Chapter 17: The Immaculate Deception
But the next morning, when I was walking in the garden, the man who guarded the house came running to me and said, “What kind of women are staying upstairs? The whole night I was puzzled about what they were doing. They would bring something in buckets and throw it on the street.” Finally he went there with a torch to look, and he was surprised: these women were strange. They could not urinate in the toilet, so they were urinating in a bucket - all five - and when it was full they had to throw it out. I talked to them. They said, “Ah, we understand, but it is against the holy scripture.”
Buddhist monks walk with naked feet. Buddha and Mahavira both had said, “Don’t use leather, because if you use leather for any purpose - shoes, suitcases, or anything - then animals are going to be killed. You may not kill them, and you may not know who is killing them, but indirectly you are the cause of their being killed. So you have to accept your responsibility; don’t use anything made of leather.”
Mahavira was very strict, so they cannot use shoes. And I asked Jaina nuns and Jaina monks.. And now to walk in Mahavira’s time it may have been a little different; they were walking just on plain earth. Now these poor monks and nuns are walking on coal tar, in the hot summer. Their feet start getting wounds, but they cannot wear shoes. I said, “It is perfectly true. Look at my shoes, they are not made of leather. Now synthetic leather is available, which is man-made; nobody is killed. You can use shoes made of cloth, they are available.” But just the word shoe is enough. It is against the holy scripture.
And I had seen these poor women and men, and I told them, “What you are doing - that’s what I am saying to do, but you don’t understand.” When their feet would start bleeding, then they would put cloths around the feet, and I said, “That’s what a cloth shoe is, but well made, better made, more comfortable. What you are doing looks stupid. And carrying so much load on both feet” - because they had to wind it perfectly, so that it didn’t get loose through walking and fall off. But this too they would do only when they were out of sight of their community. If the community comes to know that you are covering your feet with cloth, then you are trying to cheat. You fall from grace.
Buddha was not so strict about leather. Perhaps the question was never raised because it was already an accepted fact. Jaina monks were very old; in Buddha’s time they were at least five thousand years old. And Buddha was trying to prove that he was the twenty-fourth tirthankara of the Jainas, so he must have been following in every way. He must have been walking barefoot, and his sannyasins, his bhikkhus, his monks, must have been doing the same, and the question was never raised.