Let Me Sin Then!
By Dibyajyoti Sarma
One day I became a bhikshu. I shaved my long tresses, discarded the gold that my father had especially purchased for me, and wearing only a piece of saffron, I left home following the path of Tathagata. I decided to stride that thorny route. The road to salvation! Moksha! I joined the sangha. They gave me the sermon and a begging bowl. I was ready for my nirvana.
I knew about sangha as much as Sankhaneel would tell me, while in Nalanda. We studied together. I was always curious, always confused with his ways of life. He was a Buddhist monk; of the same age as I but more mature. He was under the care of a monastery where his parents had donated him when he was only six years old.
“How could your parents do that,” I asked him once, “to send their first born to become a monk?”
“I don’t know,” said he, “but I am glad that they did. I can’t imagine my life otherwise. My life is dedicated to the world, and I hope with Tathagata’s blessing, I will earn my salvation.”
Sankhaneel was our friend, but his life was different from ours. There were many like him in Nalanda, monks with saffron clothes and shaved heads, as if they belonged to a different world. We also wore saffron dhotis. The silk, which I used to wear at home, was not allowed here. No ornaments, no hairdressing, even no hair, no delicacy in food, no entertainment, this was the life in Nalanda. We were all same here, all aspirants of higher learning. Within that sameness, however, Sankhaneel and his lot were different, those monks who had vowed against the world and everything that dwelt there.
In Nalanda I was a timid lad, naïve and full of curiosity. Sometimes, I blamed my father for that, for not allowing me to experience the world. But life of a wealthy merchant’s son in Pataliputra was like that, a life of luxury and incredulity. I had very few friends in Nalanda; Sankhaneel was one of them. I was drawn to his placid face, his unassuming voice. I knew him closely, but with much disagreement. At best I was in awe of him and at worse, confused. He lived in his own world; the world of existence was not for him. For me the world was where I lived, the world of taste and sight, touch and smell.
I remember that bright autumn evening when the hibiscus grove near the main prayer hall was in full bloom with their blood-red freshness. I was walking along with Sankhaneel. As I plucked one flower, he looked at me with scorn in his eyes and told me that I should not have done that. I asked, why. He told me, “It hurts the tree.”
“But it is so beautiful,” I protested.
“Yes, it is. But it would have looked more beautiful if it were on the tree.”
“But then”, I persisted, “it would not have been mine. Tell me Sankhaneel, you never desire anything.”
“Yes, I did. I do”. He said. “I wish if I were born some years before. Then I could have seen the face of Tathagata.”
“Except that?” I asked again.
He gave me a long smiling gaze.
“You should better ask the Aacharya Mahodaya, Mitrabasu.” He was still smiling. “What do you think he would say, Mitra?”
“Oh yes, I know. He would say that the world is maya, an illusion. We must try to escape from it. We must try to escape the clutches of kama, krodha, lobha, moha…”
“And this hibiscus flower is moha, won’t you agree with me, Mitra?
“But Sankhaneel, this world is real. This flower is real.”
“This is the illusion of the reality. You are so engrossed with the illusion that you cannot perceive reality.”
“But? …BUT won’t you help me getting myself some dry log, so that we can cook something to eat.”
Now, I realise Sankhaneel was aware of my ignorance. But he did not want to muddle into that. He never tried to impose his views on me, and his views were always solid. Those days, I did not believe him. I did not believe in his obstinacy to abstain from meat, while we friends would run to the forest nearby on occasions, hunt a rabbit or a bird, and relish the meat. Sankhaneel would display a sense of detachment, which was beyond my powers. His rules were not for me. If the world was an illusion, I liked that illusion. I did not want to wake up to reality, which I was sure would be dull.
