The Rainbow Road
With Jagdish Kashyap at BHU
THE BENARES HINDU UNIVERSITY CAMPUS was several square miles in extent and criss-crossed by broad tree-lined avenues along which plied a small army of brightly painted cycle-rickshaws. Some distance behind the trees, and usually at considerable intervals, rose the red sandstone blocks of the University buildings, all of them in the `neo-Hindu' style of architecture, and all of enormous size. `Buddha Kuti', Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashyap's modest two-storey residence, was situated in a quiet corner just inside the perimeter wall, not far from the University Post Office, and several miles from the red sandstone splendours of the main entrance. Buddharakshita and I had not been long in Benares before we went to pay our respects to our kind adviser and inform him of the successful outcome of our mission to Kusinara. We were staying, not very happily, at the Burmese Rest House in the city, where the two harsh-voiced, rough-mannered Burmese monks jeered at us for being vegetarians. `Not eat meat!' they exclaimed angrily. `You must eat meat! If you don't eat meat you're not Buddhists, you're Hindus!' Though the rainy season was now well advanced, we were still no nearer to finding a place in which to spend the Rains Residence than we had been in Nepal. Buddharakshita was strongly in favour of our making another attempt to enter Ceylon, where we would be able to study and where we could take the higher ordination. Partly because I was without means of identification, and partly because I did not feel well enough to embark on further wanderings, I was against this plan. It was Bhikkhu Kashyap who resolved the dilemma. With characteristic generosity he made it clear that, if it would be of any use, there was room for one of us at Buddha Kuti, but only for one, and that he would be happy to provide not only board and lodging but instruction. This of course meant the end of the partnership between Buddharakshita and myself, which had now lasted uninterruptedly for two and a half years. After prolonged discussion, my impetuous friend suddenly announced that his mind was made up. He would go to Ceylon. I should stay in Benares with Bhikkhu Kashyap. Since I was unfit to travel, and needed a bit of looking after, this was clearly the best arrangement. In any case, he added, unable to resist a parting shot, it was me that Bhikkhu Kashyap wanted as a disciple, not him. Within twenty-four hours I had moved into Buddha Kuti and Buddharakshita was on his way to Calcutta.
Though I was sorry to lose my warm-hearted but irascible companion, once the actual parting was over my predominant feeling was one of relief. Living with Buddharakshita had at times been a nightmare, and it was only now that I was once more on my own that I realized how great the strain had been. True, since our ordination he had been easier to get on with. The deference and submissiveness of the Newars had been as balm to his soul, and seeing him better-tempered than he had been for a long time I had begun to entertain hopes that the demon by which he was periodically afflicted had been permanently exorcized. These hopes were soon shattered. While we were at the Padmagarbha Vihara there arrived in Butaol a young Newar monk who had just spent two years in Ceylon. Not content with exhibiting his accomplishments to an admiring circle of friends and relations, and covering the walls of the Vihara with the Sinhalese posters of all the lectures he had given, he tried to treat Buddharakshita and me as he thought newly-ordained shramaneras ought to be treated by a fully-ordained monk who had just spent two years in the very citadel of orthodoxy. Buddharakshita bore it for a couple of days, then after an altercation which did credit neither to him nor to his antagonist he exploded. The young monk's grandmother did her best to assuage my friend's wrath. `Take no notice of him,' she confided. `He's the fool of the family. We only sent him to Ceylon to become a monk because he wasn't bright enough to be of much use in the family business.' But the damage had been done. The demon was back. Yet despite the tensions of our life together, and my relief at finding myself once more on my own, I was far from failing to appreciate the many sterling qualities that Buddharakshita undoubtedly possessed. But for him I might never have spent two years as a wandering ascetic, might never have made the difficult transition from the old way of life to the new, and for that I was deeply grateful.
In less than a week I was feeling perfectly at home in my new surroundings, and had embarked on a course of study that was to keep me busy - almost without interruption - for seven of the quietest and happiest months I have ever known. Life at Buddha Kuti was simple in the extreme, and there were no distractions. Apart from a bookcase filled ceiling-high with books my room contained only a string bed, a table, and a chair. Bhikkhu Kashyap's room, which was next door, and communicated with mine, contained no more - not even a piece of carpet on the floor, or a picture on the wall. As I soon realized, it was not that my new preceptor attached any special importance to asceticism: he simply did not bother with material things. Except for two or three students reading Pali for their BA, who came once a week, there were no visitors, and even the married nephew who lived downstairs was rarely seen or heard. Other than Bhikkhu Kashyap, the only person with whom I had any contact was the servant, a thinner, darker, less sprightly version of Shankara Pillai who had the distinction of being the illegitimate son of a Sinhalese monk.
