Eyes downcast, not footloose, senses guarded, with protected mind, not oozing — not burning — with lust, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
Taking off the householder’s marks,(layman’s attire) like a coral tree that has shed its leaves, going forth in the ochre robe, 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 stanza relates to the mindfulness practice of a Buddhist. The standard that is being set here is the highest. Naturally, it is difficult to practice. To understand it, we must appreciate the Buddhist approach towards enlightenment.
While our senses help us gain assess to Buddhist knowledge, it also provides an avenue for our mind to be deluded. Therefore, a practitioner is careful to guard his mind from external influences.
Monks or nuns who venture out for alms are advised to guard their senses. They keep their eyes to the road and refrain from taking in the sights. If you visit S.E Asia where Theravada Buddhism is being practiced, you will still have a chance to witness this ancient practice that originated during the Buddha’s time.
Monks go out for alms (food) early in the morning and they walk in a single file. The leader of the group has the best mindfulness practice and is tasked with leading the way. The rest of the monks simply follow behind. They walked silently without talking and with their eyes downcast. Devotees who wished to offer alms, wait for them by the roadside. The scene is serene and solemn with no communication between the monks and the devotees.
When the devotee offers food, the monks will try to avoid looking at the woman folks too. They are goal-oriented and do not walk aimlessly for leisurely enjoyment. All these demonstrate the way of life towards a Buddhist goal of gaining enlightenment.
Naturally, lay people are not expected to walk in a single file with eyes downcast. Nonetheless, we can still scale down this practice and apply it to our daily life.
- We cannot be isolated and need to live in society for survival. Even the monks come out for alms. Therefore, we still need to work and socialize. That is our Buddhist approach to life.
- When we interact with society, we should continue to guard our senses so that we do not become emotionally troubled by what we see, hear or experience. In that way, we won’t bring “troubles” back to home. Our mind will not be troubled by our experience from outside of home, including our work place.
- To maintain that level of awareness and mindfulness, our mind should not be oozing. That refers to a state of laxness or lethargy in our mental energy. It should also not be raging with attachment and lust, chasing after external objects. Therefore, it is in the “middle”. To achieve that, we usually make use of meditative subject to guard our mind. Some people practice mental recitation of a mantra, some people keep mindfulness on their breathe. Others may keep a topic in mind, such as emptiness or impermanence.
Thus we live in society without suffering unnecessary turmoil in our mind. Liken to a lotus in a pond.
The next verse talks about clothing. For a practicing Buddhist, his clothing helps to uphold his modesty and protect him from the elements. Clothing is not meant to boost our ego or materialistic esteem.
During the Buddha’s time, monks and nuns scavenge for discarded cloths from rubbish heaps. They would even recycle white shroud used for wrapping a corpse. Unusable parts were trimmed and the soiled cloths were washed, dyed and sewn together to create a large piece of cloth that can be meaningfully used.
Esteemed monks, including Buddha would receive robe offerings of good fabric from wealthy people. These fine robes were purposely shredded into smaller pieces of cloth just like the funeral shrouds. They were then evenly distributed to the monastic community. In this manner, the robes of a Buddhist monk or nun would be a patchwork of fine and course fabric. This is no longer practiced. However, we should understand that Buddha intended his monks and nuns to live simply and equally, sharing their resources. There was no such thing as a rich monk and a poor monk because they renounce all material possession. If they have spare items, they are required to donate it to the community to help others.
When a layman visit a temple, he or she will dress down and appear modest without flaunting their wealth. Instead of appearing in your Sunday best to honor Buddha, one dress humbly to deflate one’s ego. In ancient time, people remove their jewelry and leave their expensive chariots a short distant from the monastery. That way, everyone appears humble and modest when walking towards the monastery and the monks would treat everybody equally, regardless of social status. We can try practicing that too. That means taking public transport or parking your limo away from the temple! But I guess modern people will not want to do that.
Hope this sharing, give you a glimpse of the Buddhist spirit. Many meaningful practices had been lost over time. I guess only Buddha would dare to shred the robes offered by Kings and re-distribute it among the monastic community. Ha ha ha.
May all be well and happy.