Embodied Teachings

Border collie
Note: Let truth guide you, not us. Our humble disclaimer.

A dog carrying a basket casually entered the room. Many clerks, preoccupied with their paperwork, entered and exited. But this was the first dog I had seen. That he carried a basket in his mouth was almost beside the point; like other clerks, he obviously came here to fetch a document.

Sitting in the waiting room for my turn with the monk in charge, I watched the dog with something between interest and disbelief. Pre-development India sports many animals, not least of all cows, dogs and the occasional elephant. But there’s a glass ceiling that prohibits even qualified animals from joining its office world. Like a Far Side character, the dog felt appropriate on the surface but made no sense the more I thought about it.

“That dog’s potential is being wasted,” noted the head monk in disgust.

This was not the expected response.

“I may be unusual with this perspective, but we’re not using this dog right,” he added, aware that I was watching the scene unfold. “I mean, this is a talented dog. He’s a border collie. They are meant for herding, not office work. We’re wasting him, and I hate to see it.” He was serious. Or at least deadpan.

The border collie left the room with several colleagues, its basket still empty.

I also left empty. This was my third attempt talking with the busy monk, and my first real opportunity, but all I could manage was an amused laugh. The moment was too priceless for spiritual talk; I let us stay on this bizarre dog conversation, even though it burned my time for serious inquiry. Sometimes bonding is better, and there was a definite breakdown of the usual devotee/monk formality. Today we were just two quirky people having a silly conversation.

I was ushered into a second waiting room and given blessed fruit, two cookies and a thimble of chai. The monk was a busy man, as are most monastics who face the public; an endless stream of pilgrims came and went from his office, requesting information, asking for a room or looking to donate. Being Indian, many of the visitors appeared pushy and deferential at the same time, the product of sincere faith mixed with overpopulation. This surely made his days even longer.

The monk stopped by my waiting room a few minutes later, a break in the action.

“I’m sorry we didn’t get more time to talk. But sometimes words aren’t necessary.” He put his hand over his heart. “This is all we need. We’re in each other’s hearts.”

This was his second strange comment. Did we really know each other that well? No, but the only thing worth knowing is a person’s soul, and that can happen in a second. I sometimes discovered people that quickly, but I wasn’t used to hearing it from others. Cool.

He gave me his personal email address and returned to the crowds by his desk. I returned to my chai.

This was my last day in town, so I made one final rotation in his orbit before heading back to the guest house. Rooms are free, but of course donations are expected.

“Let me be clear,” he said after I reentered from my chai break. “You are not obligated to donate.”

Again, this was not the expected response.

“You are our guest. We’re not doing this for the money. You can donate if you want, but we’re not expecting it. Don’t feel like you have to give.”

Donation is voluntary by definition, and monks aren’t supposed to care about money. But I had never experienced a truly voluntary donation, and I definitely had never met a man indifferent to money. Maybe he wasn’t indifferent, he just cared more about me than the financial transaction? Same thing.

Either way, it left an impression. This was how a person could handle money and not let it stain his character.

Did money ever fail to hurt a relationship? For once, I could say yes.

Holy company is about subtle differences.

1 Comment

  1. by Kalhan

    On April 9, 2012

    Money can buy a food, a cloth, a shelter, but not a residence in Renunciation without which we really are not aware about what really dwells inside the heart that only can share true fraternity.

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