|Monks, the untaught commoner might be disgusted,
might he repelled, might be well rid of this body, born of the four great elements. Why is
that? Seen, monks, is the growth, the decay, the appropriation, the rejection of this
body, born of the four great elements. Therein might the untaught commoner be disgusted,
repelled, well rid of it. Yet, monks, that which is called heart, mind, consciousness, by
that the untaught commoner is unable to be disgusted, unable to be repelled, unable to be
well rid. Why is that? For many long days, monks, the untaught commoner has cleaved, been
attached, held: "This is me, this I am, this is my self." Therefore the untaught
commoner is unable to be disgusted, unable to be repelled, unable to be well rid.
Better, monks, the untaught commoner should approach this body, born of the four great elements, as self, not heart. Why is that? It is seen, monks, that this body, born of the four great elements, endures one year, two years, three, four, five years, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years, a hundred years, or more. But, monks, that which is called heart, mind, consciousness, night and day that arises as one thing and ceases as another.
Monks, as a monkey wandering in the woods, in the jungle, seizes a branch, then, having let go, seizes another, just so, that which is called heart, mind, consciousness, night and day arises as one thing and ceases as another.
Nidana Samyutta 61
Behind the forest-sounds, the birds, the wind, I heard a distant drone too powerful to be natural. I'd been warned not to walk in the forest, but with walls the kuti was confining and I needed more space. I stopped and looked around me, and even as I did so the helicopter swooped over the hill not much above tree-top level, the swish of its blades a whispered tattoo beneath the bellow-roar of its engines. There was some leaf-cover above me. I stood still: they were looking for movement. The russet robe was good camouflage (better, I thought, than the bright colors of village and city monks) and I was unlikely to be spotted, but I couldn't slow my adrenalized heartbeat while the 'copter swooped overhead, nor the relief-high as it disappeared over the hill and quickly became no more than a dying clatter.
I stood silent for a minute. A preternatural silence cloaked the forest. Nothing stirred. Then a bird chirped, the lighting shifted, and the moment was past.
I didn't think the helicopter would soon return: for several days now it had been patrolling large areas of land, not just this small forest, and it would likely be hours before it would again swoop overhead on its clattering mission. Search and destroy. Search and destroy, the villagers had warned me, and they'd be upset to learn I hadn't heeded.
"We think you like to live dangerously."
"There are all sorts of dangers. Being shot at isn't necessarily the worst of them."
I hurried on towards home now, more from a need to expend the excess adrenaline than a desire to be back at the kuti. Actually there was little danger in the forest. What they were looking for were concentrations of people, for the insurgents traveled in bands, not singly. But it didn't help to know that the helicopter was American-made, and therefore probably had all sorts of electronic wizardry for exposing upon its sensing screens the presence of those who wished to remain anonymous and unknown, even if they were only peace-loving bhikkhus.
"Our wish is for safe and peaceful lives," the villagers said.
"Life is a dangerous business. It can kill you anytime."
But as I reached the hidden turnoff and arrived back at the kuti I reflected that the evidence showed the kuti to be less safe than the forest, for a machine gun had been fired upon the hut, which had been hit by one shell so hard that it had rattled and rocked back and forth. Before going in I looked again at the rafters and walls, searching for an impact point, and again found nothing. Perhaps the shell was buried in the mud walls. Perhaps it had ricocheted back into the forest. I still recalled vividly the sssswp, sssswp, like quickly ripped bits of cloth, as bullets whizzed past my ears.
It had been over before I had time to be afraid. I went to the village afterwards not from fear but because I needed to talk, to dissipate some energy. I spent that night on a dayaka's couch, but I'd been saddened by the shabby hope with which I saw people cling to threadbare furniture, emotions, and relationships. I'd thought solitude to be cleaner and less strained, and returned the next morning to the kuti.
"The army was firing upon rebels," one person explained.
"The police were practicing and didn't know your kuti was behind the bushes they were shooting at," another said.
Tucked between the door and the jamb were a letter and some newspaper clippings. Someone from the village must have dropped it by and found me gone into the forest. Now they'd surely try again to warn and guard me against my own rash folly.
I unlocked the door. Since the place now had walls I had to carry a key with me. I put the letter and clippings aside and opened the window. It was not only cramped now, but also dark and slightly dank. The robe was damp; I hung it up, then went out on the porch, where I wasn't so enclosed. The mud walls, thick and graceless, made the kuti substantially smaller. Uncomfortable as it was I didn't find the energy to make alterations. Nor would I have found the support.
