Free from longing, finding no pleasure in the world’s sport, love, or sensual bliss, abstaining from adornment, speaking the truth, wander alone like a rhinoceros.“KHAGGAVISANA SUTTA: A RHINOCEROS” (SN 1.3), TRANSLATED FROM THE PALI BY THANISSARO BHIKKHU. ACCESS TO INSIGHT (BCBS EDITION), 30 NOVEMBER 2013, HTTP://WWW.ACCESSTOINSIGHT.ORG/TIPITAKA/KN/SNP/SNP.1.03.THAN.HTML .
This verse says it all about renunciation. If we live by what is being taught, then we would be living the life of a renunciant Buddhist monk. It is a life that avoids entertainment and indulgence of our senses, be it smell, taste, sight, touch, or sound. One lives a life that is limited to basic sustenance. Every second in life is devoted to attaining enlightenment.
So how is this verse relevant to a Buddhist laity?
Foremost, we have to understand the importance of renunciation. The letting go of craving for sensual indulgence is meant to prevent us from being deluded by our senses. Most of the lay people find this hard to achieve and we prefer to observe holy days instead. We observe the eight precepts and live a religious life for one day or three days. A short period of time for us to tune in to our inner self and not be distracted by our senses.
Another important lesson from this verse is to understand the life and goals of monks and nuns. When we associate with them, we mustn’t contribute obstacles to their spiritual goals out of our ignorance.
They have to abstain from sports and entertainment. Therefore, it is inappropriate for us to invite monks or nuns to a movie or a concert. When we invite them home for food offerings, we shouldn’t play music or movie to entertain them. For Theravadian monks, they abstain from food after 12 p.m. It is equally inappropriate to offer chocolate and cakes for tea time. For some of us, this may seem inappropriate. We like to entertain our guests and make them happy. Therefore, we ignorantly believe that we should entertain monks and nuns like how we do so with our laity friends. We are actually throwing obstacles in their spiritual path if we do so.
Then we also like to offer gifts. Expensive and exquisite mala (Buddhist rosary) or perfume or brocade of silk or monastic robes with exquisite embroidery or expensive watch or expensive bags or expensive pen etc. The monastic community is supposed to abstain from adornments. Even a garland of flowers becomes inappropriate.
For the unknowing newbies to Buddhism, if you offer something expensive to a monk or nun, they have to reject it. Should they accept it because they wish to let you fulfill your merit of making an offering, they have to give it away immediately. When that happened, do not be offended. They are not snubbing your expensive offerings. That is their precepts. Instead, be joyous that you get to know such a wonderful practitioner. I had witnessed such an incident personally and the person making the offering was left dumbfounded. What is the morale of this story? Spent money wisely. Instead of buying a pen or a bag that cost a thousand dollars, buy an ordinary pen and offer with a pure mind. The rest of the money can be donated to the charity in the name of the monk. I think that will be more beneficial.
When associating with monks or nuns, we limit our conversation to Dharma topic and abstain from chit-chatting and gossiping. If they remain silent and do not respond to what you are saying, they are not being rude. It is their precept to abstain from idle speech. In the olden days, we can be sitting with a monk for an entire afternoon without saying anything. Not because we are not welcomed but simply because we have nothing better to say. So we just practice mindfulness.
Some people think that this is being harsh and stingy but is reality we are being respectful. We respect their vocation and we respect what the Buddha had advised them. From this verse we should rightfully gain wisdom on how to associate with monks and nuns. And if you have monks or nuns asking for expensive jewelries or watches, then you might want to seriously re-access their worthiness of your respect.
May all be well and happy.