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Fidelity

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 153: Fidelity

Gunavajra, all other members of the Western Buddhist Order, both present and absent, visible and invisible. Those of you who have read, or at least dipped into, my book of memoirs, entitled `The Thousand Petalled Lotus', and even those of you who haven't read it, or even dipped into it, will be aware that I spent quite a few years of my life in a place of which you might not otherwise have heard, called Kalimpong.

Kalimpong is situated in the foothills of the Himalayas in the state of West Bengal in India, and I lived there some four thousand feet above sea level, and within sight - within almost daily sight - of the snows of the Himalayas for some fourteen years. And Kalimpong was, and of course still is, a rather out of the way place. It's rather off the beaten track, unless of course you are a trader doing business between Lhasa and Calcutta, or unless of course you are a mule, carrying the goods from Lhasa or Gyantse down to Kalimpong. But even though it was a rather out of the way place, as the years went by I came to have quite a number of visitors. At first just visitors from Darjeeling, visitors from Calcutta, visitors from other parts of India, eventually even visitors from Europe, visitors from America, Australia - I don't remember any visitor from New Zealand - but from many different parts of the world. And some of these visitors I remember very well indeed. Some of them are going to figure in the second volume of my memoirs so I won't say anything about them this evening.

But there's one I do want to mention. He came usually from a place called Wardha, right in the middle of India. He was a quite elderly man at that time, and he was a Buddhist monk. He'd been a Buddhist monk for quite a number of years, but he was better known in India as a journalist, as a Hindi journalist. I won't go into that now. But he used to come up to Kalimpong quite frequently, and he always used to come and see me, and he had one characteristic which I remember especially, which was that he very much loved his daily walk. Now this is not a usual characteristic of Indians. They don't usually go in for a daily walk; they usually avoid exercise. But he, who was a Punjabi by birth, he was rather fond - in fact he was very fond - of his daily walk, and whenever he was in Kalimpong he would insist on having a walk every afternoon. But he also liked to have a companion on his walk, because he was very fond of talking and he had an unending flow of anecdote and all sort of things, comments. But in Kalimpong it was very difficult for him, among his Indian friends, to find a companion in his daily walks Because he usually used to like walk for about two or three miles, every afternoon. So eventually, to cut a long story short, he latched onto me. He came to understand that I wasn't averse to a walk. So he got into the habit of calling for me at about four o'clock or five o'clock every afternoon, and he'd say. "come on, let's go for a walk", so we'd go for a walk round the hills of Kalimpong; along the long winding roads and lanes of Kalimpong, and I came quite to enjoy - even to look forward to - these walks, and he was indeed a quite entertaining companion.

I must say there wasn't much that was very monk-like about him. I sometimes used to wonder why on earth he had become a Bhikkhu at all, why he'd bothered. But anyway there he was in his yellow robes with his shaven head, with walking stick striding along. He must have been fifty two or fifty three then, and he had this unending flow of comment and anecdote and reportage and everything of that sort.

And I used to hear all sorts of things from him that I might not have otherwise heard. All sorts of things about India, and Indian life and politics, and Buddhism and Buddhist politics and social life, literature, the world of Hindi - which was quite a world to which he particularly belonged, and sometimes just ordinary anecdotes and stories about everyday life in India.

And I remember there was one story which he told me which made a sort of impression on me at the time, as it made clearly an impression on him, because he wanted to tell me this story. It was something that actually happened, quite recently and which came within his personal knowledge, and it had happened in Calcutta, just shortly before he came up to Kalimpong, so it was fresh in his mind; and for some reason Page 1 of 11 or other it seemed to be on his mind. So I heard this story in the course of the first walk that we had after he came up to Kalimpong on that occasion. I heard that true story, and the story went like this. He had heard it from a person in Calcutta, who was a friend of both the parties concerned in this story. And the parties concerned were two college students. You know Calcutta is a place with the enormous university.

And there were lots of colleges there and there were tens of thousands of students of all subjects. So Calcutta, especially central Calcutta, is quite a university city. So there were these two students - both Bengalis - a boy student and a girl student. They were both science students apparently as far as I remember. And as it sometimes does happen even in traditional India - though their parents had nothing to do with it - they happened to fall in love. This is of course a very old story! They fell in love. It had something I think to do with conducting experiments together in the laboratory, they were looking at each other over the test tubes, and you know what happens if you look at someone over the test tubes! But, in India, the course of true love never runs smooth, because in India there is not supposed really to be any such thing as true love. In India there is no such thing as true love at all, officially. There are only arranged marriages. What they in India still rather quaintly call `free love' doesn't really exist. Marriages - well marriages aren't made in heaven in India, they are made on earth by your parents and grandparents, and they are careful to choose someone of the right sort, which of course means among other things someone from the same caste, the same sub-caste. Though in this particular instance, in the case of these two people - this boy, this girl - they happened to come from different castes, quite different castes. So there was no question in their case of love leading to marriage. That was out of the question.

They just couldn't marry. They knew that they couldn't. They knew that their parents would never consent.

So they didn't know what to do. They felt that they couldn't live without each other. Hmm. Well that's what they felt - that they couldn't live without each other. That they had to marry or they had to die. So, my friend told me, in the course of this walk, that they decided on a suicide pact. They'd both commit suicide - at the same time. They weren't for one reason or another, able to commit it in the same place. That would obviously have aroused suspicion and they might have been prevented, but they agreed, they entered into a sort of pact to commit suicide - same day, same time. So this is what happened. They did - or rather one of them did. The boy kept his side, so to speak, of the pact. He swallowed poison, and he died. But you may be wondering, what about the girl? Well, the friend who related this story to me told me that the person who had told him about it, told him that the day after the boy had committed suicide, the girl was seen laughing and talking with other male college students. This was the story he told me.

So it had made quite an impression on him, and this is what he wanted to tell me. And I must say, having heard this story from him, it made, in a strange sort of way, something of an impression on me. Not that I was by any means, of a romantic disposition, even in those far off days! But it did make some sort of an impression - a sort of echo lingered. I kept thinking about it. So in the end what I decided to do was to turn it into a short story. So I did turn it into a short story. I wrote out the story that this friend of mine, this Indian Bhikkhu, had told me, as a short story as best I could. And I called this short story "Fidelity".

Now I must admit, I must confess, it wasn't a very good story. As a short story it wasn't really very good at all. I realised this as soon as I had written it, and it was therefore never published, as two or three other little stories of mine were. But that story, "Fidelity", is still somewhere among my papers, in my study upstairs. And, I must admit again I haven't thought about that story for quite a few years. But I did think about it quite recently. I thought about it quite recently because I have been thinking about this very subject of fidelity, and I've been thinking recently about this subject of fidelity on account of certain incidents that occurred, and of which I came to hear, a year or two ago. There is no need to tell you what those incidents were - that isn't particularly relevant - and in any case I don't propose to write a short story about them. It seems my short story writing days are over. Instead, instead of writing a story, instead of writing a short story about these incidents, I decided to give this talk.

Page 2 of 11 Now in the course of a talk, in the course of some hour or hour and fifteen minutes, it won't be possible for me to exhaust this subject of fidelity. It won't even be possible for me to treat it very systematically.

All that I want to do this evening is to offer for your consideration, some ideas that have occurred to me recently, taking as my point of departure so to speak, the incidents to which I have referred.

As I have been thinking over this subject of fidelity, it has seemed to me, more and more, that fidelity is really quite an important quality, quite an important human quality. ...

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