Sangharakshita's India

The Rainbow Road

Near Lucknow

Wandering along the banks of the Ganges, we came to a broad stretch of silver sand which, scattered as it was with burnt-out funeral pyres, we at once recognized as a cremation ground. Here we decided to stay. The landscape could hardly have been more simple or more austere. Above us there was nothing but the dazzling blueness of the sky, from the midst of which the sun shone down with blinding brilliance; around us, nothing but the whiteness of the bare sands, through which the river, shrunken but still gigantic, rolled down its jade-green waters to the sea. Apart from ourselves, the only living things to be seen were the small, stunted trees that grew a few dozen yards from the bank. Not one of them stood more than ten feet from the ground. With their crooked, even contorted, branches, and light green feathery foliage, most of it at the top, they looked like rudimentary umbrellas with bent handles, broken ribs, and tattered silk. Here and there four or five of the umbrellas stood closer than the rest, their scanty foliage running together into a single canopy-like strip of green. Beneath one of these canopies Satyapriya and I took shelter from the heat.

As soon as we had sat down, we became aware that for all the apparent barrenness of the place we were, in fact, surrounded by a whole world of life and activity. Striped tree-rats raced up and down the trunks of the trees, or peered round them at us with bulging eyes and palpitating breasts. Cicadas shrilled invisible from the thin grass. Bees, deeply humming, flew heavily in and out of the pink or white blossoms of shrub after flowering shrub. But above all there were the peacocks. There seemed to be hundreds of them living among the trees. Every few moments, either from near at hand or far away, a harsh bell-like call, not unlike a greatly amplified miaow, would ring loud and clear through the hot afternoon air, to be almost immediately answered by another. Lodged in the forks and lower branches of the trees were scores of huge, untidy nests, none of them more than five or six feet from the ground. On most of the nests, looking much too splendid for so humble a task, sat the cock birds, the magnificent, many-eyed trains of their tails hanging over the nest-edge and practically brushing the sandy soil below. Occasionally, we would see a sudden vivid flash of gold, blue, and green as one of the stately creatures, tail feathers streaming out behind like an enormous bunch of ribbons, would launch himself in clumsy horizontal flight among the trees. None of them took the slightest notice of us.

When it was dark, and the heat of the day had abated, we returned to the cremation ground, scrambling down the bank to the stretch of soft silver sand that was now part of the foreshore but which, once the rainy season began, would soon be part of the river bed. After we had plunged about for a few minutes, ankle-deep in the warm white drifts, we settled down among the shadowy shapes of the burnt-out funeral pyres for our evening meditation. When we opened our eyes some hours later we found ourselves in another world. An electric white full moon was in the sky, and the whole landscape lay steeped in an unearthly silver radiance so bright that we could hardly bear to look at it. Away on our right the river ran glittering beneath the luminous blue of the sky, while all around us the low mounds of ashes and charred wood cast shadows black as ink on to the white sand.


It was now the hottest time of year in one of the hottest parts of India, and since we had no money - having stopped handling it ever since our stay at Anandashram - we not only had to go everywhere on foot but also to spend the whole day without refreshment of any kind. Not that we really minded this. The real reason for our decision lay much deeper. Despite our having acted on Buddha Maharaj's suggestion in good faith, we had been feeling the pull of Sarnath more strongly each day, and in my case at least, contact with Hinduism had served only to intensify my longing for Buddhism. Early in the morning, therefore, while it was still only moderately hot, we said goodbye to our inscrutable swami friend, and together set out on the ten- or twelve-mile walk to Sarnath.

Ever since I had started reading about Buddhism the name of Sarnath had been familiar to me, and for the last few months in particular it had been as it were ringing in my ears. It was the place where, only two months after his attainment of Perfect Enlightenment, the Buddha had sought out the five ascetics who had been his companions in self-mortification in the days when he was still searching for the Truth and where, in the peaceful seclusion of the Deer Park, he had communicated to them the essentials of the newly-discovered Dharma. After strong initial resistance they had accepted him as their teacher, had realized the truth of his teaching for themselves, and had become the nucleus of the spiritual community which, in the course of the next few months, rapidly sprang up around him. The road along which we were now walking was the very one, perhaps, which the Buddha himself had trodden, 2,500 years ago, on the last stage of his journey from Bodh Gaya. There were the same blue sky overhead, the same straggling suburbs, the same mud-walled huts, the same bands of naked children playing in the dust, the same creaking bullock carts, the same level fields on either side of the road, and the same sun blazing more and more fiercely down on it all.

