On Buddha Purnima, I mentioned the name “Gautama” to my wife. Though I cannot claim much knowledge about his teachings I have had an unmistakable attraction towards this historical figure. The romance that I find around this figure could be because of my ignorance of the finer details which are lost to me. Yet, the personality of Gautama never fails to amaze me. The received notion is that his death was due to eating improperly cooked pork, some say mushroom. The details are not that important but the very everydayness of how he died. He died a very ‘ordinary’ death. The mundane, even profane some would say, reasons that led to his death point to the here and now. The way he died has been interpreted in a very interesting manner. Swine and mushroom, cleanses the world of the debris of life. Commentators have made a connection here. Buddha was a cleanser, just like mushrooms which decomposes the dead trees. If not for mushrooms, the world would have been veritable mess. If not for spirits like Buddha, the world would have been a veritable mess. The world now is still a mess but the teachings, the life of Buddha, to many, gives a respite to this veritable mess.
My wife has been critical of this romance that I find in the Buddha, “the enlightened One”, the Tathagata. There is an aspect to her criticism that has kept me thinking. She finds fault with the Buddha’s act of leaving his wife Yashodahara with their only child Rahul. I try to reason out with her that everyone has to make sacrifices, and here the Buddha made a sacrifice for the salvation of humanity. She has a ready answer in “but at the cost of injustice to his family”. I say, “ they also made a sacrifice, they are remembered because their sacrifice was a part of the Buddha’s sacrifice. To that she replies, “ he never asked them, he had to run from home at the dead of night – like a thief!”. Here, I had to pause for a while. I then replied with restraint –“ See, he left them knowing well that they would never face the dearth of anything in life, they were in the palace, she was the wife of the prince, his son was already a prince, he left his family surrounded in the luxury and abundance anyone could desire”. She didn’t bother to answer. But she had already won this duel of words. It did not take much time to realise what the unspoken retort was. The Buddha deprived his wife and son, which nothing in the world could replace.
This realisation that my wife may be right, as was the case in some other cases also, was unsettling. Is there no way to please everyone? If the Buddha was not successful then, perhaps, it will be a difficult proposition for anyone. I tried to find a good answer but none was satisfactory. On one side what my wife pointed out could not be ignored yet my conviction that Buddha did the right thing gnawed on the other end. The solution came from an unexpected telephone call.
I have a friend, whose religious affiliation is hard to determine. He called to inform me that he was in Sikkim to join a Vipassana meditation course of ten days. This, I came to know, was after a prior course of Tantra in Pakhara, Nepal. His was some sort of spiritual quest. The call was two days before Buddha Purnima last month. He came to visit me and my family enroute home, Imphal. He stayed with us for a week. He brought serenity and positive vibes to our home. Somehow his presence was relaxing. He told stories about his experiences with meditative practices and taught me the basics. Every night, when my wife was watching the fights conducted by one very talkative, hysterical and very popular news editor, we spent the evening, before bed time, talking about the importance of silence and such other things. Some of them did not make sense. We made many performative contradictions – talking endlessly about the importance of maintaining Noble silence being just one. We also indulged in some back biting – which I learnt is against moral precepts taught by the Buddha. I learnt many things from my friends in his short stay. But the important thing came the night before his departure.
Somehow, Buddha’s leaving, forsaking, if you please, his family for the answer to the riddle of suffering surfaced in the discussion. My friend enlightened me with the information that this issue was addressed by the Buddha himself by admitting that it was not necessary. What he said was that he erred, he made a wrong decision. To think that we try to pass of as angels when the Buddha himself admitted wrong-doings was another realisation of the illusions that we weave around ourselves. But that’s beside the point. What my friend said dissolved my urge to find an answer, to defend the indefensible act of the Buddha. It was a ready balm to the unsettling question that I was put to answer. I won’t say I was wrong. I shall say my wife was right. Buddha agrees with her.