I'd been here for several months now, ever since Crackers had disrobed. He'd written that he expected to leave Ceylon any day, and that I should return to Kandy and not let the kuti be abandoned. And I had, for it had been a gift of faith. Crackers, however, was still in Kandy, already disrobed but staying with a dayaka while waiting for money from home.
"Make a contribution to society?" I'd asked incredulously when he'd told me his reasons for disrobing.
"That's part of it. Society's given me my upbringing, my education, even my food, the food I eat as a layman or a monk."
"How about paved roads and electricity and movies? Are they on your list?"
"Laugh if you want to, but I feel a sense of obligation."
"Of course, that's your choice, to feel it or not as you like. But I remember you once said that all the output of society was only a measure of the dissatisfaction of its people, and that you didn't want anything more to do with that, that the flame wasn't worth the candle, I believe you called it."
"My attitude's changed."
"Besides, there's other reasons."
"There always are. Things are never as simple as we'd like them to be."
"Anyway, I owe some people money. I couldn't become a bhikkhu without paying it back."
"Did you try writing to ask if they'd cancel the debt?"
"Did you ask your friends if they'd help out?"
"Monks shouldn't ask unless they've been invited."
"What a reason for disrobing!"
"I don't say a monk can't also make a contribution to society, by doing nothing more than setting a good example. But I'm not sure I ever set one."
"The problem with setting a good example is that nobody follows it."
"When I became a monk I was following your example."
"You're pissed off at me."
"Do you care?"
"I'm trying not to be."
I stayed here only so the kuti shouldn't be abandoned, for although I tried to like it I was faced with the fact of its ruin. Sabbe sankhara anicca. Crackers had tried to give it back to me, but I'd told him to give it to the Sangha.
It wasn't only the walls. The villagers had received, as a grant of land for residential use, the grassy hillside which used to separate the forest from the village. Foundations had already been laid when the insurrection started, and the new housing was close to the kuti, within hearing distance. The jangle of Sinhalese pop music could be heard distantly when the wind was wrong. I was learning all the hits. They were awful, but that didn't stop me from humming them at odd times through the day. Sometimes I didn't even stop when I caught myself.
I started a fire and put the billycan on to boil some tea, then remembered the clippings. While the water heated I sat on the wooden crate and read them.
The war, it seemed, had been started without cause by a few thousand young people who had been misled by "sinister forces." The newspapers didn't report that the entire North Korean legation had been declared persona non grata the day after fighting started, but within a day everybody in Ceylon knew it.
The fighting had been going on for over a week now. The reports, which were issued by the government, were cheering. With the "complete collapse" of the rebellion the war was daily on the verge of ending. Days ago we'd been warned against "becoming complacent." The few remaining pockets of active insurgents were being "flushed out" as the rebels, their food and supplies running out, futilely fled while patriotic villagers cheered and aided the army and police in their pursuits.
Many of these rebels were surrendering and the leaders were killing one another and themselves as they saw their plans "collapsing about their ears"; but a few "hard-core insurgents" were still causing a bit of trouble. The main task of the country was the rehabilitation of the surrendered and captured rebels and the reconstruction of damaged areas (which were ever being revealed to us as more extensive than we'd thought them to be).
As I sipped the tea I examined the letter. The envelope bore official insignia. It contained a license from the government granting permission for the importation of a typewriter. I had only to collect it from the customs shed in Colombo. A flock of parrots, screaming shrilly, flew overhead towards the rice fields. I looked out at the low-bushed green and rust-brown hills that rolled away to the Upcountry.
It was years now since, as part of the Ņanavira project, the machine had been ordered and this license applied for, and I no longer gave value to the time I'd devoted to herding applications and affidavits over the hurdles constructed by government. I smiled and shook my head, amused at the justice of not getting what I'd no long sought until I no longer wanted it.
"You've got to be careful about what you ask for," 'Sumana had once remarked, "'cause you're liable to get it."
"But usually not before you've stopped wanting it."
It was a project that would never be finished now. Ven. Ņanavira's letters would remain off the best-seller lists, for I had no intention of getting involved again, and 'Sumana was no longer involved either, for he was dead. His body had been cremated and the ashes thrown to the sea. I put the license into the fire and watched it burn.
I hadn't been there, but I knew the Sinhalese friend who, night having fallen, had taken his leave of 'Sumana that last time. 'Sumana guided him down the sandy path that led from the kuti to the car track.
Night-cool sand under bare feet is almost as pleasurable as knowing your surroundings so well that even in pitch darkness no light is needed. Leading the way barefoot, without a light, 'Sumana must have been feeling that special sort of intimate contact with the world when the viper struck.
