The Young Monk Sticks to His Plan
Eighth Limb of Yoga
Samadhi, Blissfulness, Ecstasy
After several years as a monk, I did decide to return to everyday life. However, this story happened in the earlier days of my time as a sadhaka.
As a young man, sometimes I found the choice I had made to remain single and study ancient scriptures rather a difficult one to stick to. I saw my guru regularly and I travelled to different towns and villages on foot, reliant upon my good health and the generosity of other people for my survival.
Even as a monk I was called upon to perform religious rites for people. They expected me to know all about the various ceremonies that a normal family might participate in. These would include ceremonies around the birth of a child, betrothal and marriage, and illness and death.
I was very happy to perform these ceremonies. I took care to look tidy and to be very clean all the time. Amongst my small collection of possessions I had a comb, a file for my nails and a toothpick. I would use certain wild plants to chew to keep my mouth feeling fresh and my teeth clean. People always appreciated and even admired my appearance and this gave me confidence to perform my religious duties, even at quite a young age. However, my looks did cause me a certain amount of difficulty.
I would find that women would react towards me in different ways. Some, usually the younger ones, were very shy and embarrassed in my presence.
With them I had to be very reserved and respectful. Others became giggly and would nudge each other and flutter their eyelashes, tilting their heads so that I could only see the lower parts of their eyes, hidden beneath their eyebrows. Towards these ladies I had to be somewhat aloof, but also respectful of course. Still others would try to mother me. They would advise me about matters of health and keeping warm at night and regarding my diet, what I should and should not eat. With these ladies I would quietly listen to what they had to say. I would not agree or disagree, but would merely nod my head to show that I was listening and that I had heard their advice. I think I reminded them of their sons, perhaps, but I had to maintain my position of authority, so I would not encourage their helpful counsel.
All these minor problems of human relationships would colour my days. I have not mentioned the attitude of the men-folk yet. They might be friendly, respectful, aloof, suspicious, or even slightly disdainful. However, most of them were glad to have me around to officiate at the ceremonies for them, as to hire a priest was expensive. Since I was a wandering monk, the only payment I required was food, a roof over my head, somewhere to wash, and occasionally people would give me a new robe to replace my old one. They liked to see the monk looking his best for their ceremonies!
Now what does all this have to do with Samadhi? Blissfulness is a very personal thing and comes in many forms. What I have found is that when I am managing my relationships well, when my heart is neither angry nor fearful, nor tormented by forbidden love, I feel at peace. I am able to give good service to people and they are happy, when I am at peace. I don’t mind whether I sleep in a bed or on the ground, or whether my bowl is filled with plain rice or delicious fruits and I am not distracted by longings or desires for that which I do not have, when I am at peace.
As you may imagine this feeling of peace and blissfulness comes and goes. For most people it is not permanent. There is much to learn in this life, many different circumstances and people to deal with, many challenges to take. I learnt that whenever I set out to achieve something new; I would always feel slightly fearful about the outcome. ‘ Would I fail or would I succeed?’ Sometimes even ‘would I live or would I die?’ But I learnt not to be afraid of fear itself. If we always avoid fear then we always avoid challenges and our lives become dull and boring. We are unhappy and we don’t know why. The opportunity for blissfulness is harnessed to the courage to move on, to develop ourselves and to take our challenges willingly.
I will give you an example. After I had learnt all I needed to know about ceremonies and rites, my teacher felt I should go out into the world for a while to put some of this learning into action. I wasn’t so sure. I was still a very young man and was afraid that people would not take me seriously. I decided not to wear my best robe, not wanting to look like a complete novice. I decided to start quite close to home in a village about ten miles away, where I thought some people might recognise me. An uncle of mine lived in the vicinity. If all else failed I could go and stay with him.
On the day of my arrival there was a big festival going on. I was immediately drawn in to help as there was so much to be done, and not enough people who knew what to do. I have to admit I did feel quite important. I was given a good meal and a bed for the night at the house of a minor official. He was not a rich man and he told me that his daughter was betrothed to a young man from my village, and would I officiate at the wedding ceremony? The local priest had fallen ill and the marriage ceremony was due to take place the next week. I readily agreed and stayed in his house for the week preceding the wedding. This man had another daughter, younger and more beautiful than the first, but the father had told her she must wait until her sister was out of the house before she would be considered as a bride.
This young girl was very lively and I felt my attention being drawn towards her. In the evenings the family would entertain themselves with music and dancing, and I was invited to be present. I felt obliged to attend as I had been invited, but at night it was hard for me to sleep as I kept thinking about the girl. I wondered if I had done the right thing with my life – indeed I was free to change my mind. I could marry if I wanted to and perhaps work in the temple as my father did. By morning I was always certain again that I was doing what I truly wanted with my life and that women had no part to play in it. However, the girl thought otherwise. She too had noticed me and started to watch my every move. If I went to the market she would follow and therefore I felt obliged to be with her to keep her from harm. She spoke of her life to me and told me how important temple life was to her. She would help distribute the offerings of food to the poor. She would help wash and clothe the sick. She said it would be hard for her to find a husband who shared her interests, and how she feared her father would want her to marry a merchant. I listened to her quietly. After five days the young lady asked me why I had renounced the world of family life. She thought the wandering contemplative life would not suit me at all. Again I slept very badly. The longings of my heart and indeed my body to be joined in love to this young woman were becoming fairly overwhelming. Was I to fail at the first hurdle? Was I to give up my lifetime’s aim the very first time a pretty girl tried to persuade me otherwise? I was in torment. No blissfulness at all. It was very difficult.
The day of the wedding arrived, the bride looked beautiful, but her sister more so. Then I met the groom. What a shock! I knew him from my childhood days, we had played together.
“So here you are, Ramu!“ he said. “I heard you had started your new life.” He looked me up and down, “This your first marriage ceremony then? Don’t worry, we won’t notice if you make any minor mistakes. Just don’t marry me to the wrong sister, that’s all. But I can see there’s no chance of that, the way she looks at you; she’ll have you if she can! But I know you, Ramu, you never were the marrying kind, always off studying or meditating. She’s got her eye on the wrong man, hasn’t she?”
I laughed, “Quite right, Gopi, there’s no chance of me marrying. It’s just not part of my plan.” These words seemed to break the spell, on that occasion at least. I conducted the ceremony, took some rice and the new robe given to me to mark the occasion, in spite of my protests, and I left. That night I slept in a barn. I felt blissfully happy because I had completed my work, stuck to my plan, and I had not compromised myself or the girl in any way. People had respected me and I had respected them. I had passed my first test.
Although this is not quite the blissfulness that comes to those who experience mystical ecstasy and a feeling of union with the Godhead, it is more like the kind of blissfulness that ordinary people experience every so often, and very wonderful it is too!