After we had walked for a couple of hours and more the road, which hitherto had meandered uncertainly, started to run very straight, as though it now knew exactly where it was going. Trees appeared at intervals on either hand. Before long Satyapriya and I found ourselves walking in the welcome shade of a broad avenue of fine mango trees, their glossy green foliage contrasting sharply with the dusty brown of the surrounding fields. Presently, on our right, we saw through more mango trees the dilapidated shell of a small railway station, whose outbuildings were little more than heaps of rubble. On the opposite side of the road, to our left, rose an enormous pile of bricks surmounted, most incongruously, by an octagonal kiosk of Mogul design. This, I knew, was all that remained of the Chaukambhi Stupa, said to mark the spot where, on his arrival at Sarnath, the Buddha actually met the five ascetics. We were nearing our destination. Suddenly we saw above the tree-tops, about a mile away, the pinkish-grey pinnacle of the Mulagandhakuti Vihara, the new Sinhalese temple constructed about twenty years earlier. We were there! After a few hundred yards the road turned sharply to the right and as though in a dream we saw before us the park-like prospect of Sarnath.

The next few days were among the pleasantest and the most painful of my entire existence. Since it was the height of the hot season, when pilgrims were few, we had the whole place practically to ourselves, and after the congestion and clamour of Benares, the spaciousness and peace of Sarnath, with its green lawns, flowering trees, and cool, well-kept shrines, was delectable indeed. Though we saw practically everything of interest, the main object of our attention was, of course, the polished granite column set up by the Emperor Ashoka to mark the exact spot where the Buddha taught the five ascetics. This column, or what was left of it, stood in a roofed-in enclosure of its own in the midst of several acres of ruined temples, monasteries, and votive stupas, all of which had been uncovered in the course of excavations, and were now carefully preserved. The famous lion capital by which it had originally been surmounted was kept in the museum. Yet beautiful as Sarnath was, I knew it had not always been so. Muslim invasion and orthodox Hindu revival had between them levelled it to the ground, and for hundreds of years the very name of the place was virtually unknown. At the end of the last century it was being used as a breeding ground for pigs. In the course of the last few decades, however, a great change had taken place, and with the establishment of temples and monasteries, and the provision of facilities for pilgrims, Sarnath had been restored to a modest semblance of its former glory. From my contact with the Maha Bodhi Society in Calcutta I knew that all this was due to the initiative of Anagarika Dharmapala, who had started there a branch of the Society and built the Mulagandhakuti Vihara. Dharmapala himself had died nearly twenty years before, but his work was being continued by Sinhalese monks, some of whom had been his personal disciples. It was from these monks that we were hoping to receive ordination.

Rarely in the history of Buddhism can two candidates for admission to the Sangha have been more quickly or more cruelly disappointed. Though we were allowed, rather grudgingly, to stay in the vast, empty Rest House, from the very first the attitude of the five or six resident monks towards us was clearly one of incomprehension, suspicion, and hostility. Our going barefoot might have been overlooked, and even our interest in meditation excused, but to be altogether without money was, we were made to feel, the unforgivable offence. Indeed, when we confessed that we had been trying to practise the precept of not handling gold and silver, the observance of which was of course incumbent on shramaneras and bhikshus alike, and that for the past few months we had not possessed as much as a single anna between us, they reacted rather as though we had told them we had leprosy. From that moment our fate was sealed. In the eyes of these representatives of `Pure Buddhism' we were no better than beggars, and it was clear they wanted nothing whatever to do with us. They were even unwilling to give us a little food. When, in response to the bell, we turned up at the dining-hall, we heard one of them murmur angrily, `Why do they come without being asked?' After the open-handed hospitality of the Hindu ashrams we had visited such an attitude came as a shock indeed.

