How we cite our quotes:
'Nay, if it please thee to forget—the one thing only that thou hast not told me. Surely thou must know? See, I am an old man! I ask with my head between thy feet, O Fountain of Wisdom. We know He drew the bow! We know the arrow fell! We know the stream gushed! Where, then, is the River? My dream told me to find it. So I came. I am here. But where is the River?'
'If I knew, think you I would not cry it aloud?'
'By it one attains freedom from the Wheel of Things,' the lama went on, unheeding. 'The River of the Arrow! Think again! Some little stream, maybe—dried in the heats? But the Holy One would never so cheat an old man.' (1.64-6)
The lama is an old man in terms of years, but sometimes his naivety about the world makes him seem kind of like a child. The fact that he more or less demands that the curator of the Lahore Museum tell him where the River of the Arrow is, even though the curator keeps trying to tell him that he just doesn't know, makes the lama appear kind of immature in this scene. Does the lama in some sense grow up over the course of the book, as Kim does?
'It may be that the Bull knows—that he is sent to guide us both.' said the lama, hopefully as a child. Then to the company, indicating Kim: 'This one was sent to me but yesterday. He is not, I think, of this world.'
'Beggars aplenty have I met, and holy men to boot, but never such a yogi nor such a disciple,' said the woman.
Her husband touched his forehead lightly with one finger and smiled. But the next time the lama would eat they took care to give him of their best. (2.110-112)
We think that the lama comes across as pretty childish in this book, but the striking thing is that even though many of the people the lama meets on the road in India think he's crazy, naive, or both, they also believe in him enough to feed him and support him on his travels. It's as though being a holy man means that you have to be a bit childish—that innocence seems to be one of the markers of holiness in this book.
'Oho!' said the old soldier. 'Whence hadst thou that song, despiser of this world?'
'I learned it in Pathankot—sitting on a doorstep,' said the lama shyly. 'It is good to be kind to babes.'
'As I remember, before the sleep came on us, thou hadst told me that marriage and bearing were darkeners of the true light, stumbling-blocks upon the Way. Do children drop from Heaven in thy country? Is it the Way to sing them songs?'
'No man is all perfect,' said the lama gravely, recoiling the rosary. 'Run now to thy mother, little one.' (3.168-171)
The lama teaches that marriage and children are obstacles to finding true meaning in this life, since some schools of Buddhism hold that emotional attachment will keep you tied to the Great Wheel of Things. But then, when he is sitting in a field with Kim and the Old Man Who Fought in '57, a baby boy comes toddling over. The lama sings to him and seems to enjoy playing with the child, and the Old Man Who Fought in '57 mocks the lama for his hypocrisy, since the lama preaches against having children when he so clearly likes them.
This scene shows in miniature the lama's main conflict over the whole course of the novel: he loves Kim as a grandson, even though he thinks that love and family keep you from gaining Enlightenment. For more on how the lama resolves this issue for himself, check out our section on "What's Up With the Ending?"