27 September 2012

The parable of muddy water

One day, it is said, the Buddha Siddhartha Gauthama while on a long journey with his disciples felt thirsty.  Pointing to a pond nearby, the Buddha had asked one of his followers to get him some water.  The disciple returned and reported, ‘the water is muddy’.  Half an hour later, the request was repeated.  The disciple found the water to be clear and duly brought some for the Master. 
And so the Buddha addressed the disciples thus:

‘What did you do to make the water clean?  Nothing at all! All that was done was to let the time pass.  The pond reverted to its natural state.   Therefore you were able to obtain clean water.  It is the same with your mind.  When it is cluttered or disturbed, let it be.  Give it time.  It will unclutter itself by and by.  Do not intervene.  The agitation will cease of its own accord.  Calming the mind does not require effort.  It is obtained by non-involvement.’

In the year 1993, my friend Dhammika Amarakoon and I visited some political associates at Peradeniya University. I had graduated by then.  The friends we visited were residents at Marcus Fernando Hall, which was located on the top of a hill.  Below it was James Peiris Hall, then a boys’ hostel. 

After a long discussion, we left.  As we stepped out, we were both ‘bucketed’.   A group of boys belonging to a different political group had set it up.  They were positioned on a balcony.  They knew the route we would probably take.  They were on target.  We were drenched, but neither Dhammika nor I were inclined to get into an argument. Fighting back was anyway out of the question. We were two.  They could have been anything from 10 to 50. 

We walked down to James Peiris.  We heard the ‘bucketers’ taunting us and urging those in James Peiris to follow suit.  We met some friends, chit-chatted for a while and left. 

A few days later, a batchmate, Jayatilleka Herath (better known as ‘Moona’), told me a story.  The following is a translation.

‘I was in James Peiris.  I had come to see my cousin and was planning to stay the night in his room.  I heard those guys screaming and urging their friends in James Peiris to “bucket” you.  One person in that room said “that’s not enough; their heads should be split open” (our ‘crime’ was that we were opposed to the pro-JVP group).  They were all good friends.  I said “You could start by splitting my head; Malinda is my friend and anything you do to him you could do to me”.  I didn’t spend the night with them.  I told them I would never again step into that room.’

Another batchmate, upon hearing what happened, said that he would have thrown a punch, even if it meant he got mauled by greater numbers.  Dhammika and I, I said, weren’t like that.  He said he knew that. 

Herath called me about a year later and said that his cousin (we called him ‘Podi Moona’ or ‘Small Moona’) would come to see me at the Agrarian Research and Training Institute (ARTI), where I worked as ‘Editor’.  He wanted me to help the boy secure some data and other research material.  Podi Moona was a nice boy and I said I would be happy to help.

Podi Moona never came.  It was the ‘Head-Splitter’ who turned up.  Without notice.  But I noticed him as he was leaving the building.  I called him.  He was clearly nervous. This was, ladies and gentleman, my territory.  As we say in Sinhala I knew where the kettha (knife) and polla (club) were located, so to speak.  I addressed him by name.  I asked him if he had come to collect information for his undergraduate dissertation.  He said ‘yes’; no head-splitting growl was evidenced in voice.   
‘That’s good; just give me a call if you or any of your friends need anything else.’ 

A lot of ponds got cleared that day.  A lot more got cleared as the years went by.  Some remained muddy or took longer to clear.  Those were the times I agitated the water instead of letting it be. 
I didn’t know the parable then.  It came to me a short while ago, in an email.  It reminded me of a Bruce Lee quote: ‘When the enemy expands, you should contract’.  It reminds of a Christian saying about turning the other cheek.  Applicable to muddied waters. 

Got to smile through it all.  That’s what cleanses the water of impurity. 

We try too hard, I think.  Maybe that’s why we get indigestion now and then.



Anonymous said...

Beautiful. It can also be implied that ego cannot be sustained over time, hence the clearing up process. Ego is what stirs the mud up in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Malinda seems to be a cultured person since his youth as a school boy as well as a university student. But I doubt whether some of his associates had the same vision like Malinda.