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Lions Roar : September 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2012 69 As soon as I learned how to read, my mother gave me a book entitled The Story of Buddha. It was published by a press in New Delhi in 1978 and had pictures on every other page. What I remember most about the book were the times Siddhartha spent alone, something that displeased his father. The king bemoaned his son’s lack of interest in his education as a king. He complained how Siddhartha would rather be alone in the garden than with his teach- ers. But was he alone? Did he speak to the butterflies, the birds, the critters that scampered around in green? Could Sid- dhartha, who possessed an extraordinary mind, have imagined someone in that garden with him, someone to assuage his loneliness? Possibly. Later, when Siddhartha became Buddha, he would teach us that nothing is ever truly alone; everything is in relation to everything else. God is in everything. He is everywhere. He is always with you. Sitting with my wife’s family at their Presbyterian church, I often hear these words, which are not dissimilar to the ones I heard when I was a boy sitting in temple listening to a monk’s sermon. Buddha is with you. Keep him in your mind and heart. We look to these spiritual guides for ways to calm our tumultuous lives. There is comfort in the notion that we are never alone, that we are connected by an invisible thread to everything else in the world, the seen and the unseen. Buddha remained unseen when I trav- eled down the stairs in a laundry basket, one of my favorite games. But he was there, sitting with me. He remained unseen when we wrestled with body pillows. But he was there, with a pulverizing elbow. He remained unseen when I played with my action figures. But he was there, making my GI Joes move in combative maneuvers. He remained unseen when I played foot- ball outside. But he was there, my wide receiver, catching passes for touchdowns. The real Buddha would not do such things. The real Buddha would have preached peace and emphasized the life of the mind. But my Buddha was a mix of wisdom and mischief. He was my friend, after all, and as friends we were on equal ground. This friendship, this very idea of Buddha, made me change, if only a little. It made me yearn for real companionship, and perhaps that was the reason I fought against my shyness. If I could speak to Buddha, why couldn’t I speak to the weird boy with the spiked hair who looked just as lonely as I was? Or the other boy with the golden hair and thick glasses? Or the other boy who was as gangly as a bean? Perhaps they had imaginary friends, too, and in this we shared something. Perhaps our imagi- nary friends would not be needed any- more, and they would simply disappear. At what moment my imaginary friend disappeared, I don’t remember. But he did, and so did the Buddha on the shelf one evening when I was a teenager. Then there was a new Buddha, a green one made of jade and covered in sparkling gold robes. This new Buddha was beautiful the way something new is beautiful, but I found myself looking for the familiar tarnish, the layer of dust that blanketed the old Buddha. The old Buddha went when my father went; it was his, after all, and was one of the only things he took with him after the divorce. I missed that old Buddha, my friend— missed his presence, his watchful gaze on the shelf. There were questions I still wanted to ask, guidance I still sought. I wonder what the view is like where he is now, and does he remember the boy who used to talk to him? He sat there for fifteen years of my life, and though Buddha has become Buddha again and not my play pal, he is never far from my mind. All I have to do is close my eyes to see him: his straight-backed posture, his wide shoul- ders and narrow waist, his elegant hands resting humbly in his lap. ♦ IRA SUKRUNGRUANG is the author of the memoir Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy and the co-editor of What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Anthology and Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology.