Adventures in Co-Parenting: Avalokiteśvara

16/04/2012 § Leave a comment

Backstory: Our household is comprised of three adults (myself, Quin, the roomie) and one 8-year-old (son of the roomie, hereafter referred to as the kiddo). Quin and I act as guardians, and we more-or-less operate as a family unit. There are some struggles in that, but not necessarily any more difficult that “traditional” families. Also for the record, I’m not a Buddhist practitioner.

The kiddo has religious views/values that differ from everyone else in the house. Recently, he told Quin & I that we’re going to hell. We were slightly blindsided by this, but all the adults are in agreement that, while we want to give him freedom to explore his own values, we also don’t randomly want him telling people they’re going to hell. People tend to not take kindly to that. In any event, although I do a decent job of talking to people about their religious practice, I fumbled through this encounter because I was rather taken aback by it. I dealt with it by basically saying that I disagree and let the matter drop. His usual response to disagreement about God is “It’s true, I’m not lying. I learned it at church.”


The matter-of-fact approach the kiddo takes makes things a bit more difficult, because I find that adults (generally, contextually, other-modifiers-ly) have a mode of speaking that suggests an understanding that, when talking about “beliefs”, there ought to be respect for difference. When I challenge the kiddo’s assumptions, the auto-response is significantly more defensive than I find in (many) adults.

On Good Friday, the kiddo asked me a question about how “things are invented”, and asked about how plastic bottle caps are made. I told him that plastics come from oil. He asked how they get oil, and I told him that it comes from deep in the Earth. He asked how it got there, and I told him that oil is dead dinosaurs. He asked who made the dinosaurs, and I asked him what he thought. He said “God might have made them, but I don’t think he did because I saw a movie where he didn’t make the planets, but that they formed because of dust and rock and the sun, so I don’t know how they got there.” We talked a little bit about biology, and we came into my office to watch some youtube re: how plastics are made.

On my desk is a rosary, a gift from a very dear friend of mine. The kiddo examined it and asked “Where’s the spear in his side? Where is the blood where they whipped him with glass? How did they do that if he was on the cross? Why don’t they show the blood in his eyes?” I told him that it was a representation, that it got the gist of the thing across without showing such minute detail. I was a little uncomfortable with the whole situation, honestly. When he looked at my computer, he saw Avalokiteśvara in the form of my desktop background, placed there because we’ve begun talking about Mahayana in the course I co-G.A. He asked who it was, and I gave a brief sort of explanation about Bodhisattvas and that Avalokiteśvara is the Bodhisattva of Compassion. This lead to a lot more questions about why Avalokiteśvara has so many arms and heads, what a Bodhisattva is, what Buddhism is, what I study &c&c. I gave the briefest rundown I could without saying “Look, kid, it’s complicated.” He asked what happens when you die “if the Buddha is true.” I showed him the Bhavacakra, and briefly explained that as well, linear vs. cyclic time, and so on.  He asked me if the Bhavacakra is true, and I told him that it’s something he would have to figure out. He then said “I don’t believe it’s true. It doesn’t make sense.”

Although the whole encounter was sort of painful for me, in that it was awkward and I didn’t really know what to say or how to deal with it, I was really proud of him in that moment, because, while I want to expose him to different viewpoints, I also don’t want him to think that he has to believe it because I explained it to him. We try to encourage him to reason through things. Now, if we could just get him to stop calling “A New Hope”  “Episode Ivy”.


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