In short, I never anticipated a life of bhikshu for me when I returned from Nalanda. I was full of promise for life, a promise for a dazzling future, wealth and luxury, and the status of nagarika in the city. Father expected me to return home soon. The house was empty without me, he would say. I was his only son, the sole heir to his considerable wealth. He wanted to increase it with my help. He expected me to take charge of his trade. He was the wealthiest shresthi in Pataliputra. I was destined to follow his footsteps, to export silk garments to the West. I was no Brahmin. Higher studies were no good to me. I was literate enough to look after the commerce. It was enough for me to be able to count the numbers and able to read the business treaties. My father had scribes to write for him. I would also have one, no doubt. I had everything that a city-bred vaishya could possibly ask for. After Nalanda, I was to get married; my bride would surely be beautiful and wealthy, and I’d lead a happy grihastha life. My house was big enough to fulfill every desire of mine. I did not need to go around the world in want of something else.
That’s where I made the mistake. I wanted this something else, this unknown that money can’t buy. I wanted to drink from the sea of knowledge, never realising that the taste would be salty, beyond my powers of endurance. When I realized, it was too late. By then I was addicted to that salty taste. I was used to the arid ambience of Nalanda, its stone cabins, its monks with yellow linen, and to the spirit of Buddha that pervaded it.
Nalanda offered me a new life, a life that all the wealth of my father could not. I was reborn in Nalanda. I found myself in Nalanda. I was addicted to Nalanda. It was an addiction from which I did not want to be cured. I was in love with Nalanda.
Nalanda held me back. It was impossible for me to leave Nalanda without completing the last degree. Sankhaneel would say, verily, I did not learn anything in Nalanda. The five long years of my study in Nalanda were a waste. I must agree with him. He is my guru. But I know I learned everything in Nalanda. It gave me a new life, a new breath to my body.
But, was it Nalanda alone? Verily, no, Sankhaneel would say. It was something else, someone, for whom I stayed back in Nalanda, not for my studies. It was my moha, my love. It was Varunmohan. It was for him I couldn’t leave Nalanda. I agree with you, Sankhaneel.
I see Varunmohan sitting there under the rock waiting for me. I see his thin mouth like an unripe plum, crimson black. I see myself hugging him. I see him interlocking his fingers with mine. I see him drawing me close to his body. I see both of us running towards the hill, to that ruined Shiva temple so that we can be alone. I see him lying on my lap on the cracked floor of the ruined house and humming some sloka. Oh, Varunmohan!
One day it was all over. I was awarded the highest degree. I returned home, a winner. My father was a happy man. He would show every visitor to the household, the sanchi scroll that I received as a token of my achievement. I was the first in my clan to achieve such height of scholarship. I was the icon of pride in the household, a preciously cut and polished diamond.
Once again, I began to grow hair. Once again I started to wear silk, gold ornaments with sparkling jewels wrought in it, sandal paste on my forehead, and flowers around my neck, such as a nagarika in Pataliputra dressed. I began to drink madira. I even visited courtesan Madanamanjari’s palace on several occasions, hoping to get some solace. But her sad songs played on a harp made me more desperate.
I would run through the empty streets at night looking for Varunmohan. I was not happy, not a bit. There was something missing beyond my stupendous luxuries. Sleeping on the plush couch in my father’s oppulent house, I longed for the rocky bed of my Nalanda room. I longed for those days in Nalanda in desperation.
And today, sleeping on a bed like those of Nalanda, I am not happy either. Sankhaneel tells me, happiness is a state of mind. I understand. But my mind is no longer there with me. My mind roves around in Nalanda. It searches for him everywhere, Varunmohan. But he can’t be found. He is no longer there in Nalanda. He is no longer the same Varunmohan I knew in Nalanda.
This place where I live now is a warm country. After leaving home on that fateful night, I walked for three months with Sankhaneel to reach this place, to a Buddhist monastery among arid mountains. They call the place Amravati. But I can see no sign of Lord Indra’s heavenly kingdom here. The place is inhumanly solitary. The nearest village is half a day’s journey. Except for chanting of my fellow brothers, I can hear nothing. Even no birds come here for food. I cannot have my peace of mind. I remain restless. I cannot sleep, or chant mantra, or read, or do dhyana. I walk alone among the gray mountains searching for him who cannot be found. My feet bleed, tears flow from my eyes. But I cannot rest. I cannot forget him. I cannot have my peace of mind.