Our day began at dawn. After we had breakfasted on tea and toast (the latter saturated with ghee and sprinkled with sugar) I read Pali, Abhidhamma, and Logic with Bhikkhu Kashyap, then returned to my room and did the exercises he had set me. This kept me busy until noon, when we had the usual rice-and-curry lunch. Bhikkhu Kashyap, mindful of the Indian equivalent of `An apple a day keeps the doctor away,' always rounded off the meal by chewing a couple of cloves of raw garlic. In the afternoon, having enjoyed a brief siesta, I either studied on my own, referring to my teacher occasionally if necessary, or engaged in literary work. When it was dusk Bhikkhu Kashyap took his stick and we went for a walk. Every time we drew abreast of one of the big margosa trees that lined the broad avenues through which we passed I was struck by a strong current of vitality. Perhaps it was only the sun's heat radiating from the rough grey trunks, but I could not help feeling that the trees were alive, even as I was alive - that they were living presences, almost personalities. The first time we went out Bhikkhu Kashyap confessed that only a year ago he was so fat that he could not walk. If he tried to do so the insides of his thighs chafed so badly that he bled. For the last year, however, he had been following naturopathy, and having succeeded in reducing his weight by about a third was now a firm believer in that system of medicine. A few weeks later, when I fell ill with jaundice, he persuaded me to follow naturopathy too. On our return to Buddha Kuti I took a glass of hot milk (strictly speaking against the rules, but Bhikkhu Kashyap insisted) and carried on with my studies. At ten or eleven o'clock I paid my respects to my teacher in the traditional manner, asking forgiveness for whatever offences I might have committed in the course of the day, and retired for the night to my string bed.
The three subjects that I read with Bhikkhu Kashyap (or Kashyap-ji, as he was generally known) were all quite new to me and I cultivated them with varying degrees of success. Not having much of a gift for languages, I had the greatest difficulty with Pali, the ancient Indian language in which the Theravada redaction of the Buddha's Teaching had been preserved. According to Kashyap-ji, who besides being trained in Western academic disciplines was a pandit of the old type, and had learned everything by heart at an early age, Pali grammar was child's play, and he did his best to encourage me with the reminder that in Pali there were only 700 rules, whereas Sanskrit had 3,000. I was far from finding Pali child's play. Though I did my exercises every day, and committed to memory long lists of conjugations and declensions, I did so with grim determination rather than with the gay abandon that Kashyap-ji seemed to think appropriate to the subject. Sometimes I felt dull and bored. Luckily my teacher was not one of those who believe that you first have to learn the grammar of a language thoroughly before being allowed to look at a text, and before many weeks had passed I had been introduced to the Tipitaka. Some of its books were composed in ridiculously simple Pali, explained Kashyap-ji, and a smattering of grammar was all that was needed to understand them. Starting with these books, and progressing gradually to others more difficult, one could easily get through the forty-five volumes of the Royal Thai edition of the Tipitaka in a twelvemonth. Why, it was not even a volume a week! Though I did not live up to these expectations, and though my knowledge of Pali never went much beyond the smattering necessary to carry me through such works as the Dhammapada and the Udana, the delight of being able to study the Buddha's Teaching in what many Buddhists believed were his own words more than compensated for the difficulties of learning the language in which it had been imparted.
With both Abhidhamma and Logic I fared rather better, especially with Logic. Though in my early and middle teens I had read quite widely in philosophy, for some reason or other I had completely neglected this ancient and venerable partner of metaphysics, ethics, politics, aesthetics, and rhetoric. It was therefore with some trepidation that I set about making good the omission. But I need not have worried. Once I had emerged from the thorny thickets of Formal Logic I found myself in one of the most fascinating and enjoyable stretches of the intellectual terrain in which it had ever been my lot to wander, and with companions among the most delightful it had ever been my good fortune to meet. Bradley, admittedly, was a little forbidding, but Mill and Carveth Read I found exhilarating in the extreme, while F.C.S. Schiller's Formal Logic, a Radical Empiricist's brilliant exposure of the aridities and absurdities of the subject, as traditionally expounded, was undoubtedly one of the most hilarious books I had ever encountered. While I was reading it there escaped me from time to time chuckles - even guffaws - which Kashyap-ji, in his room next door, never heard when I was studying Pali.
However conventional Kashyap-ji's teaching methods might have been, his manner of teaching was unconventional enough. When I entered his room (the communicating door was always left open) it was generally to find him stretched out on his string bed like a stranded whale, sound asleep, for though he could work day and night when necessary he could sleep day and night too with equal ease. As Professor of Pali and Buddhist Philosophy his duties were minimal, and much of his time was therefore spent on the string bed, which creaked protestingly from time to time, and where he slept without benefit of either mattress or pillow. On my coughing, or murmuring `Bhante!' a single eyelid would twitch, whereupon I would put my question, which was generally on some knotty point of Pali grammar, or Abhidhamma, or Logic, which I had not been able to unravel by myself. Without opening his eyes, and without moving, Kashyap-ji would proceed to clear up the difficulty, heaving the words up from the depths of his enormous frame and rolling them around on his tongue before releasing them in slow, deliberate utterance. Sometimes he rumbled on for only a few minutes, sometimes for half an hour. Whatever he said was clear, precise, and to the point. If I asked about a particular passage of text, he always knew whereabouts it came, what had come before, and what followed. Yet all the time he had hardly bothered to wake up. As I returned to my room I would hear behind me a sigh and a snore and before I had settled down at my table Kashyap-ji would be sound asleep again.
