Monthly Story, October 2021
Updated: Jun 22, 2022
Image → @jameshausley
Rasa → Veeram (वीरं): Heroism. Presiding deity: Indra. → Bhayānakam (भयानकं): Horror, terror. Presiding deity: Yama
Archetype → Explorer
Jayantha sat down on the wooden bench that was gestured to him. Today is the day that he will be ordained into monkhood. He sat on the bench facing the lagoon waters as the young monk assisting him in the ordination ceremony walked around preparing things to shave Jayantha’s hair. By the peaceful lagoon where the wind played across the water, Jayantha felt like he had returned to his once-upon-a-time home by the endless paddy rippling in the wind.
He dug his big toe into the soil; it was very good earth to grow vegetables in—he realised. Jayantha looked around. The monastery land was bordered by a small farmland from one side, and jungle from another. On the other side, the expanse of the monastery grounds disappeared into the coconut palms, beyond which the land opened to the road with the temple and an image house. The humble mud huts occupied by the few residing monks were further in. Jayantha and the monk assisting him were right in between. Jayantha turned his head from left to right over his shoulders, catching the full extent of the property. ‘It must be at least twelve and a half acres’, Jayantha gauged with his farmer’s eye trained to see land in cultivable units. He wondered if the land was under the head-monk’s name or owned by the temple donors. He shook his head at the idea that someone would just donate acres of good land like this, just for it to be left to the jungle, while he spent six years in courts against his cousin, drowning money and trying to hold on to barely five acres of paddy.
“Ready?”, the young monk assisting him asked. Jayantha nodded. He had been ready for three months, two weeks, and one day since he first came to the monastery asking to be ordained and freed; Freed from the payments to the farmers’ co-op, from the crippling microfinance loan, the shame of his divorce, the monthly bills, the sting of watching his cousin walk away from the court grounds with the entire family paddy in his name… Freed from his life in limbo at a dead end; Freed from this whole grand struggle to be—not even a revered, resourced and important landowner as he always imagined, but a lower-middle class insect making ends meet among millions of others just like him. He was so ready to be free. Following ten rules a day is something he could do in exchange for freedom, Jayantha knew with so much certainty. But, the wizened head-monk insisted on the customary three months as a layman observing and assisting the resident monastics. “Some change their mind after understanding what a monk’s life is really like,” he said, looking Jayantha in the eye; Jayantha understood that this wrinkled old monk held the keys to his freedom, and nodded obediently.
Now, he was finally getting ordained into freedom. Jayantha watched the young monk assisting him sharpen the shaving blade; he polished it on an unnaturally angled rock—a doggedly unyielding granite that has taken on the guise of gentleness from all the years of battling blades. The monk looked at Jayantha and smiled; it was time. He started shaving off Jayantha’s hair. There was no mirror. Jayantha saw a lock of familiar black-brown curls fall onto his sarong. He remembered how his former wife ran her fingers adoringly through his curls; it felt like a lifetime ago. He felt the weight of her memory come off as the second lock of curls fell. Another thick lock stumbled onto the crumpled fabric, taking his farmer’s worries of weather and war with it. A large chunk of hair bounced off his knee and fell to the ground, carrying the burden of his ageing mother. Lock after lock, layer after layer, Jayantha felt his troubles disappear. When he finally saw his reflection on the water surface of the filled-up wash basin, Jayantha was taken aback; A man with nothing left to love, nor fear, looked back at him. Only the hungry beads of eyes nursing his fire to become almighty were recognisable.
Jayantha was asked to wear a white sarong and robe. Then, he was given a set of yellow robes to hold when approaching his preceptor—the old head-monk. Jayantha knelt in front of the old monk. “You have three refuges; your teacher—the Buddha, his teaching—the Dhamma, and your community of monks—the Sangha,” he told Jayantha with the ritual stanzas that send disenchanted men off into monkhood. “...Live by the Dhamma, and you will always be protected by the Dhamma,” he said giving Jayantha the ten precepts to live by. “You will be known as Maliwāwita Gunasāra,” the old monk pronounced.
Gunasāra stood up to a world made his sanctuary.