Loving Kindness Wins The Race
(Adventures in Going for Alms in Hawaii)
Last week we encountered a disturbing event while we were going for Alms in village in Kauai. There was a lady on a bicycle who approached us and asked us what we were doing. Her tone of voice was not so happy, but we enjoy telling people what we are doing because it does not happen so often and that is one of our goals when we stand in front of each house. So I replied with my canned response, mentally noting the cross around her neck by saying, “We are Buddhist monks, and we do not touch money. We are doing many things and one of those things we do is to collect food for our daily meal.” I usually then start to tell them about how we are wishing loving kindness to each house to keep our minds’ pure while we are waiting for people to figure the food thing out. However, this lady started to butt in with negative comments, like ,”Why don’t you get a job?” When I told her “spiritual practice” was our job. She sarcastically replied, “Oh, now isn’t that convenient?”
I must agree that it is convenient if you are living in a Buddhist country, but it is a lot of work in Kauai. Nevertheless, we enjoy doing what we are doing, probably because of the loving kindness practice. I did not tell her that though. I didn’t have a chance. Before I could say anything she continued and said, “Why don’t you go back to your monastery? I will drive you to Waiakalua.” She was referring to the famous Kauai Hindu monastery which most Kauai residents think we are from. I am not sure why she would think we would ever get into a car with a strange lady who was angry. I wonder what she teaches her kids? She also said, you can live in a monastery but you should not be here in a neighborhood where there are kids playing. It is not good for the kids. Why don’t you go hang out in your own monastery?”
Since it was obvious that she was angry and could not be spoken to, we just continued walking until she authoritatively said, “Don’t go onto this road.” I knew what we were doing was legal and I told her it was a public road and that we stay off private property marked with “No Trespassing” signs. I told her if she had a problem, she could call the police. It was probably something that could cause us trouble, but I knew we were legal.
Before I came to America in 2006, I checked with a lawyer friend who knows about civil liberties. Before I came to Hawaii, I double checked with him again because my teacher was concerned we would get arrested for walking for Alms with our bowls. My lawyer friend is one of those smart people who never forgets things and he told me it was my right to actually go onto peoples’ property and even ring the doorbell to sell or preach to them (if I wanted to). Unless there was a “No soliciting” or “No Trespassing” sign, I was within the law to go onto their property. However, to play it extra safe, we usually stayed on the road or the edge of the driveway. I was told it was definitely my right to walk on public roads unless I was blocking traffic. We also never stayed more than thirty seconds in one spot which would avoid accusations loitering. That is why people who go on strike and protest on the public road in front of their employers walk in circles. Our way is to not stay to long or too short in front of each house. We were 100% legal and surely more pleasant than someone on strike. However, my lawyer friend did tell me to cooperate with the police if they ever approached us. If this happened, he advised me to ask the police what was allowable according to the law, so that we could follow the law. Since we were already following the law, that would be sort of a trick question for them. So even though I was confident we were legal, I was sort of bluffing because nobody wants to answer-up to the police if one can avoid it. The bluff was also in our favor because we had been doing this practice for the past four months without a single official complaint made to our awareness. However, this is Kauai, and the police are “from Kauai” too. A policeman once waved hello to us from his cruiser as we walked down the streets of Kilauea. After that, she road her bike down the road and soon disappeared.
Although she could have ran to her house and called the police, and I had contemplated pulling out my phone to offer her to call as part of my bluff, she did not give up and tried a different tactic. Within a few minutes there was a gang of five or so young kids riding their bicycles. They started to yell at us like…”Get lost”.. Monks go home.. Beat it, will ya?” We were silent and smiling as usual, but internally we really felt bad for the kids, especially for the woman who seemed to instigate them to do this. It was really bad karma they were making. It also seemed strange and ironic that she was citing the kids’ safety as a reason to keep us away when the real harm was coming from her and what she was teaching the kids. The kids followed us, and the ringleader-lady met up with the kids when we were halfway down the street.
She used my previous words as ammunition and said that the end of the road was a private cul-de-sac and that I should not go down there. If I knew her house, I would have skipped it to avoid trouble, but there was no knowing. There were plenty of houses on the cul-de-sac and I decided she was not in any authority over the other houses.
I told my friend not to listen or to talk with her, and I continued down the street ignoring her existence, but my friend stayed behind halfway down the road because she was following us and pestering us. As I continued alone, I paid attention to the pavement and noted it was all the same material and that there were no posted signs. That led me to believe that the road was public and the lady was most likely lying to us. I quietly continued my loving kindness practice in front of each house as my friend stayed behind with her shouting at him, “Why don’t you let me drive you?” My friend later told me the other half of the full conversation. He said to her, “You should teach the kids to do good things. You should behave as a human.”
She replied back and said, “Yeah, I tried to help you, I will drive you back to your monastery. Why won’t you let me drive you?”
He calmly said, “This is our practice, so we are doing this.”
As I continued up the street to meet with my friend and the angry lady, I thought it might be good if I finished my canned statement on her. I reiterated that we do several things and another thing we do is wish loving kindness to each house. “We also wish you loving kindness, May you be happy.” I said with a sincere voice, knowing she could use some loving kindness. As we were leaving, I kindly advised her and said, “If this is a private road, a sign should be posted to let people know, and then we will not come here.”
At that time, a lady from the house that was in front of all of the commotion stuck her head out and asked us how we were doing. The previous week, she unsuccessfully tried to offer us coffee, presumably inside her house. I told her, “We are doing fine, but this Christian lady is giving us a bit of trouble.” The kind lady then asked us if we needed any food after the other lady and the kids rode away. Our donor came out with a bag of frozen bananas and two fresh ones and asked us which one we wanted. We went for the bag and then she decided to offer us the fresh bananas as well. Even in Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka, we appreciate dogs who make noise. Otherwise, the donors might not ever know we were outside. I have often said, “If it were not for the dogs and children, we would starve.”
