Tuesday July 27, 2010
A long time ago now, I was travelling with a friend in India and Nepal, visiting the Buddhist sites. And one of the continual problems with travelling in India was the question of how best to deal with touts and rickshaw drivers and taxi drivers and all of the folks who – seeing a foreigner – wanted a little piece of you. Or, at least, of your cash. It was whilst we were being generously hosted by the Japanese Nichiren-shū Buddhists in Sarnath – they permitted us to stay as long as we got up at the crack of dawn to bang drums and chant, something that we were happy to do – that we hit upon the ideal solution. The problem was that ignoring touts just lead to greater insistence on their part, saying “no” seemed to be taken as the start of a conversation, and saying “yes”… well, we were not going to say yes. But one thing that worked wonders was something that we picked up from the Nichiren folks. We hit upon this whilst in Varanasi, I think, surrounded on all sides and generally harried. We solved the problem by turning to the touts, putting our palms together, bowing low with a measure of gravity, and intoning, “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō” – literally, “I take refuge in the White Lotus Sutra”. The effect was (almost) magical: the poor souls, confused by this unexpected behaviour, fled in panic; and thenceforth we continued on our way unmolested. All of which was considerable fun, being one way of dealing with touts that was both entertaining and also that seemed to lead to better a more expansive, rather than narrower, states of mind.
This came back to me today as I had my n th encounter with a fake monk in the street here in China. The usual deal is this. You are walking down the street. The monk (or somebody looking very like one) approaches and presses something into your palm or attempts to put a bracelet around your wrist. An unseemly tussle ensues as you attempt to free your arm from his clutches. Meanwhile monk demands large sum of money. But on the principle I picked up in Sarnath, I have developed a nice method of dealing with these pesky fellows. I turn to them, I look at them gravely, I press my palms together, and I say, “Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa.”
At this, the fake monk invariably takes to his heels in alarm. Peace and harmony reign. Perfect.
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