Nevertheless, we decided not to be discouraged. In the case of a step so important as the one we now wanted to take, difficulties were bound to arise, and the best thing we could do was to treat them as tests. Accordingly, at the first opportunity, we acquainted the monks with our religious history and made the formal request for ordination. After listening to our account in silence, they said they would consult among themselves and let us know their decision. It was not long in coming. They were all members of the Maha Bodhi Society, they explained, and in view of the fact that the Society would be responsible for the maintenance of monks ordained under its auspices, they were not permitted to ordain anyone without the consent of the General Secretary. Since the Society was at present very short of funds, they were sure that in our case this consent would not be forthcoming.

Though we had known what the verdict would be, the shock when it came was none the less acute. All our plans were laid in ruins, all our hopes destroyed. Bitterly disappointed, we returned to Benares.

To Kusinara

Chapter Forty-Four


THE WEEK THAT FOLLOWED was a period of bewilderment, uncertainty, and confusion. During the last few months the idea of being ordained at Sarnath had taken such complete possession of our minds - we had dreamed so much about it, built so much upon it - that the likelihood of our meeting with a refusal, and being denied something that was for us already a reality, had entered our consciousness only as the remotest and most abstract of possibilities. Difficulties we had been prepared for, even trials; but certainly we had never expected that in Sarnath, of all places, we should meet with downright hostility and incomprehension, or that our request for ordination should be rejected with flimsy excuses which, as we afterwards discovered, were no better than lies. Yet the unlikely, the virtually impossible, the unexpected, had actually happened. Our application had been rejected. We had been refused ordination as shramaneras. Once again we were just two homeless wanderers, with the difference that this time we had nothing to look forward to and nowhere to go. Back at the Ramakrishna Mission, where even Buddha Maharaj could not wholly disguise his astonishment at our return, we felt as though the bottom had dropped out of the universe and that we now hung aimless and directionless in a void.

For me the situation was doubly upsetting. In addition to my own disappointment, which was keen enough, I had to cope with the consequences of Satyapriya's and be not only the confidant but the scapegoat for the violent anger and resentment that burst from him as soon as he had recovered from the initial shock of our rejection. Who were these monks of Sarnath, he demanded, furiously, and what right had they to refuse ordination to two candidates who, for aught they knew, were spiritually far more advanced than themselves? They were not monks at all. They were no better than caretakers in yellow robes, making a living out of the pilgrims, and furtively grubbing together a few wretched possessions. He knew what they were really like. He had talked with the Indian servants. Things were as bad at Sarnath as they had been in Calcutta, if not worse. The Maha Bodhi Society stank. Sinhalese monks were thoroughly corrupt. Buddhism itself was corrupt. He was glad that his eyes had been opened in time and that he had been prevented from taking a step he undoubtedly would have regretted all his life. Far from being disappointed that we had not been ordained, he was delighted. He felt as though he had had a lucky escape. His only regret was that he, an Indian, had been forced to beg for ordination from a set of Sinhalese rascals who had received their religion and their culture from India and who, before that, had been no better than monkeys. For this humiliation, so painful to his self-respect, he had me to thank. Had it not been for my insidious influence he would have had nothing to do with Buddhism, nothing to do with the filth and corruption of the Maha Bodhi Society. But that was how it always was. Due to his association with me he had been repeatedly humiliated. He had stood it long enough. In future he intended to have nothing whatever to do with Buddhism. The Sinhalese monks could keep their ordination. He was quite happy to remain what he had been born, a Hindu. There were plenty of Hindu monks who would be only too glad to have him for a disciple. If the worst came to the worst, he could always join the Ramakrishna Mission. They might not be very spiritual, but at least they did good social work. India needed social workers....

