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Padmatara, San Francisco, USA
Eric, FBA Team
Nagabodhi, London, UK
Padmavajri, East Sussex
Sanghajivini, Newcastle, UK
Vajradarshini, Valderrobres, Spain
Viryaja, Toowoomba, Australia
Buddhasiha, Ipswich, UK
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... not only given him a refreshing drink, but told him that if he cared to stay overnight they would be glad to provide him with food in the morning. He could stay at the cave they added. By that time it was quite dark. A boy had therefore been deputed to show him the way to the cave, and having crossed fields and forded streams they had scrambled up to the ridge and Sumana had found himself inside the cave, and trying in complete darkness to find a corner where he could sleep.
In the morning he had crawled to the mouth of the cave and looked out. The sun was high in the blue sky and the earth flooded with golden light. Below him were the darkly wooded slopes of the hill, beyond the last of the slopes the brown and green patchwork of fields and groves, and beyond the patchwork, the grey roofs of the village, from which wisps of smoke rose straight into the clear air, while beyond the village, encircling everything and extending to the very horizon, was the vast expanse of the jungle with here and there a hill showing ship-like above the sea of green.
Sumana had been deeply moved by the sight. He had wanted to spend the whole day at the mouth of the cave simply gazing at the scene. He had wanted to gaze at it not just for one day, but every day; and then he had had an idea. The rainy season was about to begin, and for the three or four months of the rainy season holy men, including those holy men who were followers of the Buddha, instead of wandering from place to place stayed in one spot. Why then should he not spend the coming rainy season in the cave, provided the villagers had no objection and provided of course he could beg his food at their doors each day? Fortunately for Sumana the villagers had had no objection at all. They had been overjoyed that there would again be a holy man staying in the cave.
As the headman of the village put it, giving expression to the general sentiment, "To have a holy man staying in the cave brings good luck to the village." Sumana had therefore taken up his abode in the cave and had spent the rainy season there. In fact he had now spent three rainy seasons in the cave, as well as three cold seasons and three hot seasons. For in the course of the first rainy season he had made an important discovery. He had discovered that he meditated better, and achieved mental purity more easily, when he stayed in one spot and did not wander from place to place. At the end of the rainy season he had therefore decided not to resume his wanderings. Nor had he resumed them since. He felt rather guilty about this, especially when the jingle that was so popular with the followers of the Enlightened One happened to come into his head, "The holy man is pure who goes," it would insist, "The holy man is pure who goes." At such moments, Sumana would be inclined to feel he was not a real holy man. He would also wonder what Aniruddha would say if he knew that his erstwhile disciple was no longer wandering from place to place as directed. What the Buddha would say he dared not think.
During his first rainy season in the cave Sumana's movements had naturally been rather restricted, as they also were, though to a lesser extent, during the subsequent rainy seasons. The rains were notoriously heavy in that part of the world, and he ventured out each day only to make a quick dash down the slippery hillside and through the flooded fields to the village for food, sometimes sheltering himself beneath a broad green plantain leaf. The practice of storing up food from one day to the next was frowned upon by the more ascetic holy men, and Sumana tried to avoid doing this.
During the other two seasons he was able to move about more freely and his activities tended to follow a definite pattern. Rising before dawn he washed in water from a rock-hewn cistern beside the entrance to the cave then sat on the ledge in front of the cave and meditated for two or three hours. At least he tried to meditate. Though no longer restless and anxious he still found it difficult to sit in the meditation posture for very long, difficult to collect his thoughts, and even more difficult to rise to that higher, more radiant state of consciousness wherein Truth can be directly perceived.
All the same there occasionally were times when he really was able to meditate, when he really did achieve mental purity, and this being so he felt less guilty about not wandering from place to place.
When he had finished meditating Sumana relaxed his limbs, and sat for a while simply gazing at the sun-drenched prospect before him, and allowing the silence unbroken save for the occasional birdcall to sink deep into his heart. To his surprise he then sometimes experienced greater peace of mind than when he was actually meditating.
