[They say] one of the advantages of a monk – and this is so in India and in the Far East, generally – is that he visibly shows that he hasn’t got possessions, and this can be a help to us when we’re absorbed and obsessed and caught in our possessions.
To give one example. You get monsoons in India and in the rainy season in Japan, too. It can come down like a wall and you can suddenly get caught in it. When that happens – if you haven’t got an umbrella – you rush to the nearest house and you crouch under the eaves there; but, of course, the rain comes down the eaves. Anyway you’re sopping, whatever you’re doing, and you’re muttering. Well, I remember seeing a monk, he was walking down the middle of the road, as if he was having a shower, and enjoying it. He knew he was going to be absolutely soaked. If he had to carry a paper, or anything like that, he would have rolled it up so thickly and just put it inside [his coat].
Now there’s one account of a man who was doing a job and doing a very good job in local politics. As very often happens, when you do a really good job – unselfish, efficient – you get hated by a lot of people. There was an absolute torrent of slanders and bad-mouthing about him. He was carrying on with his job, but he felt this rain of spite, and hate. ‘Where has it come from? Why? I’m doing…’ Then, he says that he saw this inner monsoon and he saw this monk walking down with nothing and this torrent raining on him. He said that vivid picture remained with him, the very striking picture. Then, afterwards, when a torrent of abuse was raining round him, he suddenly felt independent. He felt this inspiration and took a walk through this. ‘It’s going to rain on me. There’s no cause; it doesn’t have to have a cause. It’s just going to rain’. He walked through it and he said it was an inspiration to him, not preaching very often.
By these physical demonstrations of, for instance, scrubbing, it will have an effect. And, it’s quite true it can make a very vivid picture which words don’t create. There was a temple where they had a lot of very rare manuscripts, that had never been catalogued. This happens, but then you get a very learned and intelligent librarian who joins as a young monk and he masters the contents to these. He starts to transcribe them and he finally gets them published and then he becomes famous. So, in this monastery, the librarian was a world-famous scholar and people came to the temple to look at the manuscripts and consult with him.
One foreigner came there. He congratulated the librarian on the wonderful work that he had done. The librarian said, “Well,” and they went to the window and he pointed down, “there’s the head gardener there. He has got this very humble job. He is sweeping up the leaves. He is doing a very humble job, whereas I’m doing a job that brings a lot of recognition and praise and fame. The fact is, we’re both in the same monastery and it’s, so to speak, one monastery, one temple. It’s not a question of those individuals. I may be in a famous position, he may be in a very humble position; but that’s not the point.”
The foreigner was very impressed with this. He thought, “Oh, that’s something.” He spoke to the Abbot afterwards about what the librarian had said. The foreigner said, “I saw that humble man sweeping the leaves, you see, and the famous librarian.” The Abbot said, “Well, he’s not exactly humble, you know. That gardener is thinking that when the truth is known – and, if he has anything to do with it, it soon will be – it will be the humble gardener who is recognised as the truly realised saint, and it will be the proud librarian who is dismissed as the pedant that he is. In the meantime, he gives the assistant gardener hell.” He said, “Both those two have still got some way to go. It’s not a question of a famous librarian being humble, or a humble gardener getting free from resentment. It’s not a question of that at all. The same Buddha current, the same Buddha life, is turning the leaves in the library through the fingers of the librarian as it is turning the leaves in the garden through the broom of the gardener. It’s the same Buddha life. There’s no distinction.”
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Yoga, Zen and Peace
Part 2: Ethics and the Cosmic Self
Part 4: Gifts, sacrifice and austerity
Part 6: The job of the King
Part 9: Melting Ice
Part 10: No distinction