When he had raged and stormed in this way on and off for a couple of days, my friend's fury gradually subsided, and before long I was able to talk him into a more reasonable frame of mind. However un-Buddhistic the behaviour of the monks at Sarnath might have been, I urged, as aspirants to Enlightenment it was our duty not to give way to feelings of resentment. On the spiritual path difficulties and disappointments were bound to arise, but if we regarded them as tests of our sincerity then they would strengthen rather than weaken our determination to reach our goal. Despite these pious words, however, in my heart of hearts I could not help recognizing the justice of much that Satyapriya said. True it was that we ought not to cherish resentment, and that the disappointment we had experienced should be regarded as a test, but no amount of spiritual whitewashing could disguise the fact that the monks at Sarnath were a worldly-minded lot, without the faintest spark of enthusiasm for spiritual things, and that in refusing our request for ordination they had been activated by mean and unworthy motives. Indeed, I had to admit that both the fact and the manner of their refusal had hurt me far more deeply than it had hurt Satyapriya. Besides being disappointed as a candidate for ordination, I was mortified as a Buddhist, and disgusted as a human being. Only my faith in Buddhism remained unshaken. Not for one instant did I consider seeking ordination elsewhere than in the spiritual community founded by the Buddha. The greater were the shortcomings of the latter-day disciples, the more they heightened the sublimity of the ideal and the more, indirectly, they intensified my devotion to the ideal. Suppressing my own disappointment, I therefore did my best to assuage my friend's resentment and convince him that the monks at Sarnath were not the only ones in India, and that though we had failed to get ordination the first time there was no reason why a second or third attempt should not be more successful. In any case, it was clearly impossible for us to stay at the Ramakrishna Mission much longer. We had already stretched their hospitality to the limits. Since we would have to go somewhere, we might as well go wherever there was the possibility of our being ordained as shramaneras.

These arguments were not without their effect on my friend, who in any case was reproaching himself for the violence of his reaction. But to which of the holy places should we now make our way? Where would it be possible for us to get ordination? These were the questions that had to be answered, and answered immediately. We had spent several hours deep in earnest but ineffectual discussion, and were beginning to feel quite desperate, when Satyapriya suddenly recollected that one of the monks at Sarnath, the sole Indian member of the community, had mentioned to him the name of the well-known monk-scholar Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashyap, who for a number of years had been teaching Pali and Buddhist Philosophy at the Benares Hindu University. We would go and ask his advice. He would be able to help us. Even if he did not give ordination himself, he would certainly be able to tell us where to go and whom to approach for this purpose.

In a matter of hours we had walked to the University, located Bhikkhu Kashyap's modest residence in a distant corner of the vast campus, and been whisked up a flight of bare cement steps into his presence. We at once saw that here was a completely different type of person from the monks at Sarnath. Extreme corpulence gave him an air of mountainous imperturbability. At the same time, the expression of exceptional intelligence that played upon the strongly-marked features of the dark-brown face created an impression of vivacity, even as the look of gentle benignity that beamed from them seemed to invite confidence and trust. In less than an hour we had acquainted him with much of our joint history, especially with its most recent chapter, that of our disappointment at Sarnath. Having listened in sympathetic silence, Bhikkhu Kashyap pondered deeply for a while. Then, rolling the words up from the depths of his enormous frame with a slowness that gave them a special emphasis, and speaking with evident warmth and sincerity, he advised us to go to Kusinara, the place where the Buddha had passed away into final Nirvana. There we would find U Chandramani Maha Thera, the seniormost Theravadin Buddhist monk in India. He had many disciples. In fact, he was well known for the generosity with which he gave ordinations. Provided we were able to convince him of our sincerity, there was no reason why he should not give us ordination too.

These words filled us with fresh hope, and we decided to leave for Kusinara without delay. Since we had no money we would have to walk, but so great was our desire for ordination that if necessary we would have prostrated ourselves the whole distance, as Tibetan pilgrims sometimes did all the way from Lhasa to Bodh Gaya. When we told our friends at the Ramakrishna Mission what we proposed to do they were horrified. Kusinara was well over a hundred miles from Benares, they protested, and it was the hottest time of year. We would never reach our destination alive. The dreaded hot wind from the deserts of western India had already started blowing, and every day the newspapers carried reports of people dropping dead from the heat. Why not stay in Benares a few weeks, and leave as soon as the early monsoon rains had cooled the air? This was sensible advice, and in any other circumstances we would have heeded it. Having just spent several hours walking to the University and back in the furnace-like heat of midday we knew only too well what awaited us at almost every step of our journey. A curtain of fire hung between us and our goal. Nevertheless our minds were made up. There was no time to be lost. Through the curtain of fire we would go, or perish in the attempt.

