14 April 2008

Journal 10

In the afternoon I went up to the cetiya on the hilltop and watched the clouds slowly gather in the east, until, forces mustered, they marched westward toward me and the sun, blurring distant details, and finally, victoriously, forced me to retreat back to the kuti at 5:00 in the face of a light rain, which continues even yet.

Before I went to the hill, while at the kuti, after dána, I watched some men come with a very large box of little clay lamps which, it seems, they distributed at intervals along all the paths of the arañña, up to the cetiya itself. Behind them came a man with a 2-gallon tin of coconut oil; then a man with an infinite number of cloth wicks; then two fellows with matches, trying to light the lamps. It was a bright day. One of the last of the fellows, with matches, wore trousers rather than the native sarong, which means that he can speak English: anyone who could not speak English and yet put on airs by wearing trousers would be ridiculed. So I asked him if he spoke English. 'Yyyyyyyesss!' he replied, with a terrible nervous stutter, which I noticed was not present when he spoke to his companions in Sinhalese - and I asked what the purpose of the lamps might be. They were lighting them, he informed me, because his brother wanted to have a baby. Oh? And did they believe that by lighting coconut oil in a hermitage they would be helping his brother to give birth? Yyyyyesss! Indeed, native beliefs and customs do take some peculiar turns! But, it turned out, the lamps were not for the brother, but for the brother's wife who, it seem, has already just had a baby. This was a celebration. I gathered too, from other signs, that they wanted to thank Lord Buddha for having granted them – her - a son. This is, of course, completely contrary to the whole concept of the Buddha's Teaching: it is almost undisguised god-worship. Such things may well be expected from a generally uninformed laity, but it is not unreasonable to expect a Buddhist arañña to refrain from encouraging such mistaken ideas by the simple expedient of not participating in them, if, as it seems, preachings from 10:30-11:00 AM don't manage to get the message across.

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