My One Gripe About the Story of Buddha

I admit, there is one gripe I have about the story of Buddha.

As much as they may have been a distraction and an obstacle to his goals, once he had married and had a child, wouldn’t Siddhartha be morally obligated to be there for them?  Also, calling your child “ball and chain” and then leaving them in the night is not the behavior of a wise or compassionate person.

Granted, I know that part of the story has him essentially locked in a sort of velvet prison, free to do anything so long as he is protected from pain, need, and suffering by his doting family.  And I imagine part of the point of the story is that he was literally not allowed to leave on his own, so a “jail break” of sorts makes sense.  But why take it out on the child?  Why call them “ball and chain,” of all things?  That’s not the child’s fault and I think it should be considered a negative example of how to frame your thoughts when involved in a similar situation.

I suppose a cynic would be able to use that to bolster their case that the whole story is somehow unwholesome to cling to and rife with human failings.  But in all likelihood, it’s the fault of the scribes and scholars who recorded these stories, not a gross failing of the subject of their story nor of the ideas attributed to him.  And one of the more generous traits of Buddhism is its broad acceptance of allegory and its injunction to take only what you know to be wise from the texts.  Dharma is not what is written, but what you learn from what is written, and negative examples of conduct are just as valid as positive ones provided you have the basic wisdom to know which is which.

I would add that I feel that the idea of leaving one’s family to become an ascetic is generally not a practice to be encouraged.  One who marries and has a child has expressed one commitment explicitly in their marriage vows, and one commitment implicitly in the act of conception.  I remember wanting to become a monk toward the end of my life as William Longespee, but the abbot at Ile de Re (I believe Claude was his name) wouldn’t have it; I had promised Ela to return, after all.

Also, one of my greatest regrets if I was Phil was the way I went through wives and proved to be anything but a model father for three children.  My memories of them are vague and have not been confirmed, but in truth I feel bad for them and I wish I could remember more about them, or that I could tell them that if I was their father I’m incredibly sorry for putting all of them through bitter divorces and leaving them without a father.

Keep your promises and do not neglect those who need you.  Treat your commitments seriously unless they do more harm than good.  This I firmly believe.