Life in the villages was unhurried following the rhythm of planting and harvesting that had remained unchanged for untold generations. It was their custom to store one year’s supply of rice as insurance against a bad growing season. But they never stored more than that. They knew that two bad years in a row might cause a famine, yet they chose not to store more than one year. They had a profound understanding of the difference between need and greed.

The villagers preferred to risk a famine rather than stretch their physical capacities year after year to store two years supply. That security would have caused considerable stress and establish a level of fear and grasping they preferred not to introduce into their idyllic lives. If it came down to it, they always viewed death as a beginning, not an ending. They never necessarily welcomed death, but they were well prepared for it and never surprised when it came. At least they had a year’s supply of food. A key seeker like me would never have more than a day’s supply!

Further down the lane a line of villagers waited with small, assorted baskets of rice, bananas, mangos and coconuts that looked delicious. Also, there were not-so-delicious looking baskets of grasshoppers, beetles, lizards, snakes and dried fish - rescued by a final basket of splendid cakes made with rice flour and honey.

We walked slowly down the line, heads bowed, as each villager placed some food in a John’s clay bowl. I had no bowl, so I could only hold my hands out to receive the food. The moment one of the women noticed my plight she dashed into her hut and returned with a bowl that she smilingly offered to me. A John knew she had given me one of her scarce utensils and that a family member would now go without.

I noticed someone looking out from inside the hut, her husband I assumed, and I recognized him - he was the first villager that confronted the warriors. My heart suddenly opened to these selfless villagers sharing their scarce food with two beggars. How could this simple bowl mean more to me now than all the riches I left behind in Ayaytana?

We silently returned to the forest with our bowls full and our hearts happy. We took a seat under the shade of a tree to eat and I dug right in but a John held his finger up. He indicated that I should wait - he wanted to tell me something first.

He said that key seekers do not eat for amusement, fattening, strength, or escape. They eat for one reason and one reason only, to provide energy so that the key can be pursued. He insisted we mix everything together in the bowl first and then eat quickly. This was to prevent any danger of a key seeker dwelling on the sensory delights of the food or making choices about which foods were preferred, which could bring up thoughts of greed and craving.

“In appreciation to those who offered this food,” he then said, “silence is better now.”

When we began to eat I unconsciously swatted a mosquito that landed on my hand. A John frowned and silently shook his head, reminding me not to kill anything including even these nasty, little creatures who, he said later, were not unlike anybody else trying to survive in this world. And my heart opened for a second time that day; this time for the quiet, compassionate teacher that had taken me under his wing.

We finished the meal in about twenty minutes after which he instructed me on the proper way to wash my bowl in the stream and leave it angled on the grass so that the sun would dry the inside.

“Now we will rest,” he said. “Then I will introduce you to the inner work. This inner work will facilitate calming your mind and enable you to remain in this precious moment where the Infinity of all things resides. You see, this Infinity is now smothered by your idea of yourself, but by practicing the inner work, Infinity will occasionally have an opportunity to peek out and give you clues about the key.”

“A John,” I said, “tell me about this ‘self’ and how it is connected to the key.”

A John was about to respond when he was interrupted by a dog barking not too far away. This was a bit strange because dogs usually only barked while in the villages, never in the forest where tigers roamed. The barking intensified, and then suddenly ended in a yelp followed by silence.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to a John, not giving him time to respond, and headed for the last sound I heard from the dog.

I found the dog lying dead near the path. A crossbow arrow had silenced him from warning us. The villagers had no crossbows.