Rahula and his mother Princess Yasodhara are standing on the balcony of the king’s palace. They watch the Buddha and his monks file through the main gates. All the soldiers and workers in the palace have come out to greet him. They all bow respectfully as he passes by. The women of the household throw scented flowers at his feet. The king has prepared an amazing banquet for his son. The Buddha and his monks are led to their places under an open pavilion in the great courtyard. The king and all his ministers are there to greet them. Beautiful serving girls bring in large baskets of bread and fruit. Others carry in gold plates piled high with the finest food in the kingdom. The king’s guests are being treated like royalty rather than like the simple monks they are.
Yasodhara leans over to her seven-year-old son Rahula and points out the Buddha:
“There he is!”
Rahula looks confused.
“ The tall monk?”
At this moment the Buddha passes under their window. He looks up and for an instant he and Yasodhara exchange glances. She catches her breath.
“Your father has come home.”
Rahula looks at the monks in their dusty golden yellow robes. They’re all very thin. They all have shaven heads. They file past Rahula and Yasodhara in silence, one after the other. Each man holds a round begging bowl made of hard wood. One monk looks very much like the other.
Rahula turns to his mother:
“Why has he come back, mother?”
Yasodhara looks surprised.
“Because he gave us his word.
After your grandfather King
Suddhodhana passes away,
the throne will belong to your
The Buddha bows to the king on his throne and takes his place beside him under the royal pavilion. Rahula watches him for a long time. Then he says:
“Will father become king?”
His mother sighs.
“I don’t know.”
“When will I be king?”
Yasodhara understands what Rahula is trying to say.
“Go to your father and say: I am
your son Rahula. Please give me
She points to the royal pavilion where a line of important people have assembled to welcome the famous son of the Sakya tribe.
“If he asks where I am, you can say that I
will wait for him in my chambers.”
Rahula obeys his mother and descends into the courtyard, taking his place at the end of a line of dignitaries eagerly waiting to welcome home the king’s son. It seems as if everyone is pressing forward, eager to catch a glimpse of the Buddha. Only Rahula waits calmly, lost in thought. Finally his turn comes. The King introduces Rahula and says:
“Rahula, you must bow to your father like
The king presses his palms together and makes the traditional bow of courtesy to a guru. Rahula does what he’s been told. The Buddha bows too and then they both look up at each other. Rahula is frozen to the spot. He doesn’t know what more to do, but Buddha smiles at him in a way that he’s never been smiled at before. It is more of an embrace than a simple smile, and it makes Rahula feel as if his father can see deep into his heart.
“You have a message for me, don’t you?”
There is nothing frightening about his dad but his presence is more powerful than that of anyone he’s ever met, including King Suddhodhana. For a moment Rahula can’t think of anything to
say. The Buddha helps him:
“How is your mother?”
Suddenly the spell is broken. Rahula smiles.
“ She’s waiting for you in her chambers.”
The king tells the Buddha that his wife has asked permission to see the Buddha alone before appearing at the public reception. Without a moment’s hesitation the Buddha rises from his seat and takes hold of his son’s hand.
“Of course, we shall go see her at once!”
Buddha bows to the king to signal that he wishes to be excused from the party. The king bows in turn to show his consent. The Buddha takes his son’s hand in his own and starts to walk across the palace courtyard. There is a hush as people quickly step back to let them past. The people bow as they go back to let them past. The people bow as they go by. Rahula feels as if the whole world is looking at them and he’s never felt more proud and happy in his life. As they approach Yasodhara’s building, the Buddha leans down and whispers in Rahula’s ear.
“Is there anything else she told you?”
Rahula suddenly remembers:
“Yes. My inheritance. Mother said I’m
to ask you for it.”
The Buddha stops and lifts Rahula into his arms. He looks deeply into his son’s eyes.
“I can show you how to be happy. Would
you like that?”
Rahula is only seven years old. He probably hasn’t thought much about happiness.
“Doesn’t everyone want to be happy?”
The Buddha puts him down again. Rahula feels strangely alone. He wishes he were back in his father’s arms.
“That’s right, Rahula. Everyone wants
to be happy, but instead they suffer.
I know the way out of suffering. Do you
want me to show you?”
The Buddha flashes another smile at his son and takes hold of his hand again. Rahula no longer feels alone. This is his dad. He’s going to be there for him. He realizes how much he’s missed having a dad. Rahula feels happier than he’s ever felt before. His eyes well up and tears start rolling down his cheeks. He doesn’t know quite why this is happening. It doesn’t feel bad like other times when he’s cried. Instead there’s a big sense of relief. Like everything’s going to be ok.
