|... the Auspicious One addressed the
"Monks, the world burns. And how does the world burn? The eye burns, matter burns, eye-consciousness burns, perceptions perceived by the eye burn, and whatever feeling arises, pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral dependent upon perceptions perceived by the eye, that too burns. And with what do they burn? They burn with passion, I declare; they burn with hatred; they burn with confusion; they burn with birth, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, and despair.
"Monks, the ear burns ...
"Monks, the nose burns ...
"Monks, the tongue burns ...
"Monks, the body burns ...
"Monks, the mind burns, ideas burn, mind-consciousness burns, perceptions perceived by the mind burn, and whatever feeling arises, pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral dependent upon perceptions perceived by the mind, that too burns. And with what do they burn? They burn with passion, I declare; they burn with hatred; they burn with confusion; they burn with birth, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, and despair.
"Monks, perceiving this the noble disciple conceives aversion for the eye, conceives aversion for matter, conceives aversion for eye-consciousness, conceives aversion for perceptions perceived by the eye, and for whatever feeling, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, arisen dependent upon perceptions perceived by the eye, for that too he conceives aversion.
"The noble disciple conceives aversion for the ear ...
"The noble disciple conceives aversion for the nose ...
"The noble disciple conceives aversion for the tongue ...
"The noble disciple conceives aversion for the body ...
"The noble disciple conceives aversion for the mind, conceives aversion for ideas, conceives aversion for mind-consciousness, conceives aversion for perceptions perceived by the mind, and for whatever feeling, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, arisen dependent upon perceptions perceived by the mind, for that too he conceives aversion.
"And in conceiving this aversion he becomes rid of passion, and by the absence of passion he becomes liberated, and when he is liberated there comes the knowledge that he is liberated, and he knows that birth is finished, that he has lived the spiritual life, done what is to be done, there is no more returning to this world ..."
From the Adittapariyaya Sutta, The Discourse on the
Fundamentals of Burning
"Hello, V. Just back, are you?"
"Yes. I just said hello to the Mahathera and came up here. How've you been, Crackers?"
I came in and set down the crate and baggage. Crackers bowed down. I was used to being bowed to by Sinhalese laypeople: that was part of the life here. But I still felt strange when a fellow Westerner bowed to me, just as strange as I'd felt when, at 'Sumana's place, I was the bower and he the bowee.
I looked around. After these months of absence the kuti felt not quite familiar, and my eyes touched the walls and contents, re-establishing contacts.
"It was good to use the kuti while you were gone, V. I'll move back to my place after dana if that's okay."
"Of course. No hurry."
"It's a nice kuti. I'm sorry to leave it."
The place was recently built. The decrepit kuti Crackers had been assigned to was tiny and cold, and there was no prospect any of the nicer housing would soon be vacant.
"Sabbe sankhara anicca." All conditions are impermanent.
"How'd you get back here at this time of morning?"
"By bailing as fast as I could."
"Sometimes it's hard to stay afloat."
"This fisherman came by in his canoe and offered me a ride across the lagoon."
"So you took it?"
"I figured it was a lot better than waiting around the landing point for Piyadassi this evening. But when we were halfway across and taking on water fast I wasn't so sure. You ever been in one?"
"No. But I hear them at night, when the fishermen slap the water with their paddles. That can really bust up a meditation session."
"Not nearly as much as when one of them uses a stick of dynamite. That's as devastating to meditation as it is to fish."
"What's a fishing boat like to ride in?"
"It's long enough, all right, but it lacks something in width. It's so narrow you can't put your feet side by side. There's only room for one foot in front of the other."
"I think I'd try to straddle it."
"I did try that, letting my feet dangle in the water. But I guess that's not the sort of thing monks do around here, because the fisherman told me to stay in the boat."
"It had a leak, did it?"
"It's made from a dugout log. It's got these planks that are joined to the log, raising the freeboard. And it's got a lashed-on outrigger. Otherwise it's just your basic dugout log. But my extra weight put the waterline above the joint of the log and sideboard. We wouldn't have made it if I hadn't found half a coconut shell and bailed like mad."
"That would have been funny, if you'd had to swim back to the Island."
"It wouldn't have been funny at all. I could swim back, but that crate couldn't. And it's got most of the originals of Ven. Đanavira's letters and a valuable typescript too."
"Đanavira's letters? From all I've heard of them I'll be glad to have a look."
"Just remember that you owe your chance to see them to half a coconut shell."
