“Even before I arrived in Massachusetts, fragments of my previous time of wandering were starting to come back: Dhammapada verses I use to study at first light, tips and tricks with my gear, maxims of walking and interacting with people. It was the feeling of coming home … not to a place, but to a way of life. The goal of returning this time is not just to wander like I did before. Nevertheless, it is always an option for a forest monk – and a wonderful way to awaken energy and share the dhamma.
A few days ago I set off walking through the countryside again, and it wasn’t long before the experience started touching on some deep memories. I’ve traveled these ways before, and I had the feeling I knew a story for each house along the way. Less than an hour of walking and a couple drove up who had been to Upavana’s online Uposatha a few weeks back – when I was still in New York city. Such impossible coincidences are commonplace when one trusts their intuition. No matter what happens, be it fortunate or challenging, if one has the right frame of mind it is exactly what they or someone else needed at that moment.
On Saturday I met a young man who offered to show me a small cabin he was building in the woods – always an interesting prospect to a forest monk – explaining that it was on the other side of a rushing mountain-fed stream. Looking at the frigid water he was wading into, I needed to take a long moment to build up my courage. But what luck to have an opportunity to face a fear! I steeled my nerve and walked in after him. After a minute it was over and we were both on the other bank where the cabin was.
The dhutanga monk’s life is like this. Be it a day without food, or a long walk in the sun, or having a tent flood in the rain – every situation one encounters helps them find another thing that isn’t really as bad as it seems. Our anticipation of a disaster is often far worse than the itself. In the beginning there is fear, and then to face it there is courage. Finally, there is fearlessness, and like the enterprising young man we just wade into cold water without thinking about it. We know we’ll be fine.
The next night when said tent was filling with water and soaking my robes, forcing me to sit upright four hours until dawn, I was surprised at the equanimity. “It’s just water.” I thought. Nowhere’s near as cold as that stream.
The experience had me reflecting on a treasured Dhammapada verse:
“Those mindful ones exert themselves, not attached to any home;
Like swans who fly from a lake, they leave place after place behind.” (Dhp 91)
People like to claim a house or apartment; even squirrels choose a tree and guard it jealously. But the home of a swan is not any particular lake – their home is the water itself. And this is the situation of one who commits wholeheartedly to dhamma practice. Over time their attachment to worldly circumstances fall away, and the stilling and training of the heart becomes their abode. Wherever they are, whatever they are doing, if they have the chance to learn and grow and seek their freedom, they are at home.