|Once the Auspicious One was staying at
Anupiya. Anupiya is a town belonging to the Mallas. Now at that time the leading youths of
the Sakyans had renounced the world in imitation of the Auspicious One.
Now there were two brothers, Mahanama the Sakyan and Anuruddha the Sakyan. Anuruddha had been lavishly raised. He had three palaces, one for the cold season, one for the hot season, and one for the rainy season. During the four months spent in the palace for the rainy season he was attended by female musicians, and didn't come down from the upper story of the palace.
Then Mahanama went to his brother and said, "Now, the leading youths of the Sakyans have renounced the world in imitation of the Auspicious One, but from our own family no one has gone forth from the household life to the homeless state. Therefore, either you go forth, or I shall."
"I'm used to luxuries. I can't go forth from the household life to the homeless state. You do it."
"Then come, dear Anuruddha; I will teach you about the household life. First you have to get the fields plowed. When they've been plowed you have to get them sown. When they've been sown you have to irrigate them. When they've been irrigated the water has to be drained off. When the water has been drained off you have to get the weeds pulled. When the weeds have been pulled you have to get the crop reaped. When the crop has been reaped you have to get it collected. When it's been collected you have to get it arranged into bundles. When it's been arranged into bundles you have to get it threshed. Then you have to get the straw picked out, then you have to take the chaff off, then it has to be winnowed, then the harvest has to be gathered. When the harvest has been gathered you have to do just the same next year, and the same yet again the year after that."
"The work is endless! An end to the work isn't seen!" Anuruddha complained, and Mahanama agreed.
"Yes, dear Anuruddha, the work is truly endless. There is no end to our labors. Even though our fathers and forefathers worked until their deaths, even then there was no end to the work."
"In that case, dear Mahanama, you seem to be well acquainted with the duties of the household life. You live this life, and I shall go forth into the homeless life."
Vinaya: Culavagga VII,1,i
"Vinayadhara! Oh, Vinayadhara!"
The voice was loud enough to break my attention. I'd been engrossed in an account of the life of the Buddha. Most of the books in the temple's glass-doored bookcases were printed in ornate Oriental scripts: I couldn't even read the words much less understand them. Those books I ignored: they were part of that alien background which I'd learned to disregard because it was so inaccessible. The few English-language books around -- their rarity made them treasures -- were ancient, brittle, and full of neatly drilled small round wormholes.
"Vinayadhara? Why you don't hear me calling to you?"
And then I understood: Vinayadhara was my name!
"Come in." I had my own small room now on Monks' Row. I sat on a low cot. There was also a chair and a window.
The door opened and the young monk, Mahinda, came in.
Vinayadhara: here was a new sound, one that I could no longer ignore. Unfamiliar and uncomfortable sound though it might be it was part of the world, alien until now, that was opening up for me, that I would have to open up to. I was anxious to learn these new ways, and so to partake more fully of the monk's life. I was anxious to make a good impression.
They'd named me last night. After the ordination the bhikkhus had consulted among themselves while I waited at one side. There was a nodding of heads as consensus was reached, then I was summoned and informed of my new name: Vinayadhara. That, Ven. Dharmapal explained, was Pali for "keeper of the discipline."
"Vinayadhara? Eleven o'clock. Time now for dana."
"Hi." I was cheerful. "Take a seat." I indicated the chair, but he remained standing.
"You don't hear me calling to you?"
"I was reading."
"You must give better attention."
I was embarrassed, and afraid of getting a reputation for being addled. And maybe it would be deserved, for when I tried now to remember my name I got no farther than the first syllable. Vin ... vin ...
Not knowing how to explain myself, I just smiled. I'd been in a manic state since last night, when I'd found joy, and nothing could bring me down. I felt embarrassment no less with the manic than I would without, but I felt it with a certain detachment, as if the feelings belonged to a fictional persona, a clownish fool to whose act I was but a spectator. Not me. This was my first real manic reaction, and I was imperturbable.
