The Black Marble
“I shall win today. My collection of marbles will reach the one hundred
mark. My black marble is totally awesome and unbeatable. Yesterday, at
practice, did I not make each shot exactly the way I wanted it? I have
Rishi, a boy of nine, woke up one morning feeling confident and ready for a special marbles contest. His black marble was his most prized possession - smooth and shiny, it fit just snug between his thumb and fingers.
That same morning, when Rishi reached the park, some boys were huddled around a circle about three feet across. They were practising. Colored marbles sat in the centre of the circle. The rule of the game was for each player to put six marbles in the center. If one of these marbles were knocked out of the circle, the winner would keep the marble. The players took turns each shooting with a special marble, called a shooter, placed anywhere inside the circle area. Rishi’s black marble was his shooter. A turn lasted while a player could score hits; it ended when the player missed a hit.
Soon, all the players had arrived, the seven of them. They picked straws to determine the order of turns. Rishi drew sixth while Sadie, Rishi’s strongest opponent drew seventh. Rishi quickly surmised that if he played well, he could leave Sadie with nothing.
By the time Rishi’s turn came around, half the marbles had been taken. The remaining half was scattered well within hitting range. Rishi studied the placement of the marbles intensely like a hawk its prey. He shot, and it was a hit. He made hit after hit until only three were left in the circle. Rishi had pocketed eighteen.
The onlookers were cheering, “Clean it up, Rishi…”
Rishi was about to reach for his black marble when a loud caw echoed through the sky. Everyone looked up and saw a large black crow swooping down.
“Duck!” shouted the crowd to Rishi. For a moment there, it looked as though the crow was going for the champion-to-be. Instead, with one quick sweep, the black marble was gone.
“Awhhh….” The children gasped in disbelief.
Rishi felt a sharp pang in his chest. “Give it back, give it back,” he shouted as he hurled marbles at the thief from the sky. But the black intruder disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
Rishi stood there motionless, his chest so tightened that he could hardly breathe. His entire body felt numb. His head was consumed with all but one thought: he would give up anything to have his shooter back. Nothing meant more to him than his special marble.
Unable to bear the tremendous pain in his heart, Rishi started to run. He ran as if he wanted to drain all the energy from his body, perhaps then the pain would stop. His friends called out after him but Rishi kept running.
Away from the park, Rishi ran, across the fields, across the river and into the forest. He ran in between the trees. The branches scratched against his limbs and face but Rishi did not care. Thoughts raced through his mind.
“I love that black marble…it is so beautiful…so perfect. In my hand it feels just like a part of me.
“It makes me happy. It gives me such exquisite control…such power…my game is awesome. My friends look up to me…I am an expert in the game. I get respect because I am good. I can feel proud of myself.
“Now it’s gone…everything is gone…I won’t be able to win another game. They’ll laugh at me. Oh…I can’t face…”
Rishi felt his right foot hit something hard. He fell over on his stomach, his body stretched out in front of him. There he lay exhausted and in pain. He broke down and cried. He cried for a long time until he fell asleep.
Rishi awoke to find the sun had already dropped to mid sky. “I better head back home,” he thought to himself. Just then, he heard some noises from a short distance. Curious, he walked towards the sounds.
Under a huge tree, sat a man cross-legged. He was speaking to a large group of children sitting in front of him. His voice was gentle yet firm. His serene countenance especially struck Rishi. The boy started to walk towards the gathering. His eyes transfixed on the man under the tree. Unaware of his own movements, Rishi sat down behind the other children. The man then looked at the newcomer and nodded ever so slightly at him. The kindness in the man’s eyes immediately made the boy feel welcomed.
Under the tree, Siddhartha straightened his back, he placed his right hand in his left, his palms faced upward. His gaze fell naturally at the space ahead. He took in a deep breath and relaxed into a quiet sitting. All the children followed suit. Rishi looked on.
After a short time, Siddhartha began to speak in a clear and calm voice,
“My young friends, the other day, we ate tangerines together in mindfulness, paying attention in the moment. When we are mindful, we are focused and we begin to see more. We begin to contemplate. We begin to see more than what meets the eyes.
“To contemplate means to see deeper, to think deeper. We observe more carefully to examine how something is. It is very good to contemplate on the nature of things around us. What I mean by the word “nature” is simply, the way things are:
- the way of coming into this world,
- the way of being in the world,
- the way of ever changing in the world through a process of growing and deteriorating,
- the way of being dependent and influenced by conditions,
- and finally the way of leaving this world.
“Sometimes when we contemplate on something, its true nature will reveal itself to us.
“Let’s take for example, a tree. We see a tree. What is the nature of a tree? We contemplate its nature.
“A tree is grown from a seed. This is the way that a tree comes into this world. You may have learnt this from your parents or you may have observed it yourself. To see the growth of a seed into a tree takes time. When you take the time to see, the whole process of how a seed matures into a tree is revealed to you.
“A tree has a main trunk and branches. Its branches bear leaves, buds, flowers and fruits. For a tree, this is its way of being in the world.
“You see how a tree never remains exactly the same from day to day or from moment to moment. Its trunk, branches, and leaves are ever changing. New leaves are formed while old leaves drop off. This is the way a tree grows and is always changing.
