Siddartha and his monks are walking alongside the road to their retreat in Dharamsala. The rainy season is coming and they have to spend the time meditating; travel is impossible when the roads become mud and disease spreads from house to house.
A naked man runs up to them, his hair long and wild, his beard holding burrs and dead insects. He kneels for a blessing. His hair is alive with lice. “Save me, give me sanctuary, I take refuge with you,” he begs.
We can’t take this man, says one of the monks. I know him. He’s a murderer. He’s a bandit who’s killed people. Now he’s gone mad. The monks try to come between their leader and the murderer. The murderer clutches at them, bowing and scraping in the dirt.
Give him a robe, says Siddartha, and the murderer is allowed to join them.
An old man stops them on the road and bows deeply but will not touch anyone in the ragged group. He keeps his eyes on the ground and does not reach for the hands the way others reach out for blessings or good luck. Take me, please. Take me.
We can’t take this man, says one of the monks. He is an untouchable. He can’t share our robes or our bowls or our tents.
Oh, just give him a robe, says Siddartha, and the untouchable is allowed to join them.
The group of the devoted continues to grow. It passes by villages scarred with poverty, places where mudslides have destroyed homes. Madmen are living in the woods, refusing to wash, refusing to speak, letting small animals live in their beards. By petrifying the body, you conquer it, the teaching goes.
A young woman comes running out of a house and kneels before them. Please, take me, Blessed One. I take refuge with you.
We can’t take her, says one of the monks. She is the only daughter of that old couple that lives there. She takes care of them.
I’m sorry, says Siddartha.
Why can’t I go, when all of these monks have renounced their families? I heard you left your wife and son.
I’m sorry, says the Thus Come One. And does sound genuinely sorry. He’s a good guy. He says, You are their daughter. You have to take care of them.
Be a lay practitioner. Come and bring us rice on Sundays.
Why can’t I leave everything behind?
Karma. Be a good daughter; in your next life, maybe you’ll be born lucky.