The intercourse between us was not always of this kind. When not stretched out on the string bed, Kashyap-ji could be both animated and entertaining, with a pleasant touch of the unsophisticated humour of his Bihari peasant ancestry. Sometimes he spoke about his experiences in Ceylon, where he had studied at the Vidyalankara Pirivena (where I had seen him at the 1944 Convocation, when he came to receive the title of Tripitakacharya), and where he had been ordained. Though he had enjoyed his stay, he did not have a very high opinion of the Sinhalese Buddhists. Monks and lay people alike were narrow-minded and unintelligent. Formalism was rife. Once, when he was returning from his almsround, his robe had come undone, and in order to adjust it he had put his begging-bowl down on a patch of grass. `Just look at the Indian monk!' shrieked an old woman who saw him. `Supposed to be a scholar! He doesn't even know how to respect his bowl!' According to tradition, begging-bowls should never be placed on the bare ground. On another occasion he was lecturing on the well-known Buddhist doctrine of anatta, literally `no self' or `no soul'. In order to understand the meaning of anatta, he had declared, one had first to understand the meaning of atta, `self' or `soul'. For unless one knew what particular concept of `self' or `soul' the Buddha was negating how could one possibly know what his teaching of `no self' or `no soul' was meant to convey? This was apparently beyond the Sinhalese Buddhists. There were angry shouts of protest from the audience. `We don't want you bringing your Hindu philosophy here!' yelled the monks. `Sit down! Sit down!' In vain Kashyap-ji tried to explain that it was not his intention to defend the detested atta doctrine. He was not allowed to continue his lecture. Some of his experiences had been of a more amusing kind. Sinhalese monks were always wanting to know which nikaya or sect of the Monastic Order he belonged to. In fact, said Kashyap-ji, they were no less inquisitive on this score than orthodox Hindus were on the subject of caste. His usual reply was that he belonged to `Buddha Nikaya'. One group of monks, not satisfied with this, had asked him whether he covered his right shoulder with his robe when leaving the monastery or whether he left it uncovered, the point of the enquiry being that some nikayas followed one practice, some the other. `When it's cold,' Kashyap-ji had replied, `I cover both shoulders. When it's hot, I keep one shoulder uncovered, and when it's very hot I don't wear any robe at all!' One day, when he had gratefully acknowledged the part played by Ceylon in the preservation of the Pali Scriptures, my preceptor delivered himself of his considered opinion of the Sinhalese Buddhists in the following memorable words. `Sangharakshita-ji,' he said, speaking slowly and deliberately, and with evident feeling, `they are a set of monkeys ... sitting on a treasure ... the value of which ... they do not understand.'
Much as Kashyap-ji's anecdotes reflected on the Buddhists of Ceylon, there was nothing in his attitude to suggest either self-righteousness or censoriousness, and he was capable of telling a story against himself with equal relish. Before being appointed professor at Benares Hindu University he had spent some time in Penang, where there was a large and wealthy Chinese business community, and a flourishing Buddhist movement. Whenever he performed his devotions in the magnificent temple they had built he saluted the image of the Buddha but, being a Theravadin, he did not salute the images of Kuan Yin and the other attendant Bodhisattvas. One day the Chinese Mahayana Buddhist with whom he was staying gave him for lunch nothing but rice. When Kashyap-ji, mildly astonished, enquired what had happened to the curries he was told that the rice was the main thing. `Of course the rice is the main thing,' agreed Kashyap-ji, `but the curries are also necessary.' `Just so,' retorted his host. `The curries are also necessary, as you say. Similarly, the Buddha is the main thing - no one doubts that; but the Bodhisattvas are necessary too.' After this homely lesson, said my teacher, he was always careful to salute the Bodhisattvas.
Though Kashyap-ji definitely preferred the `rationalism tinged with mysticism' of the Theravada to the `mysticism tinged with rationalism' of the Mahayana, and though his main interest in life was the revival of Pali studies in India, he was an exceptionally tolerant and open-minded person with a real respect for the right - and duty - of the individual to think for himself. For him, the born teacher, teaching represented not a process of indoctrination but a sharing of knowledge, a pooling of intellectual resources, and while he was always ready to answer my questions he never made the slightest attempt to influence my thinking. On the contrary, in after years he was fond of maintaining that in some respects he had learned as much from me as I had from him. While it was not for me to contradict my preceptor on such a point as this, whatever exchange there might have been between us must have been very unequal - `the price of a hundred oxen for the price of nine'. Besides sharing with me his vast knowledge of the Pali Scriptures, especially the Abhidhamma, Kashyap-ji was the means of introducing me to some of the less well-known branches of Indian religious tradition. Among these were Jainism, and the heterodox (i.e. non-Vedic, even anti-Vedic) post-medieval mysticisms, some of which were believed by scholars to have been continuous with the last phases of Tantric Buddhism. In addition to the texts of my regular trivium I read with him the Jaina Apabhramsa equivalent of the Dhammapada (with which, as he pointed out, it had a number of verses in common), and a riddling, esoteric work by Kabir known as the Bijak. For all members of the shramana as distinct from the brahmana group of Indian religions, Kashyap-ji indeed had a strong sympathy, a sympathy that was by no means confined to books. On our rare expeditions into Benares, when I accompanied him on visits to Jain monk-scholars and Kabir Panthi ascetics, I could see for myself how cordial his relations with them all were, and how much they, on their part, loved and venerated him.
As might have been expected, during the whole of the time that I was with him Kashyap-ji made no attempt to restrict my freedom, in particular my freedom to read and write what I pleased. All his books, as well as his ticket to the University library, were at my disposal, and he never questioned the use I made of them. Indeed, it did not seem to occur to him to question it. When not occupied with Pali, Abhidhamma, and Logic I therefore read more widely than I had done for several years. As the mood seized me, I also wrote. After being confined to works that I had come across more or less by accident, it was delightful to be able to range at will through all the fields of literature, ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, sacred and profane. But delightful though it was, such freedom was not without problems of its own. More clearly than ever before, it brought out into the open a conflict in my interests, perhaps a conflict in my nature itself, which the circumstances of my wandering life with Buddharakshita had tended to obscure.