“You see how the conditions that support a tree’s growth include the earth, the nutrients in the earth, the air, the rain, the sun, and the passage of time. This is the way a tree is dependent on, and influenced by, conditions.
“Then one day, a tree will come to its end. This is certain. We look around us and we see dead trees in the forest. Some are chopped down. Some are dried out during a drought. Some died because insects infested them. It is the nature of a tree to die due to conditions. This is the way a tree leaves the world.
“Our contemplation on the nature of a tree gives rise to our understanding of it. It is important to reflect on this understanding. What is it telling us? What does it mean?
“For example, the nature of a tree tells us about the cycle of birth, change, and death. When we reflect on its meaning, we find that the nature of a tree is the nature of all things animate and inanimate. By that I mean all things, living and non-living. All things come into the world, they change due to conditions, and then they leave.
“Can someone think of an example of an inanimate object that follows the pattern?”
“My beautiful pink cup. Mr. Sahee, the potter, made it especially for me because pink is my favorite color. Over time, the color started to fade but I didn’t mind. Then the other day, it fell to the floor and broke. My mother swept up the pieces and threw them out. I had a good cry. Now, my cup is no more,” a little girl, called Sasha, recounted her loss.
“Yes. Why were you sad?” asked Siddhartha.
“It was mine. It was my cup. I wanted it to last forever but it still broke,” Sasha explained grudgingly.
“Can someone think of another example, this time a living thing?” asked Siddhartha.
Rahul, a boy with big brown eyes was eager to speak. When Siddhartha looked to him, the boy spoke in a clear voice,
“Dear teacher, when you were telling us about the tree, I thought of my own body. Like the tree born from a seed, I was born from my mother. Like the tree trunk and branches that grow in time, so do my body, arms, and legs. The tree grows leaves and they die according to the seasons. Likewise, my fingernails, toenails, and hair grow back after they are cut. The tree stays healthy by absorbing plenty of sunlight; it takes in nutrients and water from the soil. I too have to eat the proper foods to stay healthy. Sometimes, the tree gets sick because of too little water or something like that. Same with me, my body also gets sick sometimes. Then one day, my body will die. It does not ask me for permission to get sick so I suppose it will just die when the time comes. I rather not think about it anymore.”
All the children laughed. Siddhartha laughed too, “Very true, and you have our permission not to have to think about it now.” That put Rahul at ease again so he too laughed along with everyone.
Siddhartha paused briefly for everyone to settle down. Then he continued, “By reflecting on how a tree is, we are prompted to see the nature of everything in this world. We arrive at this understanding: that everything comes into being, changes, and then passes away. There are no exceptions. My friends, do not take my word for it. You should see for yourselves whether this is true.
“By reflecting, we have understanding. We must now use the understanding. We keep it in mind as we go about our daily lives. For example, if you come to the understanding that things change, keep this view with you as often as possible. Be mindful of it. It is not easy to do in the beginning. But if you put some effort into it, in time, that view will become your habit of mind.
“You may ask, ‘what good is it to understand that things are ever changing?’ Your expectations will change. You will no longer hold on to things as rigidly as you do now. Why? It is that you know things are bound to change. You learn to go along with the changes as they happen. Your approach to people and situations will be lighter and more open. The opposite of going along is trying to fix things in a certain way, or wanting things to be a certain way. This creates a lot of tension in the mind. As a result, we are heavy and closed-minded.
“Sasha, you remember how your pink cup broke, keep it at the back of your mind. Then the next time you get something special, you will understand that it, too, will be gone one day. Of course, you can enjoy it while you have it. There is nothing wrong with enjoying things that we are fortunate to have. It is the attachment to things, the unwillingness to let them go that brings about tremendous suffering.
“If we reflect carefully, we will see that we unconsciously want to make things and people a part of ourselves. We think we possess things and people. We think we can control them. We even think that our happiness depends on them. Look at how we think sometimes as in:
- ‘This is my bag. Nobody but I can use it.’
- ‘This is my body and I want it to look a certain way.’
- ‘I have money. I am better than the wretched poor.’
- ‘This is my shirt, it makes me look good.’
- ‘I feel proud that he is my friend.’
- ‘My son has to do as I say because he is mine.’
“But nothing really belongs to anyone. As Rahul so wisely pointed out,
we do not even have control over our own bodies. We may get to use
things only in a very limited way. We have the use of our bodies now but
we have to go along with all its aches, and pains and changes. So if we
insist on our way, then we shall fail and become very unhappy indeed.
“So seeing is very important. Whether we see or not, life goes on according to its nature. By understanding how things are, and by really applying this understanding, we find peace. My friends, it is by seeing through mindfulness, contemplation, reflection, understanding, and application that we can stop suffering.
“Meditation takes us through all these levels of seeing until we arrive at the truth of all things and of ourselves. Later on, when you are older, I will teach you if you wish to learn meditation. And you will discover the nature of your own mind. You will become enlightened by your own seeing. For now, it is very good if you try to practice what I have explained today.”
As the Buddha concluded the teachings, all the children stood up and with their hands together, they bowed in unison to thank their teacher.
Rishi also stood up and bowed to the man under the tree. His heart felt light. He had understood the nature of a black marble.
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