30 May 2014

On the being that gives

In the middle of the year 1993 I went to meet some friends at Marcus Fernando Hall, Peradeniya University with my erstwhile comrade at arms at Peradeniya, Dhammika Amarakoon. We went there to talk politics. It was around 10.00 pm when we were done. Our friends were on the first floor. We were on our way to James Peiris Hall (JP), located some ways down the same hill and chose a narrow stairway to make our not at all surreptitious exit. As we stepped out of the Hall, a group of boys of a different political persuasion, standing on the balcony above, poured water over the two of us. We were, in campus parlance, ‘bucketed’. Drenched.

There was little to be done. Dhammika and I made our way to ‘JP’, followed by raucous boos and a call from the triumphant ‘bucketers’ for their brethren in JP to treat us in like manner. We had a friend who was staying the night at JP and we made our way to that room. Jayatilleka Herath aka Moona was visiting and staying with his cousin Podi Moona. I can’t remember if we got to the room at all, but we did meet up with Moona and decided to stay somewhere else, a ‘chummery’ in Pilimatalawa where our friend Nishad Handunpathirana had taken up residence.

Moona told us a story. One of his cousin’s roommates, upon hearing the call for a repeat ‘bucket’, had said that bucketing would not be enough; we needed to have our heads split. Moona, who would always stay in that room whenever he was in Kandy, had responded by saying that it would be akin to them splitting his head. He had announced that he would never step into that room again (and he never did). Later, when other friends heard about the incident they were chagrined that we had not reacted in any way. It was a comedown, they concluded.

I was working at the Agrarian Research and Training Institute (ARTI) at the time. A few months later, Moona told me that his cousin needed some information from the ARTI for his dissertation and wanted me to help him if he came by. I had forgotten this request, but a few weeks later, I saw the head-splitter walking along one of the corridors. Two plus two gave me four and I figured he had come instead of Podi Moona for probably the same purpose. I called out his name. He stopped, unsure. It was my place. I knew where the club and the knife were hidden, so to speak.

I asked him if he got all the material he needed. He said he had. I escorted him out of the ARTI and told him to call if he needed anything else.

To me it was an experiment. I wanted to teach, to inspire remorse. My friends were aghast that I had let such an opportunity go. That boy went on to become a lecturer. He has now completed his PhD. We are friends and have interesting conversations whenever we meet.
Fast forward to January 20, 2011. A friend who attended a recent Dhamma discussion led by the Ven Brahmawanso, in the spirit of giving, shared with me an anecdote she had picked up.

A bikkhu had heard a noise from the shrine room one night and upon investigating had seen a robber trying to open the donation box. He had reached into his pocket. The robber had thought, ‘gun’, but was surprised to find the bikkhu taking out the key of the box and offering it to him. He invited the robber to take the money and then asked him to open another cupboard and take whatever food he wanted. The robber took the money and food and fled.

The bikkhu saw in the paper a week later that the man had been nabbed by the Police attempting to rob someone else. He was later sentenced to 10 years in jail. Ten years later, the bikkhu heard a noise in the shrine room and found the same man. The key was offered. The man declined.

“You are the most generous man I ever met. I spent 10 years in jail thinking about you. Today I came here to discover the secret of your kindness and generosity.”

And in this way the robber too became a bikkhu and learned the secret of compassion.

Two stories. Two approaches. In the first, an experiment. A pernicious desire to punish. A ‘looking down’. A tutoring. Not a bad outcome, certainly, but there’s such a difference when compared with the story of the robber.

In the second case, it is the practice that teaches, a commitment to being compassionate and being unperturbed by the loss and its inevitability. The recipient in the first instance was a bright young man and I have no way of knowing what he picked up from that encounter. In the second case, the recipient was enriched and I like to think it was partly because enriching was not the intention of the bikkhu.

I remember the overwhelming generosity from all quarters that poured into the districts devastated by the tsunami. Ordinary people came together, collected things, transported it all to affected communities. Corporate entities too. Some branded their ‘giving’.

It occurred to me that there is a lot of ‘giving’ in ‘being’ and indeed the being that gives is more profound and beneficial than the giving with expectation, even if what is desired is correction or remorse.

Sabbe satta bhavantu sukhitatta! (May all being be happy).