"Sit down, okay?" I tried to be friendly.
"You don't remember, Vinayadhara? About the courtesy? About sitting down? From last night?"
What was discourteous about inviting him to sit down? We were both monks now, weren't we? And there was no point in standing on formality, was there? Then I remembered. My conduct had already been corrected last night: when senior monks stand junior monks don't sit. I started to get up for my senior, but as I rose there was a tugging on the robe: my big toe was caught in the hem. As I stood I felt the cloth tauten and then start to slide off my body. I grabbed at it off-balance, legs still partly crossed and one foot off the ground. My big toe struggled blindly against the wholly unexpected and tenacious power of the robe. Unprepared, I found myself staggering against the wall to avoid toppling over like a sack of rice. I clutched the tangled folds of cloth against my chest lest they fall off entirely.
Mahinda tried to hide a smile as I fumbled with the cloth, tugged at it, and finally extricated my big toe. They'd shown me earlier how to wear the robes in a simple sleeveless style, the style worn informally while on the vihara grounds, but I couldn't get the cloth sorted out properly.
"Never mind to bow down. For me is enough you stand."
"Why don't I bow to you?" If I let go of the robe it would fall off.
"I'm just a little bhikkhu. Only need to bow for big bhikkhus, and always for our teacher."
"Do I bow for other samaneras?"
"For other samaneras no need even to stand."
"But I should stand up for you?"
"I'm bhikkhu. That's rule."
"I'm standing. Now what?"
"Now is time for dana. You understand dana?"
"No? Is meaning lunchtime. So make the robe like I showed you last night, with the sleeve, and then we go to eat."
"When will our teacher see me?"
"After dana. Okay?"
"It sure is. I'm hungry."
"Then make your robes, we'll go eat."
"The easy way?"
"No, with the sleeve. Today we have special dana."
I looked at the bunches of cloth and tried to remember how to fold them so as to end up with a sleeve. I stood bewildered until Mahinda, with a bemused headshake, took charge and draped and folded the robes until they were properly fitted. I tried to hold the cloth tightly in place but already, around the shoulder, it began to slip a little, and I tugged at it as we went outside to the courtyard, where I felt suddenly conspicuous.
Last night's meeting hall was today's dining room. It looked friendlier in daylight, and not so empty: large tables filled the middle of the room. Plates were stacked up on one of them. White-clad devotees fussed over cooking pots and serving bowls. Outside, in the courtyard, unfamiliar monks mingled with those of the temple. They talked among themselves, waiting. I moved towards the open double doors of the dining hall to see what the women were cooking, but Mahinda steered me away from the laywomen and their cooking smells.
"Are we going to eat in there?" Because breakfast had been an informal matter produced by the temple boy in the cookhouse and eaten by the dozen monks of the temple in the small room near the kitchen.
"I telled you, today is special dana."
"Because of me?"
"No, because of the ordination."
"It's not like this every day?"
Mahinda smiled. "No. The dayakas, they make special food."
"Who are these other monks?"
"They come from other viharas for this dana."
"I noticed now some of the monks were looking at us.
"Are those monks bhikkhus?"
"Almost all. Why?"
"Then I should bow down to them, shouldn't I?"
"You can see, here is no place to bow down."
"Right here, on the cement."
"See how dirty the ground is" -- although in fact the courtyard was well-swept -- "and everywhere are too much peoples. Just do to them the namaste, that will be enough." He showed me again the clasped-hands greeting, head lowered.
I went to each of the unfamiliar monks and signified my respect, but before I could finish the namastes the fold of robe that went over the left shoulder became slipping down. I pushed up at it, but each movement made it looser still, and finally I had to be rescued from my plight by two as-yet-unrespected bhikkhus who pulled and twisted at the robe until it felt secure again, while all the monks and many upasakas stood around and watched, and I smiled, abashed but brave.
