13 August 2008

Letter 2.65

Perhaps you should read this letter sitting down. To begin with -- an event that should make you happy -- I've disrobed. Yesterday I went out to Ananda Kuti, the local Theravada Buddhist temple, and announced my intention. 'That's perfectly alright,' Ven. Amritananda, the chief monk of the temple, told me. 'There's no obligation for anyone to be a monk longer than he wants. ' He's a very fine person who made the whole business very simple, amiable, and light, when with others it could have been much more difficult, and I'm quite grateful to him. So, it took only a few minutes to change into some clothes I'd borrowed -- I'm having some things made for me, Nepali trousers and a Tibetan shirt -- and I walked out a layman again.

It's ironical, I guess, that this should happen in the same place where, almost 6 years ago, I more or less decided on ordination: Nepal is a strange and magical place for me, and -- although I dislike mystical explanations -- I'd be unwilling to say that the valleys and snow-covered mountains played no part in the decision to disrobe. Certainly, though, other factors are also involved. Perhaps it wouldn't be possible to explain them all (perhaps I don't even know them all), and, perhaps, too, you are satisfied simply to know that what you've wanted has happened, without caring about why, but still something might be said.

After having written that last sentence I thought for some minutes about what might, in fact, he said. How can I summarize these years of inner development? So much has happened that even a bare outline would be a major effort; yet an outline, bereft of the significance of detail, would be meaningless. Perhaps, though, the central themes would revolve around the ideas of understanding my own capacities and limitations, and of finding that things must be done in the proper order: I didn't know, when I was ordained, that one must be a good layman before one can be a good monk, and that some qualities are better cultivated in the city and not the forest.

Naturally, there have been some immediate influences which helped bring me to a position where I could accept these things -- influences, that is, other than the eternal Himalayan snows. (One day a bunch of friends climbed into a landrover -- incredible vehicle! -- and we went up to a hill near the Tibetan border, camped overnight, and watches the sunrise over the mountains. Everest, far to the East, was a very minor peak on the horizon. Annapurna was brilliant. There was a frisbee; a campfire; a guitar. Very windy and cold. Very beautiful! But how to enumerate then, weigh them, or evaluate them? of what value to do so? But even without explanations, I know you will be happy to know I've disrobed, and that the years as a monk have been valuable, useful, and peaceful: they were not wasted.

I've been in the hospital. The trouble itself turned out to be not very Serious -- an infection; but because it was located in the urinary tract it was very painful, and I had to be taken to the hospital and was kept doped up for a day and a half. Also at first it was thought to be appendicitis (the pain was general rather than localized) and I was prepared for surgery before the doctors found out what was wrong. However, I've now been released and need only some mild antibiotic (ampicillin) for a few days, The hospital was very good -- a Western missionary affair with British and Canadian doctors -- but also expensive: the bill was over $30. (My sense of the expensive is no doubt in for a shock.)

I am accepting your offer of a ticket to the States. I have some ideas of what I might do there -- especially what I might not do there -- but right now these are just ideas, not plans.

I would, presently, even like to avoid the preconceptions which are the prerequisite of pre-plans.

By the way, the rhinoceros (which is on the Indian aerogramme) is found in some of the valleys of Nepal. I don't know if they're found in the Indian Himalayas, but they're certainly not exclusively African, any more than the lion, elephant, camel, or ibix.

I feel rather like one roaming back to America.

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