ANGIE AND ME
What’s it like having a big sister who’s a totally obsessed workaholic and cram freak? Mostly it sucks. But sometimes she can be alright. Like yesterday. We’re coming out of school and she does this theatrical double take: “Wow Dylan. It’s YOU!” I doff my cap. This is always a good move because I’m saying “Hi” but making sure she doesn’t knock it off. I have a lot of different head gear for skating and Angie likes to tease me about it. When I was little it was easy for her to give my head a quick swipe. Now that I’m about her size it’s harder. Anyway, yesterday she was completely happy to see me.
“Hey Dylan. Can you believe it? I
got an A. An A in Economics!”
I make believe I don’t know what she’s talking about. Just to take her down a peg or two.
“Is that Home Economics?”
In home economics they teach you how to bake a cake. Not run a company. But Angie just laughs, like I just said something fab. She’s so over the moon there’s no way to bring her down to earth. She hugs me and says how sorry she was to hear about the skate park. She seems genuinely upset to learn that they’re closing it down, but she keeps telling me I have to think positive and how great it will be to have a new place to skate. Like she knows something about it.
Today Angie wants me - and everyone else in the world - to be happy. It’s like she’s in love. Totally barmy! So she invites me for an ice cream at the Greedy Goat in Borough’s Market.
The ice creams are lactose free. A lot of people are allergic to cow’s milk because it has lactose in it, but these are made from goat’s milk. They’re also pricey and come in little green cups. The Italian
gelateria is definitely a better bet. But who am I to complain? Happy sister. Free ice cream. Doesn’t get much better than that around my house. We take our tiny little cups and go sit on some steps where we watch the crowd push through the busy market. Angie is whistling some melody slightly out of tune. She still has this spacey smile on her face:
“Isn’t the world wonderful, brother?”
I just nod and do my best to smile back. I don’t want to be a spoilsport, especially since she’s just bought me expensive goat ice cream. But I don’t get away with it. Angie gives me a long look and then asks whether I’m ok.
“ You mean happy?”
“No, just ok. You’re not a happy
sort of person.”
Out of the blue. It feels like a kick in the teeth, but the truth is she’s right. I don’t smile much. I never laugh at anything, unless it’s when Jerry wipes out on the rails. Angie gives me an “oh, you poor thing” kind of look, just like Mum.
“ Listen. I’m sorry if that was too
harsh. I feel for you.”
Mrs. McFeely comes to mind instantly. I know Angie took her “feelings” class too. Still, it’s sort of fun having my big sister in this lovey dovey mood. I tell her I feel for her too. She snorts and squeezes my arm. Then she gets serious and I tense up. I know what she’s about to say. Then she says it:
“He’s gone. It’s been nearly four years:
Dad’s not coming back. Can’t you let your-
self be OK with it? You’ve got to make your
own life. That’s what he would want.”
Angie asks about my meditation, whether it’s helping or not. I tell her I think so and leave it at that. I don’t really like talking about it. What can I say? Every time is different. On good days it’s like skating. On bad days it’s like trying to run into the wind. Nothing but thoughts, awful thoughts, one after the other. Going nowhere. Jizo says the bad days are the important ones, the ones to get through. Good days take care of themselves. It’s not what people think. Like you just sit there and space out and become magically happy. Jizo talks about being in training, like a sportsman. You train and your muscles get stronger and you get used to the bumps in the road.
I know one thing for sure. I’m not going to need Ritalin ever again. And Mrs. McFeely is surprised to find my new essays are OK. Even better than OK. I know you’re not coming back Dad. It’s just that I like to think you’re there so I can talk to you sometimes.
THE BUDDHA TAKES RAHULA
Jizo strikes the gong to sound the end of the half hour. He tells us to relax our legs.
“Today I’m going to tell you something
more about Rahula, the Buddha’s son,
and how he went to live with his father.”
Jizo says the sutras hardly mention the Buddha’s reunion with Rahula and his wife, Princess Yasodhara. But we have a few clues. We know Rahula goes off with his dad to join his order of monks when he’s just seven years old. But you need a bit of imagination to fill in the gaps. We know the Buddha hands his son over to his chief disciple Shariputra and Shariputra raises him and when he’s old enough Rahula too becomes a monk.
Harriet figures this isn’t what Rahula’s mother meant when she told her son to ask for his inheritance, and Helen wonders if the Buddha isn’t being a little insensitive to his wife.
