Bhadant Nagarjun Arya Surai Sasai (b. 1935), a Japanese-born Indian Buddhist monk who came to India in 1966 and made it his home, released my book, ‘Peerless Benefactor of Humanity: The Life and Thoughts of Gautam Buddha’ at Ananda Buddha Vihara, Mahendra Hills, Hyderabad.
On November 19, 2006, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Care Hospital at Nagpur, I visited Sasai Maharaj at the Indora Buddha Vihar. He made me sit opposite to him, exactly at the center of a huge dome, and chanted sutras in his booming voice, while rattling the kapali ka damaru. For about five minutes, I felt like I was in a different realm.
“I have dusted off the bad smears of your earlier incarnations and invoked your hiri–ottappa,” said Sasai Maharaj, walking me out of the stupa. When I asked for an explanation, Sasai Maharaj laughed and said, “Human life is like an iron rod smeared with excrement at one end and heated to a red-hot glow at the other end. It hurts the ignorant one day, debases him another day. Hiri is your disgust at grabbing the rod in the place where it is smeared with excrement, ottappa is your fear of grabbing it in the place where it is red-hot.” Well, I did not exactly become a pious person after this, but my conscience started poking me more frequently and rather forcefully, suggesting that hiri–ottappa were very much active!