8 May 2008

Journal 29

Today I set out about 7:00 AM, and reached Akuressa, after a brief encounter with a small - 18 inches - yellow-brown snake with squarish black markings, about as thick as my thumb. It was crossing the road as I approached; but a truck was also approaching and I tried to shoo the snake off the road before it got run over. The tires missed it by no more than an inch, and it quickly dove (?) onto a pile of stones. It turned out to be a very deadly sort and all, but I stood a while watching it, and it made no attempt to harm, or even threaten me. I am becoming more and more convinced that snakes are really very polite and don't deserve at all their bad reputation.

Akuressa does deserve a bad reputation: how can people actually desire to live amidst all the filth, noise and general unpleasantness of a town? Aims was peculiar: lots of buttered toast. Yesterday there was a glut of honey rolls. Tastes change. Few hills now, much more rice paddy fields. I was refused alms more times today than all the other days of the journey combined: don't know why, but I suspect it's just the general ignorance of the laity combined with their growing disrespect for monks through seeing un-monkish behavior in their local village priests. Difficult road: feet sore. It began to rain about 1:30, which was welcome, since the asphalt tends to get a bit sticky on bare feet about then, and the rain cooled it off. The umbrella, it seems, has a use after all. (Its main use is as a sunshade, but I have excellent tolerance of the sun-even at Bin Gedi I never wore a cap in the fields – and don't really need it for that.)

Finally reached the turnoff for Dediyagala Arañña - where I am now – about 2:30, where I met a monk who was properly dressed: the first one I've seen properly dressed since leaving Nugagala. Stopped to rest a minute, given a cup of tea (usual), and asked questions (usual) by someone whose English was rather curious and uncertain (usual). Finally at the end of his questions, the fellow said (uncertain of his grammar): 'Am I off? Am I off?' 'I don't know,' I replied. 'Are you off?' He hesitated a moment, then said, 'I am off. I am off.' I agreed. He was off. I, too, was off, down the cart track, which passed through a very long stretch of rubber-tree estate - rubber trees, en masse, are a pleasant sight, reflecting the usual muted and subtle beauty of Ceylon. Guideless, I continued, into rice land, brush, and finally jungle. At about 4:00, getting tired, having been alone in the jungle for some time, I heard, about 20 feet from me, and very unmistakably, a deep, long growl. Then silence. Then rustling, and I saw dark vague movements. Silence. I didn't know whether to stand or run, so I 'just kept walking', slightly – very - nervous, and thought of the tiger at Nugagala, the lions and bears at Opata. The sounds became more distant; I never found out what had caused the noise, but I was attacked by nothing more than the usual number of leeches. I must retract my statement, by the way, that leech bites do not hurt. There are, I have discovered, different varieties.

Finally, just when I was wondering whether I was lost, and perhaps on the wrong path - about 4:30 - I arrived at the arañña. The place seems quiet - it's certainly remote - but the jungle doesn't really compare (from the little I've seen) with the jungle of Nugagala. There are at present only 3 novices – the other resident(s) being away for an uncertain time - none of whom speak English. Two are young and one is closer to my age. This, more or less, and rather absurdly, puts me 'in charge' of them, I being the eldest, until the other(s) - which will be (include) their teacher - return(s). These 3 seem very well trained, with excellent manners and monk-like conduct, following the Discipline closely. Very good. I have been put in a kuti - a nice one - where I am alone, but only, apparently, because the resident is absent. There was a púja this evening, but a reasonable one, with no lay folks about, a minimum of fuss, emphasis on meaning, and not absurdly repetitious and drawn-out. The place seems spacious, clean, well laid-out. Two questions remain: (1) How much is expected of me in the way of group participation? (the less the better), and (2) How long will I have the aloneness of a room to myself? (sharing will oblige me to leave). We shall see.

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