3 June 2008

Journal 50

December 28 - Last night was terrible - much noise until about 11:00 kept me awake till then, then the mosquitos kept me awake the rest of the night. I suggested this morning that my stay would be very short in such surroundings, and I was quickly given a new room. I am now living in a small cave, measuring about 12 feet by 9 feet, with the roof sloping into the back wall. The walls are made of several thousand tons of solid rock. There's another, larger, cave next door - so to speak - in which lives another, larger monk. There are several other kutis built into this rock, and there is room for more. There is also a cave unprepared but needing only a front wall to be complete. This kuti is quite comfortable.

This is certainly the most spectacular arañña I have seen, with huge outcroppings of rock, peculiar trees, thick jungle; one gigantic boulder on top of everything, high above the trees, on top of which there is a clear view everywhere but south. To the north and west I can see the mountains of central Ceylon in the far, far distance. Adam’s Peak is visible on a clear day, but today is cloudy with rain threatening and only silhouettes are visible.

I'm told the monkeys here are not monkeys - swhat are they then, chimpanzees? They are light brown, about 2 feet high (with three feet tails), and a few of the larger ones will take food from my hand, rather politely. It's great fun feeding them. One of them, who looks like Art Carney, was willing to sit down next to me, and eat the bananas I gave him (including the peel), but not near the dogs, of whom they are afraid. I've been cautious and never leave anything outside or they will steal it.

I don't like the routine here - there is not the same spirit as at Dediyagala, and there is also more ritual. This ritual is fine for them: they have to have something to do all day, and if they won't practice meditation, then worship, flower gathering, raking, etc., are all harmless tasks. If one does practice meditation, however, then having to do other things at fixed times is merely a nuisance. Also they spend 3 hours every day collecting their food: there is a 20 minute walk (through soft mud) to the hall where it's given, and a 20 minute walk back with a heavy bowl; then busy work, etc., until we eat all together in the aiming hall, which has a low rock ceiling, and is, therefore, hot.

One of the young monks and one of the servants arrived here several weeks ago from Kottawa Arañña. I did not remember them until reminded, but they remembered me. The young monk was, and is, apparently, very much taken by me, for it was he who wanted to give me his umbrella, and it was he who prepared hot water for me this morning for washing (!), and so on. What it is that I did, or didn't do, or tried to do, at Kottawa that has impressed him so I'm not certain.

This afternoon I slept for an hour, then rested, and finally went for a walk. There are waterholes in crevices in rocks; miniature frogs and tiny toads inhabit them; the biggest is as large as my baby toenail. There is a tree which has huge leaves and white flowers and whose branches are thick, white and rubbery; they can be bent into knots and will spring back to their original shape. I watched the monkeys - or, rather, what are not monkeys - non-monkeys - and found a small manila (a poisonous snake) who paid me no heed at all. There are paths and jungle trails for miles and it would take months to learn them all. The jungle here is on the edge of the SE dry zone of the island and is very different from the SW wet zone jungle - more trees (and different trees), not so much underbrush - the older a jungle gets the less underbrush it has - not many ferns or palm trees, nothinq quite impenetrable. Quieter. No leeches.

December 30. I have, more or less, left Maduragala and am now living, in a way, at Karmagala Arañña, I have left a lot of my things at Maduragala, for I shall only be here a few days. Karmagala is a jungle hermitage about a mile from Maouragala; it is now abandoned - I don't know for how long there have been no monks here - and is beginning to fall apart. It is on top of the largest hill anywhere near here, which is not saying very much, for there are hardly any hill nearby. Nevertheless there is a magnificent view to the south where the sea appears as a thin line between sky and jungle, almost the same as the sky; to the north rise the hills of upcountry. Rough calculations seem to indicate that the biggest peak I sec is 4100 feet at a distance of 30 miles. (Adam's Peak is 55 miles away, 7380 feet high, but is probably hidden - it would appear, if seen, to be slightly smaller than the largest peak. If I have a cloudless day I can probably see it: I can use my map as guide, since it has all the peaks noted.) I can see hundreds of square miles of jungle, which, from above, is rather dull: dull green and uninformative, but vast and somehow hiding something: we cannot know what, but we can know that its nature is dangerous.