* * * * *
"Bhante, I hear the upasampada is set for the next full moon."
"That's right, Vinayadhara. Is that too soon for you?"
"Why do you ask that? Do you think I'm rushing things? Do you think I should wait before taking the higher ordination?"
"I didn't say that. If I thought that I wouldn't have agreed to give you upasampada. I just asked if it was too soon for you."
"I want to be a bhikkhu. I've been a samanera a year and a half. That's long enough. I'm ready for it. I think all of us are." Also being given the higher ordination were three other samaneras, an East European, an Indian, and a Sinhalese; very international. There would be only one samanera left.
"A year and a half isn't as long as you think." He'd been a bhikkhu for over forty years. "But it's long enough to prepare you for the bhikkhu's life."
"Do you think I need any more preparation for upasampada?"
"You mean you want to know what things you'll have to memorize for the ordination ceremony?"
"No, of course not, bhante. I know that." I had several typed sheets containing all the formularies I'd need at the ordination and afterwards, as a bhikkhu. There wasn't much. "No, I want to know what more I might do to prepare myself for life as a bhikkhu, after upasampada."
He nodded and made a sort of throaty hmm, as if to say, "I understand your question. It's a good one, and I'll make an effort to give you a good answer." I nodded into the silence and then sat, quiet but uncomfortable, my mind flitting aimlessly while my question, stranded in doubtful terrain, waited for directions, for an answer.
"How do you feel about this step you'll be taking?"
"It's just part of the monk's life, bhante, to go from samanera to bhikkhu."
"That sounds quite confident. You don't have any doubts about doing this, then?"
Doubts? I wasn't sure whether I had doubts, but I was quite sure I didn't want to have any, so, "No, bhante, I don't have any doubts," I said.
"I see. Some do and some don't. Some have a lot of doubts and some have few doubts. Some have doubts about themselves, some have doubts about the Dhamma. All kinds of people take to this Teaching. Some have doubts they don't want to face."
"Oh?" Was that a pointed remark? "What sort of doubts did you have, bhante, when you were ordained?"
"Me? Oh, mostly about my family. I wasn't sure it was the best thing, because they expected me to care for the family estate."
"What do you think now?"
He smiled. "People have all kinds of doubts. Especially Europeans and Americans. Sometimes they worry that they're monks from pride; sometimes they're seeking higher status, all sorts of ego things. Maybe they suppress their real reasons. There's all sorts of lower reasons for seeking the higher life. I've seen some become bhikkhus just because they wanted to prove how good they were, or how much they could endure. They were all so sure of themselves." He shook his head sadly. "You see, it's so easy to fool yourself about why you're doing this. I've seen it happen so many times already."
"And what happened to the people who fooled themselves about taking the higher ordination?"
"They disrobed, most of them. One or two of them may have stopped fooling themselves. A few kept up the charade and stayed in robes anyway; but mostly they disrobed. They stayed around for a year, or two, or three, but eventually they went back to the lay life."
"That's a big thing, bhante, to disrobe. The Buddha warned about the dangers of disrobing. But did he ever give warnings about the dangers of ordination?"
"I don't know." The Mahathera didn't discuss Suttas. He discussed existing situations.
"Actually, I don't expect my life to change much after upasampada. Here at the Hermitage there's not that much difference between samaneras and bhikkhus, is there?"
"Then why are you so anxious for the higher ordination, if there's not much difference?"
"It's not so much the higher ordination that's important to me, bhante. It's taking ordination at the Hermitage." I'd already started to consider what name I would choose as an outward sign of my altered position. Đana-something. It wasn't so much the alteration from samanera to bhikkhu that mattered as that of becoming one who fully belonged at the Hermitage, no longer in the more tenuous position of an adoptee.
"Have you heard yet from your teacher?"
"Yes, bhante. That was the letter that came last night." I'd written to Calcutta to ask permission both to take higher ordination and to take a new teacher, as I'd been instructed by the Mahathera, who wouldn't ordain me without it. I'd been surprised how difficult it had been to ask that permission. "Everything's set. Ven. Dharmapal gives his approval."
"There's another solution," the Mahathera observed, "beside taking upasampada, if all you want is ordination here. You could disrobe, and then I could re-ordain you as a samanera again. You could take a new name, if that's your goal."
I was shocked. Was he going to refuse permission for the higher ordination after all? "What do you mean, bhante? I want to be a bhikkhu. I'd rather be a bhikkhu than a samanera."