But Jerry objects:
“How do you know? She lived like a nun
after her husband left her, didn’t she?
Why wouldn’t she want her son to be a
Toshi joins in:
“ The point of these stories is to make us
see that everything comes at a cost. My wife
doesn’t like it much when I come here to
meditate. I tell her she can come along, but
she doesn’t want to.”
I didn’t even know that Toshi was married! But I suppose he’s right. Whenever you make a change in your life, you’re bound to upset people, especially the ones closest to you.
Jizo looks pleased. He loves discussions. He suggests we try to imagine how the reunion between the Buddha and his family would take place if it was our own family. Then he sounds the gong to signal the end of the sitting and before we get up from our cushions we all place our hands in gasho and bow.
“Why do we bow all the time?” I’ve been wondering about that. At first I didn’t give it much thought. I know that Jerry bows at his martial arts class too. He said that in Asian cultures people bow to each other all the time. It’s a sign of respect. But in the Zendo we seem to bow to no one. The room. The cushion. The Buddha. Whatever is there. I remember Jizo saying it was good for the heart. What does that mean? Clock it: I must ask him next time.
It’s a short walk from the Buddhist Society to Victoria station.
From there it’s only a few stops to Southwark, but it’s rush hour and people are streaming into the station from everywhere. They look down or away, or into space if they have earphones in their ears. Everyone seems to be enclosed in a bubble. There are just too many strangers pressing against each other. Nobody wants to be there, so everyone retreats into their own world.
For once I don’t have my earphones in my ears. I’m not listening to my music or anything. I try to stay focused and be right where I am. This is one of the daily life exercises that Jizo likes to give us. He’s always asking us to try this or that exercise. Mostly I forget, but today’s different. I try to give myself into it with everything I have, like I was at the skate park. I can feel my body wanting to be elsewhere and thoughts pulling me away… far away. As soon as I become aware of this I’m back on the train. Then I’m pulled away again. Each thought is like a balloon. If I hold on I get carried off into the clouds. It’s kind of fun.
You should try it.
Suddenly I’m sitting with the Buddha in Kapilavastu. He’s come to get his son and take him away with him. His mother is crying. He puts out his hand and gently comforts her. I can’t quite hear what they’re saying.
A train comes into the station and opens its doors. People pour out onto the platform. There are other people beside me waiting to jump on. I’m a regular. I do this commute two or three times a week. Regular commuters know just where to stand to catch an open door. I squeeze myself through a small opening and grab a free place inside the car, smiling up at the man whom I beat for the seat. He smiles back. Peeking around the legs of the smiling man is a little boy of seven or eight. The man lifts the boy up and gives him a hug. Now I feel bad and want to give up my seat, but something keeps me from moving. I watch and wait. The little boy throws his arms around his dad’s neck and rests his head against the man’s shoulder. He closes his eyes and looks so comfortable. His dad stands there touching the boy’s cheek. It’s as if I’m glued to my seat and have lost all will power. The train comes to a stop. The doors open. It’s Southwark. I jump up and stumble onto the platform before the doors shut behind me.
RAHULA BECOMES A NOVICE MONK
I don’t believe the Buddha took Rahula away against his will. Rahula wanted to go away with him. He may have been only seven years old, but he knew what he wanted. He felt just like his dad did when he was young. He was living in a castle, but it felt like a prison. He lived alone with his mum, who was always thinking about his dad, and now his dad comes back as the Buddha and he’s a real cool dude with all these people following him and hanging on his every word. Then he tells Rahula he’ll teach him how to be happy. Pretty big promise, don’t you think?
If you come back and tell me all those things I’ll go off with you too. Would you take me with you? Could we go back to India like we did when you were married to Mum? I’m not sure where else you go on your long trips. You were in Dubai once, weren’t you? You had to fix an oil pump or something. Mum says you fixed huge oil rigs and stuff in the desert. I’d love to see what you did there. Maybe I could learn to build oil rigs one day. Is that where you had your accident? Mum won’t talk about it in detail. She says you won’t be coming back, so there’s no reason to go into detail. “He’s not coming back,” she says, “That’s all”.
I can see Rahula sitting happily with all the monks in Nighroda Park. Remember the park where the Buddha stayed outside his grandfather’s city of Kapilavastu? They’re listening quietly to one of the Buddha’s talks about the three Signs of Being.
Jizo always says these are the three things we all have in common. The first is suffering, of course. Everybody feels bad at one time or another. If you’re like me - “not-a-happy” sort of person - then you can feel bad a lot of the time.