We gave appreciation for her donation and then told her about the trouble with the lady on the bicycle. She told us not to worry about her, and that she is not a nice person to many people and pointed to the general direction of her house at the end of the cul-de-sac. I also asked our donor if the street was private, and she flat-out said, “No.” I was surprised that this lady would actually lie to us even though I suspected it. She was wearing a cross around her neck and I thought, “What kind of Christian is this woman?”
I remembered our kind Christian friend from the Sanctuary during a spiritual discussion answering my debated question against “faith alone” being able to “save someone.” He told me that faith alone is not enough. When one dies and she has not acted according to the teachings of Christ during her lifetime, Christ will say, “I do not know you.” because that person has never walked with Him. In Buddhism, we believe the same, but it has to do with Karma (one’s actions) and nothing to do with Christ.
On our way back the gang of five or so young kids riding their bicycles were back. They started to yell at us again with the usual hate phrases…”Get lost”.. Monks go home.. Beat it, will ya?”, but this time they invented a clever new phrase, “Monky want a banana?” We were still silent and smiling but internally, we could not believe what this lady was teaching these kids. They followed us for a while, but since we did not acknowledge their words in any way and continued our loving kindness practice to each house, they eventually retreated when we off their turf.
As we were nearing the end of our route, a man called out to us, “How’s life treating you?”
“Things are going OK, I said, “but a Christian lady just recently gave us trouble.”
“So the Christian Nazi went after you guys?”
“You know this lady?” I said pointing in the direction to the other road.
“No, but they are all the same…Hey, I have some food for you but it might be a burden rather than help you. Can I give you these two heavy melons?”
We took only one for the two of us and then went on our way.
A few days later, I called the police and asked if the road including the cul-de-sac was public or private. After looking at a map, the police lady said it was “definitely public.” Earlier, we had a problem before with another person to a lesser degree on different road. Because that road was not very fruitful after 4 months we decided to find a new route on Liliuokalani street. This was that new route and it happened to be very friendly to us. On one particular side street (the one in dispute) there may have been only ten or so driveways, but four of those houses had given food to us in just a few weeks of walking. We could easily skip her house to free her anxiety if we knew exactly which one, but we were not ready to abandon the whole road because of her. It is like abandoning a village just because of one person says, “Don’t go.” It is not right.
The next week according to our systematic schedule, we continued on that very same route where that bicycle lady was. Along the way, at the same place where the kids abandoned us the previous week, they returned, joined their forces and started their worn out heckling phrases again, “Beat it! Get lost! Monky want a Banana?” and a new phrase this week, “You’re Weird!” We continued with our loving kindness practice. Being compassionate towards their bad karma they were creating for themselves, I started to include them as part of my loving kindness practice as we went to each house. What else could one do since they were following us from house to house? First, I recollected on the positive aspects of how dogs and children can help draw attention to us from the houses we were standing in front of, and then I included them in my loving kindness meditation. However, just after a couple of houses, the kids started to calm down. They began to whisper just like people who were afraid to disturb someone who was meditating. I started to think… “Hey maybe this is working!” However, one of them broke the silence and started up again with the usual hate phrases and the rest followed suit. As we turned the corner onto our favorite “definitely public” road, the kids did not follow us. Alone, as we walked around the turn, I asked my monastic friend, “Did you also wish them loving kindness?”
“Yes.” he said.
“It almost worked, didn’t it?”
We went to a house that had given to us before, but she was inside and probably never knew we were around since there wasn’t any “noise” following us. That is often the biggest hurdle. We wished loving kindness and continued. After a few more houses, we came to a newly constructed house that was previously empty and now occupied. As we were wishing loving kindness upon the house, a lady was looking at us from a window inside. When we were about to leave, I noticed the lady going towards the door, so I stayed a few seconds longer. She called us up to the doorstep to get some food because she did not want to leave her daughter alone. She was very friendly and we welcomed her to the neighborhood. She thanked us for blessing all of the houses and then we went onto the end of the cul-de-sac but skipped two of the houses we suspected which might have belonged to the Christian lady. Although she could use some loving kindness, we did not want to disturb her and I had sent her loving kindness when we first started our route anyway.
As we passed by the second suspected house, a lady came out wearing her nightgown. She was a typical Kauai earth-going resident with long natural gray hair. She asked us what we were doing in a kind and loving voice and I so told her my usual lines. I also apologized for skipping her house because there was a lady who was not so nice to us the week before and we didn’t know if it was her house or the one before it. She smiled and rocked her thumb in the direction of the house before hers and said, “I think I know who that was.” After some discussion on what type of food was allowable, she went inside and came out with a Ziploc bag of beats she had boiled the night before unaware we were told to “beat it” just moments earlier. We went to a few more houses and then we turned the corner back onto Liliuokalani Street in the reverse direction.
The pediatric bicycle gang came again and started up again. We continued, with our practice and we noticed a quiet discussion between them until one of the kids said aloud to the others, “I am not afraid.” and then led the group with another round of hate phrases and then they left.
Silence remained for several minutes as we went to a few more houses, and then the kids returned again. This time it was different. There were no more rounds of the hate phrases again. They waved to us and turned around as they passed and said, “Hi!” One by one, each of the kids held up a stationary waving hand to us and said, “Hello” or “Hi” to us in a nice gentle voice. We smiled and silently acknowledged their peace gesture.
We continued to the next house with our practice of loving kindness, but before we reached the next house I secretly said to myself, “We won.” We had truly won.
May all beings be happy!