In both the spirit and the letter of my Rule, I live as a beggar, completely dependent on the generosity of my supporters. I may not ask for anything to eat or drink other than water, unless a devotee makes a specific invitation on the day.
Likewise, I may not ask for things that I need except when invited. And when an offering is made, I must be mindful of what those who offer are able to provide, and carefully gauge what is appropriate for me to ask.
My Rule prescribes the correct ways for me to conduct myself both in private and public – from the care of my robes and bowl to the manner of begging for alms and how I relate to lay people. So I live simply, fostering contentment with the requisites I receive, particularly with regards to food.
The true basis of this mendicancy is the fact that even when I am hungry or in need, I can neither accept nor handle money in any form. This practice – letting go control over even the most basic resources for my survival – demands a choicelessness that violates the primordial human impulse for self-preservation.
Such powerlessness is greater than the sum total of every other monastic relinquishment. In the face of it, giving up sensory pleasure and material comfort pales because it calls me to live by an exalted faith – to trust that I will be looked after, that the folk around me will not only recognize what I need but also come forward to support me in the ancient way.
I watch the whirlwind in people’s lives, and the burden of stress with which they come through my door; wishing to give but being unable, or being able but not knowing how. I see all the degrees of generosity that the Buddha taught, from princely to pretence, from those fulfilled by the sheer joy of offering to those hoping their good deeds will bring reward or consolation.
In times of plenty, the joy of our reciprocity is sweet. But in the days of lack, of doing without, of enduring neglect, I am left to witness the flights of the mind into expectation, worry, disappointment, and fear. I struggle to accept whatever is given; not to pick or choose, comment or bargain, evaluate or reject; to let go again and again, and to return to that sweetness with gratitude – even while the inner dragons scream in protest.
And yet I have lived in blessing for, in the end, my strength seems to come from a new quarter that is not dependent on my needs being fulfilled but on the quality and measure of my faith.
© Ayyā Medhānandī
This a post from Ayyā Medhānandī’s blog written while based in Penang. She draws on her experiences in a monastic community in England as a solitary nun in a coastal hamlet of New Zealand and as an urban nun perched in a ‘sky temple’ overlooking the Malacca Straits. Other posts from this blog can be found under “Penang’s Blog” topic category.