The second thing we all have in common is that we’re going through changes all the time, even when we don’t want to. Change involves losing stuff you want to keep and losing people you love too. We all hate that. You bet we do. We hold on tight to things but they slip away anyway. Like you did, Dad.
The last Sign of Being is “No-I”. I have the most trouble with this sign. If I’m honest I don’t really understand it. Jizo says the Buddha is pointing to the heart of Buddhist practice when he talks about “No-I”. He says it’s something you can experience for yourself when the “I” drops off during meditation. I tell Jizo I have no idea what this means, but he just smiles and tells me to keep bowing and something will eventually drop off.
The best I can do at the moment is to play this idea backwards:
Sign 3: I’m sure I’m somebody and I want
things to stay that way.
Sign 2: Change comes along and ruins the
Sign 1: So I suffer.
That much makes sense.
Rahula is sitting beside Shariputra under a banyan tree enjoying the moment. He may not take in too much of what’s being said, but who cares. He’s near his dad and he’s happy! The hard part will come later. Shariputra is patient and gentle and a perfectly good teacher, but it’s not the same as being with his Dad. He shows Rahula how to sit properly on a cushion with his legs folded. He tells him that it’s important to watch what the other monks do and follow their example. Sariputta asks him to listen carefully to everything that’s being said to him. This is his first lesson. If Rahula can learn how to watch and listen carefully, he will always know what to do and everything will be easy.
The Buddha lifts his arm and motions for Shariputra to bring Rahula over to him. Shariputra rises from his seat and so does Rahula. With Shariputra leading the way, they carefully step through the seated monks until they reach the Buddha’s place. Then they sink to their knees and bow. Buddha holds a small golden yellow robe in his hands. He raises the robe above his head and gives a slight bow as he offers it to Rahula:
“This is the robe of our order Rahula.
Shariputra will show you how to wear it.
Shariputra takes the yellow robe from Rahula and arranges it so that it goes over one shoulder and under the arm of the other. The Buddha smiles:
This is your inheritance Rahula. Please take good
care of it.”
The Buddha and Shariputra bow and the whole assembly of monks bows together with them. Rahula feels as if there are three hundred monks looking straight at him. It makes him self-conscious but at the same time his heart swells with pride. Then he remembers to bow with the other monks.
JIZO AND ME AT THE SKATE PARK
It’s Saturday. I always go to the skate park on Saturday morning. So I take my board and go out the door without thinking. When I get to the park they’ve already put up a barrier and a sign saying “No skateboarding”. They’ve tied orange tape to the rails and stretched the tape from one rail to the next so you have to crouch down to get through it. I try it. It’s good fun. I’m through the barrier so easily it’s like it isn’t there. Everything is just as it always is except there’s nobody about. It feels great to be home again. I expect a copper will run me off straight away, but after a few minutes of grinding the rails I relax. This is amazing. I’m alone. I’m sure I have the whole place to myself, but of course I’m wrong. He’s standing there holding a few of his potted plants.
As always Jizo appears out of nowhere.
“Thought I might find you here.”
“Yeah. I forgot they closed the park. ”
It’s not exactly true. I tell Jizo about the protest and the placards and skating around with my sign saying “Don’t wreck our home”. I half expect him to say he’s sorry or it will be ok or some of the other nice things grown-ups always say after they’ve pulled the rug from under you. But Jizo never says anything you expect him to say. He puts down his pots.
“Where do you come from?”
“Southwark. I’ve always lived here.”
“Where do you really come from?”
“I was born across the river in
Jizo looks at me like I’m a total idiot.
“Where do you REALLY come from?”
Now he’s got me. Don’t know what to say. Is it a test?
“Ok, Mum’s English, but my dad was
born in Canada. He’s an engineer.”
Jizo roars at me:
“BEFORE your father and mother were
born, where do YOU come from?”
My mind goes numb.
Jizo relaxes and smiles in his usual way. He taps his chest.
“ That’s where you come from.”
I look at him and grin.
“ That’s your chest.”
Jizo shakes his head. I know what he’s thinking: I’m not as thick as I pretend to be.
He tries again:
“It’s called the heart, and it’s also
Then he says that in the Buddha’s time, the name for it was citta, which is the word for heart and mind together. If I connect with citta I connect with my real home.
Then he adds the kicker:
“If you find the place where you’ve
always lived, Dylan, nobody can
throw you out of there.”
Jizo picks up his pots and starts to walk off. I watch him go. Then it hits me. He’s the groundskeeper for the whole arts complex! What will happen to him when they bring down these buildings to build new ones? They won’t need a grounds keeper because they won’t need plants. At least not right away. I push my board forward until I’m riding alongside him.
