In Sri Lanka, they have special coupons for monks to ride on the government “red buses” for free. However, the local buses in Colombo are rarely rarely government buses. A friend told me that if you walk on the first few steps before boarding and say that you do not use money, the conductor will usually let you on. He told me to look at the conductor’s face and see if he was really “OK” with letting me or not. If he did not look happy, I should not get on that bus.
So when the bus came, I walked on the first few steps and said, “mata salli allanbae” which means, “to-me money touch-cannot.” The conductor gave the usual Sinhala head wiggle which means, “No Problemo” and I boarded and sat down on the first seat on the right, which is always reserved for clergy on Sri Lankan Buses.
When I turned around, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a lady across the isle in the front seat paying the conductor for my ride.
A very nice gesture towards me and a nice gesture for the friendly conductor too.
It is something like that which gives me much faith.
But why would I become faithful because of another’s faith?
It is sort of like the infection and perpetuation of another’s happiness. We have all said once before, “I am happy because you are happy.”
In the same way, I am faithful because of someone else’s faith.
In Buddhism, monks are often the objects of faith. While some monks feel uncomfortable about this, others do not. If looked at properly, a monk sort of accumulates a potential debt which is paid back with our monkhood. It helps us with our practice and self control towards Liberation. If one does not do things correctly, one is accused of stealing the “alms food” from the faithful. It is something to be reflected on and it is number two in the list of
_The Ten Reflections For One Who Has Gone Forth_ (AN.10:48) which is in most chanting books of all Theravada Traditions)
“I am dependent on others for my livelihood. This is to be reflected upon by one who has gone forth.”
Another time, I was waiting for a bus to go to Colombo from Nauyana (Matale side). I could only take a red bus for a long distance trip. I waited with many people and then a white bus would come. The people would get on and I would be alone again. This happened several times until someone across the street saw this pattern arising. The white bus would come and block the view and when it left, the crowd of people would be gone with only a monk standing. Another crowd of people would form and then I would be alone again. The red buses are less frequent and that was why I was waiting longer. The man who saw all of this happen came across the street and asked me where I was going. I told him Colombo and showed him my coupon book and said I was waiting for a red bus. He then hailed a white bus and paid for my fare.
The bus from the main road to go to Panisyagama (the remote village where Nauyana is located) is always free for monks traveling alone with no need to ask if it is OK. From there, it is a twenty-five minute walk, but often a three wheeler will pick you up if he is headed that way and has room. The locals in our village all know we do not handle money and they respect that quality.
Another time, when I was headed to the airport in 2012 to come to Myanmar via a three-wheeler, I had a cough. The three wheeler driver who was hired to take me stopped midway and walked into a store and came back with some herbal cough medicine for me.
Many Foreigner monks appreciate this unique quality in the Sri Lankan people. Often they do not have much to give, but they give what they can, appropriately on the spot as anonymous donors who disappear into the serene coconut and paddy field scenery, only to be remembered as part of a collective culture. This is the best way for monks to live the Bhikkhu Life.
These and countless other small acts of kindness are what bring a smile to my face…and sometimes a lump in my throat and lubrication for my eyes.
These acts of kindness towards me increase their own faith, it sets my heading and gives me faith in their faith and together we ride on _The Buddhist Path_.
…And for that, we all have a ticket to ride.
Please share your own heartfelt story!