I visit Sankhaneel everyday seeking advice, as I did on that fateful night. That night, when the door to the world was closed before me and I had no other doors to turn to, I knocked on Sankhaneel’s door wearing only a piece of torn yellow linen.
Sankhaneel was not surprised; he never was at any of my histrionics. He calmly invited me to step in, asked me to take a seat on the reed mat, and said, “Tell me, Mitra.”
“I want to join your sangha, Sankhaneel. I want you to be my guru.”
“I did not know you were that desperate, Mitra.” He said. “How is Varunmohan?” I did not answer. It was much later that I told him about what happened. He held my hands in his. It was a soft, warm touch. “Are you sure you have renounced all your worldly desires?” I stared at him. He could read my mind. “Are you sure you would be able to forget Varunmohan?” I had no answers. “You have to control your emotions, Mitra.” He was smiling in a calm, cool and benevolent way.
This is what he always says. “Try to control your emotions. Your desires are meaningless, Mitra. You know this. Why are you causing your soul to suffer?” But how to restrain myself? I always ask him. The same thing that I once asked Varunmohan!
I sleep nude in my cave. In my dream, I expect that freezing touch once again on my bare body. In my dream, I want Varunmohan to sleep next to me. I feel his hands all over me, scent of his perspiration in my nostrils, his heavy breathing in my ears. As those days in Nalanda! This is sin, I know…
This passion, this moha! I vowed against it the day I became a monk. It was a conscious decision. I had left the world and, Varunmohan.
But…after prayers when I bow to Tathagata’s statue, I see Varunmohan’s beamish face plastered upon Buddha’s heavenly smile. I don’t know what to do. I can’t ask anyone. I can’t tell anyone. I still love Varunmohan.
I try every possible means to forget him. I fast for weeks. Sitting under the peepal tree I meditate. Then Varunmohan comes and tickles my earlobes, and my dhyana is shattered. Suddenly, he whispers onto my ears: “Get married, Mitrabasu. Get married and have children. This is what you are expected to do. You are a learned scholar. Don’t behave like a fool.”
I am a scholar from Nalanda. I have learnt everything, Astrology, Grammar, Medicine, Scriptures, Vedas, and Puranas. My brothers at the monastery attend to me in awe. I can chant the whole Tripitak without looking into it. Even Sankhaneel at times asks for my opinion. But nothing helps me wipe his memory away from my mind.
I asked Varunmohan. I asked him on that fateful evening to teach me to forget him. He could only offer me a stupid smile. He, Varunmohan, who taught me everything when I was in Nalanda!!
Of home, I remember very little. At eleven, I had my upanayan. My father invited the entire city for the feast. My head was shaved. I wore a white cotton dhoti. Holding the staff of the trunk of an Arjun tree, it was the happiest day of my life. I was the center of everyone’s attention. Women sang ceremonial songs in the backyard. The whole house was decorated with flowers and mango leaves. The Brahmins chanted mantras pouring ghee over the sacred fire. They put the sacred thread over my right shoulder and under my left arm. I was taught the Gayatri mantra: “Let us think of the lovely splendour of the God Savitri that he may improve our minds.”
As the Brahmins asked me to do, I was ready to leave home to lead an ascetic’s life when my mother implored me to return back with the promise that she will arrange my marriage with a beautiful girl.
Marriage. I did not have any idea what marriage was. It was Varunmohan who taught me the secrets of marriage, the sacred duties of a wife, the bliss of union. I experienced marriage with him, when I was in Nalanda.
Nalanda: After my upanayan, I crossed the threshold into the brahmacharya. Time to go to a Guru. My father was a rich man, so I could easily join Nalanda. I left home for Nalanda, and my life changed.
