I came home last night to find myself sitting on the sofa, idly flipping through the pages of my dog-eared copy of the Bodhicaryavatara.
“Don’t be startled,” he said. “I am you. I’m not some time-traveling future you come to issue a warning nor am I an alternate version of you from a parallel universe. In fact, it’s funny that those two fantastic scenarios were the first things that came to your head when you saw me sitting here. It just goes to show that you’d rather believe any bit of sci-fi nonsense than the obvious fact that you’ve been downright duplicitous in your thoughts and behavior for nearly half a century.”
I blinked hard and looked myself in the eye. It was like staring at the reflection of my reflection in a hall of mirrors. He waved the book in the air.
“Do you believe this shit?” he said, pointing at the cover illustration of Santideva sitting on a lotus flower. “You don’t have to answer me because, of course, there is nothing you know that I don’t. That said, I’m going to speak of you — of me — in the first person from here on out in an effort to make this dialogue a little less awkward. I’m just a physical incarnation of the voice in my head. The ego voice. The voice that arises from self-awareness.”
“Not to be rude, but I prefer you in your proper state of invisibility.”
“Of course I do. As long as I refrain from looking myself squarely in the eye, I can pretend that there are countless potential higher versions of myself that can be realized with the proper training. When I see myself just as I am — the way that other people see me — it’s a lot harder to deny the fact that my potpourri of carefully selected images and ideals are nothing more than the delusional dualistic diversions of a coward. Tell me, what do I think about this whole ‘karma’ thing?”
“What would compel me to submit to an unwelcome interrogation conducted by me?”
“I’m embarrassed to have asked such an illogical question. It seems that if all of this self-conscious Buddhist practice I’ve worn on my sleeve for the past several years had had any practical effect whatsoever, I’d realize that anything I do is of my own volition. Yet, here I am resisting a conversation that I initiated.”
“I got home, opened the door and found you sitting here. I assure you, I had no intention of walking into such a situation.”
“And I was just sitting here reading when I spoiled my own quietude by walking through the door and acting surprised to find myself right where I had been all along. So let me get back to my question. I used to think of karma as some kind of cosmic justice system that ensures adequate punishment or reward for one’s actions. What can I say, my folks brought me up Catholic. But now that I’ve taken the time to learn its intended meaning, it seems to be similar to Newton’s laws of motion. Any action will create an appropriate reaction. Every cause creates an effect that creates a cause and so on. Not so mystical, is it? I was secretly disappointed when I learned the real definition. But this — this little chat I’m having — it must have been caused by an effect, right? And as counter-intuitive as it is to my understanding of basic physics, perhaps here’s the so-called mysticism I told myself I so desired. Anyway, everything I’ve ever done is significant according to the law of karma. All of the actions I’ve performed when laboring under the delusion of an inherently real self set pendulums in motion that will sooner or later reach their fulcrums and swing the other way. I wonder if I’m ready to start calling to mind some of those actions whose reactions have yet to come to fruition.”
I was starting to break out in a cold sweat and my pulse was becoming more rapid. Aside from my body double lounging on the sofa, no other features of my home were amiss. But the atmosphere felt off. For some reason, I began to think about the notion of linear time being a contrivance and how past and future exist only in the abstract. A terrifying suspicion arose in my mind that I wasn’t ready to analyze.
“This is challenging my so-called sense of logic, isn’t it? Ironically, I always eschewed the spiritual components of spirituality because they seemed so incompatible with my wishfully stoic image. That intermediate period between incarnations the Tibetans call the Bardo — I really brought my proud cynicism to bear on that one. But I’m not a Vulcan nor am I a scientist nor have I ever approached my life with logic, always emotion that I then immediately denied through verbal gymnastics, creating an artificial after-the-fact rationality. I do talk a good game, I’ll give me that. But it was just my ego — my self-cherishing — that nurtured this tendency to deny my own motives. The pendulum has been hovering at the brink of a backswing for quite some time now.”
Acting on pure instinct, I lunged at him and wrapped my fingers tightly around his throat. As I pressed deep into his larynx, I began to gasp and choke.
“Nice try. Now I’ve got bruises on my neck. Can I get on with it or must I make more ridiculous attempts to delay the inevitable?”
At that, he took a step towards me so that our noses were touching, then another to reassimilate into a single entity, a reintegration without corresponding physical sensations. There was no pain aside from that of the fresh bruises on my windpipe. Then I realized that everything around me — the walls, the floor, the furniture — was becoming watery in appearance; shimmering, shivering, and growing increasingly translucent.
At the very moment physical appearances dissolved completely, there came a pause. A timeless pause of a nanosecond or an aeon. Consciousness winked out.
GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Like a demon, snarling, convulsing, biting down on my own tongue, I heard the inhuman sound escape my lips and reverberate throughout the asylum. There were screws digging into my temples, my arms and legs strapped to a gurney as two grotesquely brutish men were holding my midsection down. A man in priestly vestments stood at the foot of the gurney reading Latin passages from a leather-bound book in a booming oratory. I understood every word he spoke. I understood that I had been deemed insane by a council of church elders — possessed by a malevolent spirit that could only be banished through prayer or bodily torture or death. The priest closed his missal and declared that prayer had been insufficient. I was paralyzed with terror as the men began to tighten the screws.