Other snakes, feeling the vibrations of approaching footsteps, move out of the way; but the Russell's viper, perhaps the worst-tempered of snakes, holds its ground, and has been known to attack without provocation. When 'Sumana stepped too close it struck and then escaped in the dark.
He was brought to the village while a doctor was sought, but by the time help came it was too late. The venom affected his nervous system. His muscles twitched uncontrollably. Near the end, unable to speak, he tried to write a final message, but had been unable to adequately control his hands. I'd seen the paper: it was quite illegible.
Another monk had soon moved into the kuti.
So now both my friends were gone, one dead from snakebite, one from disrobing, for the Buddha has said that for a monk disrobing is death.
"I don't think I'm ready yet. I need to go back to the lay life and establish a firmer foundation for the monk's life," Crackers had said. "I can be re-ordained when I've had more time to get ready."
"You think you'll be better prepared to give up suffering by going out into the world and suffering some more?"
"If you're going to put it that way ..."
"How should I put it?"
"You drive a man up against the wall, don't you?"
"I'm not trying get you to change your mind. But I want to be upfront about it."
"And what do you think, being upfront?"
"That you were so unhappy you didn't know what else to do."
Crackers thought about that for a while before replying. "I was unhappy at times. It showed, did it?"
"Don't you remember when you chased after me to get the kuti? Right after you got me to let you stay there? If it didn't show a lot then, then it doesn't show a lot."
"That carika was a good thing for you."
"I was sorry to see it end."
"Did you know I was going to disrobe?"
"How can I see the future? I didn't know how you were going to deal with your unhappiness. I just knew you weren't satisfied with the way things were, and that you'd change them."
"Then why'd you give me the kuti?"
"I was afraid that if I kept it against your will you'd make me as unhappy as you."
"That's one of the things that makes me feel I'm not yet ready. I can't bear all the misery that goes with the job."
"You're right that there's misery at times. Sometimes it can be so beautiful I can't imagine why I'd ever want to do anything else, but other times it's the last thing in the world I want to do."
"What do you do then?"
"What can I do? I endure it. Eventually things get better."
"That doesn't sound like an improvement over the lay life."
"You can tell me about that in another year's time."
"I don't think I need to tell you about it, do I."
"It never hurts."
"Yes, it does. All the time."
"Sabbe sankhara dukkha."
"Then why endure the miseries of the monk's life?"
"There's the misery of addiction and there's the misery of renunciation. At least when something's given up there's no more misery associated with it. But the misery of attachment goes on forever. I don't know that misery's a necessary part of getting to the root addiction. Maybe there's a way of dealing with ego that's all joy and sunshine, and I just haven't found it. If you ever find it be sure to let me know."
"I'd like to be rid of the misery of addiction, but I don't think I can stand the misery of withdrawal. It's not a question of whether I want to. I just can't. One of the things I've admired about you is your capacity to endure suffering. I don't have that. Without a teacher the way is too hard. I wish we had a teacher to make things easier."
"He's a very fine man, but I mean someone accomplished in meditation. Someone who knows what's happening because he's been there."
"I learned a lot from him, but I mean someone who's alive. Someone who can show me how to go around some of those brick walls instead of trying to break through them."
"I've felt that way. But then I look at someone like 'Rasa, who's spent his whole life searching for his guru, and I can see how discontented he is. And he knows about every writer and teacher on the guru-circuit."
"It's incredible how much he knows about it. But he's still trying to find out where the action is."
"He knows all about the Dhamma except how to use it."
"That's a danger. But there's dangers in every course of action. And I've heard about a couple of teachers in Thailand who have excellent reputations among Westerners."
"And I've heard about carika bhikkhus, and viharas only for dhutanga bhikkhus."
"And there's another teacher in India, named Goenka."
"Where'd you hear about all this?"
"'Rasa told me."
"That's what I thought."
"I thought you might be interested to hear about them."
And I was.
How could I contemplate going to India or Thailand? Hadn't I already discussed with one of the senior bhikkhus the idea of searching for a teacher? Hadn't he already told me that when I was prepared the teacher would appear? Wasn't it only those who were not yet ready for a teacher who were in search of one? And besides, how could I possibly arrange the logistics?
Finances, to start with. I would have to ask dayakas for help. I wondered if between them enough could be raised to finance the trip. But then, monks don't handle money.
"I'll be going back to India before heading on to England," Crackers had said. He'd hold the money and be my traveling dayaka. He'd see me as far as Calcutta anyway, and in Calcutta I'd certainly be taken care of by Mr. Barua. It had been over four years now since I'd last seen Ven. Dharmapal. It would be good to see him again for he, as much as anyone, introduced me to the Dhamma. And from Calcutta it would be easy to get to Thailand and be back in a Buddhist country again, where support wouldn't be a problem. Then too, in India there were the four places venerated by Buddhists: the places of the birth, enlightenment, first sermon, and final passing away of the Buddha. Visiting those places was praised in the Suttas. That was a potential sidetrip.
