In honor of our latest memoir, Zen Encounters with Loneliness by Terrance Keenan, we are sharing excerpts from our memoir collection this month. This week's morsel comes from Rude Awakenings by Ajahn Sucitto and Nick Scott, two very different men who together spend six months retracing the Buddha’s footsteps through India. In the selection below, Scott reflects on the difficulties of alms rounds for the layman.
Our daily alms rounds were avery good learning experience for me. Day after day, I’d fail. I would try to walk into the village, five steps or so behind Ajahn Sucitto, slowly and calmly keeping my eyes on the ground. I would try, but in no time I would be looking over his shoulder trying to spot the best possible place to stop. I had quickly learned that we got better food from the big brick houses in the middle of the villages with the T.V. aerials on their roofs than fromthemud huts on the village edge. My mind would start yammering, and I would often end up trying to give advice. “Ah, Bhante, that looks a good place over there,” mentioning a little temple or tree that just so happened to be in the middle of the village and next to some big houses. Afterward I would resolve to show more restraint next time, usually to no avail.
Once we had stopped and sat, my mind would calm. There was nothing left to do, we could only be open and wait. My mind, so intent on the outcome, would be right there in the moment. Waiting, not knowing, is powerful. When someone did offer us food it would be such a beautiful blessing.
The offering would manifest in so many differen tways that my mind could never predict how it would be.Therewas one infallible rule, however: whoever first asked us would be the one to feed us. No matter if there were a hundred people around us, or whether the asker was rich or poor. No matter if all they did was ask if we had eaten—even if others asked whether we ate rice, chappatis, and so on—it was now that person’s duty, and duty is a very powerful thing in India.
To begin with we weren’t having breakfast, for Ajahn Sucitto had wanted us to live on one meal a day, as the Buddha had recommended his followers to do when possible. So that onemeal was often it! Whatever we were given would have to last us the next twenty-four hours. As we went on, that resolve slowly got worn away by my offers to stop at a tea stall in the mornings and then perhaps to have a little something with the tea. If there is an Achilles’ heel in Ajahn Sucitto’s ascetic armour, it is his fondness for tea.
Tea stalls are everywhere in India, erected wherever there is the opportunity to make a small living from passing trade. Cobbled together out of planks, plastic sheeting, and anything else that comes to hand, they do not seemmuch to us, but to the owner they are their life. They live and work in them, willing to make tea at any time of day or night. At least one member of the family, if not all of them, will sleep there to protect their meagre investment.
There was a tea stall that morning. It may well have been because we had been living on suchmeagre rations for the last few days, but to me it seemed a fine example of the genre. It was neatly turned out with two benches either side of the main table and protected by a blue plastic awning. The table had a clean blue-and-white checked plastic cloth on it and a neat row of small dishes containing brightly coloured snacks. Everything was tidy and the ground round it had been recently swept. The owner sat with a welcoming smile at one end, his son beside him stoking the small clay fireplace with a few sticks. We ordered two teas.
It comes as a surprise to us English that in India, the land of tea, they do not make it the way we do. Instead, water, milk, sugar, and some fine tea dust (presumably cheaper than the tea leaves India exports to the rest of the world) is brought to boil in a small saucepan over a fire. A little spice is usually included as well, cardamomor perhaps a small piece of ginger. Once boiled, themixture is strained through a muslin cloth into small glasses. All over India the price for a glass of tea was one rupee; what varied was how much tea one got and how good it was.
The tea at this stall was particularly good, as were the small plates of curried chickpeas that Ajahn Sucitto agreed to have with it. The father and son were friendly and attentive, and when we left I was so taken with their little stall that I wrote out a sign which read, “THE BEST TEA SHOP IN THEWORLD” and showed them how it should be fixed to the front of the stall. They were pleased—even though they could not speak a word of English.
How to cite this document:
© English Sangha Trust & Nick Scott, Rude Awakenings (Wisdom Publications, 2006)
Rude Awakenings by Ajahn Sucitto and Nick Scott is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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