Once upon a time, there lived a Brahman by the name of Deva Sharma with his wife. His wife delivered a son and they were happy to have their first child. The Brahmin wanted to have a pet animal to protect the child which would also be a companion to the child. The Brahmin kept his proposal before the Brahmani. She found the proposal acceptable and the Brahmin went to bring a pet.
Deva Sharma went round the village and after much toil, got a mongoose as an escort to his child. Brahmani didn’t like the idea to keep a mongoose for her child. But as the pet was already brought, so she accepted it. Now, both of them started loving the mongoose as their own child. Yet, the Brahmani never left her son alone because she did not trust the mongoose, fearing that it could harm her son.
One day, the farmer and his wife had to go out of the house leaving the child at home. The farmer confirmed that the mongoose would take care of the child while they would be away. So, they left the mongoose and the child at home and went out. Soon after they left, a cobra entered the home. Finding danger to the son of the Brahmin, the mongoose attacked the cobra. They had a bloody combat and the mongoose succeeded in killing the cobra.
After this, mongoose heard the footfalls of Brahmin’s wife and went at the door to greet her. Brahmani was trembled to see the blood stained mouth of the mongoose. She inferred that the mongoose had killed the child. Without a second thought, she threw a heavy box on mongoose and the mongoose died at the spot. Brahmani quickly entered the house to see her child and to her great surprise, she found her child sleeping quietly in the cradle.
As soon as, she saw a snake bitten into pieces lying near the cradle, she realized that the mongoose had saved her child. The Brahmani was struck by grief that she had killed the mongoose that was like a sibling to her son. She cried loud at her hasty action.
Lesson: Don’t pre-judge. Think before you act.
Once more the bright blade of a morning breeze
glides almost too easily through me,
and from the scuffle I’ve been sutured to
some flap of me is freed: I am severed
like a simile: an honest tenor
trembling toward the vehicle I mean
to be: a blackbird licking half notes
from the muscled, sap-damp branches
of the sugar maple tree . . . though I am still
a part of any part of every particle
of me, though I’ll be softly reconstructed
by the white gloves of metonymy,
I grieve: there is no feeling in a cut
that doesn’t heal a bit too much.
Reprinted from here
When I sailed to Kiniwata, an island in the Pacific, I took along a notebook. After I got back it was filled with descriptions of flora and fauna, native customs and costume. But the only note that still interests me is the one that says: “Johnny Lingo gave eight cows to Sarita’s father.” And I don’t need to have it in writing. I’m reminded of it every time I see a woman belittling her husband or a wife withering under her husband’s scorn. I want to say to them, “You should know why Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for his wife.”
Johnny Lingo wasn’t exactly his name. But that’s what Shenkin, the manager of the guest house on Kiniwata, called him. Shenkin was from Chicago and had a habit of Americanizing the names of the islanders. But Johnny was mentioned by many people in many connections. If I wanted to spend a few days on the neighboring island of Nurabandi, Johnny Lingo would put me up. If I wanted to fish he could show me where the biting was best. If it was pearls I sought, he would bring the best buys. The people of Kiniwata all spoke highly of Johnny Lingo. Yet when they spoke they smiled, and the smiles were slightly mocking.
“Get Johnny Lingo to help you find what you want and let him do the bargaining,” advised Shenkin. “Johnny knows how to make a deal.”
“Johnny Lingo! A boy seated nearby hooted the name and rocked with laughter.
“What goes on?” I demanded. “everybody tells me to get in touch with Johnny Lingo and then breaks up. Let me in on the joke.”
“Oh, the people like to laugh,” Shenkin said, shruggingly. “Johnny’s the brightest, the strongest young man in the islands, And for his age, the richest.”
“But if he’s all you say, what is there to laugh about?”
“Only one thing. Five months ago, at fall festival, Johnny came to Kiniwata and found himself a wife. He paid her father eight cows!
I knew enough about island customs to be impressed. Two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory one. “Good Lord!” I said, “Eight cows! She must have beauty that takes your breath away.” “She’s not ugly,” he conceded, and smiled a little. “But the kindest could only call Sarita plain. Sam Karoo, her father, was afraid she’d be left on his hands.”
“But then he got eight cows for her? Isn’t that extraordinary?”
“Never been paid before.”“Yet you call Johnny’s wife plain?”
“I said it would be kindness to call her plain. She was skinny. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked. She was scared of her own shadow.”
“Well,” I said, “I guess there’s just no accounting for love.”
“True enough,” agreed the man. “And that’s why the villagers grin when they talk about Johnny. They get special satisfaction from the fact that the sharpest trader in the islands was bested by dull old Sam Karoo.”
“No one knows and everyone wonders. All the cousins were urging Sam to ask for three cows and hold out for two until he was sure Johnny’d pay only one. Then Johnny came to Sam Karoo and said, ‘Father of Sarita, I offer eight cows for your daughter.’”
“Eight cows,” I murmured. “I’d like to meet this Johnny Lingo.”
