The first thing to alarm him was the busy
traffic; cars and motorbikes seemed to roar by in all directions and
when he tried to cross the street everything seemed intent on
running him down.
As he dodged the puddles and potholes of a side
street, people were too busy with their own concerns to notice him.
The pedalling cycle drivers trying to get
a fare, the barefoot children collecting refuse - searching for
anything they could sell. Girls tugging water carts bigger than
But no one noticed
Balloon sellers. pedlars.
knife sharpeners. women with large wicker baskets. full of bread. No
one seemed to have time to spare to answer any of his questions.
“But where am I?” he cried.
”Where do you think?” bawled back an evening
dashing past and disappearing into the crowd But
what is everyone doing? persisted the boy.
‘Making money, what else?” answered a man
squatting down mending tyres.
“Money?” queried the boy. “Will money help me to
fly?” for he had the sudden wish to escape from the City as quickly
as he could
The driver of the waiting car wound down the
window of his white limousine. “With money,” he grinned, flashing
gold teeth, gold bracelet, gold wristwatch, “with money you won’t
want to fly. You’ll be happy to stay around and make more.
Money – can I eat it?
“What’s money? Can I eat it?” asked the boy, who
was feeling quite hungry.
The driver and the repair man both guffawed.
“No,” said the repair man as he bolted back on
the wheel “But without it you cant eat.’
“Food don’t grow out of the ground in a City,
boy.” growled the driver. “This ain’t the country. Here you have to
buy food. Buying means money’
“How do get money?” asked the boy curiously.
“What have you got to sell?” said the driver.
‘Nothing I’ve just got here. I’m on my own.”
The driver looked at him sternly. “Don’t say that
aloud in a city, boy, - people might take advantage. Anyway,” he
added, “You can always beg. If you can’t buy or borrow, then you
beg,” he quipped as he paid the repair man and drove off.
Room with a view
Further down the road where a market was closing
for the night, street children were helping themselves to fruit and
leftovers that had been thrown onto a big smelly heap.
The boy joined in uninvited. Later they all
settled down to sleep near the shelter of a pagoda. The boy got
quite bitten with bugs and fleas but before dawn everyone was up and
ready with their sacks for a day’s collecting.
“Cans and plastic bottles are best,” they told
him. “But you won’t know where to sell it - so you’d better follow
It was hot and tiring walking along the dirty,
dusty streets, poking about in the refuse heaps. The boy had no
shoes and his feet ached. The sun burned down overhead.
Off to work
How he longed for the cool shade of the Garden.
Here too there was a river - broad, muddy, dirty river where they
all gathered at midday to wash and swim. Cyclo drivers were
scrubbing their clothes before putting them back on, ragged begging
women were washing their infants and the garbage kids were happily
splashing. Regrettably the bank was also the local toilet but this
didn’t stop their delight at leaping into the water.
In the evening they all hauled their heavy sacks
to a yard piled high with refuse sorted into untidy heaps of
cardboard, wire, plastic and cans. A yard man sneered derisively at
the contents of the boy’s sack. Coins jingled in his hand and ha
tossed one to the boy. The boy felt bitterly disappointed
“I worked all day just for this,” he complained.
To have or have not
A trader loading his pick-up truck regarded him.
Son he said, “It’s called the Law of Unequal Opportunities.”
Ha paused to light a cigarette.
There’s the have’s which is me and the have-nots,
nor ever likely to have - which is you. Let me educate you. Maybe
what you want for yourself is as important as what I want for
myself. Priorities are equal - except that the more Important you
get the more Important seem to be yaw priorities.
“But the difference lies with expectations - I’m
going to achieve mine and you’re not. Oh, I know you work a lot
harder collecting cans than I do selling them but I’m going to make
money and you are not.” He chuckled. “Not unless you win the lottery
- but I don’t expect you can afford a ticket.”
Supper for some
With this cryptic lesson in human economics
ringing in his ears the boy picked his way wearily back to the
market. Women sat ladling boiled rice from big cauldrons. The coin
the boy earned would barely buy him a decent plateful.
The next morning before they set off he noticed a
line of men and boys in yellow robes stepping barefoot along the
They carried large covered bowls which housewives
and shopkeepers hurried out to fill with rice and food, bowing low
as they did so. Others knelt down and placed money in the men’s
“Who are they?” asked the boy. “Can I do that?”
The others laughed. “They are monks. You are not
a monk or a novice.”
“But what is a monk?” asked the boy, curious.
Breakfast for others
“A monk is a holy man - he prays to God, he lives
a good life.”
“And I cannot pray to God?” queried the boy.
“I suppose anyone can pray,” his companion
“But monks know how to best.
They pray to God in this ancient tongue. They know more about God -
and they have time to pray all the time.”
“And they don’t collect garbage and people give
them food,” quipped the boy. “So how does one become a monk?”
None of the kids knew but they thought one would
go and live at the local temple.