“Hey! What about you? What are you going
He’s focused on his plants and doesn’t look at me straight away.
“Plant my flowers.”
“And if you lose your job?”
“Try to find another.”
The word “try” makes me wonder.
“What if you can’t, Jizo?”
Now he stops and carefully places the plants at his feet. He looks me straight in the eye.
“If I can’t find a new job here, it
will be time to go somewhere
“Too early to say, Dylan.”
My throat goes dry. I don’t want to think about Jizo leaving.
“When will you know?”
Jizo gives me a kind look.
“We’ll both know when it’s time.”
The Buddha doesn’t only teach Rahula about the Dharma. He teaches his dad and step-mother Queen Mahajapati (who you’ll remember is also his auntie) too, and all the other members of the king’s household. Also his wife Yasodhara. When they hear the Buddha say that he’s found a way out of suffering, some are really interested, some don’t believe him and others just don’t care. Jizo says it’s always like that.
Several of the king’s ministers pretend to be impressed but they’re actually pretty annoyed. They don’t see who the Buddha is. They only see the young prince who left his duties and has now come back after seven years. They can’t see what all the fuss is about. I suppose they worry that things might become more difficult for them now that the prince is back. As the Buddha likes to point out we don’t like change.
The Buddha continues to teach and the king and queen turn out to be pretty good students. They learn about the Four Noble Truths and the Three Signs of Being and all the rest of it. (see my earlier blogs). The Buddha shows them how to meditate and how to do daily life practice and like Jizo he tells them stories that help them understand the secrets of the dharma.
King Suddhodhana is near the end of his life. He has only four more years to go, but we’re told that he becomes an arhant – one of the enlightened ones – before he dies. In just four years! That’s pretty good going if you ask me. After the king dies the queen will become a Buddhist nun. She will make the Buddha accept women into the order so she can join, but that’s for later.
Nanda is the Prince Siddhartha’s younger brother. It so happens he’s about to get married when his brother arrives back home. Of course Nanda invites him to his engagement party. The king should be pleased. His older son has turned into the Buddha, the wisest man in the world. His younger son is marrying a beautiful woman and preparing to succeed him to the throne. Everything’s working out perfectly. Or is it?
King Suddodhana is worried about Nanda. He tells the Buddha he’s not sure he’ll make a good king. He wishes Nanda had the strength and wisdom of his oldest son. The king doesn’t even know whether the boy wants the job, but he doesn’t want to lose another heir to the throne so he’s found Nanda a drop-dead gorgeous girl to marry. Now he’s just hoping for the best. When the Buddha hears this, he offers to test his brother and find out if he’s fit to rule the kingdom and says:
“We’ll soon know whether his heart is
in it or not.”
Next day at the engagement party the Buddha watches Nanda closely. His brother looks glum except when he dances with his hot new fiancée. The Buddha goes over and has a chat with him. Making some excuse he hands Nanda his begging bowl. After some more small talk, the Buddha says its time to head back to Nighroda Park. Monks don’t take carriages so they have to walk and he wants to get back before dark. He excuses himself and his fellow monks and disappears leaving Nanda holding the begging bowl. Nanda rushes after his brother to give it back. Nanda’s fiancée calls after him in a worried voice:
“Don’t stay away too long Nanda.”
But Nanda will never come back. He catches up with the Buddha and walks back to Nighroda Park with him. By the time he gets there, he’s already made the biggest decision of his life. Only he doesn’t know it yet. The Buddha tells him he’s unhappy because he doesn’t know his own mind. Would he like to stay with the sangha (the Buddha’s monks) for a few weeks until his mind is clearer? Nanda quickly agrees and takes his first step to becoming a Buddhist monk.
JIZO AND THE MASTER
The gong sounds. The sitting is over. We bow to the room. Jizo tells us to sit comfortably, which means we can relax our legs. It’s the signal for his teisho, which is the formal name for the talk he gives after the meditation.
“Who is your Master?”
I relax my legs, rubbing one of my ankles to get the blood going. I can’t sit too long with my legs crossed or I losing some feeling in my toes.
I wonder why he’s picked me out and say:
Jizo roars with laughter.
He looks round at the others.
“Anyone know the answer?”
Jerry gives it a go.
Jizo shakes his head.
“Who is YOUR master this very day?”
Helen’s face lights up. It makes her look different, special, but my mind plays tricks on me sometimes. Is it just the beam of sunlight coming through the tall window in the meditation hall?
