|Forest Sangha Newsletter||May 1987|
I had left Savatthi on 4th December. I'm glad I had the chance to see it. I wanted to walk to Lumbini but met with a lot of negativity from people. They told me all the terrible things that might happen to me -- I might starve, or get lost, or be robbed or killed, and it was too cold to sleep out at nights. It's easy to travel from place to place by bus with the pilgrims, and they're quite willing to take you if they have room, but I wouldn't have enjoyed that at all. I originally was not going to use roads but go cross-country from village to village, but this proved impracticable. Fifteen years ago the paddy fields were empty all winter, but now they're full of crops: winter wheat, rape, tapioca, sugar cane, vegetables, and here in Nepal they're still harvesting the rice in some places. . . .
Anyway, in spite of other people's negativity, I thought I should at least give walking a try. So I thought of all the good things that might happen, the kind, helpful people I might meet etc. as I decided to walk to Lumbini to see how it would go. . . .
On my first attempt at pindapata in Bulrampur, on my way to Savatthi, 1 did quite well -- not a square meal, but enough to keep me going. One problem was trying to explain to people that 1 didn't accept money or raw rice. I think perhaps also some people thought I was broke -- a hard up hippy. So then I got a monk to write a note saying something like (in Hindi) 'I am a Buddhist monk on pilgrimage to the holy places. I do not accept money. I depend on almsfood and eat only between dawn and midday. I am grateful for your help'. With this note things have been easier. I stand in front of a shop or house for a while, maybe half a minute, and if they don't say anything, I move on to the next. If they ask what I want then I give them the note to read. In most cases the response has been very good. Sometimes someone will walk along with me and chivvy his friends into giving me something. I usually look like the pied piper with a great gaggle of ragged children on my tail. One day I had quite a good meal of chapatis and sabjees and sweets. Other times I had small bits and pieces like samosas, etc. . . .
I've slept in a variety of places; by the road in a small copse of trees with a stream running through it (plenty of streams in this area, so no problem bathing); one night in a straw sack. The villagers wanted me to sleep in a house in the village, but there were too many women and children around, so I slept outside the village in the threshing area on a heap of straw, surrounded by straw, under a large mango tree. That was one of the warmest nights. Sleeping out is very cold and it is usually impossible to sleep lying down, but I remembered my experiences in Kanchanaburi, and found that sleeping sitting up I could make more economical use of my robes, and keep warnier. One night I found an abandoned grass hut near the road. Daytime is pleasantly warm, but gets a bit hot in the sun around midday, if you're walking or exerting yourself. . . .
I regret I can't speak the language. I think it would be even more fruitful If I could. I've decided to carry on the rest of the pilgrimage in this way, going next to Kushinara, then Varanasi and Bodh Gaya. Of course, some of the dangers that people have pointed out might happen, but I'm sure they were just as likely in the Buddha's day, and I could probably more easily be killed by a taxi in London than by robbers in India.
I'm sure that my greatest protection is keeping the Vinaya. The parami of keeping good Vinaya is very powerful; especially important are rules about food and money. If I kept food or money, I could not go pindapat with a clear conscience. Many people have done their best to persuade me to accept money or carry food with me, but I know if I did that then pindapat wouldn't work, I would not get any of the help or respect that usually go to a samana. . . .
I'm now in Lumbini. I stopped at Kapilavastu for one day, but there's not much to see. It doesn't appear to have been a very big place, nothing like Savatthi, but it's hard to say as so little has been excavated. You can see the Himalayas from here. At Savatthi you couldn't see them. On the second day's walk I looked up in the late afternoon, and there they were; quite took my breath away. Green fields and trees stretching into the distance and beyond, the purple brown foothills, beyond this the snowcapped peaks against a vivid blue sky. The best time to see them is early morning, before eight; especially at sunrise, when the snow is bright pink. . . .
I could have gone into much more detail about the places I've been, the things I've seen and the things that have happened to me, but I've written more than enough already. I had a lot of doubts about doing this while I was in England, and after the possibility of doing it became more real. When I first arrived in India I had doubts too. Sometimes I thought I was completely crazy, or that it was just waste of time, a distraction, or an ego trip, but now I'm very glad I'm able to do this trip and consider myself very lucky to have the opportunity. I hope more monks will do the same. . . .
I hope all goes well with everyone at Chithurst. Excuse my terrible writing, but I'm not used to writing so small.