|One day after he had sat in the courtyard of his temple teaching them for some hours before suddenly pausing for a while, and it seemed to the students as if their day’s learning was almost done. The sun was already sinking low in the west and their teacher had fallen silent and respectfully they awaited his words of dismissal. Yet after a space, the old priest raised his head again and took up a new theme.
“The boat of the soul travels by way of the River of Life,” he began, “And this is the Narrow Winding Road to Perfection. Its waters may at times seem to be turbulent and full-flowing, sweeping the boat rapidly onwards and buffeting it from side to side, whilst at other times the flow seems to be much reduced, but the river is never completely dry and though the speed of the boat may also be slowed, its progress is never completely stopped.”
He paused again and looked out over the placid-flowing stream that swept gracefully past the walls of the Temple – one of the many mouths of the mighty River Nile as it wended its way north to theGreat Sea, meandering slowly through the flat, fertile delta region. Then he continued.
“The Narrow Winding Road to Perfection is like the great riverNile,” he continued slowly. “Its beginnings are unknown, although the wise ones say that its waters fall from the Heavens above on to great mountain heights, and that it then races down the slopes, rushing onwards at a great rate until it reaches the level plains ofEgypt, where at last it slackens its pace. Thereafter it runs more slowly, but still the boat of the soul is borne onwards by the current, although thereafter it flows placidly and leisurely, winding slowly from side to side, but always remaining constricted between its twin banks, and never spreading beyond them except in the flood season.
At other times it stays within its allotted bounds, though often it seems as if it seeks to break forth, especially when the land near its banks is low and swampy as at Faiyum. It is there and at places like it, that the boat of the soul may for a time be trapped by the weeds and papyrus that clog the river at that point, yet eventually, the River breaks forth again, and so it is with the River of Life. Like the waters of the Nile, it may seem trapped for a time by the trials of mortal life, but eventually it flows out from the swamps and on into the rich landof Egypt, taking the boat of the soul with it.
There the boat of the soul is carried forward again, moving steadily along the winding course of the River, still constricted between the two banks as is the Nile until at length it reaches the Great Sea. It carries with it the boat of the soul and it is there that ultimately it loses itself in that vast expanse of water, even as the perfected human soul loses itself in God.”
He paused for a long while and the students remained silent, but then one of them greatly daring, asked a question.
“Father,” he ventured, “what then do the banks of the River symbolise?”
“Ah,” came the ready reply, “I was waiting for one of you to ask a question, for I have but repeated an ancient parable and there is much that it can teach us if we will but seek the answers. So tell me then – if the River Nile is the Narrow Winding Road to Perfection, what are the twin banks that enclose the road on either side.”
Again he paused but this time none of the students seemed ready to answer his question. They looked at each other uneasily, each hoping that another would respond, but none did, and eventually the old priest continued.
“So be it then” he said carefully. “Have you forgotten all that I have taught you? Must I teach you again?”
The students stirred uneasily, but again none durst attempt to answer his question, so the old priest continued.
“He who follows the Narrow Winding Road must abide ever within the Twin Laws of the Almighty,” he said slowly, “And it is the keeping of these Laws that marks the borders between which the road passes, and those borders are but narrow, when compared with the vast deserts on either side, even as the banks of the Nile constrict it within narrow bounds. On both shores near those banks, there are rich and pleasant fields, full of crops and well-watered, but further away the land is dry and barren.
Yet it is only within the narrow banks of the river itself that the boat of the soul can be swept along towards its goal. Even those who dwell in the pleasant lands near the edges of the River of Life are bound to the soil and therefore are not progressing toward their goal, whilst the further away from it one travels, the harsher life becomes. Can anyone name for me the Twin Laws of the Almighty?”
This time there was no shortage of those wishing to answer his question, but the old priest chose the one who had first dared to speak;
“My father,” he said without hesitation, “The Twin Laws of God are reflected in the benevolent rule of the Pharaoh: his Just judgement and punishment of wrong-doers and his Love for all the people ofEgypt which leads him to be merciful towards them.”
The old priest inclined his head in acknowledgement of the truth and then continued his discourse.
“Yea, verily, my son, for the Pharaoh is indeed the earthly representative of the Almighty, but the Divine Laws embrace all mankind, not just the land of Egypt, and even the Pharaoh himself must give an accounting for his reign at the judgement seat of Osiris, who always abides by the Twin Laws of God – the Law of Justice and Retribution and the Law of Love and Mercy.
“Justice is meted out to all mortals, both good and bad, for as we have sown, so shall we reap; as we wrong others, so we ourselves will suffer in proportion, whilst if we do well we shall be rewarded. Mercy, however, is only for those who have shown love and given mercy rather than full payment for wrong received. If we show mercy, we shall receive mercy from the Almighty, for this is but Justice and thus the Law of Divine Justice is itself mitigated by the Law of Love, even as the rewards of Love are given only when it is just to do so.”
