25 July 2008

Letter 2.48

Well, it’s a good thing I didn't wait a day before posting my last letter, for the next day the government, having made foreign postage rates uniform, which is a good socialist measure towards uniformity, then proceeded to the next good socialist measure, which was to increase the rates. (The rates for bookpost were increased 400% -- a message there?)

As I predicted in that letter, I am now wandering -- for the last 3 weeks. This trip is far and away superior to all the wandering I've ever done before -- at last my meditation, I find, is sufficiently developed that I need no diversions. I stay off the bus routes, preferring to walk on the tea-estate roads, footpaths, and jungle tracks. I walk for a bit, then find a friendly tree to sit under for a bit, then walk for a bit more, and thus pass each day without discomfort, weariness, or anxiety. Since I don't need diversions from this, I don't have to carry all the paraphernalia I required before. One small Dhamma book is quite sufficient: otherwise my requisite of three robes, the mosquito net, and a few small things (soap, toothbrush, bandages, sitting cloth, etc.) make up my whole burden, which I manage with ease. So I've been having an exceptionally fine time so far, putting in 8 or 9 miles a day, some days less, on circuitous routes which so far -- so I'm told -- have brought me about 45 miles from Kandy.

I spent a few days in hermitage to have a few things sent to me by Mahinda, the American monk now staying in the Kandy kuti; in fact, he took a bus to where I was and delivered them personally. He seemed so pleased to stay in the kuti that I gave it to him. If I should again want to settle somewhere, I may find another place. If Mahinda wishes, he may let me stay in the Kandy kuti, or, possibly I can go to either Bundala or Godawaya, both of which are presently vacant. In any case, it matters not at all to me. My home is mindfulness.

The mindful exert themselves
To no abode are they attached.
Like swans that quit their pools,
Home after home they abandon.

Dhammapada (v. 91)

You ask why I'm interested in giving up. The answer is that I find that by doing so I am happier for it and also more understanding of my situation. The Dhammapada -- as well as all the other texts -- states the idea frequently in verse, which I translate a bit freely, and unpoetically:
“The distracted man, whose delight is in the abundance of family and flocks, whose mind is set upon his holdings, is seized and carried off by death as a sleeping village by a great flood.” (v. 287)
“It is not a strong shackle, the wise say, that's made of iron, wood, or rope. Far stronger is the longing for wealth, diversions, sons and wife. That bind, the wise say, is resilient, supple, and hard to break. This too they cut off and, giving up sensuality, without any longing, they renounce.” (vv. 345-6)
From attachment springs grief.
From attachment springs fear.
For one wholly freed of attachment,
Whence grief? Whence fear? (v. 214)

This is such a satisfying state to achieve, and the path toward it is so satisfying, I can't see why I should think to do anything else. (Case in point: When I gave Mahinda the kuti: I was gladdened not merely by making a gift, but by the relief of knowing I no longer needed the place. It was pleasant to live there, certainly, but to need it is not at all pleasant, and I just find my life became better, more pleasant to live, when I no longer had any reason to care for something as unimportant as a kuti; as bound up with both its idea and substance.

Does this answer your question? No? Well, sorry. As far as music, art, and literature, it was not so much a matter of giving up anything that mattered to me as much as it was a matter of watching my interest fade away in the face of a much more interesting occupation: meditation. As you have not cultivated this ability, you can know nothing of the subtle, non-sensual pleasures it offers, compared to which the pleasures offered by the world to the senses are akin to creating artificial itches and then providing the means to scratch them. My own slight experience confirms the report of all the intent meditators -- of all religions -- that it is the superior pleasure. This, of course, you can only accept -- or reject -- on hearsay evidence, which is not the case with me. Meditation and renunciation, you may see, go hand in hand.

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