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In the Children’s Dharma Story Time on October 24, 2021, Barkley the Dog and Lucy the Lady Bug shared the classic book, Stellaluna, by Janell Cannon, a book I fondly remember reading to our son.

Stellaluna teaches a profound lesson about harmony: living together despite our differences.   Stellaluna is a fruit bat, who is separated from her mother as a baby by causes and conditions (symbolized by the owl). With her baby wings not ready to fly, Stellaluna falls into a nest of baby birds, who accept her, just as she is, and they become friends and share adventures together, and become ‘ohana, a true family.

To live in harmony with her bird family, Stellaluna must learn to (1) eat bugs; (2) sleep at night; (3) don’t hang upside down by your toes (which all bats do). Life is not easy but Stellaluna adapts, improvises, and overcomes a challenging situation!

Stellaluna is joyfully reunited with her mother, who teaches Stellaluna what it means to be a fruit bat: eat mangoes, fly in total darkness, and hang upside by their toes! 

Stellaluna shares her joy at discovering her true self with her bird family…and they discover birds cannot fly in the dark, and Stellaluna saves them because she can see and fly in the dark because she’s a bat!

And they all ponder the question:

“How can we feel so different and be so much alike?”

“How can we be so different and feel so much alike?”

Stellaluna and her bird ‘ohana agree, “It’s quite the mystery,” “but we’re friends and that’s a fact!”

It’s easy to understand why this children’s story is so beloved and has been translated into almost every language!

The lesson for adults: you may not like the situation in which you find yourself but you do what needs to be done, without complaint.

This is the meaning of the Japanese word, “gaman” which some of you may have heard your grandparents say. “Gaman” is often translated as “to endure, to persevere” — but the easiest way to understand the meaning in Japanese culture is as illustrated by the story.

If you are hungry enough, you’ll eat a bug. You may not like the taste but you will eat it to survive. You may not like the reality-as-it-is that you are a BAT in a BIRD nest. You are the OUTSIDER. You have to learn the rules of the house, and respect them, or you don’t get to live in the house.

And doesn’t that describe the human condition?

Aren’t we all “outsiders” —a bat in a bird nest—in this human realm of confusion and delusion?

At each stage of life, didn’t you feel like a bat in a bird nest? Unsure of who you are…Ignorant of the rules, how to behave, what to think, do, say…But you listen, you learn, you adapt, improvise, and overcome! You are blessed to encounter kind people who take the time to teach you the rules.

Then, you discover who you really are! A bat! A fruit bat who loves mangoes, can fly in the dark, and sleeps during the day hanging upside down by their toes!

Think about that.

When you go off to college, do you know the rules? Nope, you have to learn things the “hard way” — make mistakes, get embarrassed, look silly—and eventually you figure it out.

Then, you get your first job. New set of rules, expectations, behaviors, and attitudes. You adapt, improvise, and overcome.

Then, you get married. Oops, now you are sharing the mundane ups and downs of daily life with another human being—New set of rules, expectations, behaviors, and attitudes.

Then, baby shows up! Then, baby is a toddler, pre-teen, teenager, college student! Then, suddenly, it’s time to “retire” — New set of rules, expectations, behaviors, attitudes.

Then, it’s “grandpa” time — and you blow out your back picking up baby…then, years later, grand-baby is driving you to temple…over and over again, you adapt, improvise, overcome.

Truth of Impermanence?

Each stage of life brings a new set of rules, expectations, behaviors, and attitudes!

When we reflect upon the story, we realize that Stellaluna was so lucky!

Stellaluna fell into a nest of birds who accepted her as a bat in their bird nest, shared everything they had with her, taught her how to live in harmony as a bat in a bird’s nest!

Stellaluna is then reunited with her mother, who teaches her how to be a bat in a bat’s world! And Stellaluna shares her joy with her bird family, who rejoice in her happiness. Now, Stellaluna has the best of both worlds!

Isn’t that the story of you?

“How can we feel so different and be so much alike?”

“How can we be so different and feel so much alike?”

In romantic love relationships, bonding between parents and children, navigating workplace interactions, friendships, fellowship with temple Sangha members and friends, being a good neighbor, a member of the community, this insight is the key to living in harmony with people who are different from you.

Different lifestyles, attitudes, values mean each individual FEELS things in a different way; and yet we can BE so much alike.

Different perspectives, life experiences, and causes and conditions mean we think, act, do things in a different ways and yet FEEL so much alike.

Buddhism teaches us if we live life as, “It’s about ME (my ego)!” we will be banging heads with billions of other human beings insisting “it’s about ME!”

And we can see this in our nation today. As Americans, we respect the right of all citizens to voice their opinion, to protest peacefully, to hold unpopular views.

As human beings, however, we instinctively insist, “Yes, but I’m right, you’re wrong! It’s about ME!” And thus, disharmony, anger, and conflict arise.

Buddhism teaches when we live life as, “It’s NOT about ME!”, we live together in harmony with other people, all living beings, the environment, and the planet. 

Human beings communicate best through telling stories, which is why the Children’s Dharma Story Time often has more viewers than the Dharma Talk for Adults.

It’s more fun to learn from a story than it is to be lectured to, or preached at!

What’s your Stellaluna story? When were you a “bat in a bird nest?” Who helped you learn the rules? What did you do to adapt, improvise, and overcome? Who helped you discover your true self?

And so, today, consider every person you encounter as a fellow “bat in a bird’s nest” — will you be the one to accept them as they are, teach them the rules of the house, and just BE friends BECAUSE of our differences!

If you’re a bat and you only hang out with bats, you’ll only know the world of bats. And that’s perfectly fine, you’re a bat!

But if you find causes and conditions have led to being a bat in a bird’s nest, what a rare and wonderful opportunity to learn new things, gain new perspectives, and discover your true self. It’s scary to be a bat in a bird’s nest and it’s not pleasant to be the “outsider”—as adults, we all know this.

As Shin Buddhists, Amida’s Great Compassion compels us to aspire to be the one accepting the other, just as they are, teaching the other, and simply being friends because we feel and do things differently.

You don’t have to learn to enjoy eating bugs. But if that’s what needs to be done to live, you take a deep breath, suck it up, and just do what needs to be done. When we awaken to the reality-as-it-is we are all Bats in a Bird’s Nest, we become empowered, just as we are, to accept the other, just as they are.

The Infinite Wisdom of Amida guides us to this awakening—we are all Bats in a Bird’s Nest—through a children’s story that makes the adults think.

The Great Compassion of Amida knows our “adult” Ego-Self prevents us from seeing reality-as-it-is and so this Wisdom comes to us in the form of a children’s story we can read to children while absorbing Wisdom ourselves.

We are all Bats in a Bird’s Nest.

What are you going to do today to live in harmony with people who are different from you?

“How can we be so different and feel so much alike?”

“How can we feel so different and be so much alike?”


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