Thoughts of the Buddha

Thoughts of the Buddha

Thoughts of the Buddha: A Crossroads

by Sao Khemawadee Mangrai

At the age of 80, this crossroads on my lifelong journey, I ponder whether to take the right or the left road. Come to think of it, I don’t need to.

I should go straight ahead, loosen the grip I’ve held on my family and friends, cut off the strings of attachment I have for them, let go of the greed for wealth and fame, and follow the path that the Buddha has taught us to seek.

Back home in Burma, when someone has attained the age of 60, he or she is regarded as old, and is confined to the house, the monastery and the meditation centre. Occasionally, people in Rangoon (now Yangon) would go up to the terrace on the Great Shwe Dagon Pagoda, find a niche for themselves, and then chant prayers, ‘tell’ their beads or meditate.

However, I wouldn’t like to go to a park here in Sydney and be alone, in case I was mugged or attacked in one way or another. I’ve heard of one Burmese woman who sat on a park bench ‘telling’ her beads and her handbag was stolen.

I wouldn’t like to go to the Insight Meditation Centre in the Blue Mountains at Medlow Bath. In winter it’s cold up there, and in summer too hot. I don’t like the idea of sharing a dormitory with other meditators, since I had enough of that in my boarding school life in my youth. Neither would I like to have a room to myself, as I might get stiff with fright if I saw a ghost.

I am so used to having my own way that I am not willing to give up my set life, even though it is not a luxurious life. I can’t meditate, as my span of interest is short and my sense of concentration is poor. I’m easily distracted.

How would I part with my family when I love being surrounded by them? Even when I wash my face in the mornings, I see my mother’s face. I still remember her smoking a cheroot or a cigarette. I still have a vision of my father, romping about, beating rhythmically on the aluminium lid of a Bombay pot with a ladle, when he had had a little too much to drink.

I still have a clear view of my brother Tony leaning against a door frame, with one leg on the floor and the other leg bent and touching his knee like a stork, smoking cigarettes. I can visualize another brother, Bunny, mischievously driving us downhill and uphill and over potholes, just to tease us. My third brother, Tim, was so afraid of ghosts that when he was asked to fetch something from a room he would run into the room, grab the article and hurry out backward, to avoid being chased by a ghost. Sydney, my fourth brother, had me do errands such as buy vegies from the village or the market, riding on a bicycle and bringing home the latest town news. My youngest brother was pampered by everybody. I can still visualise him running to his nanny whenever the older ones teased him, so they would throw mud at them both. All these visions come back clearly now. How could I cut off strings of attachment even for those things past and gone?

I have read the book What the Buddha Taught by Walpole Rahula, in which he writes:

‘It may be agreeable for certain people to live a retired life in a quiet place, away from noise and disturbance. But it is certainly more praiseworthy and courageous to practise Buddhism living among your fellow beings, helping them and being of service to them. It may perhaps be useful, in some cases, for a man to live in retirement for a time in order to improve his mind and character, as preliminary moral, spiritual and intellectual training, to be strong enough to come out later and help others. But if a man lives all his life in solitude, thinking only of his own happiness and salvation, without caring for his fellows, this surely is not in keeping with the Buddha’s teaching, which is based on love, compassion and service to others.’

So – I can feel justified, after all, to stay at home and practise the teachings of the Buddha.

*

Sao Khemawadee Mangrai is writing on the occasion of the Buddhist Festival of Lights being celebrated on October 5, 2017, at the end of Buddhist Lent in Burma.

Her memoir ‘Burma My Mother And Why I Had to Leave’ is available for sale here or on Amazon Books.

Sao Khemawadee Mangrai photo credit: Chris Waters

3 Comments

  1. Charles Dodgson
    9 October, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Lovely writing Sao. Isn’t your way entirely consistent with Buddha’s teachings? My understanding is that he taught us to be mindful of our circumstances and act in good faith accordingly. Entering the sangha is only for the very few. And amongst those who do, very few are suited - for a vast number of reasons - to seek his level of awareness. I think this notion of withdrawing on retirement is a contrivance. Your path is the right path for you.

    Reply »
  2. 10 October, 2017 at 8:58 am

    I'm with you on that one, Charles. Sao Khemawadee is quite devout enough just as she is. With wit and a sense of humour. Thanks for your response.

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  3. Christopher Waters
    13 October, 2017 at 9:28 am

    Sao Khemawadee, I enjoyed your article and the open honesty of what you expressed. It seems to me that seeing clearly the nature of one's actions, what one is 'actually' doing, and not judging oneself in the process, is a sound step towards clarity, right thinking, right action, and mindfulness. What is life bereft of the interactions with family and friends, the sound of playing children, listening to the wind in the trees, or learning to adjust, and change, as we age. Attention to ALL this, and non judgement, is surely the Buddha's Way. Perhaps there is no crossroad, just the journey. Live and enjoy. We are glad to have you here in Australia.

    Reply »

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