Was Buddha a Bad Father?

I have a very wealthy friend who has three homes, is going to inherit a growing business, has a stunningly beautiful wife, and yesterday his first son was born. Then, like many dads do. He panicked. But he took it one step further. In the middle of the night, the first night of his son’s life, he got dressed, got in his car, and drove off without a word, without even a note sayiing goodbye. He was gone for good.

I’m not one to judge. I’ve described it before. I don’t care what anyone says. Babies drag you down. You would never invite a one foot tall, non-English speaking person to come in your house, cry all day until you feed them by hand, and then shit on your floor. But thats what bringing home a baby is.  To this day I have yet to change one diaper in my life. I’ve missed school presentations, the occasional Halloween, and other major events in their early years.

But what about my friend above? What about Buddha? Siddhartha Gautama had it all. The three houses, the kindgom, the beautiful wife, the adoring subjects and family. His son was born (and his son’s name “Rahula” even means “fettered”) and Buddha got scared out of his mind.

He needed to be unfettered. So he got on his horse (and the mythology is that the gods kept the horses hooves quiet) and he rode off into the night. Not to return for seven years.

And it gets worse. HIs wife suffered from a massive depression at the abandonment. His son was raised with no father and a clinically depressed mother. Buddha’s father also was frustrated and greatly missed his son.

Skip seven years later. We all know what happened between now and then so I’m just going to focus on his family. Siddhartha is now Buddha and he returns home accompanied by hundreds of his followers. Buddha doesn’t ask to see the mother of his child, and she remains (at least at first) hidden. So she asks Rahula to ask Buddha for his inheritance, since the inheritance must be given by the father. So as Buddha is leaving, after having dinner with his father, the king, for the first time in seven years, Rahula runs after him, asking his father for his inheritance. Buddha, thinks about it, decides either that he doesn’t want to give it up or that he think its worthless compared with his spiritual inheritance and says to Rahula, come with me and you will get your inheritance.

So now Buddha’s wife is torn not only from her husband but her son. And his father has lost not only his son but his grandson. They both beg Buddha not to take Rahula but Buddha ignores them. Rahula becomes the youngest monk in Buddha’s following. Was Siddhartha a good dad? A good husband? I’m not one to judge.

The other day my two kids were arguing. One of my kids is good on the attack. She  has memorized every word ever said by the other one and is quick to catch her in any emotional or verbal contradiction. The other kid, used to being on the defensive, has a way of making annoying comebacks that disregard the attack. So the other day they got into “the death spiral”. It ends in tears and crying.

Buddha gave the seven year old Rahula one lecture, which I should give to my kids. It was a big lecture but I’m going to summarize it in two paragraphs:

A) Never tell a lie. Anyone who can tell you the slightest of lies is also capable of any evil. We’ve seen this repeatedly in the financial world.

B) For every physical, verbal, emotional, and mental action you take, FOCUS before, during, and after to make sure nobody is getting hurt.

That’s it. Beautiful. Its all you need to live a good life.

Did Rahula pay attention? I hope so. . He worshipped his dad. But he died young (he was the child of two first cousins. Who knows what medical issues he had) so we don’t really know how he applied the advice in his life.

When my kids were fighting this weekend I called a timeout. I told them what I thought: Mollie was a good debater. So I told her she should be proud. She remembers everything and that talent will come in handy. And Josie can bounce back from anything. No matter what you throw at her she bounces back and tries harder. So they were proud in their accomplishments and that slowed them down enough to appreciate what they had with each other. And then they started arguing again. But proud of it.

So many siblings who should love each other fall apart in later life. The malignant disease starts when they are young when they need their parents around them to set boundaries. Maybe following the advice Buddha gave Rahula would help avoid these disasters. Certainly it could lead to a more peaceful life. But at the end of the day, I hope I’m a better dad ultimately than Buddha was.

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(Buddha with Rahula and, oddly, a red-headed caucasian)

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