There is a fine cetiya on the very top of this hill - really, there is only one other hill worthy of the name for several miles around - from which I can see the rocks - though not the kutis - of Macuragala. My map shows the sea as being about 8 miles away, and thus I calculate the height of the hill as being about 1000 feet. This seems incredible, though, for the climb is easy - over rocks and on a soft path which hides thorns - and it doesn't feel that high. Perhaps my calculations - and/or judgment - are off. There's a fine breeze up here, and a temple with a very nice Buddha (the small one, just next to the large gaudy one), and no monks. I cannot say, though, that there are no people: there are six laymen. Tonight is new moon, and on full and new moons it is customary for laymen to make religious observance. Apparently some villagers come up here on these days for the observance and spend the night. This is a very good practice: if is merely unfortunate that I came here on a new moon day. Half a moon would be better than no moon at all.

Nevertheless, I have been left more or less alone - they wanted me to conduct services, which I refused, and gave me tea and betel nut, which I accepted. They sleep in a large hall, of the sort every arañña (except Island Hermitage) has for laymen to sleep in, while I am settled in a large cave in a good-sized hunk of rock.

The cave is about 50 feet long, but only about 20 feet deep, 10 feet in a few places - and 10 to 15 feet high. It's finished with front wall, windows, door, etc., and is stocked with a lantern, a Buddha image, and everything else required (the Buddha image, a poor one, I could well do without): even tea, sugar, and a kettle. I made some tea, which was good, though difficult, since I had to hunt for firewood, build a stove, make the fire, etc. I suppose these things are put here by the fortnightly laymen: at any rate, I assumed so and used them on trust. No one objected. I think the laymen will leave tomorrow.

For food I must go about 2 miles to the hall where the Maduragala monks are given food; I shall take it back here, however, and shall not go to Maduragala until I leave here. They know, of course, that I am here - they are faintly opposed to the idea. Their main objection was that I would have to go without afternoon tea if I lived here - I don't have to, as it turns out - and anyway why didn't I stay there, where I would not – horrors! - be alone? Since they know the answer to all objections they raise, they could not object very strongly (except by being mauvaise foi), and I left today after the meal.

The arañña itself is much like Maduragala: spectacular rocks, though the kutis in them are not nearly so elegant, except for the view, which is even better. Fine jungle. I share my cave with a family of chipmunks, who live under the drip ledge (a ledge so that water drips down rather than sliding into the kuti via the rock roof), and who do not appreciate my company but are very curious about me - lizards, and the usual creatures. The non-monkeys here are different than at Maduragala; at Maduragala they had a pouch under each cheek, while here they do not. In both places, though they have pink faces and black demonic ears.

There are at least a dozen kutis here; most of then are occupied by bats and stink to hell. The kuti on the other side of this rock is occupied by a bear: I could see the hollow in the bat dung where he sleeps and could see his footprint in the powdery dung. This is a big rock, though, and there is room for both (all) of us.

My plan now is to stay here tomorrow and leave on January 1, evening, to Maduragala, to see Ñána Ananda. He is the head of the sect which includes Maduragala, Kottawa, Dediyagala, and all the village piests thereabouts. He is also the preceptor of all the monks both at Dediyagala and Maduragala. He will, apparently, arrive on the 1st, and I am curious what sort of person he is. I shall sleep at Maduragala that night, and on the 2nd shall leave for Hambantota.

I have just recalculated the height of the hill and find that I am only 42 feet above sea level. This is an even more surprising figure than the previous one of 1170 feet. If I average them, however, I find that I am, above everybody else, on a hill 606 feet, and that's good enough for me.

December 31. Company – laymen - left this morning. I found, on the south edge of the topmost rock on the hill, a natural concavity in the stone which forms a perfect seat, complete with back, and just the right size for me, and spent the morning there, until about 8:30, when I prepared and then went to collect alms. It's a 40 minute walk, then another walk back up the hill, so there is plenty of exercise. Ate. Fed the chipmonks and non-monks. Went back to my seat. Rain threatened and finally forced me to evacuate and return to the cave, where I am now - about 3:30. Clouds all day. I'm very pleased with this place. In fact, I've decided to stay one more day, and so will not return to Maduragala until the 2nd.

On the way back from alms, I was twice attacked, and painfully wounded each time, by black ants. They look just like the harmless kind at Island Hermitage, but, boy, do they bite! Having been bitten by both red and half-red, half-black before, I can say that the black here are the worst. The bite is actually nothing; what hurts so much is that they flip their rear ends over their heads and piss into the bite! That hurts! (Talk about adding insult to injury!)

