I opened my front door in
response to the doorbell.
A man with a shaved head
and wearing a saffron robe stood upon the
Mr Morrison? he
said, in a tone of enquiry.
Yes, I replied.
My name is
Dharmadhara. Ive come to respectfully
request the return of the water buffalo that you
borrowed from Mr Baharupa Sakyamuni of Sarnath,
Uttar Pradesh, India.
I think you must be
mistaken, I replied. I visited
Sarnath many years ago, but I didnt borrow
any water buffalo. I was travelling by air, and I
wouldnt have been able to take it on the
Dharmadhara withdrew a
sheet of paper from inside his robe and consulted
it. It happened in 1863, I believe.
I wasnt born in
It was during one of
your previous lives. Dharmadhara looked
again at the piece of paper. You were an
Indian farmer in Sarnath and Mr Sakyamuni was one
of your neighbours.
I looked puzzled.
Perhaps I should
explain, said Dharmadhara. I work for
a Buddhist debt reparation agency called Keeping
Karma. We specialise in resolving debts from
I was intrigued. You
had better come in, I said.
I made tea for us both and
then resumed our discussion.
Even if I did forget
to return a water buffalo to Mr Sakyamuni in 1863,
I began, both Mr Sakyamuni and the water
buffalo would be long since dead.
That is indeed
correct, Dharmadhara agreed. The
animal passed away in 1863 following your
experimental attempt to use it to plough your
fields at night, rather too near the cliff edge.
He again referred to his notes. An incident
that, regretfully, also led to your demise. Mr
Sakyamuni was killed at around the same time,
crushed to death during his nighttime stroll on
the path that ran along the cliff bottom.'
remarked. Nevertheless, I continued,
how could I now return a long deceased
animal to a long departed owner.
Dharmadhara took a sip of
his tea. Thats the clever thing about
reincarnation, he explained, not only
do beings become reborn, but their karma links
them to those with whom they have unfinished
business from previous lives.
Where is Mr Sakyamuni,
now? I enquired, beginning to see where
this conversation was going.
John Farmer at number
Well, Ill be
damned, I said. And the water buffalo?
Rosemary Bull at
said, recalling how she had helped me to dig my
allotment. I also remembered her telling me of
her fear of heights.
friends with both of them, arent you?
both on their own and both want to get to know
each other better, but dont know where to
start. Dharmadhara stood and walked towards
the door. Thanks for the tea, he said.
I have to be going, but I think youve
got the idea about how to repay your debt.
From my very basic
knowledge of the Buddhist concept of Karma, I had
somehow always imagined that compensating for
past errors involved some kind of penance. It was,
however, very pleasant inviting John and Rosemary
over for dinner. I was very happy to lend them my
caravan for a summer holiday and was, indeed,
honoured to be best man at their wedding.
Throughout, however, I
thought it prudent not to raise the topic of
peasant farming in mid nineteenth century India.
Given the way things had
worked out, I was rather pleased when, some
months later, my door bell rang and Dharmadhara
once more greeted me.
Hello again, Mr
Morrison, he said. I need to talk to
you about an elephant