Early next morning we set out for Sarnath. Being north-east of Benares it lay directly in our path, and with its hallowed associations it was obviously the best point for our journey to begin. While the monks of the Maha Bodhi Society could hardly be said to welcome us, they were much less unfriendly than on our first visit. Indeed, once we had made it clear that we were on our way to Kusinara, and would not be staying, two or three members of the community, better-natured than the rest, became quite cordial. One of them, the same Indian monk who had mentioned the name of Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashyap, turned out to be not only a native of Deoria, the district in which Kusinara was situated, but a personal disciple of U Chandramani, from whom he had received his shramanera ordination. On hearing that we were going to Kusinara in quest of ordination he gave us two letters of introduction, one to U Chandramani himself, and one to his seniormost female disciple. What Kashyap-ji had told us about the Maha Thera's generosity in granting ordinations was perfectly true, he said, and we were almost certain to get what we wanted. Another monk, a Sinhalese, who as one of the Joint Secretaries of the Maha Bodhi Society was in charge of its institution and activities in Sarnath, was even kinder. Taking us aside, he told us in a friendly, even affectionate, manner, that he strongly sympathized with our aspirations and wished us the best of luck. We should not take it too much to heart, he added, that on our previous visit he and his brother monks had refused to grant us ordination. It was extremely difficult to know who was sincere and who was not. Hundreds of people came to Sarnath asking for ordination. Most of them were Hindus who only wanted to be supported. After a number of painful experiences, he and the other bhikkhus had learned to exercise extreme caution.

These friendly attentions, together with the fact that we had been invited to take our midday meal in the refectory, not only raised our spirits but disposed us to look more charitably on the shortcomings of the Sarnath monastic establishment. True, none of the monks could be described as spiritually-minded, and some seemed barely religious. For them Buddhism was evidently not the path to Enlightenment, but simply part of the national culture of their land, a culture in which they had been born and brought up, and to the external requirements of which they instinctively conformed. But at the same time it was clear that they were not bad fellows at heart and wished us no harm. What we had taken for hostility was in fact only defensiveness. We had descended on them out of the blue, and they had reacted to us in much the same way as a bevy of Anglican cathedral clergy would have reacted to a ragged and barefoot African Christian who, having sold all his possessions and given the money to the poor, had suddenly appeared at a Deanery tea-party wanting to know what he should do next. Now that they had had time to recover from the shock, and had been assured that we were taking our eccentricities elsewhere, they had no objection to wishing us success in our mission. With their benedictions ringing in our ears, we therefore left Sarnath more light-hearted than we had arrived. Before our departure Satyapriya warned me that this would be definitely our last attempt. If we failed to obtain ordination in Kusinara he would give up Buddhism altogether and become a Hindu monk and I would have to follow his example. Against such an idea as this my whole soul rose in revolt. For me there could be no second choice. Come what might, it was ordination as a Buddhist monk I wanted and nothing else. However, not wishing to provoke an argument at the outset of the journey I kept my thoughts to myself.

For the next eight days we were on the road. Or rather, we were on the railway track, for having met the branch line over the first ridge out of Sarnath we had decided that, since we had no map, it would be best to follow it for as far as we could. From village to nondescript village ran the gleaming silver rails, from town to ramshackle town, straight through the flat brown landscape, over the beds of dried-up streams, past field after withered field, with only the telegraph wires for company and nothing but the long green line of the occasional mango grove to lend a touch of colour to the scene. In most of the villages and towns through which they passed there was a temple or an ashram of some kind and here we usually spent the night. Since the heat was all that we had been led to expect, and more, we tried to get the greater part of the day's walking done by noon. Rising before dawn, when the stars had not yet faded from the sky, and quickly stuffing our scanty belongings into the small cloth bag that was all each of us now carried, we carefully picked our way through the gloom, found the railway line, and headed north. By the time the sun was up we were well on our way. One morning, when we had risen even earlier than usual, we saw in the soft earth at the side of the track the imprints of a tiger's enormous paws. They were not more than an hour old and continued for several hundred yards. Evidently we were not the only ones who followed the railway track.