And I wanted fish. I wanted pearls. So the next afternoon I beached my boat at Nurabandi. And I noticed as I asked directions to Johnny’s house that his name brought no sly smile to the lips of his fellow Nurabandians. And when I met the slim, serious young man, when he welcomed me with grace to his home, I was glad that from his own people he had respect unmingled with mockery. We sat in his house and talked. Then he asked, “You come here from Kiniwata?”
“They speak of me on that island?”
“They say there’s nothing I might want they you can’t help me get.”
He smiled gently. “My wife is from Kiniwata.”
“Yes, I know.”
“They speak of her?”
“What do they say?”
“Why, just…” The question caught me off balance. “They told me you were married at festival time.”
“Nothing more?” The curve of his eyebrows told me he knew there had to be more.
“They also say the marriage settlement was eight cows.” I paused. “They wonder why.”
“They ask that?” His eyes lightened with pleasure. “Everyone in Kiniwata knows about the eight cows?” I nodded.
“And in Nurabandi everyone knows it too.” His chest expanded with satisfaction.
“Always and forever, when they speak of marriage settlements, it will be remembered that Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for Sarita.”So that’s the answer, I thought: vanity.
And then I saw her. I watched her enter the room to place flowers on the table. She stood still a moment to smile at the young man beside me. Then she went swiftly out again. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin the sparkle of her eyes all spelled a pride to which no one could deny her the right. I turned back to Johnny Lingo and found him looking at me. “You admire her?” he murmured.
“She…she’s glorious. But she’s not Sarita from Kiniwata,” I said.
“There’s only one Sarita. Perhaps she does not look the way they say she looked in Kiniwata.”
“She doesn’t. I heard she was homely. They all make fun of you because you let yourself be cheated by Sam Karoo.”
“You think eight cows were too many?” A smile slid over his lips.
“No. But how can she be so different?”
“Do you ever think,” he asked, “what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two?” This could not happen to my Sarita.”
“Then you did this just to make your wife happy?”
“I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. You say she is different This is true. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the islands.”
“Then you wanted -”
“I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman.”
“But —” I was close to understanding.
“But,” he finished softly, “I wanted an eight-cow wife.”
Driving home from a doctor’s appointment and some errands in Wheeling this morning I was coming out on Route 88 south. This road would be familiar to anyone who has ever visited New Vrindaban as it is the normal way to get here. Although I have driven this road over a thousand times in the last 38 years I saw a sight as yet unseen to me, or, if seen before, not observed.
As I rounded the blind turn just before the view of the cemetery reveals itself the time of year with the sun in its almost southernmost low winter trajectory combined with the time of day to give me a unique visual.
This cemetery has no headstones, simply stone markers set in the ground so they can be mowed over. The sun was reflecting off every polished granite marker on the side of the hill facing me and they all shone with in a gridlike brilliance across a grass green canvas, like a hundred suns.
Just as the soul is a bit of Krishna, “Know that all opulent, beautiful and glorious creations spring from but a spark of My splendor” (Bhagavad Gita 10.41) so all those reflections were a spark of the splendor of the sun. That the spark of the souls that had resided in the bodies now lying under those stones were gone, was contrasted by the transient beauty of that moment.
As I came around closer to the cemetery the sun was at a different angle and the reflections vanished. It just looked like a grassy lawn. A flash of beauty, then return to the ordinary.
A short distance later I met a funeral procession coming in the opposite direction. While that is less uncommon, I might see one several times a year, it was a reminder that in the end Death comes for us all.
“In due course of time, when the body becomes old and practically invalid, it is subject to jara, the sufferings of old age. There are four basic kinds of suffering-birth, old age, disease and death. No scientist or philosopher has ever been able to make a solution to these four miserable conditions. The invalidity of old age known as jara is figuratively explained here as the daughter of Time. No one likes her, but she is very much anxious to accept anyone as her husband. No one likes to become old and invalid, but this is inevitable for everyone.”
Srimad Bhagvatam 4.27.20
We may or may not have the opportunity to look back at our lives and hanker or lament what transpired at the time of our death but today I was anticipating that moment.
One thing I lament looking back actually happened in that cemetery. Kirtanananda wanted some flowers for a festival and didn’t have money to buy any so he sent out a team to steal flowers. I was part of that.
There was a row of hydrangeas in bloom so we went there in the dead of night. We opened up the side door of a van and started cutting like mad men, tossing the flowers into the van. We cut over ten bushels of flowers.
The Deities were decorated very nicely for that festival, probably a Janmastami, but I felt a lot of guilt over the method of aquisition, even thought it was “authorized”. After that I got into supporting flower gardens at New Vrindaban, pushing Vidya into it so we had had a lot of our own flowers and there was no more excuse for stealing flowers.
That I feel good about, though in recent years the flower gardens have fallen into under production and buying flowers has grown more prominent. If I do live a little longer I will put more energy into the Deity flowers and have spent some energy on it to that end already this fall, with plans to support those interested in flower gardens going forward.
Flower gardens are nice memories to flash by ones eyes at the moment of death, IMHO, much nicer than stealing flowers.