Buddhist and Oatmeal Story

Many years ago I led a group on the West Coast

wctwatch your step - it is slippery_1

buddhaMany years ago I led a group on the West Coast Trail. The West Coast Trail is a very challenging hike of sandy and gravel beaches, temperate rain forest, and sandstone cliffs.

We had completed our second day of hiking, with 6 more days ahead of us. Our campsite was on a beach near one of the highlights along the trail, Tsusiat Falls. The evening found us sitting around a campfire, drinking beverages, getting to know each other, and exchanging stories. A man, who was camped down the beach, approached our campfire. After introductions, he asked if we had any extra food to share. He explained that the food was not for him, but for a young man he had met camped in one of the sandstone caves along the beach. The young man had very little in the way of the usual equipment needed for a 7 day backcountry hiking trip. He brought no food with him. The man further explained that, as he was completing the West Coast Trail the next day (you can start at either of 2 trailheads – north or south end), he had used up near all his food.wctcamp beside Tsusiat Falls on WCT_0

I explained that we were only into our second day, and therefore would be reluctant to part with any food. The prevailing feeling was that the young man had made his bed and should therefore lie in it. Why feel any sympathy for someone who shows such fundamental disrespect for preparation. The man understood our observation, as he was initially of the same opinion. He noted that the young man had not approached him for any assistance, and that he was taking on this cause of his own volition. In conversation with the young man, he found that he was a Buddhist. He believed that, whatever his needs, it would be provided, if it were meant to be. We told the man that we would discuss it among ourselves and see what, if anything, we could or would do.

Conversation flowed around the campfire. We looked down the beach and observed this young man. He was tall and lean and absorbed in what looked like tai chi or yoga exercises. It quickly became apparent that neither the nurses nor professional guides could turn their backs on another human in need. I determined that we would hold on to any food that was part of our lunches or dinners, but the nurses could share any other food that was part of their personal cache. Everyone went off and returned to the campfire with their contributions – instant oatmeal, granola bars, gorp (mix of nuts, raisins, etc), and tea. It was amazing how little regard was shown for instant oatmeal among the nurse and guide community. I brought our food mix, heavy on the oatmeal, to the man who had approached us. He said he would bring it over to the young man. I hazard that most of us were happy to help in some small measure, but happier to offload some extra weight from our packs.

The next morning, as we were readying our departure, we noticed the young man approaching our group. He smiled and extend his hand in friendship. There was a calmness, contentment, and resoluteness about him that is hard to describe. He thanked us for our kindness and proceeded to return any unused food that we had contributed. He turned and walked away. We never saw him again.

I always wondered why he returned the unused food. Did he act on divine Buddhist principle to allow the universe to supply his needs for his journey ahead, or did he see the need for us to come to terms with oatmeal and granola?