|The lion, monks, king of beasts, comes forth at
eventide from his lair. He stretches himself, then surveys the four quarters in all
directions. Having done so he thrice roars his lion's roar. Having thrice roared his
lion's roar he goes hunting.
Monks, hearing the noise of the roar of the lion, the king of beasts, animals and creatures meet mostly with fear, agitation, dread. Burrow-dwellers retreat to a burrow, water-dwellers to the water, forest-dwellers to the forest, birds take to the air.
Then, monks, whatever elephants of the king, in village, town, or palace, are tethered with strong leather bonds, they break and tear those bonds apart, loose their bowels and, panicked, run here or there. Of such great power, monks, is the lion, king of beasts, over animals and creatures, of such great potency, of such great presence.
Just so, monks, a Tathagata [a Buddha] arises in the world, worthy, fully self-awakened, endowed with right knowledge and conduct, well-gone, world-knower, trainer of men to be trained, teacher of deities and men, awakened, auspicious. He teaches Dhamma: "This is personality, this the arising of personality, this the ceasing of personality, this the path leading to the ceasing of personality."
Monks, those deities of long life, brilliance, and happy bourne, are long established in lofty mansions. They, having heard the Dhamma-teaching of the Tathagata, meet mostly with fear, agitation, and dread. "'Permanent!' we considered ourselves, friends; impermanent are we. 'Stable!' we considered ourselves, friends; unstable are we. 'Eternal!' we considered ourselves, friends; temporal are we. Indeed, friends, we are impermanent, unstable, temporal, bound by personality!"
Of such great power, monks, is the Tathagata, in the world with its deities, of such great potency, of such great presence.
Anguttara IV, 33
To prepare for disrobing all those worldly possessions I would now need had to be acquired, including some trousers.
"What are you afraid of?" Ganesh asked. We'd run into each other again: a lot of freaks from the Goenka course had come up to Katmandu now that the weather was warming up. It wasn't warm enough to go around naked, though, and I was going to need some sort of clothing to replace the robes I would no longer wear.
It was absurd, this resistance I felt towards going to the tailor. It had nothing to do with being bashful about using money: I wasn't. Nor was it the purchasing of the cloth that bothered me: I was willing to buy whatever was needed. I'd have had no qualms about buying off-the-shelf trousers, but that wasn't the way things were done in Nepal: first cloth was selected in the cloth bazaar, then it was taken to the tailor. Nor was it a matter of privacy: that I was about to disrobe was no secret. Rather, it was the prospect of being measured and fitted. The cloth would be made specifically for me. Even I would then know the news that I was about to disrobe, and I wanted to be the last to know.
"If you don't want to have clothes made for you you can just wear nothing at all," Ganesh said. "There's lots of sadhus in India walking around naked as jaybirds." But I wasn't having any of that.
"I want to wait until I disrobe to take the cloth to the tailor. Besides, it'll take him a day or two to make the clothes."
"If you really want to wait, you can let your hair and beard grow, like some other sadhus, until they cover your body." But I didn't want to wait that long.
I remembered how I'd been kidded at the Hermitage when I let my hair grow too long -- anything over about half an inch -- that I must be planning to disrobe. And as I'd watched the length of hair of a fellow monk grow, so grew my conviction that he was soon to disrobe. By the time his people had sent him his ticket home his hair was long enough to pass. He needed only to shave his face to avoid the look of the newly-disrobed.
It would be a while before that look would wear off of me. For one thing I wouldn't be shaving my face: I'd let my beard grow back. For another thing I'd shaved only three days ago. At that time I hadn't known that I would be disrobing soon (or at all). I'd still thought I'd be leaving shortly for Thailand. Now I wondered if other people could have seen more clearly than I what was lying in store for me.
I thought I knew the pattern. I'd seen it often enough at the Hermitage. First the face grew long and unhappy from dammed up feelings, then the complexion grew sallow and unhealthy from mounting frustrations, and finally the hair just grew. At the end there would be a brief, slightly embarrassed announcement and I would recognize the end of another struggle against the enemies of the monk's life: desire, anger, fantasy. Boredom.
