August 1, 2009

Hansel and Gretel - a Buddhist version

I wrote this after Mike Luetchford's talk a few days ago in Brno on the law of cause and effect. After the talk, suddenly I decided to rewrite this famous fairy tale. It may be totally off the mark, totally useless, crazy, boring and whatever. But I just did it. It was fun to write it. It is based on a version I found on the internet, but I only left very few words intact, otherwise used my own language and added different things and changed the plot a bit.

Here it is

Simply Gretel

A woodcutter lived in a tiny cottage in the forest with his two children, Hansel and Gretel. Although he was quite poor, he often felt calm and happy. He enjoyed chopping wood or playing with his kids. But his second wife yelled at the children and bitched about this and that and nagged the woodcutter.
"There isn’t enough food. It’s high time we got rid of the two brats," she said. Then she told her husband to leave the children in the forest. Despite his love for them, he was unable to resist. He felt weak when he heard his wife’s commanding voice.
"Take them miles away from here so they never find their way back home!"
Hansel had overheard his parents' talk.
"If they do leave us in the forest, we'll find the way home," he said to his sister.
“Maybe”, she said. “But is this still our home? Dad loves us, for sure, but this lady will always give us a hard time and chase us away.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. Let’s see how things unfold.”

The next morning the woodcutter took Hansel and Gretel away into the forest. He didn’t think much, just kept walking. “This must be a strange dream. Only a dream,” he thought. After walking several miles he had to stop. He almost fainted.
Soon the kids realized they were lost and without their father. But Gretel did not panic.
"I know we’re lost and hungry and it is pitch-dark now. Anyway, this can’t last forever. We’ll find out what to do!"
Gretel tried to encourage her brother, but she too shivered when she saw shadows and strange shapes around them in the darkness. All night the two children sat at the foot of a large tree. They couldn’t fall asleep.
At dawn they started to wander around the forest, seeking a path, a path to a friendly world. At last they came upon a cottage in the middle of a glade.
"This is chocolate!" said Hansel and broke a bit of chocolate from the wall.
"And this is icing!" said Gretel, putting another piece of wall in her mouth.
It seemed the friendly world was found. But then Gretel said:
“Wait a minute. We can’t just eat something that isn’t ours.”
“So what,” said Hansel. ”I’m hungry.”
“Nobody should eat other people’s houses. Maybe someone will come out and offer real food.”
"I haven’t eaten the house anyway, just a bit of wall," Hansel said, munching on another piece of something delicious. Then the door quietly opened.
"Well, well!" said a strange, old woman. "And haven't you children a sweet tooth?"
They looked at her but said nothing.
"Come in!” said the old woman. “You’ve got nothing to fear!”

The candy cottage belonged to a witch.

After a few more friendly and kind words, she said:
"You kids are nothing but skin and bones!"
All of a sudden, she grabbed Hansel and locked him into an old, rotten cage.
“I shall fatten you up and eat you!"
“Strange English”, thought Gretel.
Hansel was frightened but his sister just shook her head. It seemed they were dreaming. Was this a fairy tale? Was this reality? Gretel wasn’t sure. She loved fairy tales. But not in real life.
“Not now,” she sighed. “We don’t want fairy tales now. Sometimes fairy tales are horrible, just like reality.”

"You can do the housework," the woman told Gretel, "then I'll make a meal of you too!"
“I was right, “Gretel thought. “This is real life. Real life and a horror. Both. ”