The nature of this conflict was well illustrated by two letters which I received during the second half of my stay at Buddha Kuti. One was from the redoubtable Bhikkhu Soma. He had already taken me very seriously to task for `gadding about' instead of settling in one place and getting down to serious work, and having seen some of my recent contributions to the Buddhist magazines of Ceylon he now wrote to put me to rights as regards my literary work. When I could write such excellent articles on Buddhist philosophy, he demanded, why did I waste my time writing those foolish poems? By a strange coincidence the other letter, which was from a Sinhalese Buddhist laywoman, arrived on the same day, and expressed exactly the opposite point of view. When I could write such beautiful poems on Buddhism, she asked, why did I spend so much time writing those dry, intellectual articles? The truth of the matter was that I agreed - and disagreed - with both correspondents. The conflict was not so much between the philosophically-inclined monk and the poetry-loving laywoman, as between Sangharakshita I and Sangharakshita II. Sangharakshita I wanted to enjoy the beauty of nature, to read and write poetry, to listen to music, to look at paintings and sculpture, to experience emotion, to lie in bed and dream, to see places, to meet people. Sangharakshita II wanted to realize the truth, to read and write philosophy, to observe the precepts, to get up early and meditate, to mortify the flesh, to fast and pray. Sometimes Sangharakshita I was victorious, sometimes Sangharakshita II, while occasionally there was an uneasy duumvirate. What they ought to have done, of course, was to marry and give birth to Sangharakshita III, who would have united beauty and truth, poetry and philosophy, spontaneity and discipline; but this seemed to be a dream impossible of fulfilment. For the last two and a half years Sangharakshita II had ruled practically unchallenged. Aided and abetted by Buddharakshita, who strongly disapproved of poetry, he had in fact sought to finish off Sangharakshita I altogether, and but for the timely intervention of Swami Ramdas, who firmly declared that writing poetry was not incompatible with the spiritual life, Sangharakshita I might well have died a premature death in Muvattupuzha.
However, despite the bludgeoning that he had received he had not died, and after leading a furtive existence in Nepal he was now coming into his own again at Buddha Kuti. Kashyap-ji's dealings were of course mainly with Sangharakshita II, but he had no objection to Sangharakshita I being around, and even spoke to him occasionally. Soon Sangharakshita I was feeling strong enough to demand equal rights. If Sangharakshita II devoted the afternoon to The Path of Purity, Sangharakshita I spent the evening immersed in the poetry of Matthew Arnold, which for some reason or other exerted a powerful influence during this period. When the former wrote an article on Buddhist philosophy, or edited the second edition of Kashyap-ji's Buddhism for Everybody, the latter composed poems. Sometimes, while one self was busy copying out extracts from the books he had been reading, the other would look idly out of the window and watch the falling of the rain. One day there was a violent clash between them. Angered by the encroachments of Sangharakshita I, who was reading more poetry than ever, and who had written a long poem which, though it had a Buddhist theme, was still a poem, Sangharakshita II suddenly burned the two notebooks in which his rival had written all the poems he had composed from the time of their departure from England right down to about the middle of their sojourn in Singapore. After this catastrophe, which shocked them both, they learned to respect each other's spheres of influence. Occasionally they even collaborated, as in the completion of the blank verse rendition of the five paritrana sutras that had been started in Nepal. There were even rare moments when it seemed that, despite their quarrels, they might get married one day.
SPRING HAD COME TO THE PLAINS OF BIHAR, and the beauty of the landscape as it lay in the bright morning sunshine beneath an expanse of soft blue sky was such as to melt the heart of artist and farmer alike. In all directions, far as the eye could see, stretched the chequer-work of the fields, their dusty brown soil now flushed with the lighter or darker green of rice, wheat, pulse, potatoes, and other early crops. On either side of the road stood huge shady peepul trees, like that beneath which the Buddha gained Enlightenment, and tamarinds with gnarled boughs and light, feathery foliage. Beyond, in the middle distance, mango groves brooded like banks of cloud. Some of the fields were edged by smooth-stemmed areca palms, or else by squat, clumsy-looking date palms with deep notches in their trunks where they had been tapped for toddy. Nearer at hand grew clumps of graceful bamboos, sahajan trees whose straight slim branches were white with bloom, and another tree which, though devoid of leaves, was decked out with enormous scarlet flowers that, according to Kashyap-ji, were traditionally likened to lumps of raw meat. After the rains that had fallen during the night the air was fresh and clean and full of the sweet scent of the sulphur-coloured mango blossom. On the horizon to the south, ten or twelve miles away, the hills of Rajgir loomed grey and purple through the mist.
We had left Benares a week earlier, on the last day of January. Kashyap-ji had decided to take a holiday. After twelve years at the Hindu University he was badly in need of a change. He was tired of the caste-ridden atmosphere of the place, tired of its undisguised hostility to Buddhist studies, tired of having so little to do. As he had already confided to me, he was there very much on sufferance. Dominated as it was by orthodox brahmins, the University had not wanted to have a Professor of Pali and Buddhist Philosophy at all, and Kashyap-ji's appointment had been due to the insistence of the multi-millionaire philanthropist Jugal Kishore Birla, a benefactor whose wishes the University could not afford to ignore. But though the University had been forced to appoint a Professor of Pali and Buddhist Philosophy it was not obliged to supply him with pupils. In fact it made it as difficult as possible for him to get any. Under University regulations, no one could take Pali without also taking Sanskrit. In other words Pali and Buddhist Philosophy were not allowed to become alternatives to Sanskrit and Hindu Philosophy. One could take Sanskrit and Pali, or only Sanskrit, but under no circumstances could one take only Pali. So effectively did these tactics limit the number of Kashyap-ji's students that he never had more than three or four, sometimes none at all. For someone as devoted to his subject as he was this was a bitter disappointment. He had accepted the professorship only because he hoped it would enable him to make some contribution to the advancement of Buddhist studies and thus, indirectly, to the cause of Buddhism; but as it became more obvious every year that Pali and Buddhist Philosophy were unwelcome guests at the Benares Hindu University, he had come to the conclusion that he was wasting his time there and he was now thinking of resigning. Before taking this drastic step, however, he wanted to get away from the University for a while and think things over. We would both have a holiday. He would show me some of the holy places of Bihar, and from there, perhaps, we would go up into the foothills of the eastern Himalayas, to a place called Kalimpong.