"Since you don't see much difference between them, why?"
"Maybe there's more difference than I know about. How can I say when I haven't been a bhikkhu yet?"
"If you want to be a bhikkhu there must be some difference you're hoping to find. There must be some dissatisfaction with life as a samanera to make you want to change. Now, I'm not asking you to tell me anything about that if you don't want to. But if it's dissatisfaction that's making you want to stop being a samanera, then maybe there are dissatisfactions that will make you want to stop being a bhikkhu, too. I want you to think about it, and decide for yourself why you want to be a bhikkhu instead of a samanera."
I felt uncomfortable, being challenged like that. The Mahathera often seemed ready to show me more of myself than I cared to see.
"Okay, bhante, I'll think about it. I really will," I promised, to end that uncomfortable topic. I didn't need to think about it: I knew. Being a samanera was no longer sufficient. At first it had been too much; now it wasn't enough. Keeping vigilance was wearying, while crossing the sea of desire. I expected to find buoyancy in the discipline and obligations of the bhikkhu's life.
"You can't be too sure of yourself, Vinayadhara. I hope you understand that if you follow this path at all you do so with earnestness instead of complacency. It's not an easy life. There are difficulties; you've already learned that."
I'd questioned him once before about how to deal with arisen sexual yearnings. He'd advised cold bathing, leaf raking, and asubhasa˝˝a, perception of the foul.
"And if your effort is anything less than total," he continued, "it won't be enough to overcome the delusions and temptations that will assail you and make you lose sight of majjhima patipada, the middle way."
"Bhante, what about my question?"
"How to prepare myself for the bhikkhu's life?"
"Isn't that what we've been discussing?"
He looked at me a moment, searchingly, then relented.
"First of all, comes your sila. It's the foundation for the whole of this Dhamma. Without being firmly based in good conduct, that concentration should come to growth and maturity, such a thing isn't possible. As a bhikkhu you'll live restrained by the restraints of the Patimokkha" -- the major rules incumbent upon bhikkhus -- "and you don't want to establish a false relationship to it. You should live seeing danger in the slightest fault. Even the least rule is to be observed. Decide for yourself whether keeping the precepts is what you really want."
I wasn't sure whether keeping the precepts was what I wanted, but I was sure I wanted it to be what I wanted. What I really wanted was to put an end to the question, "What should I do?" and I hoped the Patimokkha would aid me.
I listened to the Mahathera attentively as he spoke of the advantages of restraint, of renunciation, of dispassion and harmlessness, and the perils of pride, falseness, attachment and aversion. That was better than having my motives challenged. I'd found a question -- little did I really care about the answer -- that gave me an excuse to disturb the Mahathera's solitude, to pass the time with shop talk and to find comfort in good advice.
But his good advice was no more comforting than his challenge that I examine my motives, and I realized that I'd come calling on the Mahathera not with a "good question" -- "What should I do to prepare myself for the bhikkhu's life?" -- but with an ego-trip in hand. Did he suspect, as I did, that the real purpose of my visit was to be comforted and re-assured that I was really doing the right thing by becoming a bhikkhu?
"Bhante," I said when I was prepared to leave, "do you think, then, that I'm rushing things? Should I wait and postpone upasampada? Am I trying to go too fast?"
"Go fast or go slow, as you like, Vinayadhara, but go carefully."
* * * * *
At the upasampada I docilely did what was expected of me, said what was expected of me, and didn't think much about what was being made of the event. I felt whimsical. I accepted the visitors who flocked to the Hermitage (relatives and friends, mostly, of the Sinhalese who was part of our group of ordainees). I accepted the rituals, the formalities, the obligations and responsibilities without question. I accepted, along with a new almsbowl and new robes, a new name, Đanasuci. Suci, the dictionary told me, meant purity. Knowledge of purity. I was happy to be a "Đana," one of that lineage. In a separate ceremony Crackers was ordained as a samanera and given a new name.
"How do you feel about having a new name, Đanasuci?"
"It's no big deal to me."
But I agreed when I was asked, "Just a little deal, then?"
"You should have become Đanacrackers," I said. "Then I could still call you Crackers."
"You still can."
Dear V ['Sumana wrote],
Congratulations on becoming a 'bhikkhu.' Even though your name is now changed "officially," i.e. official like on the outside of envelopes, etc. (ha, ha!) inside the envelope you'll continue to be V.
And so I did.
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