“But you are a mirage,” said Kovrin. “Why are you here and sitting still? That does not fit in with the legend.”
“That does not matter,” the monk answered in a low voice, not immediately turning his face towards him. “The legend, the mirage, and I are all the products of your excited imagination. I am a phantom.”
“Then you don’t exist?” said Kovrin.
“You can think as you like,” said the monk, with a faint smile. “I exist in your imagination, and your imagination is part of nature, so I exist in nature.”
“You have a very old, wise, and extremely expressive face, as though you really had lived more than a thousand years,” said Kovrin. “I did not know that my imagination was capable of creating such phenomena. But why do you look at me with such enthusiasm? Do you like me?”
“Yes, you are one of those few who are justly called the chosen of God. You do the service of eternal truth. Your thoughts, your designs, the marvellous studies you are engaged in, and all your life, bear the Divine, the heavenly stamp, seeing that they are consecrated to the rational and the beautiful—that is, to what is eternal.”
“You said ‘eternal truth.’ . . . But is eternal truth of use to man and within his reach, if there is no eternal life?”
“There is eternal life,” said the monk.
“Do you believe in the immortality of man?”
“Yes, of course. A grand, brilliant future is in store for you men. And the more there are like you on earth, the sooner will this future be realised. Without you who serve the higher principle and live in full understanding and freedom, mankind would be of little account; developing in a natural way, it would have to wait a long time for the end of its earthly history. You will lead it some thousands of years earlier into the kingdom of eternal truth—and therein lies your supreme service. You are the incarnation of the blessing of God, which rests upon men.”
“And what is the object of eternal life?” asked Kovrin.
“As of all life—enjoyment. True enjoyment lies in knowledge, and eternal life provides innumerable and inexhaustible sources of knowledge, and in that sense it has been said: ’In My Father’s house there are many mansions.’”
“If only you knew how pleasant it is to hear you!” said Kovrin, rubbing his hands with satisfaction.
“I am very glad.”
“But I know that when you go away I shall be worried by the question of your reality. You are a phantom, an hallucination. So I am mentally deranged, not normal?”
“What if you are? Why trouble yourself? You are ill because you have overworked and exhausted yourself, and that means that you have sacrificed your health to the idea, and the time is near at hand when you will give up life itself to it. What could be better? That is the goal towards which all divinely endowed, noble natures strive.”