20 May 2008

Journal 39

After going 2 miles along the southern road from Akuressa, I climbed a jungle path to a mountain top where I reached, exhaustedly, Kiyanduwa Arañña. I'd been told of the place by the people at Opate, and found some of what they told me to be true: the head monk was young - 40 years old. (At Dedivagala, the oldest monk was 26 and the average age of the residents was surely less, which is, I think, a large part of the reason I found it so pleasant. The average age at Island Hermitage, on the other hand, I would guess to be about 45. He has 5 disciples, the youngest one being 32. There are no child-monks, or monklets - these are serious adults who have some ideas and want to practice them. Only one of them speaks a little English, so I could not decide whether their ideas are the Buddha's or not - I rather suspect not - but, they are, at any rate, not deluding themselves or playing gamesP: children play the game of war, which, if played well, can reproduce every aspect of real war save one: the danger. So too, most people want their religious, ethical, spiritual - which word do you choose? - exercise safe, simple, and comfortable, and wind up doing no more than playing.

The people at Kiyanduwa have no temple for chanting: they have mud huts, few comforts, strict discipline which is wholly voluntary. They accept no food brought to them (as do all other araññas, including Island Hermitage, that I know of), but go daily for alms to the village, which involves descending and ascending a very steep and long path, the round trip taking a tiring 2 hours. Yet I have no doubt that the experience is good. One meal a day is all the head monk takes - though the others take a light breakfast at 5:00 AM. This one-meal-a-day business seems to prove to some people the saintliness of a person. To me, who can speak from experience, it is no such thing, of course, though it may indicate a seriousness which truly makes food and eating something bothersome, if not vaguely distasteful, a task to be gotten through as quickly as possible, repeated as seldom as possible. Or it may simply be a desire for recognition of ascetic practices - one must more or less hide the fact, if one practices it so. I suspect, in his case, though, it is the former. In mine there are a number of reasons; it is, in fact, a nuisance; also the Buddha has recommended restraint in this regard as good practice; so I'm willing to give it a try, and do find it, in fact, to be pleasant (a relief). I never feel hungry at all except about 10:00 AM each day - unfortunately most places don't eat till 11, which gives me one somewhat uncomfortable hour, unless I'm alone with alms, when I eat at my own convenience. Clearly, the only thing one can do at Kiyanduwa, for that is all there is to do, is practice. Nevertheless I think that I could not live there, for I felt a certain discomfort in the atmosphere - perhaps due to my own exhaustion from the trip and the climb - the road is unite rough and sharp.

In the evening a villager came up who knew quite a few words of English. He also knew how to arrange them into what generally struck me as a fantastic double-talk, not quite making sense, and soil tried to communicate through this distorting machine with the head monk, but I don't think much of what I said and asked got put properly and, unless the head monk was mad, certainly not much of what he said came through very clearly. He did, however, say that he would not accept me as a disciple - which I had certainly not asked for - unless/until I learned Sinhalese - which is unlikely - and that, since they were crowded and he could not help me or advise me I would best leave the next day, today.

The conversation, which involved several hours, required all of my effort and energy and concentration to learn that and very little more, and left me totally exhausted. I've never heard English words mixed up in such a fashion in my life. The monk who spoke the little English spoke to the head monk afterwards, explaining, I gathered, that nothing the villager had said had made any sense. The head monk then wrote a letter in Sinhalese which I have translated and says that he can't accept me as a disciple until I learn Sinhalese, etc., and makes sense. Perhaps, now that I think of it, my feelings about the place - that I couldn't stay there - are due in large part to that village distorting machine. He told me, by the way, that he was the town cop. Thankgod, he's not the postmaster…

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