Oh, Those Unruly Monks! (Part 2)

When we last left the story, the Buddha had quietly slipped out of the monastery (really, just a park). He paid a brief visit to a friend and bhikkhu, Bhagu, and then went on to the Eastern Bamboo Park.

It is worth mentioning here a little about the life and infrastructure in India at that time. Every city had land set aside outside of the city gates for a park. It is in these parks that the wandering spiritual seekers stayed. Once the Buddha became better known, some kings set aide land specifically for him and his followers, and these became the first monasteries. But the infrastructure had been there for quite a long time.

Except for the rainy season, however, most of the monks – and later the nuns as well – would not stay in one place for very long. Their daily routine would start with the alms rounds in the morning, which came after the morning meal of the people in the city. (The monks basically ate leftovers.) In the afternoon the monks would walk to the next park.

The road system was set up with places to stop every “yojana”. The exact distance of a yojana is the subject of some debate, but essentially it was the distance that an ox could go without needing food and water and rest. I have my own pet theory about the length of a yojana. I think it may have been a measure of effort rather than distance. So if the terrain were more difficult, the actual distance would be shorter. However, I would warn you that I am not a scholar, and this is just a guess. In any event, in actual length a yojana is believed to be between 8 and 10 miles (15 kilometers).

Thus, at every yojana there was a place for the wanderers to stop, rest, and presumably get alms food the next day. One of the things the Buddha always touted about the life of a monk was how healthy it was. They did not overeat, but only took in what was necessary to sustain them. They walked significant distances every day. Then in the evening they would gather, meditate, practice, have Dhamma discussions and debates, and then retire for the night. You can imagine that such a simple life, especially when led together with Dhamma brothers, could be very peaceful, very stress free, and very rewarding.

So back to the story, the Buddha was now traveling as the wanderers did to the next park, the Eastern Bamboo Park, which was not too far from Kosambi. What follows is one of those little details that makes the canonical literature so endearing.

These parks had park keepers. They were there presumably to keep order and to care for the park. The park keeper at the Eastern Bamboo Park had apparently developed an affection for and somewhat protective feelings towards three of the Buddha’s monks who were staying there and living together.

So when the Buddha approached the park, the park keeper tried to fend him off. “Do not enter the park,” the park keeper said, “There are three clansmen here seeking their own good. Do not disturb them.”

Clearly he did not know who the Buddha was.

One of the monks, Anuruddha, hears the exchange, and what he says and the way in which he says it is wonderfully affectionate. “Friend park keeper” – Friend park keeper – “do not keep the Blessed One out. It is our teacher, the Blessed One, who has come.” It is so gentle. You can imagine Anuruddha putting his arm around the park keeper’s shoulders.

Next comes one of the most beautiful passages in the whole of the Pali canon. Remember the context. The Buddha has just left this group of contentious, unruly monks. He has come to the Eastern Bamboo Park, where he finds these three monks, all followers of his Dhamma. Naturally he asks them how they are getting along. He says:

“I hope, Anuruddha, that you are all living in concord, with mutual appreciation, without disputing, blending like milk and water, viewing each other with kindly eyes.”

…blending like milk and water, viewing each other with kindly eyes…

The Buddha then asks Anuruddha how it is that they live together. Anuruddha’s response is this:

“Venerable sir, as to that, I think thus: ‘It is a gain for me, it is a great gain for me that I am living with such companions in the holy life.’ I maintain bodily acts of loving-kindness towards these venerable ones both openly and privately; I maintain verbal acts of loving-kindness towards them both openly and privately; I maintain mental acts of loving-kindness towards them both openly and privately. I consider: ‘Why should I not set aside what I wish to do and do what these venerable ones wish to do?’ Then I set aside what I wish to do and do what these venerable ones wish to do. We are different in body, venerable sir, but one in mind.”

How beautiful. How simple. How poetic.

In a previous blog entry I talked about how in Buddhadhamma, the understanding is that there are three types of actions: body, speech and mind. Here you see that in practice. Anuruddha is saying that at all times he maintains feelings of loving-kindness towards his fellow monks in his bodily actions, in his speech, and in his mind. As to the latter, he is not, therefore, acting one way, but thinking something else. He has taken his feelings to heart.

Next, according to the sutta, Anuruddha’s companions say likewise, affirming what Anuruddha has said.

Next the Buddha asks them if they “abide diligent, ardent, and resolute.” I read this to mean that the Buddha wants to now know if they are just hanging out having a good time, or are they working diligently at their practice. Once again, Anuruddha responds:

“Venerable sir, as to that, whichever of us returns first from the village with almsfood prepares the seats, sets out the water for drinking and for washing, and puts the refuse bucket in its place. Whichever of us returns last eats any food left over, if he wishes; otherwise he throws it away where there is no greenery or drops it into the water where there is no life. He puts away the seats and the water for drinking and for washing. He puts away the refuse bucket after washing it, and he sweeps out the refectory. Whoever notices that the pots of water for drinking, washing, or the latrine are low or empty takes care of them. If they are too heavy for him, he calls someone else by a signal of the hand and they move it by joining hands, but because of this we do not break out into speech. But every five days we sit together all night discussing the Dhamma. That is how we abide diligent, ardent, and resolute.”

Compare this to the situation at Kosambi. Here the monks do not think of themselves. They think only of what needs to be done. When something needs to be done, whoever is most appropriate does it. And they do it out of loving-kindness for each other.

There are lessons here, I think, for all of us. In these simple paragraphs is a blueprint for how we can live together. It’s not that complicated, but that also doesn’t mean that it is easy. Perform actions that arise from loving-kindness. Think of others first. Think only of what needs to be done.

I can almost hear some of you thinking, well, yeah that works great if everyone agrees to be like that. What happens when you are not around people who buy into the whole loving-kindness thing? What if you are around people who will just take advantage of you, may even want to hurt you?

Well, of course, as always, life requires some wisdom. But let me tell you a story that isn’t from 2400 years ago. It happened about 15 years ago.

There was a man who was going through a contentious divorce. One of the main reasons for the divorce was money, and in the process of creating two households from one that meant that money got stretched even further. The man’s wife did everything she could to get as much money as possible from the man, and he was living a very poor existence already.

After a couple of years the man got a little bonus from his job and he did something quite unexpected. He gave most of it to his ex-wife. He just sent her a check. And do you know what? Well, I won’t say that fixed everything, but for a while things got better between them. You can imagine her surprise after they had been arguing about money for so many years. This check just showed up in the mail.

The best thing you can do for your worst enemies, sometimes, is something generous or kind. It reminds me of what Mark Twain once said. He said, “Always speak the truth. It will impress some, and astonish the rest.” The same can be said of generosity and kindness.

Always be kind and generous. It will impress some… and astonish the rest.

As for those quarreling monks at Kosambi? At this point they are still quarreling, but that, too will end. I will cover that in the next blog entry.

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