Signs & Portents
The Javanese Connection
In his London suburb, Robert awakened to shouts and the roar of revving motors shortly before 4 a.m. He recalled now that the two families across the street were moving. As he pulled back the bedroom curtain, he saw a small convoy of transit vans and a lorry, precariously loaded with people and furniture ease away from the curb and depart noisily into the early morning. He went to the kitchen, pulled out his last bottle of emergency water and made coffee. So the Taylors and Hendersons had gone. The vigilante post was still at the top of the road, but for how much longer? The street would most likely soon be absorbed into the bleak and shadowy wastelands that were ever spreading across the Old City and normal life would cease. There were so many abandoned houses now, that it was easy to find a new place to live. You might not have running water and electricity but at least a roof over ones head was something.
It was odd, this kind of rootless life, no permanent home, constantly on the move. Robert felt himself, like many people nowadays, to be part of the growing band of homeless which were beginning to roam the land in search of safety and shelter. Oh, well, he thought with a chuckle, he'd always wanted to travel. There was no real choice—he would leave this morning.
Sighing, he began to pack for his move, permanent now, rather than the holiday he had earlier intended. He should also get a letter off to Miriamne O'Leary, but he hesitated. Perhaps it would be better to wait until he reached his new destination. In Scotland, he had an old friend, Maureen McIntyre, who ran a small bed and breakfast place at Loch Tayside in Highland Perthshire. She was a fellow searcher in a way; she and a rather fluctuating group who had gathered around her were trying to find a solution for the world's plight based on rediscovering the mystery of ley lines. Robert didn't particularly agree with the direction, but Loch Tay was a beautiful locale and a few days in that safe haven would enable him to relax and decide what to do next.
Strange, he reflected, as he took his last leave of the flat, how coincidences, what Miri would call "synchronicities," came up.Two such lines of fate had crossed in Robert's life. Nearly seventeen years ago, in a mood of spiritual seeking, Robert had joined a spiritual brotherhood called Subud. Subud had been founded in Java, by a Javanese nobleman called Muhammad S. Sumohadiwijojo. Subud was not a word, it was a contraction of three Sanskrit words: Susila, Budhi, Dharma. Whether it was a bonafide synchronicity that Miri and Carl, far off in America, had also joined Subud, Robert wasn't sure.
Robert had connected with a most authentic synchronicity or "meaningful coincidence." He was sent on a business trip to Australia, which unexpectedly gave him the opportunity to follow B. J. Thomas' 1925 returning journey as recorded in his manuscript. B. J.'s return tour had included a stopover in Java. From Sydney, Australia, it was not far to the "Batavia" visited by Thomas. Robert made inquiries and selected one of the oldest hotels in Jakarta, one that dated back, he'd been told, to the time when Jakarta was called "Batavia." He had little hope of picking up some trace of Thomas' activities after such a long time, but hoped to find a clue as to what might have interested B. J. Thomas in Java. Of course, it was entirely possible that Thomas had visited the island with no other motive than sight seeing. However, there was also a shrine to the memory of Pak Subuh, the founder of the Subud brotherhood, and Robert would have the chance to visit that as well.
The hotel, a little run down, had definite dilapidated charm, and he was pleased to have discovered it. The staff seemed to speak very little English, but after all, he was in Java. The journey to pay his respects at the Subud shrine took Robert to the outskirts of Jakarta, and introduced him to life in the tropics. In the steam drenched afternoon, he rode in an open taxi which zig-zagged its way through streets teeming with vendors. At the shrine, he strolled around the grounds, awed by the exotic splendor of the shrine and its quiet serenity so different from the noisy hum of Jakarta. Standing under a Banyan tree, he saw the sky suddenly cloud over and disgorge such a deluge of rain, he could not believe the quantity.
Dripping wet, in spite of attempts to prevent a soaking, he returned to a hotel where he met with some confusion. He finally understood that they were telling him—most politely, but urgently—something had come up, and they had to change his room to another. He'd liked the room on the first floor with the long verandah but he accepted this good naturedly, once he understood what was being asked of him. A most important guest had arrived unexpectedly, and the staff was distraught because the guest had always had a suite of rooms—which just happened to contain Robert's room. And this guest must have his usual suite, nothing else could even contemplated, despite the embarrassing need to displace an honored guest like Robert. Robert had changed his still damp clothes and was quite pleased to have the staff feeling a bit obligated to him. It just might serve him in good stead, entitling him to a more patient hearing when he asked if there was, just by chance, any old records going back as far back as 1925. There had not been a great many hotels in Batavia in 1925, and this might be the very same hotel that Thomas had stayed.
