27 May 2008

Journal 44

December 21 - night. This morning I left the school about 6:00 AM and went through some stretches of handsome rice fields, but nothing remarkable. Good alms today; ate well. Reached Kirinda village about 10:30 - shortly after Eating - and found it to be less unpleasant than most villages; arrived at Kirinda Arañña at 12:00. Short walk today; only 11 miles.

This arañña I find strictly traditional and traditionally strict. They belong to the small strict sect and their conduct is good. Their arañña, though, is peculiar: at Island Hermitage, as at most araññas, great care is taken so that no kuti is built in such a way that any other kuti can be seen from it, so there is a greater sense of aloneness. Here, they have built an arañña in the jungle, far from the village, but have carefully placed each kuti within sight - and sound - of as many of the other kutis as possible. Why do people do such things? Perhaps because of the tradition: things must be done just so, not because it's the best way, but because it has always been done so.

In some ways, I must be grateful for this, for it is this traditionalist that has preserved the Dhamma word for word through 2500 years, yet, grateful as I am that it was so preserved, I still consider those who preserved it fools, for they did not themselves use it. This traditional attitude, which is to be avoided like the plague, has not only not been eradicated here but has, in a few of its forms, been actually encouraged. My thesis is that any message which has survived 2500 years must be great; any great message must be misunderstood by most people; most people build a tradition around the message and then follow the tradition and not the message.

The monks here are serious; they, apparently, practice the teachings – to what extent I do not know - but their lives are strictly regulated. At a certain time each day they all do certain jobs: 4:00 sweeping, 6:00 chanting, etc., and when they sweep, or rake leaves, they don’t do it any old way: they leave the sand with a definite pattern from the rake; no other pattern will do, and they do not hold the rake with left hand over right, but with right hand over left. (Their insistence on this point annoyed me no end, since it is simply not natural for me, a lefty.) Perhaps such extreme regulation of my time may actually be good for me - I've wondered about that before - and can't hurt me for a few days, at any rate. But I don't care for this en masse attitude, which is more like enforcement than participation, abrogates the purpose of an arañña (solitude), and I don't care for the idea of having to do such and such at such and such a time simply because such and such has always been done so. There is too great a tendency for such a practice to become self-justifying.

My kuti here is the only unoccupied one - there are 8 monks in residence. None speak English, but some boys from the village have come, unfortunately, as interpreters as well as interrogators, which has taken a lot of time. One of them asked me to help him with his problem: he wants to go to America, and needs someone to pay his fare. I pointed out that I neither had money nor dealt in it and so could not help, and asked why he wanted to go to America. He said he wanted to get rich. For all that I deplore his goal, I couldn't help admiring his honesty and surety of what he wanted: not many people are so forthright (or even can be - to themselves, in particular).

The jungle is old and large: very tall - unbelievably tall - and straight trees, with branches only at and near the tops, are filled with monkeys. The monkeys are small, silent, and not much fun at all. They have, clearly, never been in a barrel. There is a peculiar millipede, about 8 inches long, all black except for a vast number of white legs, so that it looks very formally-attired, as if in tuxedo, white gloves, and spats. In contrast, Island Hermitage centipedes are half the size, black on top and red on the sides: much more gay and lively, their legs move in a peculiarly fascinating pattern, sort of like waves. There is a fruit which falls off a tree onto my head as I walk in the walking area: hard – naturally - and dark green with a hare pit and seem to resemble olives except that they don't smell like olives (or smell at all) and fall from a tremendous tree. The leaf of the tree doesn’t look like an olive leaf; though, perhaps, this is some long lost relative (black sheep of the family?). I'm told the fruit in inedible though many seem to be partly eaten by birds, so I'm tempted to taste one in the morning and see. In any case, it's difficult to reconcile this giant tree with the twisted, stunted trees one sees in Greece and Jerusalem…

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