More Adventures of a Buddhist Monk and Nun (Part 2 of 4)
I threw myself into meditation that night, not sleeping at all. I worried that if I fell asleep, I would not wake up in time to perform my duty and ring the bell. Even though I set the two battery-operated alarm clocks that I had the foresight to bring with me for 2:45 a.m., I dreaded the thought of accidentally sleeping through the alarms and failing to ring that bell, picturing all the monks sleepily arising mid-morning and missing the alms round! Little did I know that monks develop built in alarm clocks and can awaken at whatever time they choose, and furthermore, many stayed up all night meditating and didn’t require being aroused at all!
Finally, 3:00 a.m. approached, so I lit my dim kerosene lantern and began walking toward the hall. I could barely make out the path in the darkness because of the thick layer of leaves, again reminding myself to sweep the path later that day without fail.
For some odd reason, I stopped and looked closer, and there under the leaves were black and yellow rings sliding by. Had I stepped down, I would have found myself on the wrong end of a Banded Krait, and that surely would have ended me, because even though the monks carried vials of village-concocted anti-venom and needles in case of snakebite, the remedy was neither conventional nor effective, puncturing the head and shoulders of the snakebite victim with hundreds of needle pricks, and then rubbing in the anti-venom, after which the stricken monk would retire to his kuti until he got better . . . or not.
By either good karma, or simply good luck, I survived the weeks that went by, one day melting into the other and each much the same as the last, as I fell into a daily routine. After ringing the bell and lighting the candles, I would join the other monks and nuns in the sala where we would sit together practicing meditation from 3:00 a.m. until one of the senior monks would step outside just as dawn was breaking to look at his hand. Being able to make out the lines on his palm in the gathering light would be the signal for us to put on our outer robes, or sanghatis, place our bowls in our slings, and begin walking to the surrounding villages to beg for food. The timing would get us there exactly at sunrise when the villagers expected us, and when they would be waiting outside their huts with the rice and things that they would place in our bowls for our daily nourishment.
I would join a small group of monks that had a route across some fields toward the east and the rising sun, where we passed many rice paddies with scores of snakes, both in the water and on the banks, craning their bodies and flicking their tongues to smell what was coming. Mango and banana trees speckled the landscape as a floating red ball danced on the horizon every morning to greet us. Everything was pristine and peaceful – with all the monks walking in silence, concentrating on their meditation.
Our four-kilometer walk to the village and back would begin in the forest, past orchids and blossoms of every description that closed in on our path. Colorful birds frolicked in the trees and tiny barking deer and large eared squirrels busily scurried along the ground. Oozing out of the clacking bamboo groves and large feathery ferns hung pungent odors of the jungle that accompanied us until we broke out into the rice fields, eventually making our way down the narrow lanes that were fenced on both sides.
Water buffalo tied underneath villagers’ dwellings would cast wary eyes, lowering their heads in annoyance as we approached. Whether our presence reminded them that soon they would be led to the rice paddies for a day of toil, or whether they just didn’t care for orange colored robes was immaterial. The fact was; they didn’t like monks!
One morning, as we were peacefully walking in single file with heads bowed along one of these narrow, seven feet wide lanes, we heard rumbling sounds, not unlike thunder. The sounds were accompanied by frantic shouting, and our “heads down” went to “heads up” in a flash, as two gigantic water buffalo, looking like two humongous, gray freight trains, came barreling around the corner at full speed directly toward us. With no time to even think, we leapt over the fence as gracefully as Olympic high jumpers – robes, bowls and everything else flying, as the buffalo rumbled by followed by their frantic owner who was trying to run, bow, and apologize at the same time. The owner eventually caught up with his animals and brought them back, tethered properly, apologizing profusely while we unceremoniously dusted ourselves off, and tried to look dignified climbing back over the fence.
The villages were filled with activity – dogs with horribly scarred bodies, missing ears and mangy fur running wild and fighting in streets, many infected with rabies, while smiling mothers stood outside their huts washing their babies by throwing cold buckets of water on their naked, chilled bodies. The villagers would stop their activities for a moment with their hands clasped at their chests or at their foreheads when we walked by, out of respect for the men who had dedicated their lives to the higher ideals.
I glanced back at one of the mothers one day. She was happy within this precious snapshot of her life. Who in the many worlds could be more content than this impoverished villager and her baby at that moment? What wealth and power could trump the happiness she was feeling in that small village?