After walking for two or three hours we stopped and had breakfast, generally halting beside a river so that we could take our bath at the same time. Breakfast consisted of chatua, or roasted barley flour, a small bag of which had been given us by a friendly Hindu ascetic with whom we had passed the second night of our journey. Mixed with water, and kneaded into a soft cake, it was not unpalatable, and sufficed to keep us going until our next meal. As soon as we were rested and refreshed we set off again. All this time the sun had been growing steadily hotter, and by nine o'clock the perspiration would be not only pouring from our faces but trickling down our bodies and soaking into our robes as well. Sometimes, especially when the hot wind was blowing, the heat was so intense that we had to walk along with a wet towel wrapped turban-wise round the head for protection. Yet great as the discomfort was we pressed on without slackening our pace. At every step we took, white dust rose in suffocating clouds, then drifted away like smoke. Only when the sun was at its zenith, and the shadows had been swallowed up in the broad noonday glare, did we start looking for shelter. By this time even the brave shrilling of the cicadas had died away among the scorched-up grass, while the landscape quivered and danced in the heat as though behind a veil. From the cracks in the ground exhalations shot up like flames.

Our favourite shelter was a mango grove, where the dense foliage provided a shade that, after the heat outside, was so exquisitely cool as to be voluptuous. If no mango grove was forthcoming we generally took refuge, as at night, in a temple or an ashram, where more often than not a friendly ascetic or sympathetic villager would bring us something to eat, and where, if local curiosity or local sympathy proved sufficiently strong, Satyapriya would become involved in discussion. In one or two places the villagers were so hospitable, and in the course of a few hours became so warmly attached to us, that on their insistence we stayed till the following day. Once, indeed, we were passed on, as it were, to a son in a village further up the line, who promptly proved himself to be truly a chip off the paternal block by entertaining us as lavishly as his father had done the day before. Usually, however, we left our place of midday refuge at about five o'clock, when the heat had abated, and after finding our way back to the railway track continued our journey until nightfall. In this way we generally covered twelve to fifteen miles a day. Once, either to make up for lost time or because we were feeling particularly energetic, we covered twenty-nine miles.

Most of the temples and ashrams at which we spent the night, or where we stayed for a few hours during the day, were of either the Vaishnavite or the Shaivite persuasion, and in most the only vestige of spiritual activity we saw was the smoking of ganja or Indian hemp. In one at least, restrictions based on distinctions of caste were, so we found, strongly insisted on. It was on the fifth day of our journey, and at nightfall we had reached Mau. This was the biggest place we had seen since leaving Benares, and judging from the number of shops and houses being run up - apparently by refugees from East Pakistan - it was in process of vigorous, if chaotic, expansion. On the outskirts of the town, next to the railway, stood a fairly large ashram. Here we decided to halt. For some time nobody took any notice of us, and from the noise and bustle that surrounded us we concluded that, far from being a centre of quiet contemplation for those who had renounced the world, it was a place of ecclesiastical business, where people came to pray - and pay - for success in worldly undertakings. Eventually, when we were thinking of leaving, the head of the Ashram approached us. He was a tall, thin old Vaishnavite ascetic, shaven-headed, and wearing the customary string of tiny basil-wood beads. Though at first inclined to be sarcastic, after a short conversation he became quite friendly and offered us some sweetmeats. He himself smoked ganja. We were then shown to the veranda of the Shiva temple next door, where we spent the night in the company of an elderly monk, an orthodox Advaita Vedantin, whose leg had been broken when he fell down on the railway track one night while under the influence of ganja.

