In FICTION by Douglas J. Penick1 Comment

Gesar’s love for the one who gave him birth, the Naga Princess Dzeden, and his great heart for the sufferings of all beings draw him on. Steadfast in his resolve to enter the natural liberation of the bardos and realms, he passes into the kingdom of Yama, the Lord of Death. To the accompaniment of heavy drumbeats, crashing cymbals, and low horns, this is chanted in a deep voice.

Gesar, Lord of Warriors and his horse of wind, Kyang Ko Kar Kar drop like a meteor through a lightless sky, descending through swirling clouds of thickening black smoke. The heat around them becomes ever greater. Gesar’s armor begins to burn against his skin, and his clothes begin to scorch. Suddenly there is a great crash as if an iron gate has just swung closed behind them. At the same instant, the steel hooves of the horse of miracles strike a great polished iron floor with the metallic clash of swords striking armor.

The air ripples with sheets of flame and spumes of black burning smog, and reeks of sweat, blood, and burning flesh. Seething vapors scald their throats and lungs, and they almost cannot breathe. Blinded, Ko Kar Kar rears in panic. Gesar cries out and gropes desperately for his sword. A deafening metallic roar of thunder rolls through the dense air. Gesar feels he is in the center of an immense bronze bell, and the pulsing sound waves are shaking the atoms in his body apart.

Then a wild cacophony of screams, wails, piercing shrieks, and mocking laughter erupts all around. Kyang Ko Kar Kar wheels madly as Gesar searches desperately through the dark choking air. Slowly, as they twist and turn, their eyes, still stinging from the heat and fumes, become accustomed to the reeking darkness. They see they were in an immense white-hot iron prison house so vast that they can find neither its walls nor its ceiling. Its ancient rusting steel walls are banked with heaps of glowing coals. It is as if they are surrounded by a ring of bonfires circling the horizon of a sunless earth.

As fuming smoke whirls around their faces, it takes on the flickering shapes of a myriad of demons who brush against them leaving slimy traces of spit and mucus. Black demons with crows’ heads, human bodies and iron wings fly nearby past, carrying naked writhing corpses in their iron beaks. Phosphorescent green owls with the faces of old women and talons of bronze hoot as they rip brains out of skulls. Vultures red as embers with bloody claws at the end of their muscular human arms pull the entrails from screaming people not yet dead. Beneath them, smoke-colored jackals race across the iron floor carrying bits of flesh in their grinning mouths, while copper-colored serpents with bland pale human faces undulate, twisting and crushing the bodies of children and women in their coils.

Here and there in the shadows, crowds of naked men, women, children, some weak and bony, others in their prime, huddle together. They cower in helpless terror as they wait for a fate they can neither comprehend nor escape. Kyang Ko Kar Kar’s mouth is foaming and his great body shakes uncontrollably. The chaos of horrific sounds, smells and sights pressing in around him make Gesar think he himself will go mad. Paralyzed for perhaps for a moment or perhaps a century, he sees that at the center of this burning prison is a towering, red-hot iron throne resting on a mountainous pyre of burning corpses.

This is the throne of the Lord of Death, and standing before it, seeming at first like the shadow of an eclipse, then appearing in his full form, is Yama, King of Finality. Yama towers black and immense with powerful gleaming arms and legs like world-ending monsoons of fire and oily smoke. His huge black body throbs, radiating enormous heat but covered in beads of ice-cold corpse-sweat. With flashes of lightning, his steel mesh robe swirls around him, but does not conceal his erection with its burning red tip. He wears an iron belt from which hang hundreds of freshly severed heads of men young and old, beautiful women, crones, adolescents, and infants.

At the top of his neck, which is like a great twisting column of smoke, his bull’s head glows like molten bronze. Burning air and sulfurous smoke pour from his nostrils, his ears, and from around his three eyes and ears. Molten lava oozes from his nostrils. His great horns are steel and freezing cold. He wears a crown of dried skulls. His mane blazes wildly like an all-consuming fire. His three eyes, red with burning blood, roll madly scouring the whole of space. Fresh blood stains his smacking lips and gnashing steel teeth. In his right hand he brandishes a huge iron mace surmounted by a huge laughing skull. In his left hand, he holds coils of iron chains with razor hooks.

The Lord of Death stands on a great red bull that is copulating with a beautiful dark-haired giantess. As the King of Death’s obsidian toenails rake the bull’s back, it bucks and bellows, tearing into the flesh of the giantess below. But she, insensible to the mutilation of her body, writhes and moans in delirium. Gesar is completely overwhelmed by the totality of this hallucination. Wherever he looks, he is consumed by the phantasmagoria of death, and now in whatever direction he turns his head, the Lord of Death, wild and all consuming, rages before him. There is no direction where the figure of death can be evaded.

Then the Lord of Death himself speaks in an excruciating voice of bronze:
I am the iron gate that closes time:
Lord of the branding iron.
I am the cauldron of cause and effect:
Lord of transformation.

I am the mirror of your hidden face:
Lord of burning chains.
Who you were once
Is no more.
Who you are to be
You will not know.

As the roar of the Lord of Death shakes him, Gesar feels crushed as if all his powers and attainments, his successes and failures, his pride and valor, his cleverness, his wisdom, his realization had become the jaws of a vise closing on him. He knows that all his past cannot sustain him now. He feels he has pompously proclaimed his story-book role as hero and savior. Now, in his utter helplessness, everything is stripped away. He is completely naked. There is a moment of paralyzing terror: he gives himself up. And suddenly, he feels completely free.