For the past week, therefore, we had been in Bihar, in the land of the Great Disciples. The disciples in question were Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, the two principal followers of the Buddha, who like Kashyap-ji himself had come from that part of India. They had both been born, in fact, not far from Nalanda, and it was towards the ruins of the great monastic university that had subsequently grown up on this spot that we were now making our way. Outwardly at least the seven days that we had so far spent in Bihar had been more eventful than seven months in Benares. In Patna, the ancient Pataliputra, where our tour had started, we were constantly accosted in the streets by young men who asked us if we were Buddhist monks and who, when we replied in the affirmative, begged us to establish a Buddhist temple there and propagate the Teaching of the Buddha. Only a few months earlier the relics of Shariputra and Maudgalyayana had been received all over the state amidst scenes of tremendous popular enthusiasm, and demands for the revival of the faith that had brought so much glory to Bihar were very much in the air. In Bihar Sharif, where we addressed two meetings, we had spent the night at the local college, which was said to be built on the site of the ancient monastic university of Odantapuri - as, indeed, was the whole town. From Bihar Sharif we had walked to the village of Dipnagar, and from Dipnagar, where we had addressed another meeting the previous night, we had decided to walk to Nalanda. For Kashyap-ji this was quite a feat, but the interest and enthusiasm that surrounded us at every stage of our journey - so different from anything he had encountered in Benares - was having a tonic effect on him and he felt equal to any exertion, even that of walking.
He also felt that he was a monk again. For the last two days we had been `going for alms' in the traditional manner, a thing he had not done since leaving Ceylon. Like the monks at Sarnath, he had taken it for granted that this was no longer possible in India. Unlike the monks at Sarnath, however, he was willing to make the experiment, and to find out for himself whether the success Buddharakshita and I had had with our begging-bowls in the villages between Kusinara and Lumbini had been simply a happy accident or whether it was, in fact, still possible for a Buddhist monk to subsist on alms in the India of the twentieth century. As one of us at least had expected, the experiment was entirely successful. Both in Bihar Sharif and in Dipnagar we had each collected enough food for half a dozen monks, and townsfolk and villagers alike had given not only with devotion and joy but with the consciousness that we - and they - were reviving a tradition that had been dead for six or seven hundred years. Kashyap-ji was delighted. A great problem had been solved. No longer was it necessary to depend for one's maintenance on educational institutions unsympathetic to Buddhism or worldly-minded Buddhist organizations more interested in collecting money than in preaching the Dharma. As in the days of old, a monk could rely for his support directly on the people. In his mind's eye he saw himself walking from village to village with his begging-bowl all over Bihar, teaching Pali and Buddhist Philosophy wherever he went.
Nalanda was only three miles south of Dipnagar, on the Rajgir road, and exhilarated as we were by the beauty and freshness of the morning and by a new-found sense of freedom it did not take us much more than an hour to get there. After taking tea with Venerable Fu Chin Lama, an ancient Chinese monk, in the tiny Rest House he had built just behind the railway station, we went for alms to the nearby village of Kul, which according to the accounts of the seventh-century Chinese pilgrim Yuan Chwang, was the birthplace of Maudgalyayana. Our presence naturally created some excitement among the inhabitants and when we had finished our meal we were invited to address a small crowd of about a hundred persons that had gathered nearby. In the afternoon we set out for Bargaon, a large village that had originally belonged to the ancient monastic university of Nalanda. Here we put up at the Svetambar Jain Dharmasala, that is to say, a Rest House belonging to the `white-robed' - as distinct from the Digambar, `sky-clad' or naked - sect of the Jains. Nearby, in the midst of the open fields, was a large Bodhisattva image, fairly well preserved, and with a lengthy inscription on its halo. Having been unearthed by a local farmer, it had been set up beneath a tree and was now being worshipped as a sort of guardian deity of the fields. We also visited a temple dedicated to Surya, the Sun God, outside which stood two large and beautiful images of polished black stone, one of the Buddha, the other of the Hindu goddess Parvati. Though Surya had been greatly honoured in Vedic times, such temples were rare, and I did not remember having seen one before. That evening a public meeting was held, but although about one hundred people attended it the response was not, for some reason or other, quite so enthusiastic as in other places.