It was a disciplined life, rigorously frugal. At the beginning I had difficulties coping with the rigid timetable. We had to wake up at dawn, finish our morning duties, have bath and at sunrise we all had to assemble in front of the prayer hall for morning prayers. Then there were lessons of Sanskrit, Arithmetic, Logic, and Medicine. At dusk, my task was to carry water for the community kitchen. After these restless activities, when I got time to return to my room, I would be exhausted. My dwelling place was a small cabin, a small cave in the rock with a doorway and a small window. A small clay lamp with mustard oil would light the place. I would rest for some time and practice the day’s lessons. I had to work hard. I knew I was a dull student.
After some days Varunmohan moved into my dwelling. He was suffering from some ailment and was in need of a warmer place. The Aacharya Mahodaya asked if I could accommodate him with me. I did not have any problem. I told him, as long as he pleased. He was a Brahmin lad—tall, pale, and emaciated with a pair of twinkling bright eyes. We exchanged our names and within a few moments I was sure that he had the potential to win any oratory competition. Very soon we were best friends. We would go together for our lessons, and return back. At dusk, he would help me carrying water to kitchen. At night, he would sleep early, while I studied.
Then one night, that night, I will remember that night till the last breath of my life—it was the night of my life. That night my life changed. Varunmohan was sleeping. I was reading the Bhagvata Gita. Suddenly, he woke up and blew the lamp off. I asked him why. “You are chanting Gita. Why do you need that cursed light,” he told me, “now listen…” He held my hands and began to recite:
“Dharmakhetre kurukhetre samaveta yuyutsavah-
Mamakaha Paandhashaiva kimakurvata Sanjaya”
As he was chanting the slokas in high-pitch intonation, his hand was moving uneasily over my bare body. It crossed my armpits, my neck, my bosom, my stomach, and my omphalus and with its uneasy fingers it was trying to untie the knot of my dhoti. I was sitting still, cross-legged, listening to his voice without comprehending what was happening. As soon as the knot was open, his chanting stopped. In the pitch dark of the cabin, he took my face in his hands and kissed me…
He tickles my earlobes and my dhyana is wasted. I open my eyelids and find myself under the Peepul tree. Nobody is here. Varunmohan is far away. I left him in Pataliputra. Oh! Varunmohan. This is sin. Oh, Tathagata. Help me my salvation. Save me from this sin.
Finally, one day everything was over. It was time for me to leave Nalanda. Our studies were complete. We got our degrees. It happened so quickly, before I could savour my life in Nalanda. The Aacharya Mahodaya wished every one of us a successful life. I asked Sankhaneel what was his plan. He told me that he would return back to his monastery in Pataliputra, and then follow his master’s advice. I asked Varunmohan if he was happy to leave Nalanda. He said that he was, and the news broke my heart. I was not happy. That night sleeping next to Varunmohan, I cried. I did not want to leave him.
“I love you,” I told him.
He consoled me. “You have your duties to perform, Mitrabasu. Be brave. Go home and serve your parents; get married.”
“Marriage?” I cried. “Am I not married to you, Varunmohan? I’m your wife. Take me away with you.”
“Where?” Varunmohan laughed in the darkness of the room where we were lying together. “Now you are a scholar, Mitrabasu. Don’t behave like a fool. You must go home.”
I returned home, but after extracting a promise from Varunmohan that he will visit me on the night of every full moon. His house was just one day’s journey from my place.
I entered into the life of a Nagarika. Father was happy; I was not. Every minute of my days, I missed him. At the dancing halls, in the gardens, on the bustling city roads, everywhere, I searched for him, his shaved head, his bright twinkling eyes… I looked for that thin, lithe figure, his honey-coloured nipples, his deep navel, the tight knot of his dhoti, and that presence where I experienced paradise.
One full moon passed, then the next. The rain came and left me cold and insatiate. But Varunmohan did not come to visit me. Father wanted me to learn his trade. I told him that I needed some time. I was morose. The morning would find me in bed wide-awake, and at dusk, I would be brooding under the shadows of mango trees in the orchard.
Mother was worried. She asked me, if I had some ailment, if she should call a vaidya. I said no. After a few days, my personal dasa Biku told me that father wanted to see me.