Ven. Dharmapal arrived. We lined up and entered the dining hall single file. As most recently ordained I was last to enter and sit down. A bolt of white cloth had been unrolled on the floor along the far wall, so that we sat looking out onto the courtyard. Cushions were evenly spaced. To one side of us were tables laden with bowls and pots of various curries.
The upasakas gathered together and sat in a group while one of the senior monks delivered a brief sermon (in Bengali, of course) after which the pańca sila was recited in the same fashion as the night before. I had the distinct impression that one young lady with long black braids and a smile looked in my direction with a certain deliberateness and, abashed, I averted my eyes.
A plate was set on a small cloth before each monk; a huge cauldron of steaming rice was brought from the table and large saucersful were ladled onto each monk's plate. Other devotees followed with large brass bowls, each filled with a curry. The aromas sharpened my appetite; I was glad to see there was dahl, a lentil I relished. A spoonful or more from each bowl was placed reverently on my plate, which was soon heaped so high that I wondered how I might decently refuse more.
I watched until Mahinda, beside me, whispered, "Keep your eyes down."
Peering sidelong I saw a man offer him a spoonful of some sort of pale green stringy matter, but Mahinda placed, his hand in front of his plate and the upasaka withdrew his offering. He held it over my own plate and I had a good look at the stuff. Strands of it hung glutinously over the edges of the spoon like worms trying to get out of a can. I tried to stop him, but I wasn't fast enough. He dumped the mess on top of my rice, which began soaking up the green juice. Before he could give me another spoonful I put my hand in front of my plate, declining all further offers of food.
Ven. Dharmapal, at the head of the row, took the first mouthful of food; then the rest of us began. Like the other monks, I started to eat with the fingers of my right hand; but before I could mix some rice and curry into a small rice-ball and pop it into my mouth a battered tin spoon was offered to me. I declined it: this food I preferred to eat Indian-style, with the fingers, like the other monks. Again it was offered, and again declined. I didn't know which was more embarrassing, that such a fuss should be made over me or that by refusing I should make a fuss myself; but when the spoon was pressed upon me a third time I accepted it reluctantly.
It was awkward to maneuver that mound of rice with a spoon, and to get the curries mixed in the right proportion (about one to one for me then; later I learned that the prescription of the commentaries was about four parts rice to one part curry, and I tried to conform). Each time I tried to mix the curries and rice together with the spoon some of the food got pushed off the plate, staining the cloth various colors. Each time more food got pushed off the plate I was flushed with the awareness that none of the other monks had spilled a grain of rice.
Second helpings were offered as we ate. I declined all except an extra spoonful of dahl. With eyes downcast I couldn't see the face of the devotee who offered the yellow lentil, but as the arm moved towards the plate I could see that it was a young lady's, and she took an extra moment to place the dahl reverently on my plate, and another before she withdrew her hand and moved away. I tried to mix some dahl in with the rice but, flustered, spilled a great deal of it. When I got some food to my mouth I discovered that some of the stringy green stuff, had got mixed into the rice-ball. It had a bitter taste and a slimy texture.
The thought came to me several times that this would be my last chance to take solid food until tomorrow morning, and I urged myself to get it now, while it was there. But it was with a realization of my own limits that I finally put my spoon down on a still quarter-full plate and pushed it an inch or two away. A silent belch filled my mouth. I was finished.
Some of the other monks were still eating: third helpings of everything were being offered all round and, here and there, another favored morsel was being accepted. I sat silently with a lump of gas in my throat, too stuffed to feel anything but stuffed, until everyone was finished. But when my plate was removed I silently bewailed the loss, for I feared that this evening I would have to go as hungry as any beggar.
