Baby Buddha: My 14 month-old Dharma Teacher
My youngest son “Sidney” is 14 months old now, with equal qualities of busyness and cuteness. Certainly keeps me and my partner on our toes. And it has implications for my Buddhist practice as well, one of which is that a 14 month-old has proven to be a powerful dharma teacher. I think of him as a Baby Buddha.
After years of a (somewhat) daily practice of morning meditation sittings, things have shifted since Sid came into our lives back in July 2011. My partner is at home with our baby more often than me, so in the mornings I feel called to get up with our baby, and change / feed / hang out until it’s time for me to go to work. But this means that I’m sitting much less in the mornings. And I am noticing the difference – slightly more emotional reactivity during the day when I don’t practice.
However, Sid has also become a teacher for me. He demands my attention and presence, constantly reminding me to rest in the present moment – not planning for the future on my Android, or daydreaming about the workday I just had – his bright eyes and wide smile patiently whisper: “psssst – hey dad: Here.”
Sidney has been teaching an ongoing series about the Three Marks of Existence: dukkha (suffering), anicca (impermanence), and anatta (not-self).
Parenting involves dukkha. So does being a baby. I can see in Sidney how craving (tanha) leads to suffering. The survival impulse to avoid pain and seek pleasure is certainly helpful in his, and our, continued existence. If he didn’t cry when separated from what he wants, he might not get what he needs. But attachment to a bottle, to a toy, to things being a certain way, leads him to suffer about it, and I bear witness to how painful that aspect of the human experience can be. Sid is also teaching me about my own attachments – for instance to my meditation practice! I can feel myself contracting around the fact that I’m not sitting as much as I’d like to. At times I cling to the idea of a formal practice, to the notion that I’d be happier “if only I could practice more.” Ironic, but honestly, true. For now.
Sidney is a whirling little ball of anicca. He changes from day-to-day and moment to moment. When I go to get him from his crib in the morning, a new smiling little man greets me each morning. It’s a bit of a miracle every day. And we’re all changing – I’m (literally) not the same person I was a few years ago. According to this article in the New York Times, the cells lining our stomach are replaced every few days. The surface layer of our skin, the epidermis, is recycled every few weeks. Our great detoxifier, the liver, is replaced every 300 to 500 days. Sidney’s pace is a little faster, which serves as a potent reminder that we, and the universe around us, are constantly in flux. Our earth spins at 1,674.4 km/hr at the equator, while rotating around the sun at 108,000 km/hr. Clinging to phenomena that inevitably change, and expecting that they remain static, is bound to hurt us. Sometimes when I see younger babies now, I find myself longing for Sidney at a younger age. But the truth is, that version of him has passed. Wiser to be with the miracle of who he is today.
And finally – anatta. It’s not that Sidney doesn’t have a personality, trust me, he certainly does – one that is fun-loving, curious, and affectionate. But the truth is that who he “is” on a more ultimate level, is really a composite of various genetic influences, chemical compounds, behavioural interventions by his parents, and the physical environment around him that he breathes, eats, sees, and feels. This beautiful, swirling symphony cannot be reduced to a simple essence. And neither can I. Knowing this helps me to suffer less about my personality and to take my mind a little less seriously. Trust me, this comes as a great relief.
So I want to thank my little dharma teacher for all this wisdom that he’s gifted me with.
Is there a child in your life who’s been a dharma teacher for you?