Chapter 70 — A Vetala Ghost Questions a Prince

Vasishta resumed:—

As soon as the cloud of ignorance is dispersed by the bright sunbeams of right reason, then life becomes no life and the mind turns to no mind immersed in the soul. This state is called liberation by the wise. The mind and its sense of personal “I” and “you” appear as water in a mirage, but all these unrealities vanish when we come to our right reason.

Let me tell you about the questions of a vetala ghost which I happen to remember now. They concern our false and dreaming conceptions of the phenomenal world, and they will serve as examples for the subject of our previous lecture.

In the vast wilderness of the Vindhya Hills lived a gigantic vetala who happened to come out on an excursion to the adjoining districts in search of his prey of human beings. 5 Previously he used to live in the neighborhood of a populous city where he lived quite happily and well satisfied with the victims that were offered to him daily by the good citizens. Although he wandered through the city afflicted by hunger and thirst, he never killed a human being without some cause or harm. He walked in that place in the ways of honest and fair men.

It came to pass that he went out of the city to reside in his woody retreat where he never killed any man unless pressed by excessive hunger, and when he thought it was equitable for him to do so. There he happened to meet a ruler of the land, strolling about in his nightly rounds. The vetala cried out him in a loud and appalling voice. The vetala exclaimed, “Where are you going, O prince? Now you are caught in the clutches of a hideous monster. Now you are a dead man, my ration for this day.”

10 The prince replied, “Beware, O night demon! If you attempt to unjustly kill me for your food, I will break your skull into a thousand pieces.”

11 The vetala replied, “I will not kill you unless you deserve it. You are a ruler. It is your duty to attend to everyone’s petitions. 12 I ask you, O prince, to answer the questions that I propose to you. I believe you are best able to give a full and satisfactory answer to each one of them.”

13 “Who is that glorious sun, the particles of whose rays are seen to glitter in the surrounding worlds? What is that wind which blows these dusts of stars in the infinite space of emptiness? 14 What is that identical thing which passes from one dream to another and assumes different forms by hundreds and thousands, yet does not forsake its original form? 15 Tell me what is that core particle in bodies that is covered under a hundred sheaths, laid over and under one another like the layers of a plantain tree?”

16 “What is that minute atom which is imperceptible to the eye, yet produces this immeasurable universe, with its stupendous worlds and skies, and prodigious planets on high and mountains below, and which are the minutest parts of that minute particle? 17 What is that shapeless and formless atom which remains as the core and foundation under the rocks of huge mountains, and which underlies the triple worlds of heaven, earth and infernal regions?”

18 If you, O sinful soul, fail to answer to these questions, then you will be the killer of yourself, becoming my food this moment. And at the end, I will devour all your people, just as the lord of death destroys everybody in the world.