Good will: that might be a bit sticky to organize. If I were to do this India trip I'd want the support (or at least the non-opposition) of certain senior monks, particularly the Mahathera. To act contrary to his instructions and permission would be to break the teacher-pupil relationship. By Vinaya rules I was bound to live dependent upon my teacher's instructions for five years if I was competent and learned, "an unlearned one all his life."
"I've seen so many bhikkhus leave their teachers too soon," a senior monk had told me. "Before they were ready. And I don't recall a single one who didn't disrobe afterwards. At least five years. As much more than that as you need before you're ready to live by yourself. Your whole life, if necessary."
Though the Mahathera hadn't objected to my leaving the Hermitage and taking up residence on my own outside of Kandy I wasn't so sanguine about his approval of my going off to other lands, especially a non-Buddhist land such as India. To win his co-operation, though, would not only make the practical arrangements -- visas, tickets, foreign-exchange credits, letters of introduction -- much easier: his approval would allow me to remain in conformity with the Vinaya without the trouble of having had to change myself.
It would be an uncomfortable moment, asking for permission, for I had no idea how he might react.
"Go to India? What do you want to do such a thing for? Bhikkhus who go to India don't come back. They disrobe there. India is no place for a bhikkhu. I've given you permission to go on carika, and I've given you permission to live away from the Hermitage, but to go to India, for that you don't get my permission."
And I squirmed inwardly under his imagined gaze even as I now sipped my tea and gazed at the opposite hill, thinking how I might best reply to this worst of chances.
But bhante, Ceylon isn't the right place for me anymore. (Was it ever? And why not now? And what is, then?)
But bhante, the Buddha recommended visiting the four places of pilgrimage. (For laymen interested in meritorious deeds, not for monks intent on making an end to action.)
But bhante, the Buddha lived in India. (He was born there.)
But bhante, I want to see Ven. Dharmapal once more. (Now that's carrying socializing to an extreme.)
But bhante, from India I can get to Thailand. That's a good country for practicing Dhamma. ("Not by going ...")
But bhante, there are practiced bhikkhus in India and Thailand from whom I can learn much. (How about learning to be content with one place?)
But bhante, there's a war going on. They're killing people. Bombs exploded in the forest. They fired a machine-gun at me. I don't want to stay here, in the middle of a revolution. I want to go to India, where it's safe! (Oh, is that where it's safe?)
But bhante ...
On the other hand perhaps he'd be glad to see me go. I was sure some of the Colombo monks would be pleased if I were to leave, for they thought me a strange bird.
Then too, there was the kuti. I'd returned so that it shouldn't be neglected. But I was aware now that at least one Western monk would be glad to make use of it, ruined or not.
A pinprick of a gunshot popped the air like a balloon, then another, then silence. It came from up Matale side, where snipers fired on patrols, then ran.
The Mahathera couldn't object to my going. Not with this war going on. But it looked to be a short war. I'd have to move fast and settle my plans before it ended if I was to make use of it. I might be the only person in the country for whom this uprising was a success.
There'd be problems in India, of course. Goals to work towards. Would I be able to find solitude? Suitable alms? That I didn't know was a good argument for staying where I was, so to strengthen my resolve to go I conjured up an image of an India where it was easy to find appropriate places and decided that I would go to that sort of an India. An India where almsfood came without trouble, where it was possible to manage without money, where there was no heavy Buddhist tradition to weigh me down with its encumbrances, where the energy was so pure that without difficulty and at will I could attain to those meditations praised by the wise, where ... With an India as promising as that why had I stayed in Ceylon for so long? I had to leave.
I went into the kuti and sat on the bed that was now installed in it. The walls met my gaze and returned it. Since I didn't feel like meditating while being stared at I chose to read while I could. On the shelf were all my books: in India they'd be only a memory. There'd be no way to take them with me. In India I'd have to get along without them.
That, I recognized, was a strong argument for going. It was such a strong argument it made me waver in my decision to leave. Could I give up those hours of the day when I could lose myself in words about finding myself, or rather in words about giving up the search to find myself?
Before I could start cataloguing all the things that would be lost to me in India, before my resolve could waver, I gathered paper and pen and wrote a letter to the Mahathera announcing my intention to leave the country. The closest I could come, though, to asking his permission to go was: "I know, bhante, that under these circumstances you won't object to this decision."
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