Rude Awakenings

This post follows on from the previous one; it was prompted by a comment from Colleen.  Below is an excerpt from a book called “Rude Awakenings – Two Englishmen on Foot in Buddhism’s Holy Land” (which is available at no cost via this website).  It is the first of two books written by a Buddhist monk (Ajahn Sucitto) and a layman (Nick Scott) about a pilgrimage they did in India in 1990-91.  This section is written by Ajahn Sucitto.  I can post the same incident from Nick’s perspective if you’re interested.

AJAHN SUCITTO

It was about expectation, surely; that was the heart of the problem.  I was expecting India to live up to my projections of a “spiritual place.”  What that seemed to mean was that it would allow me to stand back from it and feel balanced.  And that was a demand that India refused to comply with.  The way out, surely, was in letting go: let go of getting a clear picture, let go of wanting things to be my way, especially as I didn’t even know what “my way” was.  Letting go: although it feels like dying, it gives you the freedom to live without self-importance.

I remember sitting in the garden of the forest resthouse while Nick was engaged in the lengthy parleys with the officials; we were about to wander off through a forest supposedly infested with bandits.  At one point even talk of an armed guard arose, but one was not forthcoming.  Oh well, I should prepare.  There was nothing to prepare.  Wait.  I had a careful shave, by touch, dipping the razor into my steel mug of cold water and fingering my chin and face.  There.  Ready to go into the unknown.

We walked for an hour, my outer robe folded and tucked over the top of my bag.  The bag was hanging on my left shoulder.  Across my chest was slung the water bottle and mug so that they dangled by my right side.  It was from behind me on that side that the little chap approached.  He caught hold of my mug, and as I turned, asked in Hindi where we were going.  There were others with him; they were the men who had been sitting on top of the dead buffalo.  “To the next village,” I said as he tugged my mug urgently.  “What is it? Do you want this thing?  It’s only a mug…”

Then everything blew up.  Nick turned round with a menacing expression on his face; someone was tugging my robe on one side while the first man was hauling frantically at the mug on its strap on the other.  Three men charged at Nick who was crouched boxer-style; he wheeled and hit them with his backpack, then ran off with the three of them in hot pursuit.  I was being lugged in two directions simultaneously by the strap on my water bottle and on my bag, I could only try to get the stuff off and let them have it, but their pulling on it made that impossible.  We were going round in circles, with their excitement spinning into frenzy.  I had to stop this.  “Wait! Wait! Let me get this stuff off!”  Momentarily they stood still.  They all had axes and staves.  The leader glared at me through twisted features and raised his axe.

Funny how your mind goes clear when the options disappear.  Why struggle against the inevitable?  The only freedom was to go without fear.  I bowed my head and pointed the top of my skull toward him, drew the blade of my hand along it from the crown of my head to the brow.  “Hit it right there.”  Something shifted; he backed off, waving his axe and muttering angrily.  I stepped forward and repeated the action.  Give it away; let it all go.

Things settled.  He lowered his axe.  I slipped off the bag and the water bottle and stepped back.  The three of them began excitedly picking over the treasure.  I imagined that they’d rummage around, find there was nothing there of any value, and run off.  Two of them picked up the gear and scurried down the track a way.  I felt shaky and sat down.  Better keep cool – I started chanting softly.  Then Nick ambled along with a smile but without his pack or assailants.  “I’ve hidden the money; Bhante, are you all right?”

His return signaled further frenzy.  As his assailants returned, the men charged at him with their sticks and began swinging blows; Nick caught most of them on his arms: “All right, all right! I’ll show you where.”  And the mob had streamed off into the forest by the time that I got to my feet, leaving me with one lad, who sullenly resisted my attempts to strike up a conversation.  But he was mellow compared to the older men when they returned – without Nick or the bags.  They jumped on me and pulled off the bag that I had around my neck containing the relics and Buddha image; they ripped off the waistband that was threaded through my pouch; they clawed under my sabong and dragged the passport out of another pouch that was hanging around my waist.

Then they were off with the loot tied up in bundles on their heads.  The leader turned around and said “Your bags are over there,” pointing into the forest.  “Fine, OK.” I said, in a vaguely warm way.  The forest went back to silence as usual … a sunny day, with the forested slopes on either side.

I am not sharing this so we can pass judgment on any of the men in the story.  Rather, I offer it up as a prompt for reflection.  One idea that the story illustrates is that violence begets violence (if you read the story from Nick’s perspective you will find that he received quite a beating).  One ends up with the chain of violence that I tried to talk about in my last post.  Another idea illustrated in the story is a core idea in Buddhism: that the more tightly we cling to things – our possessions, our sense of self, our very lives – the more we suffer.  Please let me know what lessons this story brings to you.

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Posted on October 6, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Is it bad to suffer? I found in all my lives that sufferings brought better appreciation of life, love to people, clear understanding of what is good and evil and, the most important, understanding of myself.

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    • I understand what you mean. Difficult events in my life have made me a better person. To have light in the world we also need shade.
      However, having difficult things happen to us doesn’t mean that we have to suffer unduly over them. I’m not a Buddhist teacher or a writer so it’s hard for me to explain in words. To give you an example, if we lose something that we care about it is normal to be sad. The undue suffering comes if we elaborate on our loss. If we start telling ourselves how unfair it is, how so-and-so was to blame, how we should have known better, how we’re going to hold on more tightly to the replacement so that we don’t lose that too, and so on. That’s the kind of suffering that I’m talking about.

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  2. I want also to add that in your story violence was inevitable. The two men were victims anyway.

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    • I’m not sure what you mean by that.

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      • They could be beaten or killed even if they did not resist.
        Sarah, we both want peace and love in the world but I am convinced that if America was strong in the Middle East last 6 years many thousands of people would be alive and hundreds of thousands would be living in their homes.