In the past I'd recognized the signs in myself. During times of dissatisfaction I'd seen how the idea of disrobing, after first presenting itself, could visit more and more frequently, finally becoming a part of the mental household and a real possibility. I'd considered my Golden Times, taken heed, and shut out such thoughts. Disrobing, I'd told myself, would make me no better off, for no matter how difficult the monk's life might become, I'd be deceiving myself if I believed that the lay life was any easier. The difficulties were just on a different level.
What warning signs had there been? I considered the months since I'd left Ceylon, looking for ignored warning signs. There had often been need to exert myself in mindfulness, moderation, and control of the senses; but I saw no sign of that helpless depression which I'd always thought would mark the beginning of the end. On the contrary, at Bodh Gaya I'd felt clearer than ever before. I'd seen how I was far from stability, and burdened with needs, and been not depressed but exhilarated. No, my reasons for disrobing, if I had any, weren't those I'd expected and prepared myself for. The warning signs, if there'd been any, weren't those I was on guard against.
"I'll tell you what. I'll let you borrow a pair of my pants for a few days, okay? Until you get some of your own. But get it done soon, 'cause I only have two pair. Here's a shirt for you, too. You might as well use that."
"Thanks, Ganesh. I'll have them back to you as soon as I can. I'm going to get the material on my way out to Swayambu."
"That's okay. You have to have something to wear. Listen, can you lend me some bread? Twenty. Just 'til my money gets here. It should come any day now."
"Sure. Here you go." I handed him the rupees.
"Thanks. You leaving soon?"
"In a few minutes. You going into town?"
"I'll walk with you."
"You going into town, someone?" Cisco called from his room. "Can you pick up some beedies for me? And some cheese?"
Ganesh went to his room to get ready. As soon as he left I tried on the pants under my robes, just to see if they'd fit. They felt very strange.
* * * * *
They were yoga pants. They had a little drawstring, but neither pockets nor fly. They were pale yellow. The shirt was a thin loose-fitting blouse. I packed them into my shoulder bag along with the requisites and a few other things, for I'd need something to wear on the way back.
"How come you're not staying in a vihara?" Ganesh had asked me once. There were no dharmashalas in Katmandu.
"I don't think I'd be comfortable staying at a Mahayana temple." I knew his views on the one-ness of all teachings.
"Theravadins really stick to themselves, don't they?"
"It's not just Theravadins. Some Mahayana temples won't even let me stay. Let's face it; we're birds of different feathers. The main thing we have in common is that we both call ourselves Buddhists."
"It's those labels that do it. 'Us' and 'them.' It'll breed hostility every time."
I started to say something about "fundamental differences in points-of-view," then realized that Ganesh had already heard all that before. "Anyway, I'd stay at the Theravada vihara before I'd stay at the Mahayana places."
"I didn't know there were any Theravada viharas in Katmandu."
"I know of one. It's on the other side of Swayambu." Swayambu was a hill outside town atop which was the Monkey Temple. "It's very small and not many people know about it."
"Why don't you stay there, then, instead of paying rent?"
"The rent's not a consideration. I won't be here that much longer." I hadn't then decided to disrobe and had still planned on going to Thailand soon. "But it's a small place, and they'd not likely have room. I went out there once. No one was home, but I had a look around. It's tucked into a fold of the hill, and it was cold out there, in shadow all the time. Of course, it might be better now, with the warmer weather, but it's not a good location, so I decided to stay in town."
And I'd taken a room in this house where Ganesh, Cisco, and other freaks from the Goenka course also stayed. It was a practice of the house to meet each evening for an hour's group meditation.
Now Ganesh and I left the house and headed across town. I carried my bundle with me. It was at the vihara on the far side of Swayambu that I would disrobe.
"I'll go with you as far as the cloth bazaar," Ganesh told me. "Then I have to do some other things." He'd be checking to see if his money had arrived, I guessed.