A brass water pot and a blue enamel spittoon were passed down the line. Each monk poured water over his curry-stained fingers, washing the greasy rice-grains into the spittoon; then he rinsed his mouth. A few gargled noisily. I'd eaten with a spoon; my hands were clean, so when Mahinda finished he returned the utensils to a waiting upasaka without offering them to me. My lips felt greasy, and as I followed Mahinda and the other monks outside into the courtyard I wiped them unobtrusively on my sleeve.
"Here, make your robe over, like this."
I watched how with several deft moves Mahinda unrolled his robe and arranged it into the sleeveless loose-fitting style that was worn casually about the temple. I tried it, but got tangled up and had to be rescued.
"I wonder if I'll ever learn to dress myself?" I smiled at my incompetence.
"Oh yes, I hope so, because sometimes there will be nobody to help you."
Around us the other monks relaxed. They smoked beedies, talking. Smoking wasn't forbidden to monks. "The rules," Ven. Dharmapal had explained, "were made by the Buddha, and tobacco wasn't known in those days; so how could there be a rule against smoking?"
But, he added, if it had been known it probably would have been disallowed. If I wished to give up smoking it would be all to the good provided I didn't become prideful and censorious of smokers.
The pungent smell of the burning beedies drifted past me and for the first time since last night I had a sudden and fierce desire for a smoke. I knew a smoke was only a word away. But monks weren't supposed to have desires, I told myself angrily, and refused to speak that word.
I turned away from the smokers and watched the women cleaning up inside the dining hall. From the patch of sunshine in which I stood the interior of the hall was dark, and I couldn't decide which figure was the young lady.
An upasaka distracted me by offering a basket of pan. Mahinda helped himself. He scattered chips of areca nut onto a betel leaf and smeared on a generous dab of limestone paste, then folded the leaf into a packet.
"Here, you take this."
"No thanks." I remembered the first time I'd chewed betel. The lime, I'd discovered too late, was highly caustic and stung my mouth and throat as if by a swarm of wasps. I'd learned then that in spite of its potency pan wouldn't get me any higher than Wrigley's Spearmint, and had lost interest.
"Pan is very fine for, how you say, with the food."
"Digestion? But the lime is very bad for the mouth."
Mahinda shrugged and tucked the cud into his cheek.
"Tastes good; good for you."
He dropped a blood-red blob of saliva into a nearby spittoon. The lime was a powerful salivating agent that changed the leaf-juice from a pale green to a harsh red. It was those red stains that I'd seen all over the walkways when I'd first entered the betel-chewing part of the world, and had mistaken for blood: did everyone in Asia have advanced tuberculosis?
"Here, reverend, is a pan without any lime. Perhaps that will be more to your liking."
I wasn't used to being called reverend and it took a moment to realize the upasaka meant me. But I accepted the offer in the hope it might allay my desire for a smoke.
"Reverend, we are being very happy that you are coming to be a holy person in our temple. It is making every persons be with great happy."
"I'm not a holy person; but I'm glad to be a monk."
"Yes. To be a monk. Because just you are doing something very difficult. Now difficult means, you are being monk."
"Oh no, being a monk is very easy!" And so it was, for me, so far. "Being a layman is what's difficult." And so it had been, for me, until then. "I'm a monk now because that's the easy way. Before I was a monk my life was very hard. I wasn't happy. If I had to be a layman again I don't know what I'd do. I had lots of worries and problems I didn't know how to solve." As a monk I was only beginning to discover what worries and problems there might be in this sort of life.
Neither Mahinda nor the upasaka looked as if they understood what I'd said. They nodded doubtfully at me and searched each others' faces for clues to my meaning.
"Reverend, if I can help to you you ask me. Because it is very great merit to help to such a holy monk like you."
"Thank you." This was the third offer I'd had so far from would-be dayakas. I didn't even know this man's name.
"Thank you," he said.
"Vinayadhara," one of the other young monks called, but I didn't recognize the name, until he came up to me and delivered his message: my teacher would see me now.
I excused myself and began to walk away.
"You forget something, no?" Mahinda called after me.
