Shruti waited for her friend, Meena, under the tree. It was a very hot day.
“Where is she? She is late. I hate it when people are late…”
Just then, Shruti saw coming towards her, two girls walking hand in hand. Immediately, she recognized them to be Sujata, and Meena.
“What is she doing with Sujata? We are supposed to go to the park just the two of us. Not only is she late, she's even brought … Sujata. She is sure to want to come and play with us. I don’t like her. She has such fancy clothes that she makes us look bad. I can’t stand it when she is always giving us her opinions about everything, how to play, where to go. Meena likes her because she always shares her snacks with us. That Meena likes to eat so much that one day… she’s going to turn into a cow!” Shruti was feeling very irritated.
“Hey, Shruti, look who I ran into. Sujata is going across the River to see the Teacher Buddha. He’s going to give teachings soon.” Meena shouted excitedly when she saw Shruti standing under the tree.
When the two girls came to the tree, Meena noticed that Shruti’s face was not pleased.
“Sorry, Shruti. I am late. My mother made me sweep the yard before I could leave. Then Sujata had to wait for the sweet cakes to be ready from the kitchen. She is treating everyone at the teachings today.” Meena tried to explain as best she could but she could see that Shruti was not budging.
“Really, Shruti, Meena had to wait for me. Please forgive us both,” Sujata also tried to apologize.
“Sweet cakes…Meena, that’s all you care about…” Shruti was mad, and she started to run off as quickly as she could. In her heart, Shruti would much rather go to see the Buddha than to the park. But in that moment, she was mad. She was thinking, “…no more playing at the park. Sujata again has turned things around to suit herself. Meena will get her sweet cake. What about me? I’m going to make them pay, they’re not getting off so easy.”
Shruti decided to run away from her two friends. She ran so fast that she tripped and fell over hitting her knees hard on the ground. Feeling a sharp pain in her right knee, Shruti broke into a loud wail.
“Are you alright? Let us help you,” Meena helped the fallen girl up and tried to console her. Shruti’s pants had ripped. Meena examined the scrapes. The right knee was bleeding where some skin had torn. “It’s a bad scrape. See if you can move your limbs to make sure nothing is broken.”
Shruti stopped her wailing and moved her arms and legs to check. Then she remembered she was supposed to be mad at those two girls. She quickly turned her back on them thinking that she would give them the silent treatment.
Meena pulled out her new handkerchief and tied it around Shruti’s right knee.
“What are you doing? That’s your best hanky. It’d get all stained!” Shruti exclaimed. She could not believe what Meena just did. She knew that the handkerchief was her friend’s pride and joy. It was made of silk and embroidered on it were a pair of beautiful butterflies and tiny little flowers.
“Don’t worry about it. It’d stop the bleeding. Shruti, should we take you home?” asked Meena.
“No, I’m OK. I don’t want to miss the teachings,” Shruti responded truthfully. “But look at my pants, they’re all raggedy. I cannot be seen like this!” Tears welled up in Shruti’s eyes.
my sari and tie it around your waist like a skirt.” Sujata took off her
sari and wrapped it around Shruti’s waist. Indeed, it made a beautiful
skirt concealing the ripped pants quite effectively.
Shruti looked at her two friends. Her face brightened up into a smile, “Thank you. Let’s hurry, we don’t want to be late for the teachings!” Holding hands, the three girls quickly went on their way.
When the three friends arrived at the Bodhi Tree in the forest, they found many children from the village had already gathered around the Buddha. Some very young boys were shooting marbles as they waited for the teachings to begin. The girls found a spot and sat down together.
Under the Bodhi Tree, the Buddha straightened his back like an arrow. His gaze fell a short distance in front of him. He sat quietly.
“Sh…sh…it’s sitting time,” some children picked up the cue from the Buddha and alerted everyone to follow. The children sat relaxed, breathing gently, they placed their awareness on their in and out breaths.
After a short while, the Buddha looked up and saw the children sitting so calmly. He smiled, gratified that they had learnt well what he had imparted to them.
“My dear young friends, I am happy to see all of you here today. Some of you were shooting marbles earlier. I also loved the game when I was your age. Just as we apply mindfulness when we eat a tangerine, shooting a marble requires mindfulness, too. Would someone like to take us through and describe the process?”
“Rishi…stand up Rishi…you should tell, you are so good!” some boys shouted out.
Caught totally by surprise, Rishi did not know what to do. He looked at the Buddha and was touched by the deep calm and kindness in the teacher’s eyes. He decided to brave it and stood up.