Beyond fear, Gesar draws himself up. His golden armor blazes like the sun and his crystal helmet radiates the cool pervasive light of the full moon. His sword in its scabbard vibrates, and his bow and arrows give off a penetrating hum. Then he sings in a voice clear and strong:

Dying endlessly into every moment,
I am Gesar, Lord of Warriors.
Accepting the embrace of the life
I am the living heart samaya.
Born spontaneously in the luminous empty expanse
I am the ever-youthful vase body.

Then Gesar proclaims: “Neither time nor inescapable fate has brought me here. Willingly, I come before you. My mother, to whom I owe my life and many other kindnesses, is caught within the bonds of Hell. I have come to free her. She suffers horribly. It is my vow to bring her peace, and I will not be stopped.”

“Great Hero,” and though the Lord of Death attempts to modulate his roaring voice, it is still a loud rasp, “I have heard of you. It is not my doing, noble lord, that your mother suffers so.

“All beings come before me because their life is exhausted. They rise or sink within the six realms because of the weight of their own deeds, words and habitual thoughts. This is the law of existence itself. Everything has its consequence. The judgment of karma and its punishments are inflicted by each being on her or himself.

“Unable to bear the truth of their own responsibility, all the beings of the six realms project my terrible form, my prestige and power.”

“My lord,” Gesar replies,” Your immortality exceeds that of any god. Your voice outlasts the span of any law. Cause and effect spin within your iron grasp. Even the Buddhas must appear subject to your law. Every being in every realm fears the approach of the Lord of Death, and even the wisest, most learned, and accomplished beings fear that moment when they will stand before you. Then in your mirror all faults are revealed and all virtues made known. And when they are weighed out, it is you and your servants who carry each being to the realm that reflects the habits of mind which he or she has cultivated. And from those realms you will remove them when the time has come for them to journey on. Thus I request that you conduct me to Hell and find my mother there. Then I will remove her and place her in the human realm once more.”

“Peerless Warrior, I do not have the power to free your mother from the endless cycles of existence or from any realm. She alone can free herself. But I will let you show her the entirety of my domain. Seeing this, her mind may change. If she can find liberation within the realms and within the flow of life and death, so be it. If not, she returns to her torment.”

Gesar smiles: “Thank you, O King. I wish for nothing more except the small favor of your company as a guide.” King Yama stared balefully at Gesar. Finally he says:

“Gesar, King of Ling, I do not hold the realms as a possession or a place of which I am merely the lord. The six realms are within my body. The nidanas are my veins. The three poisons are my heart’s blood. Cause and effect are my heartbeat, and cyclic existence is my breath. I am myself the domain of life and death. Thus, wherever you travel in space and time, I am always there. The atoms of all phenomena are the atoms of my being. I pervade all of time and space. The entire expanse of apparent phenomena is my body. Choose how you wish to enter: through my mouth, my nose, my ear or my eye, you are welcome.”

“If this is a trick, we will be destroyed,” whispers Kyang Ko Kar Kar.

Gesar ignores the horse of miracles, and replies simply: “Thank you my lord. We will enter by your center eye.”

The Lord of Karma nods his fearsome bull head. “Truly the power of your vow has made you fearless.” And by way of a reply, Gesar sings this song in a sweet and gentle voice:

Because of a child’s cry and a mother’s anxious smile,
My love is Vajra love.
Because of laughter in the snow,
My love is Vajra love.

Because of barley roasting on a pine fire,
My love is Vajra love.
Because of how a horse’s whinny carries on a spring breeze,
My love is Vajra love.

Because of a mother’s caress by the fireside,
My love is vajra love.
Because of drinking water from a glacier stream,
My love is Vajra love.

Because women laugh as they cut fresh hay,
My love is Vajra love.
Because lovers’ tongues meet when they kiss,
My love is vajra love.

Because men boast as they shoot arrows,
My love is Vajra love.
Because old scholars pour over texts in the dim fire light,
My love is Vajra love.
Because every movement is lost beyond recovery,
My love is vajra love.

O lord of Karma,
You are the ax blade
Which brings the endless strands of cause and effect
To the heart of nowness.

As your subject, I die.
My world and my past die.
O Lord of Existence,
You are Mount Meru
On which all the realms of being are arrayed.
I enter your kingdom with the samaya heart of Vajra love.
I die into nowness.

With that Gesar rises in the saddle on the horse of wind. The two suddenly shrink to the size of a gnat. They rise through the steaming air that envelopes the Lord of Death’s body. They fly up along his long nose where the sounds of his breathing are louder than the beating of a hundred watchtower drums. They approach his huge bloodshot eye which seems as vast a stormy sky, and they enter the opening at its right corner which looms before them as great tunnel lined with molten lava.

About the Author
Douglas J. Penick

Douglas J. Penick

Douglas Penick utilizes historical research with a solid understanding of Chinese culture and Buddhism to make stories accessible, beautiful and enlightening. In his words, "I contribute to the mischief, longing, satisfaction, lust, sorrow and fascination which make our presence in this world a discovery of true love." The Website of Douglas. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author.

Yama Lord of Death by Gabriel Marquez, USA.

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    Révélatrice lecture ce matin…merci.
    “May you be well
    May you be happy.”
    The Bouddha

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