At the afternoon, when he had finished his bhojan, I visited him in the verandah behind the house. He made me sit near him on the reed mat, and spoke to me in a very mellow voice: “Son, you have made our clan proud by attaining the last degree of Nalanda. Now, this is time that you should get married. There were proposals for your marriage even when you were in Nalanda. There were some really good proposals, and among them your mother and I have chosen this girl…” he adjusted his headdress where little pearls sparkled, “…her name is Radhika, the only daughter of a wealthy shresthi in Kanshi. So there is a prospect of handsome dowry.” He nodded flashing his heavy earrings. “We have fixed the next poornima for your marriage, as jyotishi said, it is an auspicious day. Now you must not remain gloomy and prepare for your marriage.” He waved his hand as he finished. I could not utter a single word. There was nothing for me to say.
I was in a hopeless situation. I could not go against my father’s wish. But thinking of marriage was anathema to my mind. In my heart and soul I was Varunmohan’s wife. There were no other realities for me. I could never imagine myself circling the fire with a woman. Varunmohan was not there to offer me help, to suggest what I could do. I did what I thought was the best solution.
Next morning, I undertook a journey to Varunmohan’s house. On horseback, I passed the countryside at a galloping speed. My mind was troubled. I was thinking if everything was all right with Varunmohan. He was my only hope now. I was hoping he would take me somewhere where my father would not be able to find me.
As I entered the courtyard of his house, Varunmohan hurriedly reached me. In the light of the afternoon sun, his bare body glowed like gold. I wished I could embrace him.
“What’s the matter, Mitrabasu?” he asked me impatiently. I was expecting to see a face of happy amazement. But his face was writ with impatient irritation. He was clearly not happy to see me.
“Nothing. I just came to remind you that you promised to visit me every full moon.”
He did not answer. He led the horse to the stable, gave me a mat to sit, offered a pot full of water and then spoke softly: “It’s good that you arrived today. You must stay here for next two days. On Chaturthi I am getting married.” Married. He uttered the word softly and with conviction. The clay pot fell down from my hand and broke.
“How can you do this, Varunmohan? Are you not married to me? Am I not your patni?” Varunmohan closed my mouth with his palms.
“Mitrabasu, you are a scholar now. Don’t behave like a fool, and you must not cry. You are my guest.”
It was all over. The bridegroom was very busy. He had hardly any time to talk to me. I was a special guest. There were people around to take care of me. But Varunmohan was nowhere to be seen.
As a guest I attended my lover’s wedding. The pundit recited mantras from the Veda describing the duties of a husband to his wife, and that of a wife to her husband. I, along with others, showered rice on the blessed couple.
My eyes turned moist and my mind went back to that lonely evening, when Varunmohan took me to the Shiva temple on the top of the hill. He also carried some red gulal with him. Inside the temple, he smeared the red on my forehead, tied his sacred thread with mine, took my hand into his and recited that sloka which meant, ‘today on, I accept you as my wife’. Then he recited all those Vedic slokas that the purohit was now reciting. In front of that lonely God, I became his wife, and he my husband…
The villagers were teasing that as a rich friend of the bridegroom, I must offer a handsome gift. I resolved, I would. I took off all my ornaments, my headdress, and collected them in my angocha and offered all to the bridegroom, my husband, my lover. Varunmohan was perplexed. His thin face looked like a dry leaf. I was ready to leave.
Bending down, I touched his feet, such as a devoted wife did. He took my hands in his and said, “Try to forget Nalanda.” Finally he said something to me. “How?” I asked. And he offered me a stupid smile.
I rode the horse the entire night. At dawn, I reached home. Except some dasas everybody was asleep. I went to my dwelling, asked a dasa to bring me a piece of saffron and asked him to help shaving my head. I took bath, wore the cloth around my waist, and went to my father’s room. He was sleeping peacefully. I touched his feet asking forgiveness in silence. At daybreak, I left home.
I became a bhikshu. I joined the Sangha, still carrying the memories of Varunmohan within me. This is sin. I know. I will never attain Nirvana. I know. If only somebody could tell me, how to forget him. Oh! Tathagata. Only if he could save me!