The staff—several had been called to the front desk to help translate this odd request—looked at him with deep brown forlorn eyes and sadly shook their heads, but brightening, declared that they would make inquiries. Robert had very little hope of learning anything, but as he told himself, it was the odd chance on which he had to rely. As it had turned out, it was his idle inquiry that produced the synchronicity that astonished him. That very afternoon, he had been approached in the lobby by a dapper middle-aged Javanese dressed in an ordinary white business suit.
"Pardon me, sir," he began, "But this is a most interesting coincidence. You are interested, I believe, in the affairs of Mr. B. J. Thomas?"
This startled Robert profoundly, but he managed to get out that, "I am very much interested?"
The hotel manager quickly, but gracefully intruded. All meaning was lost to Robert in a flood of Javanese until the conversation returned to English.
Turning to Robert, the manager continued, "and to you, Mr. Harrold, I now present, His Royal Highness, Prince Subroto."
Robert was a little stunned at this development, especially watching the manager align his hands in front of his face and gracefully withdraw in a bowed position. He turned and bowed slightly to the prince, who graciously inclined his own head in response, and smiling, continued in English, as though they had not been interrupted.
"Is it not most extraordinary that you have come asking about Thomas, after all these years—yet, we knew that one day his story would be told."
Prince Subroto was silent for a moment, reflecting before he continued, "My grandfather was only a small boy at the time, but he recalled the coming of B. J. Thomas very well. It was late in the year of 1925—Thomas wished to consult my great grand father about the subject of Zoroastrian influences in the Javanese culture. At first, our family did not know what to make of his strange request, for you see, in those days of Dutch rule, a visit from a Westerner was not usual. Many of them, I am afraid, saw us as little better than children. However, after meeting Mr. Thomas, our family saw that he did, in fact, have a very genuine interest in Javanese culture."
Robert had felt an immediate liking for Prince Subroto—they were, despite age and cultural differences, on the same wavelength.
"Did your grandfather recall that Thomas had with him any, well—unusual things?"
"Oh yes," Subroto was again quick to respond, "he had brought a large bowl with the engraving of a great bird on it. He said he had acquired it in the Middle East, a most remarkable artifact indeed."
Robert was astonished, and the Prince eyed him astutely.
However, the Prince excused himself, claiming the press of other business, but he invited Robert to visit him in his suite that evening so that they could discuss B. J. Thomas more thoroughly.
Seated with the Prince on the verandah of the inner courtyard, Robert puffed contentedly on a clove scented cigarette—so loved by the Indonesians—and felt a rare inner peace, time itself seemed to have slowed down and it was easy to imagine that the garden paths of ancient kings and queens spread out before them in the falling dusk. Somewhere far off, a gamelan orchestra was playing subtle insistent rhythms crisscrossing like fine silver threads through the night air. It was the same room that Robert had, before the hotel asked him to move aside for an important guest, he saw with a smile. He glanced over at the Prince, but he too seemed caught up in the spell of the night, neither were inclined to break the silence.
There had been many changes in Indonesia since the Dutch colonial days when B. J. Thomas had visited Java. Following World War II, the Indonesian people begun a war of independence from Dutch domination out of which had been born a vigorous new republic. The republic had prospered and different parts of the string of islands that made up the republic had honored the ancient dynasties that had once ruled them. Subroto's aristocracy was quite genuine, and Robert was conscious that he should feel honored to be invited here on such short acquaintance.
"It was on an evening like this, when the ancestors draw near, that something very remarkable happened. Well," laughed Prince Subroto, "my grandfather said that he really should have been in bed being so young. But he watched as," Prince Subroto gestured to the verandah, "my great grandfather and Mr. Thomas were sitting out in the cool of the evening, just like you and me, enjoying the peace of the night. Suddenly, Mr. Thomas stood up and said, 'I have bought back something from my travels in Central Asia which I would like to show you.' He went to his room and returned with a square wooden box. He opened the lid and pulled out a stone cup bearing the image of a bird.
"My grandfather, still behind the doorway, was to see a sight that sank deeply into his memory. The whole family watched the cup, and a remarkable thing happened. And I must tell you—that words alone are insufficient to reveal what really happened. As all were staring at the cup, a flame burst up like a tiny golden flower. The flame grew larger and taller, spreading upwards like a great tree of fire. The light from this fiery tree was so brilliant—my grandfather, cried out—it seemed to him that the fire would engulf all of the family. And it did, enveloping even my grandfather standing in the doorway. But as it did, there was no heat from the fire, it washed over us quite harmlessly, in fact, it brought a sense of peace, more like a samadhi. My grandfather reported that everyone in the family was invigorated, yet strangely at peace. It was really amazing. But, just as suddenly, the tree of flames vanished. All that stood before us was an empty cup.