She says: “Your conscience?”
“Go on. You’re closer”
No answers but everybody’s leaning forward on their cushions. Jizo figures he’s got our attention now.
“Your Master is always the situation you
find yourself in right now. Every day we
face something new. We may think we’ve
seen it before, but it’s never the same situation.”
Jizo goes on for some time about the need to give our attention to the situation we’re in and hand ourselves over to it.
“Live it. Don’t judge it.”
Jizo bows on his cushion. He says we have to do this with our body, wholeheartedly, or it won’t work. He says we spend most of the time in our heads, thinking about our life instead of living it.
“Look at what I have in my hand”
Jizo lifts the wooden handle he uses to strike the gong.
“ What is it?”
Nobody answers. So he says:
“A piece of wood.”
Jizo strikes the gong.
“A gong striker.”
“ It’s cold. Maybe I’ll use it for firewood.”
Everyone laughs. OK, we get it: every situation is different so our response must be different.
“ We obey the situation because the
situation is our Master.”
Jizo bows and strikes the gong. Then he smiles.
“ This is what the Buddha called ‘rolling
with the ten thousand things’. Next
time we’ll look at how he does it."
He strikes the gong again to mark the end of his teisho and we all bow.
RAHULA'S BIG DAY
The day of Rahula’s big ceremony is here. Today he becomes a bikkhu and officially joins the sangha along with a lot of other young men who have decided to become bikkhus too. His head is shaved and he’s wearing his new golden yellow robe over one shoulder just the way that Shariputra showed him. He seems peaceful and serious like all the other bikkhus and looks like them too, except that he’s a lot younger. Remember his little head and body are still those of a seven year old.
I suppose Rahula’s whole family is there - at least his mum and dad and auntie - but the sutras only tell us about King Suddhodhana. Can’t you just see him stepping out of his royal carriage with all his attendants around him in their jewels and perfumed hair? They probably arrange themselves under a big banyan tree and wait for the ceremony to begin with all the other bikkhus (what people still call the Buddha’s monks) sitting in meditation.
Nanda is there too. So is Rahula. He is seated next to his minder Shariputra. He listens to the Buddha like all the other novices. We know there are many more relatives of the Buddha who join the sangha around this time too. The king has a good view of just how many by looking out at all of them from his seat under the big shady tree.
The ceremony begins. It’s very simple. The bikkhus all kneel and put their palms together and say:
“I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha”
They chant the same thing three times. The gong sounds and everyone bows. I know because we do this in the zendo too, but it doesn’t mean we’re becoming monks or anything like that. In Zen training ordinary people can take up meditation and make the same vows as religious people do.
Maybe the king doesn’t wait around to speak to the Buddha. Kings never do that, do they? Maybe he’s too upset and needs to talk to him right away. We know what he says to the Buddha because it’s in the sutras so it’s still around for us to read about. And I believe it’s what the king really said. Why? Because it sounds true. He tells his son just how he feels.
The king says:
“I suffered no little pain when you left.
Then there was Nanda. Now Rahula ? Too
much. Love for one’s children cuts into
the flesh, it cuts into the bones; having cut
into the bones, it reaches the marrow and
stays there.” [Mv 1:54]
Then the king asks his son to grant him a favour. The Buddha reminds his dad that he’s not a king so he doesn’t do favours. But he lets his dad make his suggestion. Rahula is the Buddha’s own son, so of course it’s his business if Rahula becomes a little bikkhu, but the king doesn’t believe children should become bikkhus without their parents’ ok.
The Buddha can feel his dad’s pain. On the spot he makes up this new rule for the sangha. Not as a favour to his dad but because it’s the right thing to do. This is what Jizo calls making the situation your master. The Buddha may be enlightened but he doesn’t have fixed ideas that can’t change when situations change. Jizo says he’ll give us other examples as we continue with the Buddha’s story.
MUM AND YOU
The wreckers have moved into the old National theatre buildings. It’s getting more difficult to sneak into the skate park or grind the rails along the pavements. Mum says I have to find another space to skate. She doesn’t want me hanging around the building site and getting into trouble. I don’t like Mum telling me what to do. On the other hand she’s the one person who looks out for me. Even more than she does for herself.
