Study Guide

Lord of Light Chapter 3

By Roger Zelazny

Chapter 3

  • Our next tale opens in Alundil some time later. A man known as Buddha, Mahasamatman, Tathagatha, and the Enlightened One has been preaching there, but we're just going to keep calling him Sam (so as to keep our spellchecker from yelling at us in squiggly red lines).
  • Out of the north, a man named Rild comes to Alundil during the spring festival. Rild is an assassin for the goddess Kali, his target Sam. Too bad for him, though, he comes down with an immense fever. Not sure if you know this, but assassination really is the kind of job you need to be in top form for.
  • During the festival, Sam comes to watch the kathakali—an Indian performance art featuring drums and a dramatic production—tell the exploits of Rama and Pandava.
  • While the players play on, a man wearing saffron robes comes to whisper in the Buddha's ear. Sam considers leaving at once but waits to see the performance through.
  • The man who brought the message is caring for Rild. At the pavilion, Sam notices Rild's crimson strangling cord and recognizes it for what it is.
  • Sam studies the man's body and finds that it has been modified to act as a type of armor in certain areas. No doubt about it: He's an assassin for Kali.
  • Rild's fever breaks in two days. He awakens to find his target meditating over him, but clocks right back out from overextension.
  • When he awakens again, Sam offers him food and water. The assassin accepts the water but claims his body will simply reject the food. Totally been there, buddy.
  • Rild asks Sam what will happen next. The Buddha replies he has no need to act. Rild considers that since Sam saved his life he cannot kill him, thereby fulfilling his life debt by not taking Sam's. He decides that he cannot return a failure, though, so Sam offers up the idea that they keep each other company as Heaven's enemies. Rild accepts. So… problem solved.
  • In the days that follow, Rild listens to Sam's message, and it fills him with joy; Rild takes up the robes of a Buddhist monk.
  • Sam takes to walking in the woods and meditating for a long while. Then he travels to the Temple and comes before Kali's statue. He tells her she's lost this round, but even had she taken his life, his message has spread too far—he's become more than a man. Boo ya.
  • Many months later, Rild is asked a question by a man. Then another. Then another. Other men gather, and the questions grow and so do the answers. Rild reaches Enlightenment, becomes known as Sugata, and begins to preach alongside Sam.
  • When spring returns, the Garuda is seen flying over Alundil and Sugata fears for the life of his teacher. The craft lands to drop someone off before returning to heaven. Seems the gods are going to have another go at Sam's life…
  • The man dropped off by the Garuda walks until he comes to a white-haired man standing beside the log necessary to cross the stream.
  • The traveler turns out to be none other than Yama, and Rild has come to fight him and protect his teacher.
  • The two do battle. Let's get it on.
  • After a long, fierce battle, the two wrestle each other into the stream. Only one emerges, claiming the death of the other to be a pity.
  • We soon learn it was Yama who emerged victorious as he enters Alundil and heads for its Temple.
  • Yama encounters a priest and wonders why no sacrifices have been made at Yama's shrine. The priest simply replies, "Gifts are unnecessary, for [the god of death] takes what he wants" (3.289). When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.
  • Yama seems to find this an acceptable answer and even joins the priest for a bit of soma—an ancient alcoholic concoction used in Vedic rituals and for drinking obviously.
  • Yama leaves for the purple groove to find the Buddha. He questions the priests, but they remain silent—so he says that he'll outwait any man, sits beneath a tree, and promptly falls asleep, proving that he cannot, in fact, outwait any man.
  • He comes to in a dream. He's in a blue-green plain with a massive tree; somehow, Yama knows that this tree holds the entire world together.
  • Beneath the tree sits the Buddha.
  • Yama comes to kill Sam, but the four Regents of the World—representing north, south, east, and west—fly in to protect the Buddha.
  • North, East, and West attack Yama, but the Death God rocks their world.
  • The South Regent sinks his sapphire shield into the ground and claims his is not the power to destroy; instead, his is the power of life and defense. South leaves.
  • Yama resumes his execution of the Buddha, but a tree branch strikes the scimitar from his grip. Then the grass of the field imprisons the sword and Yama's ankles.
  • Yama curses the field with eternal death, killing the grass and tree. Unfortunately, that tree holds the entire world together, so, yeah, that doesn't work out so well for the world. It crumbles.
  • Yama wakes up, but the field is empty of the monks. He travels on and finds Sam.
  • Sam asks Yama why he is there, and Yama explains he's there to kill the Buddha—it's what the god of death does after all.
  • This surprises Sam since Yama has already killed the Buddha, Rild.
  • Yama questions this. After all, their religion is not a violent one. How could the Buddha have attacked Yama as Rild did? But Sam pulls some crafty logic, quickly pointing out that Rild had no chance of harming Yama. He performed an act of martyrdom, not violence.
  • Yama exclaims that Sam is a false Buddha, which Sam does not deny—he never claimed to be anything but. He just wanted to see the world, try something different.
  • Yama proposes that Sam come with him, give up the foolish fight, and join the rest of the gods in the Celestial City.
  • Sam refuses and says he's leaving here on his own. He has one more question, though: Sam wants to know "What's she like, that b**** Kali?" (3.459).
  • The quandary infuriates Yama something awful. He lunges to kill Sam but is stopped suddenly. He's stuck in quicksand.
  • With Yama captured, Sam says he's going to have a little sermon before telling him how to escape.
  • Sam wants to know how the powers of the Firsts can be kept despite being transferred from body to body.
  • Yama answers that the electrical-chemical makeup of the body alters the new body slowly but definitely. In time, it always ensures the powers return. Makes sense…?
  • Speaking of powers, Yama keeps trying to kill Sam with his deathgaze. Yeah, you read that right—it's a gaze that kills people. Rocking.
  • It doesn't work, but it does give Sam one heck of a headache.
  • Sam has one more bit of advice for Yama before he leaves: Kali is a disease for Yama, and she does not have the young god's best interests at heart; she cares only for chaos. To prove this, Sam asks Yama to cross her, just once, and see how quickly she turns on him.
  • With that, their parley ends. Sam tells the death god that if he just calls, the Buddha's monks will arrive shortly to save his life. That or learn how to breath in quicksand—totally Yama's choice.
  • As for Sam, he's off to get him some weapons.