"No one moved or said anything for a few minutes, my grandfather said—for it was obvious that we had all witnessed something very rare and wonderful."
"Finally, Mr. Thomas spoke: 'Well, what do you make of that?'"
"Let me tell you, that we are quite used to spiritual phenomena in Java, it is never far away from us. But this had stunned even my great grandfather and the rest of the family. Mr. Thomas reached forward and carefully placed the cup in the box. He then told us how he had found the cup in Central Asia and that it was called the Cup of Ahura Mazda. Now to cut a long story short, Mr. Thomas stayed only a few more days. He was obviously anxious about the cup, and he told us he was returning to San Francisco in America.
Robert and the Prince looked at each other for awhile. Then the Prince continued, "It was odd, but later when Mr. Thomas had gone, many years later in fact, my father told me a number of interesting things about the cup. Firstly, that there was a living spiritual light connected with this cup. The Persians called this the Kvarenah or "Divine Grace" and we in Java would call it a Wahayu or spiritual light. My father believed that this particular cup had a will of its own, it wanted to leave those who had kept it safe for so long, and move out into the wider world—a bird of fire flying across the world. We understand this in Java, although it may seem strange to Westerners. But you too have a tradition of this, have you not? For example, Excalibur and the Holy Grail?"
"Why, yes," said Robert, "but these stories are seen by many people as only myths or legends—beautiful maybe—but suitable only for children."
The Prince smiled, "Well, perhaps we are all still children. Here in Java, we believe that many sacred objects have a will of their own and there are very many cases where they move about quite freely. One such is the kris, our sacred dagger. Some of these artifacts have supernatural powers as well. Excalibur and the Holy Grail are rooted in a spiritual reality, I can assure you."
Robert now had the testimony of someone whose grandfather had actually seen the cup in the tim of Mr. B.J.Thomas. He realized that in spite of all that had happened, a small doubt that such a thing as the Cup of Ahura Mazda could really exist had lingered on in him. But the Prince's story had swept that away, and more important, he also learned that the cup had unusual properties.
Loathe to leave Java and the meetings with the Prince, who was, it appeared a very busy man with many activities that Robert could not comprehend. Robert fell into exploring Jakarta by day, and meeting with the Prince almost every night. He was grateful for the Prince's friendly and gracious manner, and what seemed a warm and genuine interest in his own quest.
Having heard all the Prince could recall about B. J. Thomas and the cup, the two of them speculated endlessly as to how best Robert could proceed to find the cup. Robert had also decided to follow B. J.'s example, and inquire into Javanese culture. He encountered the unexpected again. First, Subroto told him that the Javanese aristocracy were themselves descended from the ancient Aryans. He learned that the elements of air, fire, water and earth were well known to the Javanese and that they had a tradition that advanced souls could gain mastery over these. This was not exactly the interpretation Zoroastrians had put on this ancient quaternity, but then Subroto told him of a Javanese legend that "Rahoman," a powerful entity or devil, sometimes got loose in the world and caused great destruction. "Rahoman" was quite obviously Ahriman, by a more common spelling.
Subroto noticed his excitement.
"Oh yes," the Prince suggested, "and quite possibly this is what is happening now in the world, don't you see? These rifts of blackness that have happened in some places, and even in Java where we have defenses against such an intrusion, ominous things have happened at times. But even when it seems that Rahoman is about to topple the whole world into the abyss, we remember the ancient wisdom in the Javanese story cycles. In those, there is the promise that when Hanoman, the white monkey, defeats the forces of evil, mankind steps forward into a new Golden Age."
Robert was anxious to learn all about the "Javanese defense system," and many other things, but business again took Subroto away, abruptly, this time, on a trip to the Javanese interior. Robert was keenly disappointed, he'd been finding every talk with Subroto a revelation, but it seemed there was no help for it. Subroto had to leave at once. Before he left, he invited, even urged, Robert to visit him at his kraton, his ancestral palace home, in East Java. Robert killed time in Jakarta until finally, hearing no further word from Subroto, he attempted to contact him in East Java. He was shocked to learn that the prince had died quite suddenly.
He recalled hearing that sudden death was another phenomenon of life in the tropics, and the Prince was advanced in age, but his thoughts strayed to more sinister considerations—Subroto had seemed so healthy, so full of life. He was invited by one of Subroto's sons to visit the kraton and went at once to pay his sorrowful respects. He was graciously received at the enormous kraton, and stayed on for 8 days, attending the ceremonies performed for the dead. Subroto's family were obviously in mourning, although they met the occasion with no tears or outward show of grief, another custom well known in Zoroastrian practice, presumably echoing the ancient Aryan.
