My two and a half- year old grandson Theo is fascinated with the different items in my house related to Tibetan Buddhism. He loves playing with the malas, the prayer wheels, the bells, and has been identifying Buddhas in his neighborhood since he was around 2.
There is one thing, though, which he gives a wide girth.
It is paper mache masks of a protector deity-you know the ones; scary red face, big fangs and an intimidating grimace. This mask is on a bookshelf in the hallway. I had noticed Theo’s moving away from that mask as he runs up and down the hallway. One day he told us that he was a little scared of this scary face.
It seemed like a fertile opening of a conversation.
“Is that mask a little scary to you Theo?”
“Yes, Momo. I don’t really like the scary face.”
“Can I tell you something about this kind of scary face?”
“Sometimes things look kind of scary but really they are our friends. They look scary so they can protect us from things that are REALLY scary. They have to look that way so they can scare the real scary things away! They are protecting us. That’s why they look so scary.”
Theo was intrigued.
“Protecting us from other things?”
“Yes, and you know what else?”
“I know where a bunch of those scary faced protectors live!”
Do you want to see where they live?”
Theo’s whole demeanor had shifted from scared and vulnerable to curiousity.
“Yes, I want to see where the other scary faces live. Will you show me Momo?”
“Sure, let’s go into the front room.”
Theo followed me into the front room and watched while I pulled out the “big book” of Romio Surestha’s Thanka Collection. Theo hadn’t seen this book before. The book stands about 2 feet high and a foot and a half wide, filled with beautiful renditions of many, many thankas.
Theo was filled with wonder as I pulled this huge book out from the corner of my puja table.
I set it up against the coffee table and we sat in front of it. Predictably, nearly every thanka had several dharma protectors somewhere. Some small, some large, all with teeth and scowling like the mask in the hallway.
“Look! There’s one! And there is another! And another!”
“Momo, there are lots of scary faces here!
They really do live here!”
I handed Theo his magnifying glass and asked if he would like to look closer.
“Momo, look! Here is a small one, here is a big one! There are so many!”
“Theo, they are not so scary now that you see where they live, and now that you know that they are protectors, are they?”
“No Momo. Not so scary!”
We turned the pages one by one. Theo spent lots of time on each page, identifying all the protectors with the magnifying glass.
When we got to the Wheel of Life, the Bhavachakra, Theo raised his magnifying glass and looked even closer. I could hardly believe the significance of this; my little grandson, appearing to be analyzing his location on the Wheel of Life, the Samsaric Wheel; Wow.
Is this not what we are all doing moment-by-moment, whether we are conscious of it or not?
Theo went through the book a few more times, cover-to-cover, magnifying glass in hand.
Later, he walked over to the mask and raised it to his face-conquering his demons, at least for a moment, at two and a half years old.
Not a bad start to a new incarnation.