youth as a prince and all the worldly pleasures it had provided. He recalled the great lengths his father, a king, went to in order to shield his son from the physical indignities of life—disease, old age and death. The young saint recalled the utter shock he felt when he first saw a leper and deceased bodies lying on the side of the road near his palace.
Saint Issa remembered the moment he renounced his palace life and left his home, wife and child in search of enlightenment. He recalled his spiritual tutelage under several revered sages, as well as the years he spent as a practicing ascetic, deep within the jungle. He remembered his ultimate renunciation of asceticism itself, and his hope of finding a middle way between the extremes of the ascetic lifestyle and the indolence of palace life.
Finally, this absolute seeker of truth recalled the details of his enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, the forming of his ministry in India and the 45 years of service he devoted to laypeople and advanced spiritual seekers. Saint Issa then recalled the final moments of his incarnation as the Buddha, and his spirit’s passing beyond the wheel of birth and death. He opened his eyes and dwelled in a joyous space of silence for another 20 minutes, before wrapping himself tightly in a blanket to spend the night atop the summit.