12 June 2008

Letter 2.5

I've been in Bundala for a few days now, and find it a pleasant place. The walk from Godawaya, 16 miles by the beach (25 miles by the road) was rough, since loose sand is hard to walk on; but I broke it up into two days -- an afternoon and a morning -- of 5 hours each. A rather dull walk, with no houses or anything the last 8 or 9 miles -- only sea on my right, scrub jungle on my left. Each day I go to a different house in the village -- the date of the month determining which one -- where I am given food and return to the kuti to eat it. In the evening the house which is scheduled to provide food the next day sends up some drink -- tea, soda, limeade, etc. -- and inquires if I need anything. They also bring a quart of lamp oil. (Since I use at most a quart a week, it will take only a simple calculation based on the volume of the room and the volume of a quart bottle to determine when I will be forced to move out.) Otherwise I am left alone to my work.

As to the purpose of meeting Ñānasumāna and Mark here, the main reason was because we have -- all 3 of us -- found the ideas of the late Ven. Ñānavīra Thera, an English monk who died (in this kuti) in 1965 -- to be very useful in our practice. Now all the material has been collected -- manuscripts, letters, etc., -- and we want to make 3 copies of it. So we met to discuss how best to organize it, etc., for our individual needs, and to arrange everything (this is why a typewriter is necessary. That's the reason for coming here. The reason for staying was because we get on well together and being together was an aid to our practices, in as much as we are all doing the same thing. The reason for leaving was to digest all that had been accumulated in the 7 weeks at Godawaya.

This kuti, which was built in '57, is constructed on the standard design of Island Hermitage kutis -- the room is a box, 12 feet by 8 feet, with a door leading out to the 'cankamana' -- the ambulatory, which is 30 feet by 3 feet, and is a very important part of meditation. Usually the kutis have two small windows, with thick black vertical iron bars set in them (Sinhalese are terrified of theft), giving a 'prison' effect; the floors are hard cement. This has been improved by a 6 feet by 7 feet window (without bars) being placed in both the Northern and Eastern walls, allowing light and air; and by the cement floor covered with a mud floor, which is comfortable to walk on (and easy to keep clean), and by the ambulatory being remodeled so that one walks on a carpet under which is a sand base, which is far less tiring than walking on concrete. The bed (and seat) are raised two inches off the floor, and are simply mud with a straw mat over it. There is no movable furniture. The kuti is mud brick, with a corrugated asbestos roof and asbestos sheet ceiling. Tiles are not satisfactory because the monkeys, who jump on the roof at times, would break them.

A boy has just come (5:15 PM) with a big pitcher of limeade, some sugar, a cigarette (someone, perhaps, has informed the villagers that I smoke: this is the first cigarette I've been offered), and half a quart of kerosene. (It's no good refusing the kerosene: their job (as they see it) is to offer; my job is to accept.)

Odd: at Godawaya the mosquitos came out only at night; here they come only by day. Perhaps, it's the same mosquitos migrating to Bundala at sunrise and going back to Godawaya at sunset. Not very many here, though, except from 5:30 AM to 7:30 AM, when the sun shines in the kuti.

6:15 PM: I have just discovered one reason why there are so few mosquitos at night: a frog has just hopped in and plans, apparently, to spend the night. He is welcome.

A family of mice – 2 babies and a mother -- also live here. They've moved upstairs, though they were living in the bed when I arrived. The mother is very good and takes care of her babies: she is not the least bit afraid of me, either, though she objects to my coming near her babies.

Outside: chipmonks, black-faced monkeys, mongooses, many lizards 3 feet to 4 feet long, several wild hens. Elephants, bears, leopards, wild buffalo (very dangerous, I‘m told) are about, but unseen -- they avoid man if possible.

A poor quality typewriter is presently available; there are, apparently, no satisfactory typewriters for sale in Ceylon; so we'll have to hunt for one elsewhere.

Nickel-plated needles will not do. They may be rust-proof in the U.S., but having tried all different plates, I know that none of them last long here. (Neither do most locally manufactured products; e.g. the ball-point pen refill that is splotching and skipping over this letter is a new one.) I was given 2 needles in December, which I kept in a glass vial wrapped in cotton, and though I've been in dry weather all the time since then they are pitted, black, and dull. In any case, if no stainless steel needles are available, no need to bother.

J.P. Sartre's novel Nausea is the best presentation I've seen in fictional form of the basic perception of the existentialist premise. The ending is phoney, but the rest of it -- though not quite top-rate as literature -- is top-rate as existentialism.

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