January 1. Alms this AM - from Tangalla people. One of them - a postmaster - told me he had seen me walking there and was impressed. He believes, it seems – not totally without justification - that monks are not generally capable of walking. He also threatened to visit me this afternoon, but was, perhaps, frightened off by the wild flowers or some such danger. (Do carnivorous plants grow in Ceylon?) I was visited, though, by 2 monks from Maduragala, who brought me candles, incense, matches, themselves, and a message that I should come back tonight, not tomorrow. The situation is still indeterminate: I shall go there at 4:00 (it is now 3:00) to meet the head of the sect, intending to return this evening. We shall see.

I found a wonderful cave, almost beneath my meditation seat, but it can be reached only through an intricate and fairly difficult labyrinth of rocks and climbs and drops, until it opens out onto a ledge with a few trees, a covered flat rock and the cave, with one mud wall built into it. It's impervious to elephants. I was also told that the cave I am in now has a history of 2000 years, and that arahats used to live in it. An arahat is a person who has attained nibbána - a saint so to speak - and, while this may be perfectly true, it may also be perfectly false, for Ceylon's official history is, in fact, an official fairy tale, full of fantastic heros and villains, mythical creatures, demons, giants, defenders-of-the-faith, etc., and not quite to he believed. It was pointed out to me, though, that the ceiling of the cave still bears the remains of ancient ar-work, and this is true: a few lines can still faintly be discerned: a hand, or possibly a monstrous foot, is visible, and some other indeterminate but definitely artistic lines can also be seen; so it is quite possible that the cave was inhabited 2000 years ago - probable I would say - possibly by monks, and even, who knows? by arahats. So much for history. As for the present, there are no arahats in this cave: of that I assure you. There are, however, two chipmonks and a butterfly.

For dána I was given a plastic bag of curds and honey, which I ate part of and gave the rest to the non-monkey. It could smell the food, but, since, the curds were inside the bag, had great difficulty and much puzzlement in trying to lick the food. After considerable effort it finally found the opening, but still didn't get the idea - sit licked the opening, and then went deeper and deeper – all the time trying to watch me, of whom it was suspicious, and another non-monkey, of whom it was even more suspicious. It took a couple deep breaths, stuck its red face in deep, took a sloppy greedy lick, and pulled the bag off to look about, its face white and yellow and very messy, its tongue going in circles. Non-monkey alms.

January 2. On the way to Maduragala, I managed to take a wrong turning and got quite lost for a while, finally finding the path again. It began to rain while I was lost, and by the time I reached Maduragala I had a headache and a slight fever. Ñána Ananda had not yet appeared. Therefore I spent the night there. When Ñána Ananda did appear I was awoken with a great noise and was taken to see him. He does not speak English, which surprised me, and so conversation was impossible. A few questions and answers were translated, some oil rubbed on my head, and then my head subjected to a squeezing process, which may have squeezed the fever out, for this morning I awoke feeling quite fine, after an uncomfortable night's sleep - uncomfortable because I had to share a room with one of Ñána Ananda's attendant bhikkhus, who made noise and kept his lamp – on late.

This morning, there being no purpose in my staying at Maduraqala, I returned to Karmagala, in a light rain. There are some rocks to be crossed on the path leading to the alms-house, and in the rain it's extremely slippery and dangerous, and required 10 minutes of extreme care to cross a few hundred feet. Downhill was more difficult than uphill. Godawful spicey alms, almost inedible. Non-monkeys liked it well enough. I was visited by a large male with his harem of four females and an indeterminate number of assorted offsprings, these last remaining mostly amidst the trees, while the 5 adults sat around me and gobbled rice I threw them, grain by grain, picking it off the ground with both hands, occasionally squabbling and snarling and showing teeth. The babies cane later to eat the few grains that were left. They were so ugly they were cute, with wide open eyes and nervous mouths, very uncertain of the world.

Tomorrow AM I shall leave here and set off, along a dirt tract which I hope will be a short cut, to Hambantota. If it is a short cut, I will save about 5 miles, having only 13 miles to do. If it is not, I won't reach Hambantota tomorrow.

January ? - Some days after 'arrival': that day I left Karmagala, descending via the D.S.R. (damned slippery rocks), I did not even find the short cut, and finally went down the road I went up. Alms superb: the best jackfruit I have ever had, good kidney beans, stringhoppers, etc. Ambalantota was dreadful. Finally, when there were 6 miles to Hambantota a man ran up and gave me a note from Ñánasumáno (at first I thought it was money and refused it) telling me where he was - about a mile away. If I had found the short cut I would have reached the main road beyond this point and would have had to go all the way to Hambantota to learn that he was staying on an estate 6 miles back, so the longest way is, once again, the quickest. Sometimes it's necessary to go a long distance out of your way in order to come back a short distance correctly.

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