Lately I’ve been thinking about Mum as a person - not just Angie’s and my “mother”. It’s hard to see what kind of person she would be if she weren’t Mum. Angie says Mum doesn’t understand her. She never wants Angie to go out with her friends and have any fun. Angie says that she treats her like a little girl and hasn’t noticed that she’s all grown up. I don’t think so. I think Mum’s very aware of how grown up Angie is and that’s what worries her. She wants her to have a good job and be able to look after herself. She wants Angie to be all the things that Mum stopped being after she married you. Of course Mum wouldn’t put it like that. She says she doesn’t want Angie to make the same mistakes she did, but what mistakes is she talking about?
As far as I can tell the biggest mistake she made was to marry you, have kids and let herself get shafted. Now she has to sit at a desk all day cold-calling people who don’t want to talk to her. She sits in a big office with fifty other people under neon lights instead of windows. And at night she worries about Angie and me and tries to forget about you. Angie says she doesn’t know why people get married. It kinda sucks. Well, maybe. I’m not so sure.
THE BUDDHA & HIS WIFE
I stop by the little café and Jizo is sitting there with Toshi and his wife Yoko. She works in the kitchen but hardly ever shows her face. I sit down and she pours me green tea. Suddenly I wonder about the Buddha’s wife. I don’t know why. It just hits me so I ask Jizo. We hear about the king and his feelings. What about his wife? That’s what I’d like to know.
“Does she cry when the Buddha takes
Rahula away? Is she angry?”
“The Buddha’s life is a teaching story. We
don’t know all the details.”
I don’t like this answer.
“I mean why don’t we hear her side of the
Jizo nods and gives me a little smile.
“We don’t know the customs of a royal
family in northern India 2500 years
Jizo stops and takes a breath. Maybe he’s trying to find the right words. He goes on:
“…. And we don’t know what happened behind the closed doors of their palace
bedchamber. Just as you don’t know what your father and mother talk about when you’re not there.”
I suddenly feel my ears go hot and a voice comes out of me that I don’t know.
“My father’s dead.”
Jizo looks at me. It’s a very kind look. His eyes are shiny like he’s feeling what I’m feeling. But it’s me who breaks up. I can’t help it. Jizo puts his arms around me.
I’m all choked up. Can’t say anymore until my voice says:
“There are things I’m always asking him, things I still need to know.”
Still choked up. But now I feel lighter, like I’ve dropped my back pack. With Jizo I don’t feel embarrassed. It’s like he already knows everything about me. Jizo says if I’m patient and keep asking, one day you’ll answer me. I give him my “weirdo” look:
“Don’t you get it? He’s gone.”
Jizo starts to tell me this story about the Buddha and his wife. I don’t know if he’s making it up or not but I know he’s really talking to me about Mum and you.
Here’s the story: Yasodhara and the Buddha are soul mates. They’re like twins. They find each other life after life because they’re so much alike. Yasodhara in a previous life promises always to be his helper in whatever he tries to do. And he promises her that when he becomes the Buddha he will show her the way.
ME: “Pretty story.”
JIZO: It is, isn’t it?
ME: Why should I believe it?
JIZO: I’m not asking you to.
ME: Then what’s the point of telling me?
Jizo doesn’t answer. We just look at each other. He knows I know but for some reason I can’t let this one go. Then he says very slowly,
JIZO: Some things can only be told in stories, Dylan.
MUM & ME
Mum’s waiting for me when I get home from school. She isn’t usually home at this hour. She’s sitting alone in the living room with the lights off. I can’t remember when I’ve seen her sit down without anything to do. So I say:
“You’re home early.”
“ I was let go.”
She smiles bravely, but I can see she’s been crying because her eyelids are red and her black eyeliner is smudged in one corner.
“What a bummer!”
I ask her what happened, but she just shakes her head.
I can see she doesn’t want to discuss it. I do the same thing with my head when I don’t want to talk about things.
“Six months redundancy pay
We should be alright.”
Mum’s the only breadwinner in the family. We’ve been through some pretty tough times when it comes to making ends meet. But she always seems to find a way, so I say:
“ What are you going to do now?”
She throws up her hands and laughs in this girlish way.
I walk over to the fridge and try to sound casual.
“You’ll figure it out”.
She gives me a sly look as I search the fridge for a snack.
“Do you think it would help me
Yikes! I never expected a question like that from Mum. Is she really interested in meditation or just drawing me out?
“Won’t help you find a job.”
Mum looks like she wants to say something but doesn’t know how to begin.
“But it’s helping you, isn’t it?”
I want to say something, but I don’t know where to start.
“Hard to say.”
It’s true. I’m not sure what good it’s doing, but Mum says something that makes me feel it must be worth the effort.
“I no longer worry about you.”
I give her my “Wow, that’s a shock!” look and ask her:
“Because of my meditation practice?”