Rishi placed himself in the mind frame of someone playing a game of marbles. He then began, “Um…m., it is like this. I first bend down and get myself in position. I hold the shooter in my hand. I aim at the target marble. Then with full concentration and only looking at the target, I aim and apply the force and release the shooter. Hopefully, I’ll hit the target.”
“Looking deeper, Rishi, could you please explain to us, what is it that determines whether the target will be hit?” The Buddha asked.
Rishi gave the question some thought, and then he explained, “There are two factors. The force that I apply has to go the distance to reach the target. Then there is the direction. If these two factors are accurate, then the target will very likely be hit. Oh, one more thing, first, I have to practise real hard so that I have control of the shooter.”
“Thank you Rishi. Let us reflect on Rishi’s explanation. If Rishi shoots with perfect control, he will hit the target. The shooting is an action. Because it will cause the hit or miss of the target, it is a cause.
“My friends, in my meditation, I have reflected even deeper into this thing that I call cause. I have seen that for every cause there is an effect. This is the nature of every cause. Once a cause has been put into motion, the effect is automatic, whether we like it or not. Can you think of some examples of a cause?” asked the Buddha.
“The drop of a cup onto the floor will cause it to break,”
“The burning of paper will turn it into ashes.”
“My pulling hard on a doll’s arm will make it come off and then my sister will cry for sure.” This last example brought laughter among the children, especially the boys.
“That is very true, Ajit. Pulling off the doll’s arm is a cause motivated by your naughtiness that will bring suffering to your sister. What is not obvious is that it will also cause a rift between your sister and you. She won’t like you as much. She will then tell your parents who will in turn give you a thrashing. Then, you will cry for sure.” This time, all the children roared with laughter.
“So the short of it is that your naughty cause will bring you suffering, too. Isn’t it?” The Buddha smiled at Ajit who was still giggling.
The Buddha then continued, “That was a good example of how one person’s action can lead to a whole chain of events. Sometimes, some other causes may come into play and change the outcome. Can anyone think of an example of this?”
Most of the children looked puzzled but Rishi’s hand shot up right way. He said with conviction, “If I make an excellent shot with my marble shooter but a black crow swoops down and carries my shooter off, ...end of game.”
“Excellent example, Rishi. Now that we understand more about cause, we ask ourselves, ‘what does it mean to us?’ Ajit’s example tells us that how we behave, how we speak, and how we act will cause us to experience the corresponding effects and results.
“Seeing deeper, we ask ourselves, ‘what causes us to behave the way we do?’ It is our thoughts. The thoughts that we think often translate later into words and actions. So it is really our thoughts that are the underlying causes of our speech and what we do. Our thought is the cause, our mental attitude is the cause, our intention is the cause, and our motivation is the cause of our behavior. Since they all reside in our minds, we say that the cause is in our mind. I call the thoughts in the mind, karmas. Under the influence of karmas, we behave and act in certain ways and then we experience the results.
“How do we now apply our understanding of karmas? It makes sense that if we want to experience happiness, then we have to know the causes that will lead to happiness. If we don’t want to suffer, we need to know the causes of suffering so we could avoid them. But unfortunately, it is very difficult for you to see which karma will cause exactly which effect. The reason is that there are often many karmas interacting together to produce many effects that are also mixed together.
“But the good news is that there is a very simple rule that I’ve discovered from my own research. It will put you on the right path. When you grow up, you will learn meditation and you will know the Truth for yourselves. For now, you can try out this rule to see if it works for you. In general, positive causes lead to happiness and peace of mind whereas negative causes will inevitably bring suffering.
“What I mean by positive is an attitude of mind, an intent, where instead of only thinking for our own good, we think for the good of all living beings. In your daily life, try to be helpful to one another. Try to think more for other living beings.
“What I mean by negative is an attitude where we disregard the well being of other living beings. We do not wish others to be happy, or we may even do them harm to suit our selfish needs.
“Going back to Rishi’s explanation, our attitude of mind can be compared to aiming before shooting the marble. Just as the aim guides the force of the marble, our attitude in the form of thoughts guides our speech and action.
“Just as Rishi told us that he had to practise to have control, we need to practise being aware of our attitude so we can shape it into a positive one. If we are aware, we have a chance to shift our focus if we are being selfish. My young friends, this is easy for me to describe to you but it is actually not easy to do. Why?
“Our self-centeredness is an obstacle. It is because we are used to thinking mainly from our own point of view. We have to learn to think for others. This is a very slow process. But if you stick with it, one day, you will be successful.
