Yesterday I was thinking a lot about these notions of reincarnation and the problem of evil, and it was on my mind last night as I went to sleep. I had a strange dream that somehow seems connected to these ideas.
In the dream, I was part of a group of young men in a town who had gone off to fight in a war. Several of us had been killed in the bloody fighting, and as survivors we as a group were now still struggling with the aftermath. We were trying to live our normal lives back in town, but not all of us were able to do so without the psychological scars of combat plaguing us. One young man in our group in particular was haunted by the fact that his life had been saved by another fellow in our group, but he couldn't even remember who it was who had saved him, because of the traumas of the combat. He came to me, because I had been one of the group leaders I suppose, a non-commissioned officer or something of the sort, and begged me to help him find the man who had saved him so he could thank him. He was wracked with survivor's guilt about this incident, and because he had been knocked unconscious in the course of the action, he had no idea who it was who had saved his life. I realized I had to help this guy, that he just wasn't going to be able to go on without knowing who had saved him.
So I began asking around among the rest of the guys in our group, trying to piece together the action of that night, to find out who it was who had performed this heroic act. It took a while, but finally I came up with the name of the hero beyond any doubt, and it was a complete surprise. The guy who it turned out had saved the first fellow was known to us all as the most messed up, psychologically disturbed guy in the whole unit. He had never been very stable mentally, and since we had gotten back from battle, he was clearly off his rocker, and wandered around town with a haunted, deranged thousand-yard stare, looking as if he'd never get back to normal, and maybe never had been normal to begin with. I couldn't figure out how this guy could have performed such a heroic act, so I tried to track him down to ask him about the details of that fateful night which seemed to have left him in such a disturbed state.
I tracked our friend down finally out on the streets. He was wandering about, going in and out of bars and gambling haunts, looking as if he wasn't even halfway there, not quite knowing what he was doing or where he was going. His face was haggard and worn, looking much older than his years, and his eyes revealed a man in a state of shock and despair that had driven him much more than half-insane. I tried to talk with him, but at first all he could do was mumble and wander about, and it seemed as if my presence and questions were aggravating him even more. Even so, I stayed with him, until finally he began to settle down a little bit and respond to my questions about that night, yet still restless and walking about quickly as I tried to keep up with him. But eventually he looked at me with a kind of strange recognition, and began recounting what he'd seen.
The man's story was simply terrifying. He described how in the course of battle, with guns blazing all around, and bombs going off in every direction, he had begun having strange visions of Kali. And as he was describing these visions to me, somehow I began to see them also. It was as if his story began unfolding in my own mind as he told it. As the battle had raged, somehow he began to see Kali, the Hindu Goddess of War and Destruction, hovering over the field of battle, meting out destruction to those karmically deserving of it. It was an immensely terrifying vision. Kali would send fiery death in one form after another to members of our group whose karmas called for it. One after another, I saw this fellow running through this burning town, with Kali flying in the air above him, seemingly directing the enemy's fire to target each of those members of our unit whose karmic destiny called for their death and destruction. The experience of war was bad enough as it is, but this poor fellow had been burdened even further by these visions of Divinity at work meting out the laws of karmic justice. And now I was reliving the experience with him, watching as Kali sent bullets and bombs and artillery and helicopters and missiles at this person and that person. All of this came alive to me in his telling, and we both watched as bodies exploded around us in unimaginably horrible ways, with Kali's fierce gaze directing it all, invisible to everyone but us.
I couldn't believe that I was able to see this man's visions, and I said something to that effect to him, and he suddenly stop in his tracks and stared at me. "But you were there," he said. And then it hit me - I really had been there. We had been together in this battle, fighting side by side, and that is why I was having these "visions" as my friend spoke. It wasn't that I was seeing his visions in my own mind, it was that he was simply re-awakening my own memories of the battle, that I had suppressed and forgotten. We had run side by side through the town, protecting each other as best we could, and we had both seen Kali at work. To the left and right, Kali sent these giant bolts of death at one soldier after another, and then suddenly Kali sent a giant metal shell at my friend, right at my side, the fellow now telling me his story. And I recalled how in an instant I had stepped forward and miraculously caught this giant shell, some two and a half feet in diameter, in my arms, just before it would have struck him. I did it without even thinking about the impossibility of what I'd done. It was an instant reaction. One moment this shell was fired with tremendous speed at my friend, the next I was grabbing it out of the air, not knowing how I'd done such a thing. Nor could my friend believe it. We were both struck by the sheer unbelievableness of it all. How could anyone stop Kali's acts? Even physically this was an impossible fact, this shell was traveling so fast it should have killed my friend, or anyone who go in its way, instantly. And yet I had plucked it out of the air with ease, without any struggle at all. I realized in that moment that I was not what I thought I was at all. The Gods, even Kali, recognized that I had, because of some deep purity in my soul, the capacity to intervene and alter these karmic patterns, to intercept this shell and put it aside, thus saving my fellow combatant.
And yet, my friend was as much unnerved by this act as if by death itself, for he had seen death come at him and then seen it taken away. This shook him to the bone. Somehow , he went on with the battle, and in the course of action he was inspired to save the lives of others, including the young man in our unit who had first come to me wanting to know who had saved him. And yet, the experience itself had left him in a state of derangement that he could not come out of. He kept re-living that experience, trying to absorb it. And now I too was having to relive it, and recall my own role in that play. It was hard to accept that I had done something miraculous, that some kind of purity existed in me which even the Gods such as Kali would honor and respect. It was not how I saw myself at all. And yet, clearly it was the case. I had no idea how to handle this information, and so I had blocked it out of my own mind too. Finally I thanked my friend and left him to wander the streets, and eventually found the original soldier who had been saved by the second fellow, who had been alive to do so because I had saved him, and I told him who it was who saved him, but I couldn't find a way to tell him the whole story. It was better, I thought, to leave my part in the story out. I was left to contemplate who exactly I was in the midst of all these karmas, that I could act in the manner I had.