I looked back at him, puzzled. Was I supposed to bow?
"The pan. You shouldn't go to our teacher eating pan."
"I forgot." I deposited the remains of the pulpy green wad into the spittoon.
"And don't forget the courtesy," Mahinda reminded me as I walked away.
Ven. Dharmapal looked up from his papers when I entered. I got down on my knees, bent forward, and touched my forehead to the ground three times. I wasn't sure whether the pattern of doing things in threes extended to bowing, but I was determined to err, if I was to err at all, on the side of fastidiousness rather than neglect. As I bowed down, palms flat on the carpet beside my head, the robe fell off my shoulder completely.
Ven. Dharmapal acknowledged my obeisance with a very slight motion of his head and an indeterminate throaty sound I didn't quite know how to take. Was it displeasure that I'd let the robes flop all over the floor? More likely it was satisfaction that I'd remembered to bow. Or was it, perhaps, a blessing?
He waited patiently while I rearranged the robes. I sat down carefully, knowing they would surely fall off again the next time I tried to stand up. What I really needed, I decided, was a safety pin. I wondered if they were allowed. None of the other monks seemed to use them.
"So, how are you liking this life now, Vinayadhara? Everything is good?"
"Yes, everything's fine."
"Now you're not Robert, are you? Now you're Vinayadhara."
"Yes." I still kept forgetting the name and was glad to hear it used.
"But how is your staying here now? Without problems, or is there something where we can be helping you?"
"These robes won't stay on. Would it be okay if I used a safety pin to keep them in place?"
"Already you're looking for devices. To be a monk you should develop your own abilities instead of relying on props. But don't worry; you'll learn soon enough how to keep the robes on. Learning how to be worthy of the robes is more difficult."
I nodded, unconvinced that I couldn't as well prove my worth with safety pins as without.
"In the Sangha we have special ways. I tell you this, you don't get angry, yes?"
"I'd like to learn about those ways." I was apprehensive, ready to defend myself.
Ven. Dharmapal reached over to his desk, took down the almsbowl I'd held last night -- I recognized the rust-colored stain -- and handed it to me, using both hands, as if it were of great value. But when I took it I could see that it was empty and wondered what had happened to the money.
"Vinayadhara, here is your bowl. It's important that you understand about the bowl, and why you shouldn't handle it with disregard, as you're doing."
Oh, oh. I put the bowl down and left it alone.
"I'll tell you about almsbowls." Ven. Dharmapal picked up the bowl and set it gently in his lap, and told me about almsbowls.
"In the days of the Buddha there was a man living in Rajagaha who had a piece of wood, a piece of very fine and rare sandalwood. You know what sandalwood is?"
I nodded, remembering the refreshing aroma of the sandalwood Tibetan prayer beads I'd seen in Nepal.
"One day this man, he thought, I'll have a woodcarver shape this sandalwood into an almsbowl. Then I'll give the bowl to a worthy person. That way I'll do a worthy deed with the sandalwood, and I can still enjoy the chips.'
"So a woodcarver made the bowl for the man. The man kept the chips, but he mounted the bowl at the end of a long bamboo pole and planted it upright in the ground. Then he announced that whoever could rise up into the air and take down that bowl from its pole would be the owner of it. Because that way only a very great person could take the bowl, and the man would have very great merit.
"Many people tried to get the bowl, but none of them was able to. Then a bhikkhu came into Rajagaha one morning to get almsfood. He heard about the bowl and the rules for winning it, so he rose up into the air and brought it down. Then all the people heard what he'd done and followed him everywhere. They filled his new bowl with the best of foods and made a great noise: This great monk, this worthy monk, this monk of supernormal powers, this monk has risen up into the air and brought down the sandalwood almsbowl!'"