The witch checked Hansel’s finger every day to see if he had gained weight.
"You're still much too thin!" she said after a month.
One day she had enough of waiting.
"Light the oven," she told the girl. "We're going to roast him!"
Gretel didn’t move. She was thinking about something, paying little attention to the old woman.
The witch screamed at the little girl: "Useless child! All right, I'll do it myself."
Later the witch wanted to see if the oven was hot enough.
“Now I could just push her inside,” Gretel thought. “Push her and slam the door. But that…” the girl shook her head, “that would be too much.”
She looked at her brother who was trembling. As the woman was about to stick her head into the door, Gretel said:
“Hold on. I know you’re starving. But let me ask you something before you roast my poor brother.”
The witch was shocked.
“How dare you… you…” she gasped.
“We both know that if you roast Hansel, you can eat him.”
“What,” said the witch and felt as if she was falling asleep.
“This is the law of cause and effect. When you push me hard, I fall down.”
“What,” sighed the witch. ”I must be dreaming,” she thought and then said: “What on earth…heaven…”
“Let me explain. If you roast Hansel, you eat. If you don’t roast Hansel, you don’t eat.”
Suddenly the witch could see shadows coming out from the darkness. It was more and more clear that she was facing something she had already experienced in the past. In the past she would try to find the meaning of life and death but found nothing, only frustration and anger. This girl was talking about philosophy.
“Philosophy,” the witch whispered.
“Madam,” said Gretel. “What is the situation where there is no room for a process of cause and effect?”
“I don’t know,” puffed the witch.
Gretel grabbed a shovel and hit her. The witch shivered a bit but stayed quiet.
“This is the real situation where there is no room for a process of cause and effect,” said Gretel.
The woman said in a calm voice:
“Now I see that you have found the meaning of life and death. I had been looking for it almost all my life but recently I gave up and became a child-eater. I am a criminal. Nobody likes me. I like nobody. I just eat poor little kids. I would like to ask you to teach me to see what the meaning of life and death is.”
“For now,” said the girl, “we’ve had enough theories. I hit you, which was an action, not a theory, not something you only imagine in your fairy tales. Now let me and Hansel get some food in the nearest village so we can all have dinner. Then we can discuss philosophy again.”

The witch couldn’t wait to listen to Gretel’s teaching. She didn’t want to eat, just discuss philosophy. She felt as if only talking to the girl would fill her stomach. But Gretel grabbed her brother and left the cottage.

On the way to the nearest village Hansel asked:
“How can I become as wise as you?”
“I’m not very wise. I just asked the old woman a question. She got stuck in her thoughts about this and that so I hit her. Anyway, we were lucky. If it hadn’t been for her interest in philosophy, she would’ve killed us. There are plenty of mad people, not just fairy tales characters. Some adults don’t believe in witches but I do.”
"I still don’t know what you said to her about effects and meanings. Could you explain it to me?”
“We came across that candy house, so we got into trouble. But as we ate the sweet chocolate, we were free. We didn’t know about our past or future problems. So I wanted to show her that beside her life that’s full of causes and effects, there’s also freedom within a simple action here and now. This simple action here and now provides a point where we can overcome the burden of our past actions and stop worrying about the future. Although we have to count on the law of cause and effect and can never escape it, not even in our dreams, not even in fairy tales, we can also enjoy freedom of the present. I wanted to show her that her life can become more balanced if she appreciates what she simply does here and now, be it washing clothes or just looking out of the window.”
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about. But I’ll try to… I’ll study…”
“Yes. As you wish. But now don’t worry. Let’s just do the shopping.”

As they were walking down the forest path, they ran into their father who was desperately looking for them. They were all overjoyed.
“Your stepmother has died. It was a virus. Come home with me now, my beloved children!"
“Dad!” said Gretel. “Let’s first do some shopping. We’ve met this lady and we promised we would bring her some food from the nearest village. She’s starving! She almost ate Hansel. Really. Just like in the fairy tale. We did survive. Now let’s just buy some food, eat dinner with the lady and then go home.”
"Let’s do that!" said the father. “By the way, is the lady attractive?”
“Arrgh,” said Hansel, “she looks like a big old witch, Dad!”
"I hope,” Hansel said when they came to the village at last. “I hope that sometime we’ll find gold in the woods and become rich and there’ll be no more work for us. Just fun. “
“Just fun,” the father shook his head and smiled. “I quite like chopping wood.”