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.
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.