Again there was a lengthy pause as the students absorbed this lesson, for although they had long known of the Twin Laws, yet the way the old priest had just explained them made each student feel as if he had previously known naught. Until then, the Twin Laws had seemed to them to be mutually opposed to one another, yet as they had just been shown, this was not necessarily so. His description of the interaction between them, meant that both Laws were simultaneously honoured, and this gave the students further cause to ponder.
Each spent some time examining his own conscience – wondering whether or not he had always shown Mercy when he might have done, and could in consequence expect Mercy before the Judgement Seat of Osiris, or whether he could expect only the just reward of his many misdeeds. And as each thought thus, it seemed to him that those misdeeds, though paltry when compared with the sins of many, were nevertheless terrible crimes, when matched against the great opportunity they had been given by being permitted to sit at the feet of the Old Priest and learn so much.
At length a new pupil, one of the youngest of the band, tremulously raised his voice;
“Father,” he said, hesitantly, “What then do the rich farmlands and the deserts beyond signify?”
The Old Priest beamed
“My son,” he answered, “They signify those who do not follow the Narrow Winding Path. There are some, who whilst not remaining wholly within the Twin Laws do, nevertheless, strive to obey them, and in consequence will live moderately happy lives on earth, yet will they make little or no progress on the Path and so will be re-born life after life until they do so. Those who wander far from the Twin Laws will finds life far harsher, for spiritually it is a desert, lacking access to the waters of life. Yet even they, if they are prepared to make the long journey to the River, may enter thereon if they are prepared to build a boat that can withstand the crocodiles and river horses that destroy any who enter thereon without proper preparation”.
Again the students paused to digest this wisdom. They already knew that they could expect to encounter many tests and difficulties on theNarrow Winding Road, and though they knew that the “boat” of the soul was its faith, they had never before considered how their ability to overcome such obstacles might depend on the quality of that faith. Now, however, they did, and for a long time no one spoke. Finally the oldest and most senior of the students broke the silence.
“Father”, he asked, “what do the annual floods of the Nile signify? Do they imply that at certain times the Divine Life Force is so bountiful that even those who are on the banks close to the River may be swept away and born down to the sea, despite the dangers that the Path holds?”
Again, the priest beamed;
“Yes, indeed, my son, for in such times many of the crocodiles and river horses have been driven from the river by the flood, and even if the boat is but feeble, yet so swiftly does the river flow when it is in flood that many may then reach the Goal in safety. Yet the Flooding of the Nile has another and even greater meaning.”
He paused and the students stilled, waiting expectantly for the old priest to reveal a still greater Truth to their eagerly-seeking minds. Nor were they disappointed. Slowly the sage began again;
“The Flooding of the Nile comes at almost exactly the same time each year. It is rarely more than a few days early or late, and when it comes, it not only brings water to the fields along the edges of the River – it also covers them with silt and it is this deposit of rich soil, repeated year after year that makes the land near the River banks so fertile. Thus it is with the River of Life.
“The Divine Life Force is always flowing from the Almighty yet at the ending of an Age it comes forth in a great Flood, even as the Nilefloods at the end of each year. And borne on that Flood, or perhaps rather bringing the Flood with him, comes Horus, the winged Messenger of the Almighty, Who, like the River Nile gathers up all those deemed worthy and sweeps them away to the Realms of Bliss.
And just as after the annual Flood, the fields along the banks of the River are wet and fertile and ready to be sown with seed, so also it is at the beginning of the New Age, for the oldest and greatest souls have been taken and younger ones must step up to their positions in life. And just as the Nile leaves rich silt behind, so the Divine Messenger ever leaves behind him fresh Wisdom into which these souls are planted, and in which they will grow to produce many rich harvests. Then, when the last harvest has been gathered in, the Messenger comes again and the whole Spiritual Cycle is repeated, just as after the last harvest of grain, the Nile Floods again and the earthly cycle begins once more.”
He fell silent and again the class pondered on the great wisdom that he had shown them, but time passed, and still the old priest sat – silent, and with his eyes closed as if in sleep as the shadows of even gradually lengthened. The class stirred uneasily and one after the other spoke, softly at first, then gradually louder, fearing to rouse their teacher from his reverie, but driven to make the attempt, by the sight of the sun sinking over the still waters of the Temple stream.
Finally the oldest student rose to his feet, and going to the old priest, touched him gently on the shoulder, but there was no response. He gave a more vigorous push and the teacher fell to the earth and without further evidence all the class knew that their father had been called to join Osiris. Nor did this surprise them, for they realised that he had taught them the last and greatest of his Wisdom and therefore his task on earth was done.