11 July 2008

Letter 2.34

Ñānasiha, the German monk, and I have come to his place at Cetiyagiri, about 30 miles north of Kandy. It's about half way up a small two-peaked mountain, green and rust, which is occasionally decapitated by a sharp cloud. To the south are the rocky masifs of upcountry, below are the long terraced rice fields in the valley before the Eastern hills rise, dusky in coconut groves. The rice fields have just been transplanted. Every field has its own shape, its own internal pattern and its own shade of green, and sometimes its own reflection when the several inches of water in them catches something worth reflecting. The ribbons of dark earth which separate the fields like a scrawl and the workers' bright clothing makes a fine painting with no need for oils, brushes, or canvas. Although this is supposed to be the NE monsoon season we've had only 2 rainy days here in 1 weeks and today is even hot. There is a large rock next to a small path, and when the sun drops lower I often sit on it and watch without reacting.

There are 2 Sinhalese monks living in some caves above the hut where I'm Staying -- actually the hut of Ñānajivako, the Yugoslav, who, you may recall, took his higher ordination at the same time I did. He's gone to Nuwara Eliya (the 'summer resort' town of Ceylon, high in the hills) for December -- what a time to go! Do Floridians go to Maine for December?

Outside his hut is all in flower-bright orange spots, pale purple spheres, dark purple ovals, a kind of flower which, although a very simple 4-sided monochrome, comes in clusters, and each flower is a different color. The whole scene, in short, is romantic as hell, but also pleasantly simple. I go down the hill in the morning and, after walking along one of the rice paddy field dikes, I wander along the footpaths of the village, away from the asphalt street, from house to house, collecting my alms -- beneath coconut trees (which are very cool) and close to the rubber trees (all austerely leaning in the same direction, with mottled trunk and sparce leaves -- not at all cool).

Ñānasiha has a mud hut about half way up the hill, or mountain, very solitary and quiet and a lung-clearing climb, which he has largely built himself -- a fine job. A paste made out of the dirt of termite hills makes an excellent plaster for the walls; mud-and-wattle floor, roof of woven coconut fronds.

I sure wish I could accept your pessimistic evaluation of the possibility of doing anything to alter some unfortunate facts, for then I could sit back and say, “There's no use my trying to achieve anything of real value, because it can't be done.” Unfortunately I'm not able to have the necessary confidence that there's nothing I can do about it (the 'it' refers to whatever you please), so I'm not able to sit back.

Aciram vat'ayam kāyopathavim adhisessati 
  chuddho apeta-viññāno 
  nirattham vakalingaram.

  Soon, soon will this body
  lie stretched upon the earth
  unheeded, uncognizant,
  like a useless stick of wood.

  (Dhammapada, 41)

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