Gratitude – by Ven. Ñanavira

Island Hermitage, Dodandowa, 12.3.1965

Dear Mr Brady,

I find it, you know, extraordinarily difficult to write you a bread-and-butter letter. It is not merely that, whatever other hospitality I may have enjoyed at your hands, you did not oblige me to either bread or butter (both of which wildly disagree with me); nor is it that it seems ridiculous to write and tell you what a pleasant time I had (Of course I hugely enjoyed myself: of course it was a delightful chance from the austerities of Bundala; of course it was fun letting down my hair—what an apt expression, don’t you think?—over the coffee-cups. All this you know already, so why should I labour the point?). No—the difficulty is simply that I am no longer altogether an Englishman (or even a European); it will not do to describe myself merely as a Westerner disguised (for purposes of argument, no doubt) as a Buddhist monk—things have already gone too far for that (a return to trousers would not restore my status quo ante)—; and yet I am not yet altogether not an Englishman. And whereas Englishmen do write bread-and-butter letters, Buddhist monks do not (not even rice-and-curry letters). It is not a matter of ingratitude, far from it, but rather an understanding that an expression of gratitude by a beneficiary does not add anything to the merit gained by his benefactor in the act of beneficence. (It is related that once, somewhere in Ceylon, a bhikkhu was crossing a flooded paddy-field by one of the narrow dikes that separate one level from another. A churl, coming in the opposite direction, elbowed the bhikkhu roughly into the flooded area where he fell into the mud. A cultivator, living close by, had seen what had taken place and came up and rescued the bhikkhu, helping him out of the mud and taking him to his house. He washed the bhikkhu’s robe and gave him some refreshment while it was drying. When the robe was dry the bhikkhu got up, put it on, and, without a word, started off on his way. ‘How is this, Venerable Sir,’ exclaimed the cultivator in indignation ‘when I saw that man push you into the mud I came and pulled you out, brought you to my house, washed your robe, gave you refreshment, and altogether set you to rights again; and yet here you are going on your way without even thanking me for my trouble?’ ‘That man who pushed me into the mud’ replied the bhikkhu ‘will reap the fruit of his action; you who pulled me out will reap the fruit of yours. What have I to do with either of you?’. A heartless story, is it not? The Venerable Ñanamoli sent it to England, where it neatly divided a house-party.)

So, then, am I to thank you à l’anglaise for a delightful three weeks? or be silent à la bouddhique in the understanding that you have been sowing a crop of mérite (masc.) that, sooner or later, you will be bound to harvest? Why not both? And let me add that I hope the harvest, when it comes, will be an abundant one.

With best wishes,


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