Early next morning, accompanied by the Curator of the Nalanda Museum, we went to see the ruins of the ancient monastic university. For close on a mile heaps of dark red brick rose at intervals from the ochre-coloured plain in a way that, from a distance, seemed vaguely Mexican rather than Indian. As we approached the huge walls of the principal monastery buildings, and saw the many-storeyed stupa towering above our heads, grand even in decay, a picture of Nalanda Maha Vihara as it lives in the vivid pages of Yuan Chwang rose involuntarily before our mind's eye. How easily we could imagine the great Chinese pilgrim approaching the lofty portals of the then spiritual metropolis of the far-flung Empire of Buddhism! Those were the spacious days when 10,000 students and more than 1,000 teachers thronged the cells and cloisters of its dozen nine-storeyed monastery buildings, when daily one hundred lectures were delivered, when its three great libraries treasured up the accumulated wisdom of more than 1,000 years of Buddhist religion and culture, and when the aged and venerable Silabhadra, at whose feet Yuan Chwang sat for many years, presided over the studies and directed the spiritual practices of monks of more than fifty nationalities. Now the place was deserted. 800 years ago Nalanda had been sacked by the iconoclastic fury of the Muslim invader, its monks slaughtered, its treasure carted away. For six whole months the palm-leaf manuscripts in the three libraries had burned. As we paced along the cool corridors, and peered into the secluded cells, Kashyap-ji and I could not help wondering what it had been like to be a monk at Nalanda and whether, now that Buddhism was returning to India, it would ever be possible for a new Nalanda to rise from the ashes of the old.
From Nalanda to Rajgir was a distance of only seven or eight miles, but the exertions of the last few days were beginning to tell on Kashyap-ji and when, twenty-four hours later, we left the Nalanda area, it was not on foot but seated in one of five or six tiny railway carriages behind a brisk little engine of the local branch line. We had gone for alms in the village of Sarichak, which according to some scholars was the birthplace of Shariputra, and given two more lectures, and it was time for us to be on our way.
In Rajgir we stayed at the Japanese Buddhist Temple, a modest two-storeyed building which was situated almost at the foot of the Vipula range and faced west towards the site of the Veluvana or Bamboo Grove, where the Buddha had often stayed. In the absence of the Japanese monks, who had either left for Japan just before the war or been interned, there was the usual Hindu cuckoo in the Buddhist nest, the cuckoo in this case being a long-bearded ascetic who had once belonged to the Ramakrishna Mission. Though he came to meet us at the station, and though he made us welcome enough, he was clearly more interested in naturopathy than in Buddhism. In the shrine upstairs the images on the altar were inches deep in dust and cobwebs. Shocked by the sight, Kashyap-ji and I at once set to work and cleaned things up, carefully putting to one side the grimy photographs of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda that had usurped the place of honour. Though most of his time was taken up by his naturopathic practice, the good swami was not altogether neglectful of the religious traditions of the temple, which belonged to a branch of the Nichiren sect. For half an hour every evening he banged away at the big Japanese drum, bawling as he did so the words of the great mantra namu myoho renge-kyo - `Salutation to White Lotus Sutra!'
Our first expedition was to the site of the Bamboo Grove, which lay on the other side of the road not far from the foot of the Ratnagiri Range. Not a single bamboo was to be seen. In fact, there was hardly any vegetation, and what with the heaps of rubble that were lying all around, the appearance of the place was drear and desolate. A few yards south of the site, however, there was a training camp for gram sevaks, or village workers, from the Patna and Gaya Districts of Bihar. In response to their invitation we addressed them on Buddhism, Buddhist culture, naturopathy, untouchability, and other subjects almost daily during the next two weeks. Another expedition took us to the Pippala Cave, which was not a cave at all but a huge, fortress-like structure built entirely of enormous blocks of roughly-dressed stone. According to tradition it had been occupied by Mahakashyapa, whom the Buddha had declared to be the foremost of his disciples for ascetic practices, even as Shariputra was the foremost in wisdom and Maudgalyayana the foremost in psychic powers. On this expedition we were not alone. With us were Reverend Riri Nakayama, a dignitary of the Shin School of Japanese Buddhism who had come to India for a pacifist conference, and Venerable Amritananda, a rising young Newar monk who had received his training in Ceylon. On another occasion we were accompanied by a strange young American who had adopted the Vaishnava faith. Awkwardly clad in a white dhoti, and with the tiki or crown-lock of the orthodox Hindu, he was more than a little eccentric, and I could not help wondering whether, in the inscrutable ways of `Providence', this transatlantic travesty of the genuine Indian article was not meant as a warning to me. Every five or ten minutes he assured us, in broken Hindi, and at great length, that he was a strict vegetarian, and that his motto was `Only pure food, from a pure hand, in a pure house.' By `pure' he of course meant vegetarian. He also informed us that he would like to hold satsangh or spiritual communion with us, and that we were free to ask him any question. Whenever Kashyap-ji asked him anything, however (I declined to do so), he at once adopted an expression of intense self-satisfaction, cast up his eyes, and declared `That is a secret between me and my guru!' Less ecstatic than the American Vaishnava, but more open to discussion, was the priest in charge of the local Roman Catholic mission, with whom Kashyap-ji and I had a long `comparative' talk about mysticism, Christian and Buddhist. Since my teacher had never been inside a Christian place of worship, we spent a few minutes in the mission chapel. It was strange to see the red light that indicated the presence of the Blessed Sacrament burning in such a place. When we left, the priest handed me two books by Thomas Merton, an author whose name I had not heard before. The two books were Seven Storey Mountain and Seeds of Contemplation. Perhaps I could find time to read them, he said.
