So lots of people who are unfamiliar or new to Buddhism tend to have this view of it as being a more ascetic practice that stresses detachment from worldly concerns like family or career. And in a way, those people would be right. After all, the "ideal" (in Theravada Buddhism, at least) is the arahant, a perfectly enlightened man (or woman) who has gone forth into the homeless life of the monk (or nun), meditating alone in the forest, or chanting in the monastery.
But in another - more accurate - way, those same people are also wrong. Because even if the monastic life is held as a kind of goal by most Theravadins, it's obvious that the vast majority of Buddhists are not monks or nuns. And any cursory glance at the Pali Canon - the vast body of literature held to be the teachings of the historical Buddha - will reveal many teachings on the subject of how the laity can lead exemplary lives.
Which brings me to fatherhood. Being a dad has been one of the most rewarding and terrifying experiences of my life. But I am beginning to think that perhaps becoming a father was at least in some sense a catalyst for my study of Buddhism. The awesome responsibility of raising a child is a life-changing challenge, and for many it tests and strengthens our fundamental values and principles. For people like me, however, with no real previous value system, it's quite a shock that brings much self-questioning. What do I consider truly important in life? Why are we even born...is there any purpose? And what kinds of values will I pass on to my daughter?
In the Tipitaka (the Pali Canon), we find the Sigalovada Sutta, or the Discourse to Sigala. This is considered by Theravadins to be the Buddha's Code of Discipline for Laypersons. The background story is fairly simple. Early one morning the Buddha, on his way to collect alms, runs across a young householder named Sigala, who is worshiping the six cardinal directions (north, south, east, west, nadir and zenith. Apparently this was a common Hindu practice at the time in India). When the Buddha questions young Sigala as to why he is worshiping the six directions, Sigala basically says "Well Lord, on his deathbed my father made me promise to continue this tradition, and so I am honoring my father". The Buddha then offers to teach Sigala the way in which the Noble Ones (followers of the Buddha) "worship" the six directions. The Buddha assigns a societal relationship to each of the directions:
The Buddha then elaborated on a parent's duty to their children:"And how, young householder, does a noble disciple cover the six quarters? "The following should be looked upon as the six quarters. The parents should be looked upon as the East, teachers as the South, wife and children as the West, friends and associates as the North, servants and employees as the Nadir, ascetics and brahmans as the Zenith"
"In five ways, young householder, the parents thus ministered to as the East by their children, show their compassion:
(i) they restrain them from evil, (ii) they encourage them to do good, (iii) they train them for a profession, (iv) they arrange a suitable marriage, (v) at the proper time they hand over their inheritance to them.
What's fascinating is that the Buddha considered these relationships worthy of "worship", not in a literal sense of course, but in the sense that householders should view the important people in their lives (parents, children, teachers, etc.) as worthy of devotion. To me the message is clear: if we are so inclined to follow the Dhamma, or teaching, of the Buddha, we should do so within the context of the lives we lead. For the laity, that means devotion to the needs of the important people of their lives. As a father, that means that practicing the Dhamma includes tending to the needs of my child.
Of course, I have a history of misreading things. Any thoughts?
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุMay all beings be happy!