“It’s not so easy,” they told him. You can’t eat
after midday and you can’t play games and you have to get up to pray
at 4 o’clock in the morning’
But before the boy could decide to be a monk he
was just as curious of the long lines of neatly dressed children who
morning and afternoon streamed through the streets on foot or by
bicycle, dressed in pressed white shirts, and blue skirts or
Sacks of satchels
The garbage collectors
thought he was utterly stupid. “They go to school.”
And in reply to his questions added, “No, of
course no one pays them. They learn things. They learn to read and
write and add things up. They are not like us.”
“But all of us would go to school if we could,”
“If you go to school.” explained one. “You’ll get
a good job later own a car a nice house. You won’t live in a shack.”
He sighed. “Perhaps In the next life I’ll be born in a rich house
and go to school.”
Al day long as he tolled, dragging his heavy sack
along the dirty streets the boy thought about this.
The other life
Sometimes he glanced up at the glaring sky,
wishing to see the shadow of the Black Swan come to rescue him but
another part of him remained curious. In the City there was so much
to observe that was new and different. The streets were full of
people busily going somewhere. The only ones who ever stopped were
the old or the beggars. On all sides were houses and sometimes he
glimpsed Inside and saw families eating together or watching
“Don’t you have a family?” one-of the children
asked him. “We all have, somewhere. Where do you come from?”
When the boy thought about that all he could see
was the Garden in the curve of the sandy river. And when he told
them about the fruit bats or the elephants rolling over in the
shallows they said he was telling lies.
We all have families
The next day, when he was cooling off in the
river, he met a schoolboy washing his bicycle. “What do you learn at
school?” he asked him. “I learn what I’m told,” replied the boy with
“I know that without going to school,” said the
boy, asking, “Do you learn to mend broken things?” The schoolboy
shook his head.
“Do you learn how to make money?” “No,” said the
“Do you learn to ... “he was about to say fly’
but stopped, and when the schoolboy looked puzzled, asked “So what
did you learn today?”
The schoolboy’s face brightened. “From 7-8 I
learned our language. From 8-9 arithmetic. From 9-10 our history,
and from 10-11 another language.”
“What other language?” asked the boy.
“Other people speak things in other ways,” said
the schoolboy, “And you must learn it to speak to them. Look at that
foreigner over there.”
What did you learn today?
The boy saw a tall, fair-haired man taking
photographs. “He’s a tourist,” said the schoolboy. “He’s come from
far away to see the City. He speaks another language.” And as it to
explain the schoolboy smiled at the tourist and spoke haltingly to
“What was all that about?” asked the boy.
“I said ‘Hello. How are you?’ “explained the
Suddenly the boy exclaimed “He came in an
aeroplane - ask him if he can fly!”
But the schoolboy snapped back angrily, “Of
course not, you stupid gutter boy.”
“If I could fly an aeroplane,” thought the boy
with sad longing, “I could soar above the City just like the Black
Swan and I could find my way back to the Garden.”
Just then he almost bumped into an old man in a
monk’s robe stepping very slowly along with his head bowed.
“Have you lost something?” asked the boy.
The elderly monk regarded him steadily.
“Everything I lost has no value. It is of no importance.”
“Then what are you looking for?”
The monk smiled. “I am seeking enlightenment -
the way and the truth,” he added. “The truth that will enter into
and lighten the soul, The truth that makes us whole.”
The boy studied him anxiously. “You mean you are
not whole? Are you ill?”
The monk smiled. The body Is well enough. I am
seeking for the sake of my soul. Unless we can find enlightenment we
are all trapped to the eternal wheel of life and death and rebirth.”
The boy considered this
The monk went on: “Before you were born you have
already lived a million lives. In each one by your own acts you
improve slowly; gaining enlightenment, which will free you forever.”
We’ve lived a million lives…
“And if I do bad things?”
The monk shook his head. Then you will pay for
that in the next life. The rich greedy man may be reborn a beggar
and the generous beggar a prince.” The monk smiled. As they sat on
the riverbank watching the boats being rowed along the monk
remarked, “Our Guru - ‘the Enlightened One’, first sought
enlightenment by fasting - denying His body and Himself everything.
But He did not discover enlightenment.
“One day He watched a boat passing down river. In
the boat a musician was teaching his pupil to play the guitar. Our
Guru heard him say ‘If you stretch the string too tight it will
snap. If you loosen it too much it won’t play.’ At that moment our
teacher realised it didn’t matter to fast
or not to fast but to walk and live a middle path between all
If the string is too tight…
The monk produced a small food bowl from his
robes ‘After the musician left our Guru placed His food bowl on the
stream. ‘If I may find enlightenment,’ He prayed, let this bowl
The boy looked at him, questioningly. The monk
nodded. And it did.”
After that the boy didn’t mind being a garbage
boy and he didn’t mind begging but he always remembered to press his
hands together and bow in thanks.