23 January 2014

Suneetha teaches us how to ‘Worship the East’

Buddhist children would know the story of Sigala, the young man who rising early morning was wont to worship the six quarters, the East, South, West, North, Nadir and Zenith.  He was merely following directions given by his dying father, ‘The six quarters, dear son, you shall worship’.  The Buddha upon noticing this strange ritual explained to the young Sigala what the six quarters were.  We will get back to this presently.

In this island called Sri Lanka where everything is said to be perfect everywhere except in the former conflict zones, there is a place called Kotavehera.  There, in a small, half-built cottage lives a little girl.  Her name is Suneetha.  She is 13 years old.  She lives with her father, R.W. William.  He is unemployed.  They survive on a grant of Rs 3,000 given by the state and their Samurdhi entitlement.  The two have with great effort dug a well at the bottom of the small plot of land they own.  They grow their own vegetables. 

Suneetha wakes up early every single day.  She prepares breakfast and lunch for herself and her father. She cleans the house, sweeps the garden.  She attends to all household matters.  Then she walks to school.  She comes home after school, prepares dinner, attends to her father and studies with the aid of an oil lamp.  She dreams of doing well in school and entering university.  She has a smaller dream.  She wants a bicycle so she can get to school on time; there are days she gets late because there’s no one else to do all the things she does in the morning.  She has no siblings.  Her mother had abandoned them when she was very small. Her father is blind. 

How many of us at the age of five or six did all these things?  Those of us who have little children see them doing anything like this?  Perhaps we would have and perhaps they would in similar circumstances.  Necessity provokes, after all.  Still, few would conclude that Suneetha is a very special child.  And now it is time to return to the Singalovada Sutta; rather to the Eastern Quarter that young Sigala misread and therefore mis-worshipped. 

This is what the Exalted One said: ‘The following should be looked upon as the six quarters. The parents should be looked upon as the East, teachers as the South, wife and children as the West, friends and associates as the North, servants and employees as the Nadir, ascetics and brahmans as the Zenith.’

And this is what he said constitutes ‘worshipping’ the East: ‘In five ways, young householder, a child should minister to his parents as the East: (i) Having supported me I shall support them, (ii) I shall do their duties, (iii) I shall keep the family tradition, (iv) I shall make myself worthy of my inheritance, (v) furthermore I shall offer alms in honor of my departed relatives.’

Suneetha worships the East in ways that many who are more educated, more experienced and superior in years do not.  Indeed, she humbles all of us by what she does. 

She supports her father.  She attends to all duties that convention determines are ‘musts’ and much more too.  We do not know what her family traditions are but it is hard to believe that she has brought any dishonor to family or tradition. Indeed if at all she’s elevated whatever is considered ‘traditional’ to a point where she teaches all families of all traditions a poignant lesson in humanity.  She inherited little, obviously, but she is certainly worthy of whatever she got.  Let us hope that she will not have to offer alms as per the last ‘tenet’ for a long time to come.

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The Nation' and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

Malinda, how did you come to know about little Suneetha?

Malinda Seneviratne said...

Read about her in the 'Ada' newspaper