11 June 2008

Letter 2.4

Yes, leeches, mosquitos, etc. are loathsome creatures, and I have no particular desire to preserve them. The reason -- the primary reason at any rate -- for my unwillingness to kill them is quite simple: it is to my own disadvantage. When one engages in acts of violence the mind is not clear, as anyone who has ever lost his temper well knows. But in order to best be able to deal with ourselves and our world, it is necessary to understand what our nature and the nature of the world is; and if the mind is not clear it cannot do so. Therefore, the moment of pleasure at killing an annoying creature is paid for by the mind becoming less clear, less a useful tool for understanding itself; and refraining from killing has not only the opposite effect, but also the effect of calming one, so that these creatures become, in fact, less of an annoyance. That's what I was talking of, when I wrote you about equanimity, which is a side-effect of practicing the Buddha's Teaching. In fact, training a calmness of mind is half the practice: it is samatha bhāvanā (calm concentration); the other half is vipassanā bhāvanā (insight meditation, which, guided by instructions of the texts, works in direct accord with calm concentration, like two legs when walking). There is, as a secondary consideration, a desire to practice ahimsa -- harmlessness -- for the benefit of the creatures themselves -- but this is purely a secondary motivation. I have observed through the past year or so, however, that as my practice increases and I become calmer and more in control of myself, that this desire has, of its own accord, grown: there is, as the practice improves, not only a growth of equanimity but also of compassion.

There was a 15 foot long crocodile in the river, whom I used to see when I bathed. Sometimes he would swim by, only the top of his snout and his eyes visible at one end, and the end of his tail at the other; he came as close as 20 yards to me, but would not come any closer. Sometimes he would be sunbathing drowsily on a point of land about 30 yards off from where I bathed. He never did anything but mind his own business. (He could have killed me, I suppose, on a dozen occasions, but left me strictly alone.) Now I learn that he has been shot for his hide. I find this slightly upsetting, for I had a liking for that crocodile: there may be an occasional bad one, but, by and large, crocodiles, like snakes, would much rather not be bothered by one than to bother one. (A mapila snake -- highly venomous -- lives in a wall of the kuti, between two coconut fronds -- I see him every few days, as he crawls away from me.)

Sometimes we get the 'fixins’ for some Western food. We let some milk sit around a few days till it turned to clobber, and a portion of this has been sitting around for a week now, and we hope to get a Roquefort cheese from it, which we will use to make a salad dressing for our lettuce, tomato, and carrot salads. I tried my hand at some blinzes, using the clobber as the stuffing. The outside, however, was more like an omelet -- still quite good, but not blinzes (what's the secret?). I also made some French toast one day; Ñānasumāna has turned out some good Boston baked beans. A Sinhalese garnish: simply flour mixed with coconut gratings and a very slight amount of water -- steamed: the flour clings to the coconut in little balls and cooks that way. Simple and tastey.

February seems to be the month for sunsets -- sunsets like you don't even see on picture postcards. I sit on a rock above the sea and watch the sunset, the sea, the river, and the fishing boats as they set out, each evening. In the morning I watch the sunrise, which is not as awesome as the sunsets, and then water the boats sail back into their small harbor: there are two natural rock jettys stretching out into the sea not far from my kuti and the harbor is near; on the beach a small fishing village has been raised in just the last 2 weeks, and the fishermen are hardworking, quiet, and keep the beach spotless. Their boats are about 15 feet long, but only about 2 feet wide; all outrigged on one side; some have sails; most seat two men. They sail out to the horizon, and at night their lanterns can be seen winking. Occasionally a steamship will pass along the horizon also, on its way to Indonesia or Japan or Australia, for this seems to be a main shipping route.

I sleep out now, on a plot of grass between two boulders -- about 20 feet Apart -- near a cave (in case of rain), on the landwards tip of the big jetty, and so don't spend much time around the kuti, except in the morning, when I come in to eat (and, sometimes, to cook), and afterwards, when I take care of a few odd matters, such as writing letters, I resort to my perch under a net. Sitting under it now, I note that gnats have, in the last few days, disappeared with the warmer weather's coming, and flies have taken their place. This is an improvement: gnats can go through the netting, whereas the flies can't. (Worst place I've ever been for gnats was Lapland, where they were a real torment.)

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