At the bazaar I needed to get material for trousers. We stopped in front of a shop and I examined the rolls of fabric on display.
"See anything here you like?"
"I'm not sure yet. It all looks strange."
My glance paused for an extra moment on one roll of material. The shopkeeper noticed and signaled his helper, who deftly grasped an end of the cloth and flipped the bolt onto the floor so that yards of material unrolled. The shopkeeper motioned me to have a closer look at the cloth. I wasn't interested in it (a bright maroon pattern, it was) but with the energy they'd already expended in showing it to me I felt obliged to look.
"Is that what you want?" There was no clue in Ganesh's voice, no signal of approval or disapproval.
"It seems a bit gaudy for pants, don't you think?"
Ganesh shrugged. "Depends on what you want."
But I didn't know what I wanted. I was in the habit of looking at things with distaste or, at least, disinterest. It had been long since I'd gone shopping: looking for something to want. I wasn't sure now how to go about it.
I looked at another rack of material. My gaze paused on one bolt of cloth for more than a moment and it too was summoned, unrolled, and proffered for my inspection. It was a sort of green; I couldn't decide how it would look cut, stitched, and worn. Soon half a dozen rolls lay unwound on the shop floor, and I saw that making a selection involved a problem I'd not anticipated: in a world of choices I lacked preferences.
"Look how anxious they are to make a sale," Ganesh kidded. "And after putting them to all that work can you have the heart to leave without buying something?"
"I didn't ask them to do all this. I even told them not to show me some of this cloth. They did it anyway."
"Sure. That's how they make their living."
I looked again at the cloth, trying to find something in each bolt that might make it stand out among its fellows and mark it as the right cloth for me. Finally, without enthusiasm, I indicated one bolt to the shopkeeper.
"That one's not too bad. Let me see that one."
It too was unrolled and I felt the texture.
"You don't really want to disrobe, do you?"
"Right now I'm picking out the cloth I'll wear after I disrobe. So how can you say that?"
"Because you're picking out a brown color."
"So? What's wrong with brown? It's not a bad color."
"It's the same color as your robe, except not so faded. If you really want to disrobe you'd pick out some other color. How many years have you been wearing brown cloth now?"
"I hadn't thought of that. But maybe I just like brown."
"Naw, you're trying to hold on to some part of the monk's trip. Like calling yourself V. You'll call yourself Bob after you disrobe, won't you?"
"I don't know. I haven't thought about it. But when I do think about it, Bob feels like it's someone else's name, not mine."
In the end I bought a lightweight blue cotton. I put the cloth into my bundle, beside the almsbowl, and slung it over my shoulder.
"I'll see you after you've done it. Hope there's no problems."
"I hope so too." Then I remembered something Ven. Dharmapal had told me before my ordination: It's not such a big thing. "No, there won't be any problems. Catch you later."
* * * * *
I walked down streets that had no names. This always made it hard to give directions; knowing the landmarks was the sign of the initiate. At every junction of streets there was a temple, a stone carving, or a shrine. It was hard to tell which were Hindu and which Buddhist: the Mahayana pantheon was very similar to the Hindu. But the multi-roofed temples fascinated me every time I saw them: powerful and alive, like the high Himalayas to the north.
The beggars still existed. Near the main market square a gaggle of crones were seated on the ground. For shade against the morning sun they relied upon an ancient urine-stained wall in whose shadow they baked and grew dry and brittle, a wall as gray as their clothes, as crumbling as their bodies. Their faces and hands, I saw, were coarsely tattooed in soft wide pale blue lines that at first I mistook for veins. I observed as a Nepalese businessman (suit, tie, plastic briefcase, red Shriners-style hat) stopped and held out a rupee to one of the crones, trying to get her attention. He had to call out to her several times, Mataji, mataji, little mother, little mother, before she broke off her prattling with her companions to face him and find out what he wanted. She spoke to him brusquely. It seemed he wanted to give her half a rupee bakshish, but had no change. Could she give him change? She nodded: oh, her expression suggested; is that your problem? Then I don't mind helping you out. And she took half a rupee in coins from the battered pie pan in front of her and exchanged it for the rupee note the man offered, which quickly vanished into some secret fold of her clothing. Then, neither offering thanks nor expecting any, she returned to the gossip from which business had summoned her, and which had not ceased in her absence.