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      • I see.
        This is why I try to avoid writing political posts. I don’t know enough about the situation in the Middle East to be convinced of anything. In fact the more I learn about the history of it all the more uncertain I get. I’ll leave the war-games to those more qualified than me.

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  3. I understand what you are saying. And that’s certainly one way to look at it. But, the men were warned about following the path they were to take, so they chose to put themselves in harms way. They could have avoided being robbed/beaten/attacked. What does that say about them? Having their possessions stolen was almost a given, from the start of their journey into the woods.

    On the other hand, the story can also show that violence is a way to get what you want in life. By attacking travelers, who are dumb enough to go through the woods, the bandits steal from people, in order to become rich or simply take what they want. Things are often not black or white. The bandits may be happy in their life style.

    There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this experience.

    Lessons:

    1. Don’t go into the woods if the people who live there tell you there are bandits who will rob and beat you. It’s a stupid thing to do, unless you think your ego will protect you or you have a death wish. If there is talk of armed guards and you ignore the people speaking, well, you get what you deserve. If you survive, you can talk about the lessons people can learn from doing dumb things.

    2. Don’t assume the bandits are unhappy because they take what they want. Don’t assume that they think they are doing anything wrong.

    3. It’s okay to fight, or not fight, for whatever is important to you. You have to live with yourself and only you can make that decision.

    4. Not all people learn the same lesson/s from an even/t experience.

    5. Right and wrong are simply concepts that are agreed upon (loosely) by groups of people in different places. They don’t always mean the same things to everyone.

    a. Wrong to go into the woods where there are bandits waiting to rob you.
    b. Right to go into the woods where there are bandits waiting to rob you.

    6. We react to situations according to who we are…fight, flee, give up/or in. That kind of thing.

    Hope you are okay with all this writing. You asked for a response…sooo…:)

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  4. WE OWNED BUSINESSES FOR OVER 45 YEARS— & I CAN HONESTLY SAY—- I WOULD NOT BE HERE WRITING THIS– IF I HAD NOT OWNED A GUN & PROTECTED MY SELF NOT ONCE BUT MANY DOZEN TIMES OVER THE YEARS– SORRY– BUT NO ONE IS TAKING MY GUNS!!!! IF YOU HAVE NOT HAD YOUR LIFE THREATENED MANY MANY MANY TIMES– MAYBE THINGS LOOK DIFFERENTLY!!!

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    • I AGREE SONDA. AS I SAID IN YESTERDAY’S POST I DON’T KNOW HOW I WOULD REACT. I’VE NEVER BEEN TESTED IN THAT WAY. MAYBE I WOULD FEEL DIFFERENTLY IF I’D BEEN IN YOUR SITUATION.

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      • ALSO ANOTHER TRICK I WAS TAUGHT– THAT SAVED MY LIFE MORE THEN ONCE IS ALWAYS HAVE A FIRE EXTINGUISHER WITH IN REACH– IF YOU NEED IT!!!! AND AIM FOR THE FACE NOSE & EYES — I CAN VERY VERY HONESTLY SAY A FIRE EXTINGUISHER HAS SAVED MY LIFE MORE THEN ONCE ALSO!!!!! IN OUR COUNTRY YOU CAN BUY ANY SIZE & DISPOSABLE ONES— WHEN I OWNED ALL THE DIFFERENT BUSINESSES– I ALWAYS HAD ONE THAT WAS BEHIND THE COUNTER– & WHEN I TRAVEL BY MYSELF– I HAVE ONE ON THE PASSENGERS SEAT BESIDE ME!!! LIFE WOULD BE GREAT IF IT WAS REALLY HOW PEOPLE THOUGHT IT WAS-OR WANTED IT TO BE—- BUT I HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO THE “REAL WORLD” OF OWNING & MANAGING MY OWN BUSINESSES FOR YEARS–& YEARS– WHEN NO MATTER HOW ROSY MY GLASSES WHERE– REAL LIFE HAPPENS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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      • THANKS FOR THE TIP SONDA. IF I EVER GO BACK TO AMERICA I WILL BE SURE TO CARRY A FIRE EXTINGUISHER WITH ME (ALTHOUGH I WILL PROBABLY HAVE TO BUY IT ONCE I’VE GOT THROUGH AIRPORT SECURITY). 🙂

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      • NOT IN ALL STATES IN THE USA IS IT LEGAL TO CARRY A GUN— BUT A FIRE EXTINGUISHER IS LEGAL IN ALL 50 STATES!!! I HAVE SHARE THIS TIP FOR YEARS WITH MANY OTHERS– & HAVE HEARD FROM SO MANY OTHERS THIS TIP ALSO SAVED THEIR LIFE!!!!!!!

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      • THAT’S GOOD TO KNOW. THANKS SONDA. 😀

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  5. I thought it was very symbolic that the bandits took what was in the bag and cast it aside. The bag had no value to them — only what was carried inside. This is I believe the understanding that Bhante came to for himself when he showed the bandits where to place the axe on his skull. His body was only a “bag” to carry what was important. On some level the bandits knew they could not touch Bhante’s soul/spirit/source so they left the bag (his body) and walked away. Another lesson I took away was that the situation never causes us suffering. Our response to it does. Bhante grew from the situation. Nick suffered and was diminished — financially and physically. ❤ I could probably write a whole blog post on this but I'll stop there. 😀

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    • I hadn’t thought of the symbolism of the bag. That’s why I love blogging with all of you wonderful people. You always give me so much to think about and so much inspiration. Thanks Colleen.
      Nick would be the first to agree with you I think. He’s come a long way since those days. 🙂

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  6. I love the line: “Funny how your mind goes clear when the options disappear.”

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