As we both laughed at his animated style the temple boy came to the door with tea. Although it was past time when food could be eaten, tea and certain other drinks were always allowable. While it was being set out -- with plenty of milk and sugar, as it was drunk in Bengal -- I pictured myself with the power of levitation. There were many powers to be obtained through meditation. How proud I would be to have such abilities. What honor would come with them! I looked at my metal bowl with its rust-colored stain, still held by Ven. Dharmapal, and thought how pleasing it would be to have a sandalwood bowl.
"That was a good story. Where do you learn these stories?"
"From the old Pali books. We call them Suttas."
"Are there more of these Suttas?"
"Many more. But wait; this Sutta, I'm not finished telling it to you."
"I thought that was the end."
"No. You see, the people, they honored that monk and asked his advice and blessings and followed him and made a big noise, even when he retreated to the forest for his meditation.
"Now, the Buddha heard this noise and asked what was the cause of it, and was told. Then he called that monk and asked him if it was all true, and the monk, he said yes, it was. So the Buddha rebuked that monk for having shown his supernormal powers for the sake of gain. He said it wasn't fitting for a monk to have such finery as a sandalwood bowl. And he compared the monk to a woman who displays her body for the sake of gain. Also he said that it is an act of wrong-doing for a monk to display supernormal powers to householders, to anyone except another bhikkhu."
"Only to a bhikkhu? Not even to me?" For I was only a samanera.
"Not even to a samanera."
"Could a samanera have these powers, like levitation?"
"Anyone who's developed enough in the proper meditation can have these powers, whether they're a bhikkhu, a samanera, or an upasaka."
"And would a samanera be allowed to show these powers to others?"
"He would need his teacher's permission. And if he had a good teacher he wouldn't get it. But don't worry about such things until you get the powers."
"What if an upasaka showed his powers?"
"Then he would have misunderstood the Teaching. That's why the Buddha instructed the monks about attachment and about giving up, and told that monk to break up the sandalwood bowl and grind it to a powder, because in that time they knew how to use sandalwood powder in an eye-ointment. And he told the monks not to use wooden bowls. The only kinds of bowls allowed monks are bowls of clay or iron."
This iron bowl, Ven. Dharmapal told me, was my livelihood. It was to be cared for carefully; and he taught me how. The bowl had been specially treated somehow (by baking with certain oils, I later learned) so that it wouldn't rust or stain easily, but it was necessary that after eating from it I wash and dry it properly, not putting it away while it was still damp nor leaving it out in the sun to bake for hours, damaging the finish, nor yet leaving it where it could be knocked over or kicked about, and always to rest it on a piece of cloth or a properly-constructed stand so that it would be neither scratched nor broken.
The minutiae of caring for the almsbowl were followed by lessons on caring for the robes: how to wash them, how to dye them, how to repair them, air them, wear them and respect them as a symbol of my calling. And -- I remembered them falling to the ground as I'd bowed down -- not to needlessly let them touch the ground.
The monk's life was lived dependent upon four conditions. Food: if invited for a meal I could accept if I wished; if there were no invitations I was to be content with what was gleaned on the almsround. Clothing: if robes were made available I could accept them if I so wished. If no cloth was available I was to piece together my robes from the rag heap. Medicine: if I was ill I could make use of whatever medicines might be offered to me. If nothing was offered I was to be content with mud and cow's urine as medicine. And Shelter: if a suitable dwelling was made available I could use it if I so wished; otherwise I was to take what shelter I needed at the root of a tree.
Healthy, well-dressed, well-housed, well-fed, the prospect of ever having to be content with anything as basic as rag robes or the root of a tree seemed no more real than a levitating bhikkhu, and I readily accepted the conditions for myself. I felt I could bear up under any hardship.
I was fortunate, Ven. Dharmapal told me, to have an iron bowl. He recalled the clay bowl he'd had when, some twenty years ago, he'd been a samanera. It had been difficult to care for. This bowl that I now had was, in fact, the first iron bowl that he'd ever had, many years ago. And he told of the time after the partition of India and Pakistan, when the Moslems of East Pakistan had harassed and persecuted the Buddhists, and he'd joined the stream of refugees to India. Among the few possessions he'd taken with him had been this bowl which he now handed back to me.