I certainly could. Devouring the books back at the Japanese temple I discovered that Thomas Merton was an Irish-American Catholic who, as a young man, had become a Trappist monk. Seven Storey Mountain, which was his autobiography, did not appeal to me very much. It was pervaded by an atmosphere I disliked - the stifling atmosphere of Roman Catholic domestic piety. Seeds of Contemplation, however, a collection of essays, appealed to me more strongly than might have been expected. Despite the author's predominantly theistic idiom, several of his insights appeared strikingly relevant to my own spiritual situation, even to my own spiritual needs. For some time past I had been greatly preoccupied with the question of the ego, not only with the theoretical question of what it was, or was not, but with the more practical one of how to get round it, or get rid of it, or get beyond it. Meditation did not seem enough. Something more drastic and more down-to-earth was needed, something that could be practised every hour of the day, something that would provide a constant check to the unruly motions of the egoistic will. In Seeds of Contemplation I found what I wanted, or at least a clear enough indication of it. The disciple should surrender his will absolutely to the will of his spiritual superior. In small matters as in great he should have no will of his own, not even any personal wishes or preferences. This was the secret. This was the way to subjugate the ego, if not to destroy it completely. Though the idea was certainly not unfamiliar to me, it had never struck me so forcibly before, and I resolved to apply it forthwith to my relations with Kashyap-ji. In future his wishes would be my law. I would have no wishes of my own. Whenever he asked me if I would like to do something, as in the goodness of his heart he often did, I would reply that I had no preference in the matter, and that we would do just as he wished. For the remainder of the time that we were together I faithfully adhered to this resolution. As a result, I had no troubles, and experienced great peace of mind. What the priest at the mission would have thought, had he known that Seeds of Contemplation had helped me in this way, I cannot imagine. Still less can I imagine what Father Merton would have thought. Perhaps he would not have been greatly surprised. In later years he became deeply interested in the spiritual teachings of the East, particularly in Taoism and Zen Buddhism, and in fact died in a Buddhist monastery in Bangkok - from an accident caused by a faulty electrical connection. I have sometimes wondered if there was a moral to be drawn from the bizarre and tragic manner of his end.
Our most important expedition - indeed, the climax of our travels in the Land of the Great Disciples - took us to a place that was not only farther away and higher up than either the Bamboo Grove or the Pippala Cave but of even greater spiritual significance. Taking advantage of a sudden change in the weather, which since our arrival in Rajgir had been cold, windy, and rainy, we set out one Sunday afternoon for the Gridhrakuta or Vulture Peak. Our way led through the hill-encircled valley where the old city of Rajagriha, capital of the kingdom of Magadha, had once stood. As we entered the opening known as the North Gate we at once became aware of the pin-drop silence of the place. The road, which must have existed in the time of the Buddha and King Bimbisara, ran southward through a dense jungle of huge white-flowered cactus trees that were branched like candelabra, ragged thorn bushes, and clumps of slim yellow bamboo. After walking for about half an hour in the hot sunshine we passed the ruins of the Manniyar Math, a Jain temple which had originally been a seat of snake-worship. Soon after this we came to the site of Bimbisara's Jail. Here it was that the aged king had been imprisoned by his son Ajatasatru. Only the foundations of the building remained. According to Buddhist tradition the unhappy monarch used to gaze from his cell window eastward towards the Vulture Peak where he could see the Buddha, conspicuous in his yellow robe, walking up and down. It was in these circumstances that the Buddha, appearing in a spiritual body to the devoted consort of the dethroned king, preached for her consolation the Mahayana sutra known as `The Meditation on the Buddha of Eternal Life'.
Shortly afterwards the road branched off towards the east and before long we were ascending the lower slopes of the Ratnagiri Range. As we climbed up we could not help admiring the almost cyclopean strength and skill of the ancient engineers who had paved the road with such huge flat stones and built up giant steps at regular intervals. Small brick structures, now in ruins, marked the points where King Bimbisara had descended from his chariot and where he had dismissed his retinue before making the final ascent. At both of these Kashyap-ji and I rested for a few minutes and enjoyed the cool breeze that came sweeping across the mountain-top. The Vulture Peak itself was an enormous mass of rock which some primeval convulsion of the earth's crust had flung up with such violence that, as the almost vertical lines of its strata plainly showed, it was now standing practically on end. At the foot of the rock the road narrowed to a path which, having spiralled round the peak from east to west past a succession of caves and grottoes, finally thrust upwards and emerged at a square platform whereon stood the ruins of a brick structure once occupied by the Buddha. From here one could see the whole valley at a single glance. To the west lay the Golden Range, Sonagiri, to the north-west the Brilliant Range, Vaibharagiri, to the south the Ample Range and the Jewel Range, Vaipulyagiri and Ratnagiri, and to the north the Uplifted Range, Udayagiri. Hither the Buddha had been accustomed to retire from the comparative noise and bustle of the Bamboo Grove. Here he had spent the pleasant spring days and starry summer nights plunged in profound meditation. From this dizzy eminence, he had gazed down on the many-storeyed mansions, the busy streets, the crowded markets, of the great and ancient city of Rajagriha. Most important of all, here on the wind-swept heights of the Vulture Peak - at the summit, as it were, of mundane existence - he had revealed to the most receptive of his disciples the transcendental splendours of the White Lotus Sutra, his ultimate teaching, the sutra in which is enacted the Drama of Cosmic Enlightenment, the great drama in which all the different `ways' of the Buddha's Teaching are shown to be comprised in the Great Way, the One Way, the Way of the Buddha, and in which the Buddha himself is revealed not only as a historical figure but as an eternally active spiritual principle - the principle of Enlightenment.
