The eerie whine which rose about me was pervasive: it not only came from all directions at once but also from all distances at once, so that the ears were confused. I could only hear the noise, I couldn't place it. It was something like the whine of power lines, although there were no such lines nearby. But if I looked carefully into the scrub brush that grew in this sandy soil I could see mosquitoes stirring and understood that it was their collective evening song, their pirith.
I climbed over the small sandridge that separated the fields of scrub brush from the beach and stepped down towards the sea. I walked mostly along the shoreline, where the hardpacked sand made for easier going. My footprints formed tiny pools of water which were rounded and smoothed by the first wave to reach them and obliterated by the next. The breeze coming in off the ocean obliged me to hold the robes together lest they flap about like sheets on a clothesline. I carried the outer cloak, folded, slung over my shoulder.
The mosquitoes were right: it was evening. The sun was already half dissolved in the ocean, its top half reflected, distorted in a gently rolling sea. Silhouetted against the sun was a steamship sailing the horizon, bound perhaps for Thailand, Singapore, Australia, or other distant ports. I sat on the beach and watched as streaks of cloud, smears on a pale heaven, took on the rapidly changing colors that were the brief twilights we had.
There were plenty of old leafless coconut fronds lying about on the beach. I planted the narrow end of one firmly in the sand and used the broad end as a backrest. It was springy and I could rock slightly. Little sand insects, disturbed, leaped about. Where the robes didn't cover they tickled until they settled again. They didn't bite. Like mosquitoes, they were night creatures.
Down the beach was a fishing village where men were pushing their long narrow outrigged dugouts down the sand into the sea, two men to a boat. Once afloat the men rowed out past the jetties, then set sail for deep water. Against the already darkening sky the most distant of the boats, near the horizon, was visible only as a bobbing lantern.
The boat, the men, the bait and tackle, their dinners, their thoughts, an entire cosmos of specifics, were assumed, concentrated like a bouillon cube, in that single distant point of light which was hidden half the time by waves. Each speck of bobbing yellowish light on the horizon meant two lives which, shortly after sunrise, I could see reconstituted, like lemon juice, as they sailed back home, where a small truck waited to collect their catches.
'Sumana was around somewhere, probably meditating. That's what I should be doing too. I moved my legs into the lotus position. I'd spent the day mindlessly enough. Let the night, at least, be put to good use.
Daylight hours were devoted to scholarship. We'd agreed, 'Sumana and I, to prepare an edition of Ven. Ņanavira's writings and try to have it published. Sunlight hours were spent now copying, correcting, comparing, collating, assembling with scholarly diligence pages which were devoted in part to pointing out the futility and sterility of such labors (... modern scholarship is inauthenticity in its most virulent form ...).
I was aware of the discrepancy, but managed to ignore it by keeping busy. At last I had something to do. I'd found the task of re-arranging a teaching of giving up tasks, of playing with a practice whose goal was kammanirodha, the ceasing of action. I involved myself with writing about the Uninvolved. And I filled myself with it.
After all the tension and high energy of carika, where time had been structured less than I could tolerate, it was a relief now to have a definite activity with a definite goal. I luxuriated in it and held onto it and kept at it even when my eyes wearied and my head began to ache dully. Even that was preferable to that incessant vertiginous view gained on carika of a world that was indifferent, which I couldn't control, and which didn't even mock my efforts to possess it.
Each evening, when shadows lengthened and the sun grew less intense, we put aside our literary labors and left the cajan hut. The hut was a simple roof without walls where we sheltered from the sun; it was no protection from the mosquitoes that each evening invaded the land which lay behind the windbreak of the dunes. I'd tried working one night, but the lamplight had attracted so many mosquitoes I'd been driven off. Now each evening we went our separate ways. I wandered around the area or sat meditating until, wearied, I fell asleep to wake, at first dawn, with the world. We seldom met after sunset, both of us needing, or wanting to need, solitude.
It wasn't just to repay a debt of gratitude that we were interested in seeing the letters published. We'd discussed our motives when we'd decided to involve ourselves.
