by Marilyn Churchill
Is beauty a valid pursuit for the spiritually-minded?
At a remote Buddhist monastery nestled in the mountains, the monks open their doors in the summer to anyone who wants to have their own quiet retreat. A few years ago I spent a weekend there, enjoying the gardens, a serene walk by the river, and the background drone of the monks and initiates performing their daily activities.
While exploring the grounds, I entered a janitorial area and came face to face with a student monk who stopped me with a gentle reprimand, explaining that the area was off-limits to visitors. I started to apologize, when suddenly, I looked down and saw a large white rat scampering towards us. I was surprised to see that his mouth was filled with a big bunch of flowers that fanned out behind him. The area in which we stood was narrow, and the trajectory of the rat’s path lay between us!
The critter hesitated for an instant, and looked directly up at us. Somehow assured that we were no threat, he scampered between us and scooted around the corner. “Was that a rat? Or was that a parade float!” I exclaimed. The novitiate smiled. “He visits our compost pile every day and collects yesterdays altar flowers to decorate his nest.”
I wondered, are all rats like this, or was this an enlightened rat with a passion for beauty?
I couldn’t say. But I love the memory of that little rat. And the way he wore those flowers, he certainly was the most beautiful one I ever saw.