As we gazed, even as the Master must have gazed, first at the valley 1,000 feet below - once a populous city, now an impenetrable jungle - then at the blue encircling hills, and finally beyond the hills to the green and fertile fields, the mud-walled villages, the pleasant mango groves, of ancient Magadha, the modern Bihar, a prayer went forth from my heart. I prayed that not only in this land, the Land of the Great Disciples, but in every land, men might hearken to the Voice of the Buddha, as it sounded from the unseen heights of the spiritual Vulture Peak. I prayed that they might set their feet on the Path leading to their own and others' Enlightenment. Finally, I prayed that I too might one day be enabled to help in some way towards this end. Though I did not know it, the last part of my prayer was to be granted sooner than I expected.
Bodh Gaya! Bodh Gaya! How many people have come to you in the course of ages! How many pilgrim feet have trodden the dust of your groves, how many pairs of hands been joined in silent adoration beneath the wide-spreading boughs of the Tree of Enlightenment, how many heads touched in profound thanksgiving the edge of the Diamond Throne! Bodh Gaya! Bodh Gaya! How beautiful you are in the morning, with the sunlight streaming on the renovated facade of your great temple as it rises four-square against the cloudless blue sky! How beautiful in the evening, when in the shadowy depths of the deserted temple courtyard a thousand votive lamps glitter like reflections of the stars! Bodh Gaya, I shall always remember how beautiful you were the first time I saw you, when my heart was young, and you made me your own!
The shrines of Sarnath, Kusinara, and Lumbini had all been destroyed in the twelfth century, and both the Mulagandhakuti Vihara and the Temple of the Recumbent Buddha had been built in modern times. Since they had been built by Buddhists, their management was naturally in Buddhist hands. At Bodh Gaya the situation was different. The Maha Bodhi Temple, or Temple of the Great Enlightenment, restored by General Sir Alexander Cunningham in 1870, was substantially the one built in the second century on the remains of an earlier Ashokan structure. In the course of two millennia the level of the surrounding countryside had risen by twenty or thirty feet, with the result that the entire temple complex, including the Bodhi-tree and the Diamond Throne, now stood in an enormous rectangular well. Until earlier that year, management of the temple had been in the hands of the Hindu Mahant, or Abbot, of Bodh Gaya, then the second biggest landowner in the state of Bihar, one of whose predecessors had somehow gained possession of it in the sixteenth century. As an orthodox brahmin, the Mahant's main interest was in the offerings of the pilgrims, who in recent centuries had been making their way to Bodh Gaya in ever-increasing numbers. Under an Act of the State Government, however, management of the temple had now been transferred to a committee, but as the constitution of the committee had been so framed as to ensure a permanent Hindu majority things were not much better than they had been in the Mahant's time. Images of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were still being smeared with vermilion, and in a shed-like structure near the main entrance five of them were being palmed off on a gullible Hindu public as representations of the five Pandava brothers, legendary heroes whose exploits were described in the Mahabharata. To assist the deception, the images had been draped with pieces of dirty cloth, so that only their faces were visible. Venerable Sangharatana was furious. `Just like the bloody Hindus!' he exploded, tearing the cloths from the images and flinging them violently on the floor. `Always trying to assimilate Buddhism to their own dirty religion! Always trying to get a bit more money out of the stupid pilgrims! Pilgrims? Bah! Superstitious idiots! They deserve to be robbed!' Though rather taken aback by this un-monk-like outburst, I could not help sympathizing with Venerable Sangharatana's feelings. As I well knew, he was a personal disciple of Anagarika Dharmapala, and for more than thirty years Dharmapala had tried without success to gain for the Buddhists some say in the management of their own most sacred shrine.
In the holy of holies, a pleasingly simple chamber lit only from the door, it was even worse. A stone lingam, or phallic symbol of the god Shiva, had been let into the middle of the floor in front of the offering-table, just where one was likely to trip over it in the semi-darkness. Long-legged brahmins clambered like monkeys all over the altar, passing backwards and forwards in front of the great sedent image of the Buddha, and vociferously insisted on doing the pilgrim's worshipping for him - for a consideration. Nothing we were able to say could still their clamour or convince them that we did not require their services. We were Buddhist monks, we protested. We were quite capable of worshipping the Buddha ourselves. They took absolutely no notice. `We are brahmins,' they chorused, jumping down off the altar and grabbing us by the arm. `We are the priests here. We will make all the offerings. We will pray to God for you. How much will you pay us?' In circumstances like these it was not easy to concentrate on the great golden figure in the background, or to feel that I was in the place where the Buddha had gained Supreme Enlightenment. Had it not been for the Tibetan pilgrims, indeed, I might not have really felt it at all, and my most vivid memories of that first visit to Bodh Gaya would have been of evading the clutches of mercenary brahmin `priests' and consecrating boundary walls.
As it was, the Tibetans were my salvation. They were poor, they were ragged, they were dirty, and the other pilgrims looked down on them, but they had walked all the way from Tibet, some of them with babies on their backs, and now they came shuffling in through the gate with their prayer-wheels and rosaries in their hands and expressions of ecstasy on their upturned faces. For them history did not exist. They knew nothing about the Mahant, nothing about the management of the temple. They did not even see the brahmins. As they circumambulated the temple, as they prostrated themselves before the Diamond Throne, as they lit butter-lamps round the Bodhi-tree, they saw only the naked fact of the Buddha's Supreme Enlightenment, and through their eyes, even if not with my own, I could see it too.