“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.
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
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
“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.
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
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.
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.
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
“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.”
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.
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.
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.