previous page Two ladies and a monk
By Ajahn Piyasilo, a Thai monk staying at Cittaviveka

One day during my second month at Chithurst, two elderly ladies came to the monastery. I met them where the cars are parked while I was saying goodbye to friends. One of the ladies, wearing a bright blue dress and carrying a plastic bag, joyfully asked me if she could put the bag in the kitchen. Noticing that it contained vegetables, I said yes, assuming that they were familiar with the monastery. My assumption turned out to be wrong.

A few minutes later I met the ladies again in the front porch of the main house. They were taking their shoes off and putting on socks instead. I had a little chat with them. Hearing that I was from Thailand, their faces lit up: ‘Oh! That’s a lovely place!’ one of them exclaimed. Then they offered me the bag of vegetables and told me that they did not actually know anybody here.

One of the ladies had come to visit the monastery a few times and usually brought some vegetables for the kitchen. This time she had brought along her friend who was from Devon to have a look around. She had never talked with any of the monks before. ‘I’ve just come to have a peaceful hour,’ she explained.

I asked them to please have a look around and heard the first lady tell her friend. ‘We will have to put something on our head.’ They then took out headscarves to cover their hair and started their little journey through the main house, from the reception room to the shrine room and on to the conservatory.

I took the bag over to the kitchen. Normally it could be left for our anagarikas to take care of, but this time I was so curious that I had to have a peek inside. They had brought us some potatoes, carrots, a cauliflower and some tea. Such typical English things to bring for the kitchen! It made me smile. I imagined that they might have stopped by the convenience store on their way, thinking of ‘what we could bring for the monks and nuns.’

I was bemused to see ‘the two little old ladies’ walking around the house wearing their headscarves. Maybe they thought this place was a bit like a Hindu temple or a mosque. Seeing the way they pointed at things in the shrine room, they did not appear to know much about Buddhism. However, I was very impressed by their way of showing respect. They did what to them seemed good and proper. They were also generous towards the ‘strange’ Buddhist monks. For me, generosity is a good quality which is universal to any human being. It was so nice to see this little example of such goodness in a ‘non-Buddhist’ land.

After some thought, I decided to tell the two ladies that there was no need for them to cover their heads. They were very surprised. ‘We don’t have to wear it even in the hall?’ ‘Certainly not,’ I assured them. They then quickly uncovered their heads. ‘Actually it’s quite hot, isn’t it?’ one of them said while putting the cloth back into her bag.

From our conversation, I learned that the lady in the blue dress lived about 20 miles from Chithurst. She was delighted when I suggested they go for a walk in Hammer Wood. Although she had visited Chithurst several times, she did not know anything about the lake and the walking path in our forest; it was completely new for her.

To me, the inner happiness derived from a peaceful environment is common for us all. Having a Buddhist monastery in the forest tradition seems to deliver this tranquility across cultures. This is a sanctuary that can be offered to many different people. The encounter with these two English ladies reminded me of our quiet contribution to the world and reconfirmed the goodness inherent in human nature.

That day I let the two ladies continue their journey and then went happily back to my room, hoping that we may meet again during their next ‘peaceful hour’.

Devon on pilgrimage
Another drawing by Ajahn Thitadhammo, sketched while on walking pilgrimage in Devon

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