Mum nods her head.
“You were so angry, but I think
you’ve turned a corner.”
I want to tell her about my Buddha blog, but decide not to in the end.
She stretches out her arms.
“A smile for your Mum?”
This is Mum’s way of asking for a hug. She hasn’t done this in a long time. I walk over to the table. She squeezes my hand.
“I’m sorry. It was my fault.”
I can’t believe she’s saying this.
Mum gives me a searching look.
“I was angry too, so very angry
after your father left us.”
And then she wraps her arms around my waist.
“ But a day doesn’t go by that
I don’t think about him with
love in my heart.”
So there. That should make you feel better
THE SKATEPARK AT NIGHT
The grey sky has a reddish nighttime glow from all the city lights. The sun is setting somewhere behind the clouds. I know I’m not supposed to be here but I can’t help it. This could be the last time. I bring a pair of wire cutters in case the skate park is already fenced off. Sure enough they come in handy. A few quick snips at the chain-link fence does it. I look round but there isn’t anyone there so I push my board through and crawl in after it. There’s rubbish everywhere. The graffiti has been scratched over and there are a few chunks of plaster lying on the ground. I don’t care. I’ll use them as jumps.
How long will The National Film Theatre be there? Will it be the last building left standing? I imagine it all by itself, surrounded by cranes and other building sites. There are always new buildings going up. Cranes are everywhere in Southwark. I wonder when it’s going to happen. I can see the long line of pretty plants and flowers in their pots along the terrace so I guess Jizo is still working there. I hope he’ll find a new job soon. I can’t believe both Mum and Jizo are about to be unemployed! The Buddha’s right. It’s hard to accept that everything’s changing all the time. It never stops.
Builders have left a couple of arc lights on a tall crane along the Thames. They send two bright beams across the tarmac. The beams slice through the shadows and give me just enough light to see where I’m going. I do a couple of small jumps just to get my feet working. A coal barge comes out of the mist with its red and white lights flashing. Further down river a flame lights up the sky. Probably from a riverboat. A little chill goes down my spine as I try to clear the first big piece of plaster.
Then I see him. It’s Eagle Boy. He’s got a bottle of beer in his hand. He holding something close to his stomach and pushing his way through the hole in the fence. I’m cornered, but I know I’m going to have to tough it out. I toss my board under a railing and prepare to stand my ground. He squints at me:
“Who ya lookin at, fu’face?”
I reach for the cutters and lift them into the light so he can see them. Eagle Boy snarls at me:
“What ya doin’ with those, nancy-boy?”
I expect him to break off the neck of his bottle and rush me. I’ll probably get hurt bad or even die tonight. There’s nothing to do but wait. Eagle Boy staggers forward. He’s a lot less steady than I expect. Maybe I can use my board as a shield. He tries to smash his bottle on the side of a railing but only grazes it. The cap pops off and foam spills out onto the ground. He reacts by lifting the bottle and catching the foam on his open lips. I can see it’s taking all his attention to sip the beer so I drop the cutters and grab the board. Then I carefully move back toward the hole in the fence. Unfortunately Eagle Boy is still standing in front of it. More like swaying in front of it actually.
Everything seems to slow down in my brain. At the same time I’m more aware of what’s going on around me than at any moment in my life. In the time it takes to reach the hole in the fence, some part of my mind has worked out a plan and tells me what to do. It says: “smile”. So I smile. It says: “enjoy your beer” so I shout at Eagle Boy:
“Enjoy your beer!”
We’re both startled at the sound of my voice. Eagle Boy twirls around to face me. He raises his hand, the one with the beer bottle, and for a moment I think he’s going to hit me with it. Instead he loses his balance and the bottle skitters across the ground out of reach. Eagle Boy howls with rage, but he’s torn between me and retrieving his bottle.
Now my brain is urging me to get on the board and skate. I don’t argue. I run several circuits around the park, grinding the rails, flipping the board over jumps, climbing the old graffiti wall. It’s awesome. I wouldn’t dare to take chances like this in the dark, except tonight I’m not thinking. I’m skating for my life. After a bit – I’ll never know if it’s a minute or two or an hour – I can hear myself saying very clearly: “Go for it.”
I look at the hole in the fence. Nobody’s there. A few feet away I see this huge figure sprawled on the concrete like a beached whale. It’s Eagle Boy. He’s passed out. His fingers are reaching out hopelessly to the beer bottle that lies just beyond his reach.
I wonder if the coppers will blame him for cutting the fence, but a split second later I’m through the hole and h