Excerpt from What the Buddha Never Taught
The Heat of the Day Dissipates
The heat of day dissipates in the late afternoon, allowing the tin roof of my kuti to cool. This is my favourite time of day. Robe washing finished, my wet sabongs dry on the line above my balcony. I rest, waiting for the call of the bell to evening chanting.
As I watch, my eyes become the trees, the branches, the scattered leaves and the squirrels chasing one another. My ears become the falling of twigs, animal chatters, the patter of rain. Occasionally a bird with a bright red breast and electric blue wings comes and sits on the small broad-leafed sapling near the kuti. He has a long dark tail plume which bobs up and down as he balances himself on the bough. Sometimes he whistles as if calling for a mate but he never sings his song for very long. He too seems to enjoy simply waiting for the night.
A Snake Chases a Toad
Once I watched a snake chase a toad across my meditation runway. I thought of coming down with a stick to protect the victim. But then would I feed the predator as well? The snake was faster on the path but the toad gained ground when it hopped through a muddy puddle at the side.
The serpent slithered and lost traction. I cheered the toad onward. The foolish creature took three hops past the water, jumped sideways and froze. The snake soon cleared the mud and followed the toad’s trail back into the leaves. It stopped, suddenly, just where the toad changed his course, testing the air with its tongue.
Toad smell everywhere. The toad looked like a rock, immobile. The reptile raised its head and peered around, then lowered it again to the ground and slithered past, less than four inches away from its prey. When it had disappeared into the bush, the toad turned and hopped rapidly back across the path to safety.
I sit on the porch and watch. A toad, a snake, a bird, a branch, a jungle enveloping and penetrating us all. Light does not leave the jungle gradually, but in sudden dramatic darkenings. Suddenly the trees dim. Then twilight falls. The jungle loses its complex features as vines, ferns and leaves merge into blackness.
Over the whine of the mosquitoes, the elephant bugs begin their deafening thrum, sounding as if a symphony string section is hidden in the bushes. The music swells into a deep harmonic hum, fills the jungle’s fading forms with its vibrations. It sustains and unifies the indistinct shadows.
Slowly the sound decrescendos to a single violin note, barely audible, quivering. A pause, a hush of silence between each movement. Then the symphony begins again, loud and throbbing, filling the evening air. Fireflies come out and flit between the black branches.
Slowly the colors blend together, lose shape and form, fade to black except for irradiated dots of glowing life, all united and intertwined by the thrum of the unseen elephant bug.
A bell sounds, far away in the darkness. At first it seems so distant, a clear sound as if made by striking a silver bowl, not an iron bell. The sound is sweet, yet makes me sad. It calls me to the sala, to human chanting, away from the jungle I have become night with. In the black air I stand, re-wrap my white robes around me, gather flashlight and bag, umbrella for the rain, and begin the walk to the temple.
On this walk, if it is dry, my feet feel light and sure. I want to go barefoot and leave my torch at home. But red ants and scorpions use the path as well. The light is necessary to keep us out of each others’ way. I walk slowly and with great care. Toads scatter in the beam of my torch.
In confusion they often hop against my legs, frightening me. Sometimes I glimpse Jim’s ghostly white form coming through the jungle from his own kuti. I wait for him and let him glide ahead when we meet. In the sa/a other dark forms join us. The Ajahn sounds his little gong and we drone our own song into the night. No mating call, the halting rhythm of our Pali chants. The Bhaddekarat-tagatha (Verses on a well-spent day)
Let not a man trace back the past
Or wonder what the future holds:
The past is but the left-behind,
The future but the yet-unreached.
In the present let him see
With insight each and every instant
That can be pierced by practising.
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