Next came what for his first year in the cave had been the most difficult part of Sumana's day, the taking of his morning bath. The taking of the bath itself presented no difficulty. Sumana took it in the sparkling waters of the stream that having tumbled down through the rocks of the hill on which the ridge was situated, flowed through the fields and groves and on past the village to the jungle. What made the taking of his bath difficult was the fact that three or four girls from the village also took their morning bath in the stream, or at least started taking it there when they discovered Sumana was doing so.
At first the girls kept well down stream, but then growing bolder they started moving a little farther upstream with every day that passed until Sumana was not only hearing their every shriek and giggle, but also seeing far more of their persons than it was proper for a holy man to see, as was obviously their intention. Aniruddha having told him what to do in such circumstances, Sumana henceforth took his bath later and farther up stream. But it was of no use. The girls also took their bath later and farther up stream and Sumana started finding it quite difficult not to look in their direction.
Indeed he was sometimes surprised to find his heart racing and the blood pounding in his ears as he made his way down to the stream. One day the oldest of the girls having wriggled out of her clothes swam up to Sumana as he stood waist deep in the water his back towards her and her companions and playfully splashed him. Sumana simply gathered up his yellow garments and fled.
Fortunately an old man who was working in the fields saw the incident and must have spoken of it to the other villagers, for from the following day the girls took their bath almost within the shadow of the village where their elders could keep an eye on them, and where they were out of Sumana's sight. The matter did not end there for Sumana however. For many a night he was troubled by dreams in which a hoard of naked women dragged him down into the water and seduced him afterwards turning into hideous demons who mocked him for having broken his vows. It was months before the dreams faded completely, but fade they did and from that time onwards the taking of his morning bath was no longer the most difficult part of Sumana's day but often in the hot season especially the easiest and most delightful.
From the stream, Sumana went straight to the village and there begged his food. On most days his bowl would be full after he had visited no more than six or seven houses, and as there were nearly three hundred houses in the village he did not need to visit any one house more than once or twice a year. Thus he was neither burdensome to the village, nor likely to become dependent on, even attached to, particular families, faults of which the Buddha according to Aniruddha was constantly exhorting his holy men to beware.
When the earthenware bowl in his hands had been filled, not just with rice, but also with lentils and curry and sometimes with sweetmeats (for the handsome young holy man was quite popular with the housewives of the village, some of whom viewed in him in the light of a prospective son-in-law or brother-in-law) Sumana returned to the cave sometimes following one route through the fields sometimes another, always being careful not to frighten any snake or lizard that he might come across as it lay basking in the sun. Back in the darkness and coolness of the cave he ate the food he had begged, eating as slowly and mindfully as he could, and trying to remember that he ate simply to sustain life as he strove to achieve mental purity and perceive Truth.
When he had finished eating he washed his bowl with water from the cistern and put it in the sun to dry. He then took a short rest it being axiomatic among the Buddha's holy men that after their one meal of the day, which naturally tended to be a heavy one, time was needed to allay what they called "digestion fatigue". Digestion fatigue having been allayed, Sumana spent the afternoon doing such things as mending his yellow garments which were always catching on thorny branches and tearing, sweeping out the cave, and repeating aloud as many as he could remember of the poems and lists of doctrinal categories he had learned from Aniruddha.
Twice a month on the full moon and new moon days he shaved hair and beard with the razor that together with three yellow garments, a belt, a water-strainer, an alms bowl and a needle was one of the eight personal belongings permitted to those holy men who were followers of the Buddha. Towards evening he sat out on the ledge in front of the cave and gazed at the darkening landscape until it was time for him to meditate. On his opening his eyes the sky would be ablaze with stars, and for an hour or more he would gaze at the stars as in their tens of thousands they flashed and glittered in the depths of space, or he would watch the moon rising, or mark a comet suddenly trail its fiery pennant across the face of the heavens.
Occasionally when there was a moon the more thoughtful ...