Living Among Fellow Creatures

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Living in tents or cottages large and small in conditions wet or dry, hot or cold, whether in the jungles of Halkhoria, the flat friendly plains of Patharkot or the cool mountain slopes of Todhkebari in Sindupalchowk, has been a feast of celebration where the body rejoices in the fresh air, the soothing breeze, the refreshing rain, awakening thunderous downpours, or simple occasional breathless quiet when it feels as if every ear in the place is spreading open just to hear more.

We feel honoured by the tolerant presence of the myriad creatures that had originally inhabited the place without humans. The flora and fauna behave differently here in Guru’s Realm. Even traditional antagonists like dogs and cats here play in simple joy, sharing fun.

butterflyIt is not only the butterflies that like to settle on our arms or thighs when we pray or meditate, many dogs too would come round and curl up along side us as if it felt more comfortable for them to be there during our spiritual absorption. We find ourselves surprised, delighted, honoured and grateful in turn as we become aware of the gentle prevailing Maitribhavana that affects each plant and each living being large or small.

In 2012, during my first visit to Nepal for the Maha Maitri Puja for World Peace in Halkhoria, sangha members had set up a shower-tent next to the huge water tank imported especially for the purpose. The first time I entered the tent with my bucket of water, I walked right into a cloud of mosquitoes who seemed to be holding some sunset convocation. I apologised and said to them in my heart, “Forgive me, but may I take a shower in this space as well?” and proceeded to undress and bathe right there in their midst. To my surprise no one stung my flesh. Instead, they all left the tent.

The next time I thought better to go earlier, before sunset conventions, and went in mid-afternoon, only to find a swarm of hornets nosily aloft, also grouped as if in discourse, and I silently asked their permission to use the space and lo! they too, quietly left the bather alone. The tremendous tolerance and kindness on the part of insects was remarkable. In my Taiwan home even when working under a mosquito net outside, mosquitoes will find a way to get in through some slit here or there. But in Guru’s sphere it seems that a basic overall harmony reigns so that each creature, each living thing enjoys full and equal dignity, and cohabitation becomes spontaneous and natural to all. Ants will come into the cottage here in Todhkebari in an orderly fashion, go about their inspection, table- or ground-cleaning, and leave without a trace.

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The other day the beautiful large striped sarpa (snake) living close to the Nepali teacher uphill paid a visit when the teacher first came to the cottage, as if following its friend and neighbour. It slithered down from the open slits in the roof and inspected the top level of the sturdy room-divider shelf built by world Sangha members Gerry and Marty.

“It is looking for food, in all this rain. He stays in his hole for four or five or more days at a time, only sticking its head out to look at the world. He does not mind us passing by his hole, those of us who live nearby that he knows. But every now and then he would leave his hole and go searching for food. Food that will keep him for several days.” Teacher explained, but shook his head at the bits of cookies in the room and indeed, after investigating the medicinal odds and ends stored in various hampers on that higher shelf, the sarpa slithered back up, moving majestically alongside the top of the plywood wall toward the front of the house. We all went outside to try to get another glimpse of its beautiful green yellow and black stripes, but the sarpa was moving inside the roof among suitcases and stored sundries, invisible to us.

Just then a short greyish black mouse scurried along the beam, heading toward the opening to the roof storage space where the snake had gone. It looked down at me with huge round eyes, resembling a hamster more than a mouse, I said to it in my heart, “A large Sarpa is right now in there that you may not wish to meet…” But, taking another look ahead, the adorable mouse looked back at me once more and scurried on in full confidence, disappearing into the roof. Silence. Peace.

Then the resident cat came from below and, leaping up onto the kitchen workbench, she jumped up aiming straight for the opening to the roof where she too, joined the gathering. Silence. Peace.

Then there was the sound of a brief, weighted movement, followed by Silence. Peace. Could it be that the little large-eyed mouse had gone up to offer itself to the Sarpa as food? I cannot tell for sure. But there was no cry of protest, no sound of struggle. Just Silence, and Peace.

Here all creatures large and small seem to follow the Dharma from within each individual heart, in conformity with some overall Maitribhav that affects all living beings equally with the same overflowing love and compassion. Here then, the giving of oneself for another may be a natural part of the larger tapestry of our interwoven lives in this Primordial Oneness.

Joan Stanley-Baker (Gyemyinde)