A Riceball

      In the forest, under the great pippala tree, Siddhartha practised meditation diligently. Every day, Svasti, a water buffalo boy, cut krusha grass for him to sit on. Sujata, the village chief’s daughter, brought him food in the early afternoon. For several months now, they had been happy to help their meditator friend.

      One day, Svasti’s sister, Bima, made riceballs mixed with berries. Svasti thought them yummy and was eager to offer one to Siddhartha. When he arrived at the pippala tree, a girl was already sitting there with his friend. Svasti instinctively knew she was from a higher caste. He stopped short a few paces behind her.

      “Svasti, come sit down with us. This is Sujata. We’re just about to have lunch. Please join us.” Siddhartha greeted Svasti with a warm friendly smile.

      “Hello, Svasti. Please sit here beside me.” Sujata smiled and moved her basket to her other side.

      Svasti sat down and saw some food had been set down in front of Siddhartha. There was a small bowl of curry, some rice balls, and a bowl filled with vegetables. The curry smelled so wonderful, and the riceballs looked so good. Svasti’s hand reached back quickly in an attempt to put away the riceball he had brought.

      “Did you bring something?” Siddhartha looked with interest.

      “Erh…erh…it’s nothing, just my…sister Bima, made it.” Svasti felt awkward and he felt his face turned very hot in that instant.

      “Not one of her delicious riceballs that you had told me about just the other day, why, I’d love to try one.”

      “How did he know that?” Svasti reluctantly unwrapped his riceball and placed it beside the bowl of curry.

      Under the pippala tree, the three friends enjoyed a quiet lunch together sharing equally all the food.

      “Svasti and Sujata, thank you both for a lovely meal. Svasti, please thank Bima for me and tell her that her riceball was delicious.”

      Sujata joined her hands together and asked, “Prince Siddhartha, please do not think me rude, but could you tell us a little about what you have discovered from your meditation?”

      Siddhartha thought for a while. Then he began, “Ever since I was very, very young, I did not like to see people unhappy or animals in distress. For my part, I tried to protect the animals. When possible, I tried to make things better so as to make my parents happy, to make my friends happy, but almost without fail, they always grew unhappy again.

      “I needed to first understand why people are unhappy. Then, maybe I could help them. Often, I sat quietly by myself. I turned all my attention inward. I watched my thoughts, how they would come and go. They were usually about things that I liked and wanted. I called them thoughts of attraction. There were thoughts about things that I did not like and therefore avoided. I called them thoughts of aversion. Then there were the thoughts that I did not care for one way or another. I called them the neutral thoughts. Gradually I came to realize that thoughts of attraction and aversion are like two sides of the same coin. There cannot be one without the other. For example, because I like to be clean then I don’t like to be dirty. I began to see how everyone experienced this two-sided way of looking at things. I called it dualistic thinking or dualistic experience. Do you know what I mean?”

      “Yes, it’s like I don’t want to be stupid and I want to be smart.” replied Svasti.

      “Or I want to look pretty and not ugly.” Sujata added her own example.

      “Very good.” Siddhartha continued, “I noticed how this kind of dualistic thinking occupied the mind just like the clouds that covered the sky. I started to observe myself and other people going about in their daily affairs. After some time, I came to recognize that there are basically four pairs of dualistic ideas that preoccupied our minds:

  1. Happiness and unhappiness: We want happiness and we avoid unhappiness.
  2. Gain and loss: We work hard to gain what we want and then we guard against loss.
  3. Praise and criticism: We need praise by others and we dislike criticisms from others.
  4. Fame and disgrace: We want to be famous and we dread disgrace.”

     Sujata and Svasti both nodded in agreement as they listened. Sujata reflected upon how her mother was always worried about what people might think. She dreaded disgrace. Svasti reflected on how his boss, Mr. Ramu, was so afraid of losing his water buffaloes.

      “But what are these ideas, what do they mean: gain, loss, happy, unhappy, etc? They only describe a temporary condition. The ideas and the words are harmless. The problem is we believe them to be true and we try to grasp them, to make them our own. For example, everyone wishes to find happiness. But can we hold on to happiness? We are at best temporarily happy. The same is true for whatever it is that we gain. It changes after a little while. We buy a new cup but soon it’s no longer new. Somehow people don’t see that the things of our lives and of our world are constantly changing. In fact, according to conditions, change is happening in every moment. The magnificent bloom of a rose is at the same time marking its inevitable withering. Nothing stays the same in time.

      Everything is impermanent. No rain lasts forever. Seasons come and go. Our bodies are aging every day. We reach out hoping to grasp onto something, but there is nothing that can be grasped. But we refuse to accept this natural law. We always want things to be a certain way. But we cannot stop the water from flowing, we cannot stop the sun from setting, and we cannot stop the movement of time. . . so there is a constant sense of longing and dissatisfaction. Helplessly, we experience a continuum of emotions like anger, despair, jealousy, and loneliness. These emotions further cloud our view, our judgement. Often, they cause us to act and behave in selfish and wasteful ways.

      “My young friends, I wish to find a better way to be. Underneath all the busy thoughts and feelings, mind is naturally peaceful. I believe the answer is there. Meditation allows me to take a step back away from the habitual patterns of mind. It allows me to see how my mind works. I concentrate inwardly and really look deep inside myself to understand how I am, how I feel, and how I act. I believe that this understanding will lead me to find a way out of suffering for my parents, for my family and friends, and for all living beings.”

      Siddhartha paused and smiled at the two children who were absorbed in his every word.

      “It is getting late for you. Your families may be worried. Please think about what I have said. Please see for yourself if it is true.”

      Sujata got up and joined her hands to thank Siddhartha.

      But Svasti leaned forward a little and said, “Prince Siddhartha, you know when I was coming here today, I was so happy because I was bringing you something that was good. How quickly my happiness turned into disappointment when I saw the very fine riceballs Sujata had brought. My riceball that earlier had made me proud then made me feel ashamed. I thought it inferior. Later when you said it was yummy, I felt good again. I now see that I was caught up in what you called dualistic thinking. The riceball was still the same riceball no matter how I saw it. But my dualistic thinking made me feel pride, shame, or happiness depending on the changing circumstances. I guess this is what you mean to look inside myself. Is it?”

      Siddhartha nodded.

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