"You're my pupil. I want to pass on to you what was once mine, just as I try to pass on to you what I understand of the Dhamma."
"I'm very glad to have such a special bowl." I took it with greater care than I had the first time.
"Then use it with care."
"But there's one thing I don't understand."
"Only one thing?"
"I mean, you told me how to clean the bowl after eating from it; and you told me I should be willing to accept what food I got on the almsround; but today we had food from plates instead of the bowl. The only way I've used the bowl so far was to collect that money last night. Has someone taken that money now?"
At once I felt ashamed, for that wasn't at all the question I'd wanted to ask. But my teacher answered without offence.
"Oh, those rupees, I put them with the other money you gave me. While you're here the dayakas will care for your needs. That money is for your needs when you leave here."
"But today at dana, why didn't we use the bowls?"
There: that was the question I'd wanted to ask. I felt that as a monk I ought to eat from a bowl instead of from a plate. I wanted to play the part of a monk fully and was dissatisfied that I wasn't being allowed to be my image of what I thought I should be.
"In the Bengal Temple we don't use the bowls much. India is Hindu now, eh? Not a Buddhist country anymore. So we have to put aside some of the old ways. Then we can live here in peace."
"But I want to eat from the bowl."
"In Buddhist countries like Burma, Ceylon, and Thailand there is more of a keeping to the old ways. You'll use your bowl there."
"Then I'll be leaving soon?"
"Are you anxious to go?"
I didn't want to say yes. "Perhaps I should visit some other temples?"
"You have seen temples in Nepal?"
I remembered the Tibetan lamas. Some of them did meditation. That monk with the sandlewood almsbowl, he'd been a meditator too. "I'd like to visit someplace where I can study mediation."
"You don't study meditation. You practice it."
"Then I want to practice meditation."
"Calcutta isn't a good place to do that. Here we have crowded living conditions. Here we have much work to do. Here we help the refugees and other poor Buddhists. There is little time; there is little peace. When you leave here we'll send you someplace where you can meditate. It's better outside the cities."
"Where do you think is a good place?"
"First you must stay here until you learn certain things. You don't want to leave before you can put the robes on by yourself, do you? But even then you must have an experienced monk to give you guidance, so it's best if you go to a Buddhist country like Thailand or Ceylon. There you'll find places where you can meditate."
"Which do you think?"
I like you best to go to Burma, but the border is closed to Westerners to live there. So I think Ceylon. In Ceylon many people speak English."
"It was part of the British Empire."
"Like India. But in Thailand the people are very proud, and few of them speak English. So Ceylon is maybe better for you."
"But where can I go in Ceylon?"
"You must find a place. But I hear that there's a hermitage there on an island, and that might be good for meditation. Sometimes there are Western monks living there, so perhaps you won't be isolated."
"Then, when I learn the basics I'll leave for Ceylon?"
"But first you'll stay with us for a month or so."
"Will it take a whole month to learn what I need to know?"
"Are you so anxious to leave?"
"I want to meditate. For that this isn't the right place."
"Still, you should stay here for a month. Maybe more."
I was sorry to hear that.
"In Ceylon I'll use the alms bowl?"
"Using the bowl is a good thing, I don't say it isn't. For one thing, when you use the bowl" -- he hesitated and smiled gently -- "not so much rice falls to the floor, eh? But you shouldn't think that by using the bowl you're a monk and by not using the bowl you're not a monk. To be a monk is something else. To be a monk what you must do is to keep the sila. When you are perfect in conduct then you are fully a monk. To be a monk the only thing that is needed is to live according to Vinaya."
Vinaya! Now I remembered: my name was Vinayadhara. Keeper of the discipline.
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