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Quotes

Quote #1

There were hundreds of pieces, friezes of figures in relief, fragments of statues and slabs crowded with figures that had encrusted the brick walls of the Buddhist stupas and viharas of the North Country and now, dug up and labelled, made the pride of the Museum. In open-mouthed wonder the lama turned to this and that, and finally checked in rapt attention before a large alto-relief representing a coronation or apotheosis of the Lord Buddha. […]

'The Lord! The Lord! It is Sakya Muni himself,' the lama half sobbed […] 'And He is here! The Most Excellent Law is here also. My pilgrimage is well begun. (1.41-4)

The lama's response to this museum exhibit is deeply emotional and religious: he doesn't look at these statues of the Buddha as pieces of art but as signs of his faith encouraging him to go on his pilgrimage. How might the curator of the Lahore Museum view these Buddhist artifacts differently? How do you think the curator of the Lahore Museum views the lama as he is looking at all of these statues?

Quote #2

The girl looked up at the lama, who had mechanically followed Kim to the platform. He bowed his head that he might not see her, and muttered in Tibetan as she passed on with the crowd.

'Light come—light go,' said the cultivator's wife viciously.

'She has acquired merit,' returned the lama. 'Beyond doubt it was a nun.'

'There be ten thousand such nuns in Amritzar alone. Return, old man, or the te-rain may depart without thee,' cried the banker. (2.61-4)

We know that the Amritzar girl is a high-class prostitute, but she gives Kim money for a ticket to Umballa and for some food. Since the Amritzar girl does a good thing for Kim and the lama, the lama assumes that "beyond doubt it was a nun."

Not only does this scene emphasize the lama's total lack of skill or interest in figuring out people's social statuses from their appearances (unlike most other major characters in the novel), but it also shows the lama's misunderstanding of the complexity of human moral character. He assumes, because the Amritzar girl does something good for him and his disciple, that she must be a nun—since a nun would be, in his judgment, the most moral kind of woman.

The plot of Kim teaches us that people's motivations can be complex and contradictory—witness the weird and amazing character of the Babu—and the lama is the slowest character in the book to learn this lesson.

Quote #3

'There is no pride,' said the lama, after a pause, 'there is no pride among such as follow the Middle Way.'

'But thou hast said he was low-caste and discourteous.'

'Low-caste I did not say, for how can that be which is not? Afterwards he amended his discourtesy, and I forgot the offence. Moreover, he is as we are, bound upon the Wheel of Things; but he does not tread the way of deliverance.' He halted at a little runlet among the fields, and considered the hoof-pitted bank. (3.14-6)

We've said before that the lama is deeply naive about the world, but part of his naivety seems to be a choice that comes from his spiritual commitment. In this passage, when a farmer tries to chase Kim and the lama from his fields, Kim pulls rank and asks if the man wants to risk bad luck by insulting a holy man like the lama. But the lama warns Kim that he shouldn't bully people for their lack of courtesy, especially once they apologize. And anyway, there is no such thing as low or high class: we are all humans traveling through life, trying to figure out the answers to the same questions.

The lama may not be the most observant guy when it comes to social cues, but he does recognize the larger truth that these differences between people are mostly misunderstandings—underneath, we are all made of the same stuff.

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