13 April 2008

Journal 9

7:30 PM - sitting on the cement meditation seat outside the kuti (very nice with a pillow), listening to the cicada concerts, and writing by the light of a candle balanced delicately inside a partly - burnt red paper lantern, while a faint drizzle taps on the corrugated iron roof so rapidly it is almost steady drone (a sort of audio version of a newspaper photo, which is comprised of individual dots). I record the following events of the day: dána (food offering) was presented today by a very large group of villagers. I assume news of my presence has spread and was the immediate cause of the dána, for everyone stared but none asked questions. They must have known a white monk - an American yet - was there, and just wanted to see for themselves. A pilgrimage, perhaps, to the zoo? (Do you have The Zoo Story, by Edward Albee, there?) At any rate, at 10:00 I went to the building by the entrance to the hermitage, covered in both shoulders, my bowl was taken from me and I was shown a seat. I sat and waited until 10:25, when two old monks came, whom I had seen before engaged in devotional flower arrangements and gossip – betel-nut mouth, teeth red and rotted and widely spaced - the sort of old men the village makes into monks and supports because they have a certain faith and are good for nothing else, yet must be supported anyway, using the Order as an old-age home. (It's also used as a reformatory, on the other end of the age scale.) Anyway, the three of us sat down, our bowls were returned filled with food, and one of the men, the one who seemed the brighter of the two, took a large alarm clock, placed it next to him, and waited until it was exactly 10:30, then he gave the Five Precepts to the villagers. Then he began to give a sermon interspersed with ritual chants, when the other old monk joined him. Absent from all of this was both Ven. Saranatissa and the young monk, whom I've only seen once. About 10:4O the handsome old rooster strutted in, picking up and setting down his legs in a military fashion even when standing still. He seemed to look over the crowd, found them uninteresting, pecked slightly without any real enthusiasm at the floor, and finally turned to face the three monks, myself included, sat down and listened. Very slight power of concentration. He quickly discovered that a vagrant flea had illegally taken residence in his feathers, and tried for some time to evict the wee fellow. Finally succeeded or gave up, sat down and closed his eyes. I too was unimpressed with the sermon. A fly was having a very intimate affair with my left eyeball, and simply would not be discouraged. At precisely 11:00 the sermon ended, we rose, took our bowls and left, the rooster close behind us…

I know, of course, that when people hear that the Dhamma has spread so far and been accepted to the extent that an American should appear here in robes, it’s good for increasing the faith, the devotion, their respect, and their donations to the arañña. And besides Ven, Saranatissa - who is a very good person - has probably not had an American here since 1950, when Dr. Hopkins was visiting (as a layman), 17 years back. I know, not only that the monks here don't often get as fine a meal as they did today (it approached Island Hermitage standards, though I'm perfectly content with the standards of yesterday's meal), but also that the people don't often have the occasion available to give it, and can therefore well appreciate the motives in using me for this purpose, even though I don't particularly like it, even find it detrimental to my efforts to practice the Buddha's Teaching-well, it is detrimental, so I don't like it. Still, it must be tolerated. Nothing else seems to be expected of me.

But I didn’t eat my meal sitting on a mossy rock by the bend of a shady jungle river with my feet in the water. I ate it in the company of the two old monks in a hot, unesthetic, unfunctional building with flies, mosquitos, and discomfort, with farcical ritual in a village - priestly atmosphere. I prefer to be alone, and so to eat alone, but if I must eat with others, then let them be urban and urbane types - to whom I'm accustomed and can therefore ignore – rather than village monks with village manners. They were very nice, of course, and tried to be friendly, bustling about trying to arrange things the way they thought I'd like best, which was, of course, what I liked least, and plagued me with petty favors. Very trying, annoying, but the food, though terribly spicey, was edible, and I survived the experience and, perhaps, even learned from it.

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