On the other side of the market square beggar boys were pitching pennies in the shadow of an ornately carved wooden pagoda. One of them (perhaps he'd already lost his coins?) sat and watched. When he saw me stop and also watch the game for a moment he got up and came over to me.
"Mister, you got bakshish, mister?" These kids had been exposed to a lot of Westerners and many of them had picked up some English. This one was maybe twelve years old, but small enough to be eight.
"Why you want bakshish? So you lose it in game?"
"Me? No, no, I not losing in games. I not have money for games. Please, you give me bakshish? I'm hungry. Want to eat."
He stood barefooted looking up at me hopefully. He wore a dirty gray cap and trousers that ended just below his knees. His clothing might have been host to a convention of moths, so ragged and full of holes was it.
"I'll tell you what. I'm hungry too. Let's both go get something to eat."
We walked down a sidestreet where there were some native restaurants, and I stopped at the first one.
"No, no, mister. Not here. This place no good, they cheat. They give little food. I know gooder place."
We went to the place he recommended, which looked much the same as the first place. To enter I ducked through a low doorway, and once inside I could barely stand straight. Nepalis are small people. The low ceiling was black with smoke accumulated from the mud wood-burning stove. We selected our food from clay pots that simmered on the stove and sat at a bench near a window, where the air was fresh.
"Mister, what you? 'Merican? Englander? Where you from?"
"'Merica. Where you from?"
"Me? I'm Nepalese. Katmandu my home. I borned here."
"You got mother? Father?" Then I recalled that I used to hate being asked those questions. In Ceylon I'd avoided conversations that circled around such topics. And all across Asia, before ordination, I'd amused myself by inventing fanciful answers to those questions: "Me? I'm from Utopia." "Where's that? Japan?" "No, it's on Mars." "Oh? What language you speak there?" "We don't speak any language. That's what makes it Utopia." And, "Hey," my questioner had said to his companion. He'd indicated me with a knowing nod of the head and explained, "Utopianer here."
"You got mother? Father?"
"No mother. No father. They gone somewhere. Don't know."
"Got much brothers. You my brother too. Yes?"
"Sure. You like living on the streets?"
"What you mean, living on the streets?"
"You like to have home? Family?"
"I just said you, I got brothers. Katmandu my home. This good life. No much money; sometimes hungry; but good life for me. Here is free. You like Nepal?"
"Where you go when you leave from here?"
"I don't know. I'm not so sure I'm going to leave. I was going to go to Thailand, but now I don't know. You know where Thailand is?"
He shook his head. I wondered how much he understood.
"It's far away. But I don't think I'll go there now. Maybe I'll stay here."
"Why? No good there?"
"I don't know. I've never been there. But they give me special visa, you know? Special permission for living in Thailand. But the permission says I have to use it very soon, or else it's no good anymore. And I don't want to go yet. When I asked for permission I thought I would stay here a long time first. But the permission says I have to go now, and I don't want to go now. I need more time in Nepal. I like the Himalayas too much to go right now."
"Hmm." He nodded, but I wondered if he understood. "How come you wearing that cloth? You a sadhu?"
"Yes. A Buddhist sadhu."
"How you like that, being sadhu?"
"Good life. But today is my last day as sadhu. Now I go to the vihara and tell them that I stop being sadhu."
"Why you do that?"
I shrugged. I didn't know how to explain.
When we left the restaurant it occurred to me that this had been my last meal as a monk. I looked up at the sky. The sun was still in the eastern quadrant; my last meal had been within proper hours.
I found a coin at the bottom of my shoulder bag and gave it to my beggar-brother. "Here's some bakshish. Don't lose it all at once."
He took it, smiled at me, and ran off to lose it all at once, pitching pennies.
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