When I was just a boy in Nepal, a strange man in orange robes arrived in our village. He was a monk who spoke of the holy Buddha, a great man who had achieved enlightenment under a fig tree.
"Buddha said that suffering is the lot of men," he said, as everyone in the village began to cluster around him. "Men suffer as long as they cling to desires. You suffer when you don't get something you want or when something you like is taken from you. You even suffer when you have to endure something you do not like."
The crowd nodded in agreement. They certainly knew what suffering was.
"Turn away from suffering. Give up your attachments to the world," he urged us. He told us that his order wanted to start a monastery here in our mountains so that more people could learn about Buddha's Way.
A few days later several more monks appeared begging for their food. When we saw them, my friend BHARAT and I ran to his mother GANDHARI and asked her to cook some extra rice for them.
"Tell the monks to cook their own food!" she retorted.
"Please, mother," Bharat asked.
"All right. But just this time."
We brought a bowl of rice to the men in orange robes. "What is it like to be a monk" I asked one of them.
"We live a simple life together," he said "Whatever food is given to us we share with each other. We spend our lives in prayers and meditation."
I was attracted to what he said. When the monks opened a school for boys, I asked my parents if I could go there. Shortly after that, my parents delivered me to the head monk DHARMA, and I joined the monastery as a novice. My head was shaved, and I put on their orange robes.
We boys studied the words of the Buddha and learned how to chant special prayers. When the time came, I chose to join them. I vowed to give up the world and put the welfare of others before my own. I was given the name ANANDA, one of the Buddha's close companions.
One day when I was begging, I came across my friend Bharat. "How are you?" he asked.
"I'm all right," I answered. "It's a different life, but I've gotten used to it."
"We miss you," Bharat said. "My mother was just saying what a shame it was that you joined the monastery. She thinks all this worship is foolishness."
"Have you ever thought of becoming a monk?" I asked.
He thought for a moment. "Sometimes," he said.
We spoke for a while. I told him about Buddha's teachings and how kind the other monks were. "You know, Bharat, sometimes you just have to break away from home and go your own way."
A few days later his mother appeared at our gates demanding to speak with the head monk. Bharat reached the gates just behind her.
Dharma invited them into our main hall. "What exactly is the problem?" he asked Gandhari calmly.
"My son wants to leave me and join your monastery!" she yelled. "I am a widow. Who will take care of me in my old age?"
"Is this true?" he asked Bharat.
"I am thinking about it. Ananda tells me how nice it is to be with you."
"But how will you care for your mother?" Dharma asked. "She has no other way to support herself."
Bharat looked ashamed. Dharma spoke to him kindly. "You know, our path is the Middle Way. You do not need to become a monk to practice it."
Then he turned to me. "And, Ananda, what's all this about your trying to influence Bharat?
"He's my friend," I answered. "Being a monk would be a better life for him."
"That is for him to decide. You have taken vows." Dharma reminded me. "You must give up this desire for his friendship. You must put his mother's welfare before your own."
Now I looked down. I also felt ashamed.
"Beg the forgiveness of your friend and his mother. Then spend the rest of this day meditating on what has just happened."
I saw his point and did as he requested.
After a long life, I passed into that state between death and birth. I saw how my little self had kept me from reaching Enlightenment. I still had to take birth, but the wisdom of the monks would help me...