A Dragon's Tale of Karma & Reincarnation
this story is based on events that took place at a spiritual retreat given by my teacher, Dr. and Master Zhi Gang Sha in Estes park Colorado. King Leo is a real being, a bearded dragon whose journeys through lifetimes of karma and reincarnation brought him to a healing place where he could be blessed. His owner had told him that she couldn't bring him to the retreat and he threw such a tantrum, throwing his food around and flinging himself against his enclosure, that she reconsidered and we all got to meet King Leo. He knew what was up. I recall that we were doing a gratitude practice that involved being in a prone floor position. I looked up from this practice to see Leo two inches from my face looking directly into my eyes and doing little pushups, as bearded dragons do. I got the message. Here you go Leo. With a lot of invention.
A very very bad King
King Leo was a really terrible King. He ruled a Kingdom called Kumana way back in the day, centuries and centuries and centuries ago. This king ruled with absolute power, with fear, with cruelty, with indifference to the suffering of his people. Just not a nice guy in any way. This king and Vlad the Impaler would have been best friends.
His parents, King Leo the Kindly and Queen Prunella, were puzzled from the beginning at this strange child that had come to them. They poured all their love and attention on him, but he always seemed to have his eyes on the horizon, and failed to bond with the King and Queen. He didn't seem to care about anyone, and took joy in causing pain and discomfort. Their puzzlement turned to alarm when, at age 13 he decided it was time for him to take the helm of the country. Through deceit, bullying, threats, and outright violence he and his gang of like-minded adolescents staged a coup and took the throne. We won't discuss what happened to the King and Queen. It's just better. Believe me.
What followed was 30 years of injustice, hunger, killing, and despair for the people of Kumana. It seemed to them that the sun had gone down and would never come up again. Religious worship was forbidden, schools dismantled. The mean and ignorant were raised high, it seemed as though goodness and compassion were just a dream of the past.
King Leo was greatly feared, but one day, after he had taken the lives of a couple of thousand people just for the fun of it, one hundred of his own palace guard rose up as one and lopped his head off. The head rolled down the 384 stairs that were the entrance to the palace, uttering a piercing shriek all the way down as it bounced it's way to the bottom. He didn't want to go. King Leo's head had a moment's thought before the lights went out altogether, "Leo old son, this isn't going to be good." He was right.
Leo wasn't Leo anymore, but to avoid confusion we will let him have that name for the remainder of the story. He had many MANY other ensuing names.
Our Leo woke, if that is the word for it, in a hazy, green, watery sort of place. It was not unpleasant, but he didn't know where or what he was. Only a faint sense of "who-ness" remained.
He did have a sort of a thought, a question.
"Where am I?"
A voice came into his mind, a clear, calm, shiny sort of voice that said,
"You are in primordial waters. You are an amoeba."
"Amoeba! Amoeba? What? Why?" cried an astounded Leo.
"You are an Amoeba Leo, because you were such a bad and terrible king. You built up such a huge amount of bad karma that amoeba is the highest form of life that you can be right now. You have a LOT of debts to pay." said the voice.
"Who are you?" whispered Leo
"This is God, the Infinite Divine, the emanation of the limitless Source. Glad to meet you."
"Ah." said Leo.
Divine gave Leo a little pat on his amoeba head and departed, saying,
"I'll check in from time to time to see how you're doing. Try to not do more harm."
"Wait! Wait!" cried Leo, but Divine was gone. Or at least gone from Leo's awareness.
The next several thousand lives as various forms of Amoebae kind of ran together for Leo, you should pardon the expression. Amoebae in general do not have a great deal of personality, and conversations run to "mmmoo?" "mmmmmeeeeeooo", and the like. Plus nudging. Quite a lot of nudging.
He had almost lost all his remaining shreds of who-ness, when suddenly he blinked into being as a tiny fish. He was eaten almost instantly. He was eaten instantly for about 9,000 tiny fish incarnations before he came in as a fish big enough to dart behind a rock and hide from the tiny fish eaters. He floated there, breathing heavily, eyes bulging and swiveling in all directions.
"Whew." thought Leo. "This is stressful." Whereupon, a horrifying thing full of teeth and lights for eyes zoomed in...and...well you know.
Since it took Leo millions of lifetimes to even get to bearded dragon status, we're not going to get to all of them. Let us just know that he eventually incarnated as big enough to be the eater instead of the eatee, and he didn't yet have the who-ness to even ponder whether it counts as karma if you eat other beings for food, or if it helped your karma at all to refrain and then starve to death. It's a thorny issue, but generally not a priority for fish.
Leo found that once he had come out of the soup and attained the land, things moved along a little more interestingly. There was still the whole eat and be eaten thing, but he was bigger now, and went through a succession of warm blood incarnations. When he experienced his who-ness occasionally, he had fleeting glimpse of having hooves and stripey skin, or large sharp teeth and golden eyes. Things were vivid and colorful with no words attached to them. Leo had mates and babies, hunted and killed, was hunted and killed, and even had lives of eating only grasses and leaves. That seemed to involve an awful lot of chewing and more chewing, but it was peaceful enough if one stayed alert.
Lives came that saw Leo as a mother creature, and his who-ness felt the first ever feelings of tenderness and ferocious protectiveness. And grief.
Leo's first humanish incarnation came as a hunter-gatherer type being, living on a great and vast grass veldt of some kind. There were tribes of people that moved here and there, mostly peaceful but there were occasional territorial skirmishes over land or water or animals. Leo had a good mate, cheerful and hard-working, and two little hunter-gatherer baby beings that gave him pleasure to watch and play with. It seemed a sense of peace and permanence had come to dwell in him. He often looked to the sky with it's tapestry of cloud forms, or the great blanket of blazing stars at night, and wondered. He hadn't had the time or awareness to wonder much before, and he liked the feeling. What was up there? Who was up there? The weather was a challenge at times, with violent thunderstorms that roared and sizzled through the land, setting fires and soaking everything. Winter was the thin time, and they moved to the rocky shelters that they had come across in the warm season and remembered. They ate what came to them, and in their way...gave thanks for it.
It came to pass that a group of marauders from a far off land came through to steal and terrorize. They were not hunter-gatherers at all! They were an invading army of dark-siders who only lived to make trouble and take what did not belong to them. They swept through Leo's little village like a hot knife through butter. In the end Leo stood alone, battered and bloody...alive....but alone. He felt a great fiery surge of rage and vengeance pour through him, and he stood on the edge of the karma cliff.