In the Mountains
By Anukrti Upadhyay
Author of Bhaunri and Daura
She stood in the half-shade of a white pine. The summer sun, mild even in the middle of the mountain-day, fell on her tonsured head and deep red cīvara.
“When did you decide to become a Bhikkhuni?”
The smile on her still face was like a resting butterfly. “I did not decide. It was decided for me.”
“By your parents?” I asked her.
“By all our parents.” She raised her hand, palm facing away from her body, a gesture of blessing and ascension. “I was 13. There was a fair. I went with my friends. Everyone bought trinkets—bangles, hair clips, etc. We ate sweets till our mouths were sticky. We rode the Ferris wheel and the merry-go-round. By the end of it, we were tired and sweaty, our trinkets crushed in pockets and fists, our mouths soured by candies.” She paused.
‘What is the point of all this,’ I wondered.
She looked at me, her smile unwavering. “You see, don’t you? There is no point, neither to the day’s merriment nor to the lives we lead.” Her eyes rested on the Dzong across the river, girded by jacaranda trees in heavenly bloom. “I gave away all my trinkets and decided to seek the shelter of the Sangharam. My mother died, my father took to drinking, money dwindled, relatives had to give us food to eat. I was the eldest and everyone said I should go to the city, find work, and support the family. But my search was different, the support I sought was not for this world. So I continued my training at the nunnery. Eventually, my brother went to the city and got a job.”
“Wasn’t your family upset with you? You abandoned them when they needed you most,” I asked her.
“No-one is needed. No-one is abandoned. It is all an illusion. The bonds only hold us when we allow them to.”
Sentences from the e-mail from last night rose before my eyes—’How can you drop everything and leave like this? It’s not even a month since daddy passed away. No-one denies you carried the load last year of his hospital trips and treatments. I tried to help all I could but you know I had my own issues. We are all exhausted and in pain right now. This is no time to suddenly take off for a solo trip to the mountains. You are needed here right now, your place is here. Come back.’
“Let me tell you a story,” the Bhikkuni continued. “A man loved his garden. It had noble trees and colourful flowers. Birds sang in it all day long. The man spent his days tending to the garden, he watered the trees and shrubs, gave them manure and kept them free of pests, he set out grain and water for the birds. His whole life revolved around the garden. One day, as he was working in his garden a woman came to him. It was Death. She had come to fetch him. ‘You have to come with me now,’ she said taking his hand, ‘you have no more time’. The man was taken aback. ‘How can I leave,’ he asked, ‘Who will water my garden?’. Death pointed towards the sky, ‘Look, there are clouds. They arrive when it’s the season and will water the plants.’ The man wasn’t convinced. ‘There are many things to be done in the garden. Who will keep it safe from pests? Who will feed the birds?’ Death smiled, ‘The birds will eat the pests, the garden will be safe and the birds won’t starve. You are not needed. Needs exist and they find their fulfilment with or without you. Come, it is time for you to be freed from these bonds.’ And Death led him away.”
Silence fell. I could hear the river slipping on stones and barbets singing their shrill song.
“You are leaving tomorrow, aren’t you?” the Bhikkuni asked me, to which I replied... “No, I have changed my plan.”
“This is no time to suddenly take off for a solo trip to the mountains.“