10 May 2008

Journal 31

December 14 - Explorations: there is one easy path leading into the arañña, about 3 miles from the village, as I discovered when I came here; the place has only 4 kutis, but only 2 of them are in use (and I'm using one of those two); the samaneras sleep in an addition beside the dining hall, en masse. They study, but the bhikkhu, who is a friendly person, practices meditation (though, I suspect, not very seriously), besides teaching the novices (samaneras). He has been a bhikkhu only 2 years: ordination must come from a monk of at least 10 years standing. I have learned that this monk, of 11 years standing, who is the formal teacher lives at another arañña and comes here only once a year - a peculiar situation, and not very proper; this may account for the lack of buildings and endowments here.

There is also a temple room with a Buddha statue, an open-roofed area (commonly found in village temples, but the first I've seen in an arañña) and a small, young branch of the Bodhi tree growing near it. (The Bodhi tree is the tree the Buddha sat under when he attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, India. The southern branch of it was brought to Ceylon in the 3rd century B.C. and still grows at Anuradhapura - 2300 years old, the oldest tree existing. Branches of the Anuradhapura tree are found in a number of places in Ceylon. 'Bodhi' means 'enlightenment'. The tree is of the species ficus religiosa.) One kuti has a huge rock as its back wall and is therefore very cool, but it is beginning to fall apart - the kuti, not the rock.

There arc no paths within the arañña except leading to the few buildings: an uncared for path leads out the back, which I followed for 1.5 mile without reaching its end: perhaps it leads to a village somewhere; it's leech-infested and unused.

This evening another monk of one year's standing showed up. No one speak English.

There is, in addition to evening worship, also morning worship; about 6:00 AM, which is done in silence - how less razzmatazzy can it be? - which is also congenial and relaxed. The great advantage of the arañña is that it exists for as much the residents as for the lay supporters, but, since it lacks the benefit of a number of Western (white) monks as an attraction, it is not, apparently, well supported, or perhaps the austerity is intentional.

Dána today was brought by dáyakás, but even so was not anything like what is found elsewhere. Curds and honey, yes, but small portions, and nothing that would be considered a luxury food, though, of course, sufficient: that's fine with me. My concern is only if it's healthy. Lots of unhealthy spices, but much better than the doughy meals I collect on alms when wandering. I was given some vitamin tablets - B complex and C - a few days before leaving Island Hermitage, and I take those daily. There is a month's supply of C's and 3 months of B-complex. The dividing line in food between luxury and non-luxury, by the way, seems to be Nestomalt, a malt-flavored powder which is offered in preference even to milk. There is none here: Island Hermitage has tons of the stuff, which has a sort of butterscotchy flavor. (Island Hermitage also has tinned cheese and other fancy foods in abundance.) A piece of coconut at the end of the meal is quite effective, by the way, in toning down the spice-burn of the food; lemon juice, if available, put on the food, will remove much of the curry-flavor and hot-chile-pepper taste, as well.

I also learned that leeches hate soap: the best way to remove them, once they've taken firm hold, is to work a sliver of soap under them; they will let go quickly. Well soaped legs will not pick up any.

The robes I wear while walking have become a very dark brown. This is odd. Perhaps perspiration reacts with the dye to produce the darkness. I suspect salt also works. They are darker where I sweat most and lightest where they are least in contact with me…

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