Sunday, May 25, 2008

Buddha was a Dead-Beat Dad

I've long been fascinated with Buddhism, and to this day my life is enriched by wisdom gleaned from its philosophy, and by its existential technologies.
But I have a major problem with the mythology and base theology of Siddharta.
I won't get into all of that here, but Buddha's abandonment of his family troubles me. Especially since, the more I contemplate the changes parenthood will bring to my life, the more I see that being a parent can be one of the most profound spiritual experiences a person can face.
I was about to say that it would take a saint or a buddha to be the perfect parent, but when you look through the stories of holy men and women throughout history, and throughout the world's various spiritual traditions, you will find a lot of brave souls who are willing to face hunger, persecution, and total humiliation and negation of the ego. But most of these folks draw the line at reproduction, and like Buddha, when they do reproduce, they'd rather face the aforementioned trials rather than face the day-to-day realities of parenthood. Heck, even Gandhi was supposedly a terrible father, who spent his time fasting, organizing, and such, denying his affections to his wife and children.

I am sure that I won't be a perfect father. There will be times when I will be selfish, inattentive, cross, and distant. But already, just the concept of fatherhood, and the realities of Jes's swelling belly and digestive difficulties have me examining myself, and thinking about what kind of example I might be to a rug rat.

I've always thought that religion should ultimately be a way to connect with that which is bigger than oneself. Having kids... well, it may not be the infinity of the cosmos, but it's sure bigger than anything I've faced in any tangible way...


frieko said...

Interesting take on this subject. Ron and I were just talking about this yesterday, and we found ourselves thinking of Star Wars and Joseph Campbell.

As you know, we have 2 boys ages 7 and 10. They have LOTS of philosophical questions. And they LOVE Star Wars. So we talk about Jedis a lot. The Jedi appears, to me, to be a conflation of the hero and the enlightened. The hero cannot hold on to attachment. Attachment leads to fear, fear leads anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to the dark side. I think the Buddhists may be working with the same ideology here.

Now the thing with Siddharta that gets me is why did he choose to have a family to begin with? And how in the world can one divorce oneself of attachment after having a child, a family? This couldn't be something he had planned! I mean, it's probably a good thing that he did it this way. Look at what happened to Darth Vader. But how? And I think that was the point of it. The thought of loss can be dreadful and consuming, causing one to lose presence. Perhaps Siddharta could not be present with a family, and it drove him mad. And this madness drives lots of people into isolation, be it religion, the road, a career. I don't think he was a deadbeat; I think he was mentally ill.

Anonymous said...

I would like to point out that "the disciples" referred to in christianity ALSO left/abandoned their families in order to follow Jesus. By pointing this out I do not mean to imply that it's therefore 'ok' to abandon your family, but merely to remind you of this fact. Christians are sometimes critical of the abandonment issue in the history of Buddhism without knowing that their religion suffers the same issue.


Honky-Tonk Dragon said...

you are absolutely correct.
Spiritual history is rife with examples of "holy" men and women who withdraw from societal ties to get closer to the divine. While I think this has its place, ultimately a spirituality based on withdrawing from the world becomes irrelevant navel-staring.
My intent was not to attack Buddhism over any other religion or philosophy, but to show that opportunities for spiritual growth are to be found in whatever life throws our way. The miracle of reproduction, and the joys and responsibilities of family can be especially potent disciplines for letting go of the ego, and coming to terms with that which is bigger than ourselves.

Hope said...

Your conclusion makes me both happy & sad, kinda like life... Oh but I will stop waxing philosophical... Happy because I agree and sad because you beat me to posting this concept.
I have seen heaven in the faces of my sleeping children and hell in the instance when they vanished in a crowded mall. Redemtion came when I found them standing in line to see Santa.
What the hell was Buddah missing in his children that he found under the bodhi tree? Sleep, is what I'm guessing.

Anonymous said...

I recently read a child's book on the Buddha by Demi. I had a major issue with him just ditching his wife and kid b/c "it wasn't the path for him". Incidentally, my father ditched my sisters and I, and is a big Buddhist... It sure turned me off to Buddhism, as all I can see is the hypocrisy (both Buddha's and my fathers).