The following morning, while we were sitting on the veranda with the crippled monk and a few other people, an old dhobini or washerwoman came and sat down nearby. As we had decided to leave somewhat later than usual that day, we asked her if it would be all right for us to come to her house for our midday meal. Shocked and dismayed at the idea, she explained that since she belonged to a very low caste indeed it was quite impossible for us to take cooked food from her hands. If we liked she would give us some uncooked things instead. This was not what we wanted. Determined to break the orthodox taboo, we persisted in asking her for at least one roti or cake of unleavened bread apiece, at the same time doing our best to convince her that one caste was as good as another. Our arguments proved not altogether without effect. Though the poor old creature continued to protest that it was quite impossible for holy men like ourselves to accept cooked food from members of the Dhobi caste, it was clear that her resistance was weakening, and that she was in two minds about the matter. All the time we were talking, however, the crippled monk had kept up a stream of threats and abuse. If she dared to pollute the holy men by giving them cooked food with her unclean washerwoman's hands, he warned her, he would see to it that she was given a sound thrashing as soon as they had left the place. These harsh words turned the scale. Wiping a tear from her eye, the old woman got up and crept silently away. Apparently the fact that the holy men themselves had no objection to being polluted did not matter. But we had not seen the last of our downtrodden friend. Some time later she reappeared, bringing with her some sweetmeats for Satyapriya and me and a handful of ganja for the crippled monk and his companions. Far from being mollified by her devotion, however, that pillar of orthodoxy continued to scoff and jeer at her in the most heartless fashion. Nevertheless, he smoked the ganja she had brought.

On the sixth day of our journey we said goodbye to the railway track and started heading in a more easterly direction. We had not gone many miles when we came to the great river Saraya or Sarabhu. The only means of crossing was by the ferry-boat, and for this we had to wait an hour. The ferry-boat belonged, we discovered, to the Mahant or abbot of the local Math or orthodox Hindu monastic establishment, and before its departure the Mahant's disciple, a fat monk dressed in white like a householder, came and collected the fares from the passengers, not sparing even the poorest of them, who paid up with many groans and much grumbling. Since we were ascetics the fat monk was good enough to excuse us from paying, but as soon as he found out that we were Buddhists he could not resist the temptation of airing his views on the innate superiority of brahmins, especially brahmin monks and holy men, to which category, judging by the sacred thread that hung round his neck, he himself belonged. Naturally, we were not backward in giving our own views on the subject of caste, views with which all our fellow passengers who were not themselves either brahmins or Kshatriyas seemed to be in hearty agreement. By this time the ferry-boat was more than full. Having extorted the last anna from the last reluctant passenger, the Mahant's disciple waddled back to the Math, and with long thrusts of the boatman's poles the unwieldy craft moved off.

The concluding stages of our journey were the worst, and had it not been for the hope that every step was bringing us nearer to the goal of our desires it might have been difficult for us to carry on. It was still early May, and the heat, having risen in fiery crescendo to its terrific climax, now seemed likely to remain there indefinitely. Not a drop of rain fell. Day by day the hot dry wind from the desert, laden with dust, blew more strongly and more scorchingly than ever upon the hard, sun-baked earth, which by this time had become criss-crossed with a network of innumerable cracks and fissures, some of them several inches wide. Travelling during the less hot hours of the day, and taking advantage of every scrap of shade, grimly and wearily Satyapriya and I plodded on from temple to temple and from ashram to ashram, mile after mile across the heat-stricken land. In some of the temples and ashrams at which we halted we were given a cordial welcome, in others our reception was more reserved. Towards the end of our journey our stops became more and more frequent. At one place we took our bath in a pond full of lotuses. At another, where we came across an unusually well-kept ashram standing within a secluded mango grove, a friendly Nanak Panthi, or follower of Guru Nanak, not only put us up for the night but treated us with exceptional kindness.

On our last morning we were less fortunate. Indeed, this was the least fortunate part of the whole journey. We had intended to halt for an hour or two at the Buddhist Rest House which had been built, so the Nanak Panthi had informed us, not half a dozen miles from our destination. On our arrival there we found that the Rest House had been converted into a school, and the headmaster received us in a very unfriendly fashion. We had no alternative but to set off again at once. Before long we were heartened by the sight of the dome of the Maha Parinirvana Stupa rising majestically from behind a cluster of trees in the far distance, and leaving the road we cut straight across the fields towards it. I could not help thinking with what exultation, only ten or twelve days earlier, we had seen the pinnacle of the Mulagandhakuti Vihara rising above the tree-tops of Sarnath. Did Kusinara hold a similar disappointment in store for us? Or were we destined to receive here the ordination on which we had set our hearts?