Holding the Buddha’s hand, Gangarama
At about my age, the Buddha left his family to seek enlightenment. One blogger is saying this makes him a bad father, which I guess is true in an immediate sense. The thing about Buddhism is that it’s full of seeming opposites like this. People say that Buddhism is about doing nothing, but that appearance of nothing is actually complete awareness. Everything in a sense, but more accurately a point where those dualistic measures don’t apply. In the same way, the Buddha had to actually leave his family to help them.
Buddhism is not an especially vague religion, if you want to call it a religion at all. It’s basic tenets are that there is suffering, suffering is caused by attachment, suffering ends when you end attachment, and that the eightfold path is a way out of suffering. These are the four noble truths, but in my head I’ve always summarized them as three. There is suffering, there is a way out of suffering, this is a way.
Even these noble truths, however, don’t fit into English, or even linguistic concepts. Language is necessarily dicursive (I made that up, meaning this or that). If something is red it’s not blue, even though it’s really a continuous and arbitrary spectrum. I’ve found that while Buddhism can be understood as a coherent philosophy, it has to be experienced on a level beyond words to really understand. That is, you have to meditate.
In that sense you can experience that ending attachment is not a point of not caring about stuff, it’s actually a point of caring for and being aware of things much more intensely than ever before. It’s the knowledge that the feeling of possession is actually a very coarse and actually selfish attachment compared to being simply aware of it, and yourself.
Everybody with a child has wondered, ‘how could I bring you into this world, to suffer?’ This is what the Buddha, then Prince Siddhartha, wondered, and what he felt he had to do something about. In a way it could be seen as selfish, but staying to raise his own son would have just continued the cycle. What the Buddha did was actually break it. In that sense perhaps he was a bad father immediately, but he was a better man in the end.
It is like your whole family having operable cancer and deciding not to do surgery because you don’t want to hurt them. Or Luke Skywalker not training with Yoda and just fighting without skill (though he did leave to save his friends). Throughout life we have to make short-term sacrifices to achieve long-term goals. The Buddha made a hard sacrifice (and made his family sacrifice) to achieve what I think was the most long-term goal possible. The end of the cycle. Actual peace and liberation.
He also returned and his son reached enlightenment as well. That is, his son didn’t suffer. His entire kingdom was by and large converted and I think lost their lands and line, but they didn’t suffer. Because that attachment didn’t really lead out, it led further in, with the best of intentions. So in that sense, no I don’t think the Buddha was a bad father. Fathers go out to work every day, to provide for their families. The Buddha left entirely to free them, and enrich millions of lives that have followed.
Hat tip, Building My Brand: Let Us Save Buddhism from the Uneducated..