I am a human being and I am not perfect. So, please kindly read the message and not the messenger – By Sanjoo Thangjam
Sunita- Sunita was born a candala, a member of the untouchable class. He was not educated; in fact, by laws he wasn’t allowed to learn. It would have been a grave offence if he had been caught writing or speaking even one words from the Vedas ( the holy teachings of the Brahmins). He wasn’t allowed to enter a place of worship, and he had been overheard reciting one of the Vedic prayers, his tongue would have been cut out. If he was caught even listening to them, he would have had a spike driven into his ears. This was their law.
He was born near the Rajagaha area, and people who belonged to the untouchable caste survived by cleaning streets, drains and toilets. They disposed of dead animals and did other “dirty” unmentionable work that no one else would do. They wore scraps of cloth, which barely covered their nakedness, and weren’t allowed access to the public wells. To touch the water reserved for the higher-caste people was to pollute not only the water, but the casted people who used it as well.
Any contact and the high caste person had to perform extensive rituals to cleanse themselves, and the untouchable would be severely punished.
Sunita collected night soil, human waste, and took it to the fields in two large buckets suspended on a pole carried on his shoulders. You can imagine how filthy he was, and how foul the ugly smell was that exuded from every pore. Flies and other insects covered not only the buckets, but his body as well. His unkempt hair was matted and his skin as black as night from dirt and excrement. He was never but an inch away from starvation; every borne in his body protruded against his leathery, sundried skin. He had no home; he slept on the side of the road wherever he happened to wind up at the end of the day.
Sunita was late on his collection rounds collecting one morning and when he looked up the street, he saw a group of monks approaching. There was a beautiful golden aura surrounding them and he could tell by their bearing that they were of the higher castes. Sunita knew that he was not allowed to make an eye contact with anyone outside his caste, nor was he to let his shadow even fall across theirs. Immediately afraid, he started to look for a place to hide. He felt ashamed and he didn’t want the monks to see him. He didn’t want to be accused of unlawfully looking at them.
There was nowhere to go, no alleyway , nearby , so stood up against the nearest wall , put down his pole , and with his arms folded in front of him bowed as low as he could. He hoped with all his heart that they pass by without ridiculing him or complaining that he was fouling the air they breathed or the earth they walked.
Sensing the group of monks close by, he couldn’t believe it when he heard a voice call out, “ Dear friend; would you like to join us?” Now his fear was combined with a tentative feeling of joy. He couldn’t bring himself to raise his head or even answer the speaker.
The Buddha had stopped in front of him. Sunita whispered, “ I am a candala, my Lord. I am not even allowed to speak to you. I am grateful for your words; no one has ever spoken kindly to me before. Your voice brings joy and light to my heart.”
The Buddha stood there waiting patiently. Sunita found himself feeling stronger and happier by the second. Finally he was able to say, “ If you would have this miserable, wretched untouchable, I would gladly go with you to become a monk.”
The Buddha said, “ Come, O monk!” and that was Sunita’s ordination.
Sunita followed the Buddha and the other monks to their monastery. He was shown where to bathe and his head was shaved. Ananda, the Buddha’s chief attendant brought him how to dress. Everyone at the monastery was so kind that day and every day. Not a day went by that Sunita didn’t bless the Buddha and his brother monks for their limitless (Karuna) compassion.”
Sunita blossomed very quickly. The Buddha gave him an object for meditation, and told him to find a secluded corner of the monastery and practice. Sunita was so grateful for the Buddha kindness. He felt like he owed him – and all the of the Sangha members – to try his very best to strive for the highest goal. And Sunita did become enlightened, an arahat. It was far beyond his wildest dreams ; in fact, before meeting the Buddha, he have had no dreams at all.
From that moment on, the people of all ranks respected and paid homage to Sunita when he taught them the way to attainment. His attainment set an example for all time. The Buddha showed the world the true meaning of nobility; a person was noble because of good actions. Sunita’s story also demonstrated the fact that social conventions are meaningless when viewed in the light of the unlimited (Karuna) compassion and vision of the Buddha.
The Buddha taught that everyone’s tears and blood are the same colour. By birth no one is high or low caste, it was by their actions that people were judged high or low. Just as the water of each river has its own name, but upon reaching the ocean the river water became ocean water. Likewise, when any person enters the order, he becomes one with the sangha.
The writer is a lay Buddhist and a Human Rights Activist for People Who Use Drugs (PUD).