How temptation and jealousy can spiral out of control – Tale of a renounced monk

By Kema Hodge

Today, as I stood on top of Angkor Thom bracing the blazing sun, I encountered a monk who seemed to ignore me while freely interacting with my friend Colin. A little taken aback, I decided to not let the situation upset me; after all, I was surrounded by the many faces of Buddha.

Later, on the way home, Colin asked our tour guide about Cambodian monks. Knowledgeable on the subject because he himself was a renounced monk, our guide, Yut, explained what happened by way of parable. This parable was related to how Cambodian monks view intent. To them, intent is like a rock tumbling down a large hill. While the rock plunges to its final destination, it grows in size, speed, and strength.

Thus, when it comes to temptation, monks have relatively strict rules. One for male monks is “Do not communicate or interact with a woman” (wish I had known that earlier). Buddha warned about resisting sources of temporary happiness because the senses (hearing, sight, smell, taste, touch) can easily get jealous of each other.

For instance, Yut explained that if a monk hears a woman singing a beautiful melody off in the distance, then temptation may prompt him to go see her (because the eyes are jealous of the ears). Once he sees her, he may want to simply smell her (because the nose is jealous of the eyes). To smell her, he may have to taste her by way of a traditional cheek kiss because in Cambodia you smell a person while pecking their cheek (and obviously here, the mouth is jealous of the nose). Well, once he is that close, he may as well be touching her, which may arouse many other tempting thoughts and actions.

As you can see, the intent started off rather small, like a rock tumbling down a hill; however, it grew and became a force to reckon with. Buddha believed that in order to be peaceful, temporary sources of happiness like physical temptations need to be avoided, which I agree, is a worthwhile lesson to live by.

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