More Adventures of a Buddhist Monk and Nun (Part 4 of 4)
After alms round, we would return to the hall and eat our meal in silence, after which a senior monk would interact with any villagers who attended discussing personal, village, or monastery affairs. Then we would sit outside in the courtyard where we would wash our bowls and leave them tipped toward the sun to dry for a few minutes before returning to our huts to rest and practice meditation. This is when I did most of my napping and walking meditation, so that I could sit in meditation most of the night. It was cooler at night, and I found my meditation most concentrated in the early hours of the morning.
At four in the afternoon, we would sweep our paths, eventually meeting by the well where we would bathe and occasionally make bamboo brooms for path sweeping, or perhaps wash and dye our robes and bathing cloths. This was a social time as well, where we had a fruit drink and discussed our meditation, or anything that might have come up in the community or in the villages, but we were careful not to chat mindlessly.
In the evenings, we would meditate in the sala or out in the jungle where increased challenges awaited such as curious snakes. I couldn’t believe it, but I eventually became fond of danger, it always deepened my meditation and kept me alert. I loved the severe thunderstorms, too, with blinding lightening crashing all around my kuti. Amazingly, to my knowledge no one was ever struck, although there were some close encounters with trees falling on kutis and crushing them. Interestingly enough, every accident occurred when the monk was elsewhere.
On those unforgettable nights when I sat out in the open, the silvery-white glow, so dazzling, suffused the entire area under an immense canopy of stars. The brilliant moon always seemed to be playing in a deep, black sky that busily spewed out its myriad diamonds, and on those special, precious nights, only the sounds of the nocturnal animals could be heard. The jungle was always noisy, with either night-time or daylight creatures, but it was a reassuring noise, natural and comforting.
I vividly remember the first time that I gazed into that mysterious Asian sky and saw the “rabbit in the moon” that the villagers were always keen to point out, with its head toward the top and its ears to the right. The moon and its rabbit became my close friends, and in its soft afterglow I could make out reddish orange ants on the leaves, forming bridges with their bodies so that the rest of the colony could walk from leaf to leaf. They reminded me of the monks and nuns who were forming bridges for Janet and me, and sometimes I would find myself struggling to hold back tears. Something in Thailand went directly to my heart, and although my mind could not discern what it was, my heart felt it, and I found myself becoming emotional quite often. With the exception of an episode or two at the Abbey, I had never felt this level of awe and wonder in the States.
Many things wound their way through the night’s mysteries, including two-foot wide trails of aggressive army ants. Stumbling onto an army ant trail insured numerous excruciatingly painful stings in a matter of seconds as they swarmed up a leg. I often noticed creatures accidentally wandering onto one of the deadly paths, and within seconds, hundreds of stinging ants would cover it as it desperately tried to escape. But soon it would stop moving, and the ants would begin dismantling it.
One night, I experienced a powerful insight as I watched a life and death drama unfold, which was just another example of countless encounters with death every day in the jungle. I realized that every creature treasures life, just as I do, and suddenly the monk’s rule of not killing a living being struck home, in the way that enduring insights do. They change a person. This flash of insight was so powerful that it permanently instilled within me a deep-seated resolve; a new way of looking at life that would remain unshakable no matter how many lifetimes I must endure. My old tendencies were definitely changing, and now, this new understanding became intuitive, as it dropped from my head into my heart. That’s how meditation seemed to work; nothing much happening until one day you see something that you may have seen a thousand times before, but this time it penetrates, and your very being is transformed.
It was becoming apparent that permanent changes took place only when I could “see,” and until that, “moment of seeing” took place, I was merely a ball of thoughts and opinions based on hearsay that changed like the wind. This refusal to kill would have seemed absurd to me at one time, but after this direct experience, a glimpse of Reality for sure, I was finished with killing forever. I still had the teeth, nails, and hair of a beast, but I was no longer a beast in my heart. I was a human being, with the responsibility and capacity to understand at much deeper levels. What would the next lifetime hold in store for a killer and his bewildering motives, and what would it offer to one who understood and sacrificed his life while offering forgiveness?
One evening I became engrossed in watching two huge colonies of termites on the move, a colony of red ones and a colony of tan ones that happened to tragically cross each other’s paths. Thousands of them were in death grips with their adversaries, and I wondered why they simply didn’t go around instead of killing each other. But of course, how could I expect termites to understand, when humankind doesn’t?
My mind had become sharp and sensitive from meditating for two years in the States, and I was aware of a wisdom that was developing in small ways, but apparently something else was required to stabilize this wisdom. I was sure that this something else had to do with the kilesas – the outflows of my mind toward the world expressed by my greed, hatred and delusions. At present, I could only touch the mysteries of the mystical moment where the outflows don’t exist, but I was determined to find a way to remain within it forever.
Standing here, at this precious moment, and watching termites in a death struggle at Wat Pah Nanchat, I couldn’t help but wonder what in the world I was doing here, not knowing at the time that this was only the beginning of an incredible lifetime of discovery. All I knew was that I no longer needed books. The jungle, the animals, the creatures; these were my teachers, and whenever I was able to touch that stillness inside, the wisdom of the universe was at my command.