December 2, 2016

The Girl and the Rice Pudding


The last couple of days, I've been thinking a lot about Sujata, the girl who gave the Buddha food. I don't know if you know the story but the last thing Siddhartha tried before just going and sitting under the Bodhi tree where he found enlightenment was to live as an ascetic.

Now, the stories talk about how Siddhartha threw himself into everything he tried, so of course he was the most rigorous in his discipline and the most severe in his denial of the body, the mortification of his flesh—think existing on a single sip of water and a single grain of rice while engaged in meditation or chanting or whatever difficult practice.


Eventually, Siddhartha realized asceticism wasn’t helpful and wasn’t getting him anywhere. Unfortunately, by then, he’s near death. Weak and in pain. Exhausted. Can barely move. And a girl—Sujata—she sees him and she gives him her payasam—which is like this sugary, milk, rice pudding dish—and that’s what keeps him from dying and what gives him the strength to go on to the Bodhi tree.

I’ve seen that story presented a lot of ways. Sometimes she’s not named. Sometimes she’s very young. Sometimes she rich and beautiful. Sometimes she’s just walking by. Sometimes someone goes and tells her about the sickly looking man on the roadside by the edge of the wood. And sometimes she gives Siddhartha that rice pudding because she thought he was a tree god.

But none of that matters, right? Do you get that?

The trappings, I mean. Because at its heart, it’s just about a girl who gives a starving man food and without her, just that moment of thoughtless kindness--she just did it without planning or thinking about it, there would be no Buddha, no dharma, no sangha. Something about that really strikes me deeply. There’s no magic or miracles or prophecies or holy wars or supernatural forces crackling across the heavens, it’s just this immediate and genuine act of kindness when a girl gave some sick, gross-looking guy a bit of food.

In my head, I tend to picture that as one of the things Siddhartha rolls around in his mind when he’s sitting under the Bodhi tree, that knowledge that it really…just comes down to that…a girl and a bowl of rice pudding…

I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been in a weird mental place lately and dealing with a lot of stress. And with everything that’s going on in the world and the things you see on social media, it’s easy to feel…beset. Beset by a legion of assholes and the very forces of the universe.

Do you feel that way too?

What I think would be cool for us--without mucking it up by turning it into a clickbait, meme thing--is to practice some gratitude because gratitude makes you feel better mentally and physically and it boosts your self-esteem and it puts good things into the world. But let’s practice it in a very specific way.

First, I want you to think about little moments of kindness that you’ve shown people. I don’t mean the big stuff, I mean, the little stuff like a man, a girl, and a bowl of rice pudding. Things like giving someone your parking spot. Giving someone the quarter they needed to make bus fare. I think we tend to ignore those things, to give them short shrift. Part of it is how our minds work. We tend to focus on the big stuff and ignore the little stuff unless we’re in a bad spot and then we notice every little thing that’s wrong.

Part of it too, though is we don’t know what comes of those moments. But those can be difference makers in someone’s life, just like the bowl of rice pudding. So, try to remember one of those times and think about the impact of your action on that person’s life. I mean, really think about it. Maybe it was the one good thing that day for them. What would that mean to you if you were in their place? Maybe it kept them going. Maybe it got them to that important job interview. Doesn’t matter if any of your imaginings are true, it’s about what it does to you mind and where your mind goes, your world follows.

Next, while you’re caught up in the feeling, I want you to think about your own life and when people have shown you those little moments of kindness and what that meant to you, what it did for you, what it meant for the rest of your day. Because we really do tend to ignore those. And when you’ve got at least one of those, if you can, I want you to go to that person and I want you to tell them thank you. For reals. I want you to tell them thank you. Even if it’s just the downstairs neighbor whose name you don’t know and you’ve never really talked to but they always go out of their way to hold the door for you when you’re coming back from the store. Go tell them thank you. Don't message them or email them, if you can help it, instead--look them in the eye and tell them thank you.

Then, lastly, pick a day, that same day ideally and keep your eyes open for something small and nice to do for someone as soon as the opportunity presents itself. I mean, right now, are you walking around with a bunch of change in your pocket that you're probably going to toss on top of your dresser when you get home? Are you near parking meters?

See what I'm saying. Doesn't have to be big and huge. Because, man, it's just about a bowl of rice pudding, you know?
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