In the play Blue Lotus, written by Elaine Lai, I was the Old Man, a temporary emanation of the Awakened One, in an utterly ordinary form. He retrieves Blue Lotus from the forest where she is doing a solitary retreat after she faints from her vision. He heals her from her fever and offers her a safe place of refuge. The Old Man emanates total kindness and compassion in a peaceful form.
He tells her about his father, a man who had a deep longing for the spiritual life. Though he was married he abandoned his wife, pregnant with the Old Man, for the life of a renunciant, feeling that his spiritual path trumped his role as a father. His mother raised the boy alone.
The Old Man grew up hating his father. When his father came to him once to ask for forgiveness, the Old Man told him he hated him and sent him to hell with his words. His father passed away without them reconnecting.
While the Old man doesn’t blame himself for feeling anger towards him, he regrets not knowing much about him.
“It was easy to judge him and to hate him when I didn’t know his whole story. . . Only people who are hurting deeply make decisions that hurt those who are closest to them. My father was definitely suffering, pulled between different desires. . . It was important for me to try and uncover his story, to understand how he became who he was.
“I have a feeling my father suffered quite a lot in his youth. He was never lacking in things materially, but still he felt a void. He tried to fill it in different ways, including spirituality. It happens to many people though, doesn’t it? After basic needs are met, there’s still a kind
of…discontentment. I’ve experienced that myself, actually. My father deceived himself into thinking that he had attained his spiritual quest, but really, he only succeeded in avoiding his responsibilities to his family.”
The Old Man asks, “But what good is it to hold on to all that hate? Beneath the hate is anger and beneath that is a broken heart. Broken-heartedness is much harder to bear. Anger is a piece of cake compared to broken-heartedness . . . broken from not being loved in the way I wanted to.
“My father was also someone who never experienced healthy love. Forgiveness is hard. It’s easy to say out loud, but to embody it, well, that takes time.
"He made those decisions, and he has to take responsibility for it. And I have to take responsibility for my life. I choose not to live with hate. Hate only consumes.”
The Old Man’s story helps Blue Lotus to face the last chapter of her past and to heal from it. Is it forgiveness? Or is it letting go, of the constructed identity of one wounded and victimized, and of the anger and hatred associated with that self? Is it allowing the self that we’re trying to make into a nice neat package, to unravel? Is it seeing the self we are constructing and trying to maintain only causes more pain and discomfort when we continue to feed it? Is it gently witnessing the wound and so healing it?
What happens between the Old Man and Blue Lotus? There is mutual vulnerability in which they open themselves to being affected by the other. To connect, to love, they allow themselves to face and share their raw and tender heart wounds with gentleness and compassion. The Old Man shows Blue Lotus how he has developed that gentleness with himself, which helps her to relate to her own vulnerability. Buddhism describes this basic vulnerability as the seed of enlightenment already in us, that enables our tender heart to become an awakened heart that cuts through all the barriers we human beings create.