"It's not really what a monk is supposed to be doing, all this paper work and editing."
"No, of course not. A monk who hasn't attained to view should be meditating."
"Even so, I can see lots of reasons for doing this."
"So can I."
"There's only, what? Six copies of the letters now? And all the copies of Notes on Dhamma have been distributed."
"Sometimes Westerners come through. It would be nice if they could get off on this."
"It would be helpful for us, too, to have some other interested people around. We could give each other support when it is needed."
"The letters are a bridge to the Suttas."
"They put the Dhamma in the context of contemporary Western ideas and make it more accessible."
"I've learned a lot about the ideas that I've always accepted uncritically before. And about existentialism."
"This is the best time to get it done, because in a few years we'll both be so involved in meditation we won't have the capacity for this sort of work. It's now, when we still have a heavy activity-habit to kick, that we can take on the burden of this task."
"It's not a burden for me. I enjoy editorial work."
So we'd continued, editing by day, meditating by night.
I opened my eyes and looked around. The moon, just past full, was rising over the coconut estate. It was yellow and fat. In its light the stars paled. I sat quietly for a while. When I looked at the sky I saw the stars not as a curved sheet but as a three-dimensional network, which disoriented me. I composed a haiku:
I knew a man who
couldn't name a single star,
yet he could see them.
And after I'd settled on the wording I absent-mindedly wondered what to call it.
When I'd sat as long as I cared to I got up and continued down the beach.
At the fishing village a few boys sat around a fire drinking tea. The men were out fishing. Their village consisted of a half-dozen cane-and-cajan Quonset-shaped dwellings, sand-floored, open at the front. Daytime, while the men slept, the boys cleaned fish and hung them on racks to dry. The beach was kept spotless. Neither litter nor fish scales lay about to attract quarrelsome gulls. These people lived in peace with their surroundings and disturbed nobody. They were Moors.
I took a way that led around the dwellings. It wasn't just that it was improper for a monk to be in a village at night; also I didn't want my mood to be punctured by the courtesies, offers of tea, sociableness and conversation I knew they would extend to me if I walked by. I didn't want any of that now. Now that I was getting sufficient stimulation in the daytime I was better prepared to spend my nights in solitude undisturbed by anything outside myself. Being friendly and being sociable were two different things, and even between 'Sumana and me we tried, not always successfully, to limit our talk to Dhamma.
At the landward end of one jetty was a grassy knoll, kept close-cropped by cattle. As I approached, a cow looked up, took fright, and trotted off. A few stands of cactus -- the kind the Israelis call sabra -- perfectly offset the two huge boulders which forced a windbreak on the knoll. Both boulders were flat on top, and I saw 'Sumana atop one of them. He was facing seawards, meditating, and I left him undisturbed.
I sat down and leaned up against the other boulder. A night bird flapped past, hooting as it flew. Muffled, echoed, and distorted by the cliff and the sea breeze, the crash of breakers established a rhythm of sorts.
I looked about me. I listened. In the semi-darkness there were no colors, only shapes in different tones of gray. The percept which I called "boulder," opposite me, glinted slightly; it was differing tones of light gray. The sounds which I called "breaker" continued sounding. The identities, "boulder," "breaker," were my own invention: the identities inhered not in the objects but in my consciousness. My relationship to those identities normally overrode my relationship to the things themselves which, obscured behind the mask of familiarity, were barely noticed at all. What was usually noticed was not a "gray shape" but a "boulder," which was a different thing altogether, a thing which had other qualities besides "grayness" and "shape," a thing which was for something ("for leaning against," "for breaking the seabreeze," "for me") whereas the "gray shape" wasn't for anything, and was thereby much more a thing in itself.
All that could be heard were sounds; all that could be felt were feelings; all that could be seen were colored shapes. I chose to associate sounds and shapes, to imbue them with some fullness of being greater than I could know them to possess, and called them "hooting owl" or "crashing waves," and thought that by that identification I had located myself.
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