Meditating in the Forest (Part 2 of 6)

After my accidental encounter with the young, good-looking Thai woman, I was washing my bowl in the stream alongside a Thai novice monk who had seen the entire episode. He smiled at me and said, "No problem, just ask her to shit in a plastic bag, then keep it in your kuti and open it whenever you think of her, and take a good wiff." Then he laughed and laughed. These Thais were tough little guys.

Many minor rules had to be followed, such as not standing when urinating, not picking flowers, picking fruit or killing plants in any way, even breaking live twigs. No digging in the ground, touching money, alcohol, etc. I could only eat what was offered, and only once a day before noon. And I could only eat food that I was offered that morning - I wasn't allowed to save or store food, and when I did eat, I had to eat quickly, not leisurely. This was definitely a life of dependency and discipline, and it had more of an effect on me than I imagined it would. It really calmed down the urges that had blinded me in the past and kept more subtle things at arm's length.

Some monks lived in the forest quite comfortably without irritation, not desiring the touch of a woman or the taste of exquisite foods, or for that matter the security of a home or the comfort of a bed. They were fortunate; for their interests in these things fell away naturally due to the simple practice of meditation, and they were not obliged to give these things up painfully. This disinterest in worldly enticements seemed to be a measure of progress in their quest for truth and their ever-closer approach to Reality.

Other monks, unfortunately, had difficulties. They continued to desire things of the world, and only abstained from them as a discipline or austerity for the sake of their practice. For those with these lingering worldly desires, the measure of their progress, or lack thereof, was the obstinate strength of these desires and the resulting discomfort that resulted. I had to remind myself constantly that suffering and dissatisfaction are the real precursors to greatness, while luxury and security is always the road to the mediocrity of temporary wealth and power. Wasn't it more of a dissolution than a construction, this spiritual enlightenment? Everything I gathered to myself was subject to loss, so the answer could only be in non-accumulation. Was this the secret of meditation . . . nothing gained? But how could I ever get anywhere if I didn't gain something?

My life in the States was admittedly decadent, 180 degrees from my experience at Shasta and in this forest where hardship and constant danger cut through all the crap and made life real. I found, however, as my quest continued over the years, that outward, obvious austerities never determine the spiritual depth of seekers; inner peace was the key, regardless of the seeker's position in life. And I could already see that the innate tendencies of true seekers were always inclined toward a life of simple means, a life with no extreme aversion or attachment to anybody or anything, and a life reflecting humility, kindness, and love.

What was it that was keeping me from freedom? Not conventional freedom - traveling the world, or doing whatever I pleased -but freedom from myself? My bondage was unquestionably related to some strange, heavy responsibilities. Wouldn't having nothing left to lose be truly liberating? What exactly was I terrified of losing? If only I could mystically exchange my feelings of attachment and clutching for feelings of compassionate indifference. What would happen then?

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