Prince Subroto had urged Robert to follow B. J. Thomas's route which led next to San Francisco. And that was how the biography ended as well; B. J. Thomas mentioned that he had caught site of San Francisco and gave orders to dock there. The Prince had developed the conviction that yet another coincidence would turn up to guide Robert on his quest. Robert was not so sure, but decided he might as well try and booked a flight. True to his own feeling, in San Francisco, the trail petered out.
However, he had met Miri and Carl O'Leary through his membership in the Subud brotherhood. Miri and her son, Carl, surprised him with a lively interest in starting a small publishing enterprise, and inviting him to join them. With things on the decline in the UK, Robert felt it was a good thing. He and Miri shared an interest in history and archaeology, and he felt a strong rapport with them. When he had mentioned strange coincidences to her, he learned that Miri was deeply interested in the life and work of Carl G. Jung, which might have counted as another meaningful coincidence—it had certainly led him to investigate Jung's concept of synchronicity, as always, looking for possible clues and aids for his major preoccupation. However, finding no traces of B. J. Thomas, reluctantly, he decided to return to his commitments at Spirit International, where he had obligations. He would put the enterprise with Carl and Miri on hold for the present.
Robert's packing was complete, and he took a last careful look around the flat to spot anything important he might have missed. He had learned to travel light, one suitcase, his brief case and his backpack with immediate essentials was all he would take, and cash in a money belt around his waist.
A few hours later, he was on the train heading for Scotland. Kings Cross had been oddly deserted and he had no trouble booking a seat for Inverness. Inverness—how very solid and reassuring that name sounded after all the moves and escapes in London. The steady rhythm of the train and the golden light of summer spreading across the countryside cast a soothing spell as he sped north. Tension eased off, and he had the strongest intuition that he was no longer bobbing about from pillar to post, but embarking on the first leg of a grand adventure.
His mind moved easily over the events of the last few years and he found himself trying to find a direction for the future. In a kind of reverie he saw how coincidences, what Miri would call "synchronicities," did seem be involved. Just as he was peacefully comprehending, at last, what it all meant, sleep took him over and blotted out the insight.
He awoke abruptly, and it was some seconds before he recalled that he was on the train for Scotland. He had the foresight to pack a thermos of coffee and now brought it out. Dawn was streaking the sky and he watched the sunlight transform the grass and trees from somber night shadows back to their daylight green. He should be at Loch Tay by early afternoon, he estimated. Peace again descended on him, it really was wonderful to be out of London. Soon, however, memories of his meetings with Prince Subroto rose up again to haunt him. A part of him longed for the holiday ahead of him, but another part began to regret this retreat to the Scottish Highlands and nagged at him that San Francisco was the only place he was likely to find clues to the location of the cup and he should return there.
In Perthshire, he found that Maureen had built up a thriving community by Loch Tayside. When he phoned from the station, she informed him that he was lucky that she had a small room vacant where she could squeeze him in. Her operation had now spilled over to a nearby farm and another small house. He saw she wasn't kidding about a small room, he could barely stand up in the small porch room to which she guided him and it contained only a cot, with just enough room for one person to slip in along the side. In compensation, the wall of small screened windows gave a glorious view of the Loch with the craggy highlands in the distance.
Robert did not see a living soul after Maureen left him to his own devices, though he knew that likely the crowd was gathered in the nearby barn which had been converted to a meeting hall, all of them earnestly learning about ley lines. Loch Tay was a world apart from London. Before going to bed that night, he decided on a walk down to the Loch. It was a clear pine scented night, and at the shore line he looked up at the sky. These stars were something you couldn't see in London, even the Milky Way was visible, banding the sky in an ethereal white glow; he could imagine primitive man looking at a sky like this with considerable awe.
Quite suddenly, he was in the grip of awe himself—a series of round moon-sized lights suddenly stretched across the Scottish sky like a necklace. They appeared to be at low altitude, and Robert could find no rational explanation for them. Strange phenomena, he supposed he should be wary. But startling as they were at first sight—this was not the feeling of the lights. They added a note of enchantment to the night, the very air tingled with a sense of happy expectancy.
"Yes," a voice behind him again took him by surprise, "they showed up last night too, maybe they came to welcome you."
"What are they?" he asked Maureen.
"Good question," she chuckled in reply. "I don't know, could be that they mark ley intersections. If so, then something new is happening, that's for sure."
The two of them stood and gazed up at the lights until they began to fade.
"So," asked Maureen, finally breaking the silence, "what will you do now?"
Whatever they were—the lights were almost gone now—some inner instinct in Robert insisted that they were of good omen. But, what indeed, would he do?