“Another obstacle is that we come under the influence of our own negative emotions from time to time. They can completely sweep away our awareness and cause us to act in a hurtful way. Anger is a negative emotion; so is jealousy, and pride. Anger arises when we don’t get what we want, or when we get what we don’t want. As a result, anger makes us lash out at others and blame others. But if we are mindful and aware, we will realize that we caused our own anger by unreasonably expecting things to be fixed in a certain way.”
Shruti immediately thought back to her anger at Meena and Sujata earlier. It caused her to throw a tantrum that resulted in her falling.
“Jealousy is a very negative emotion and it truly is the opposite of love and compassion. Jealousy makes us unhappy to see the good qualities in others. It makes us unable to bear it when others are happy. It is a painful feeling that is in-itself a form of suffering. When we are jealous, we are prone to committing very negative acts.”
Shruti now realized that she had always been jealous of Sujata’s clothes, her good looks, her intelligence, and yes, especially her natural kindness.
“Pride is another negative emotion. Pride places the self more important than others. Acting out of pride, we act without considering the feelings and wishes of other people. As we can imagine, it naturally leads to undesirable results.”
Shruti thought about her friendship with Meena, how Meena always had to give in to please her. Shruti saw her own pride. She felt so uncomfortable that she kept her head down looking at the ground. She could not look at the Buddha anymore.
“You have to guard against these three negative emotions because they are the causes of much suffering. There are many others but these three are the main ones. You don’t have to feel ashamed if you have them. Everyone has these negative emotions. The point is to see them, to recognize them. Begin by being aware of them. You cannot make them go away. But like everything else, they, too, are impermanent. The negative emotion will pass. Again, if you are aware of them, then their hold on you will lessen. What’s more, when you understand your own pride, anger, and jealousy, you will also come to understand them in your friends and family. This understanding will allow you to be more forgiving and patient when your friend is angry with you.
“Through mindfulness, and reflection of your own thoughts and behavior, see how they affect your experiences. In time, you will come to know by yourselves the causes of happiness and the causes of suffering. But until you do, for now, I encourage you to help one another because I am sure that this will promote friendships and bring you happiness. Whenever possible, try to be caring and considerate to all living beings; then your behavior will be guided quite properly.
The Buddha paused and looked at his young friends sitting so attentively in front of him. He then spoke again, “I am leaving this forest now. There are things that I must do. Forty-nine days have passed since I discovered the Truth. I will now go to Varanasi. Thank you to all of you for being so good to me. I am happy to have shared some of what I know with you. Please try to remember what I have shown you. Try to practise mindfulness as much as you can. I will see you again when I come back to visit. I wish you all much happiness.”
Some of the children began to cry when they heard that their beloved teacher would be leaving them. They felt great sadness in their hearts. Tears rolled down Sujata’s cheeks. Svasti tried very hard to remain calm and composed but the strain was clearly visible on his face.
Shruti thought to herself, “What can I do to console my friends? They are all so very sad. But what can I do to help relieve their pain? The Buddha is leaving and we can’t keep him here.” Then, she remembered the sweet cakes Sujata had brought. She tucked at her friend’s sleeve and asked, “Please Sujata, perhaps this is a good time to share the sweet cakes with everyone, and make it sort of like a farewell party…”
Sujata’s eyes lit up for she thought it an excellent idea. She wiped away her tears, stood up and said to the Buddha, “Dear teacher, I have brought some sweet cakes for everyone. Won’t you have some with us now before you go?”
The Buddha smiled and nodded. Sujata offered a piece of sweet cake first to the Buddha. Then she offered him two wrapped pieces for his trip. The Buddha accepted them and thanked her. Meena and Shruti, in the meantime, had distributed the cakes to all the children. For a little while, everyone was pleasantly distracted from his or her sorrow. The break also gave some of the children a chance to talk with the Buddha and to say their personal good-byes to him. By the time everyone was finished eating, the children’s sadness had worn off a little.
Svasti got up and joined his hands facing the Buddha. “Thank you, great teacher, for sharing your valuable insights with us. We will remember your teachings and practise as you have shown us. We will also help and support each other like brothers and sisters from now on. Please come back soon to us.” All the children now stood up and joined hands to bow to their teacher.
Gautama Buddha rose from his seat under the Bodhi tree. He, too, joined his hands to bid the children farewell. Then he turned and started walking towards the River Neranjara. The children’s eyes followed the figure of their beloved teacher. Just as he was about to disappear from the children’s view, the Buddha turned, waved to all of them, and smiled. He then vanished into the woods.
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