Father’s Day for a Kadampa

As Kadampas, we often talk about the kindness of our mothers; but I think on Father’s Day it is equally important that we reflect on fathers.  Just as all living beings have been our mother, so too all living beings have been our father.  It is equally valid to view all living beings as our kind fathers.  Fathers, especially modern ones, often help us in many of the same ways as described in the meditations on the kindness of our mothers.  They could have insisted our mother had an abortion, but instead they chose to keep us.  They provided us with a roof over our head, food on our plate and clothes on our body.  They changed our diapers, taught us to walk, run and so forth.  As we grow older, fathers give us our sense of values, teach us about a solid work ethic, encourage us to push ourselves and reach for the stars.  By expecting so much of us, we rise to the occasion.  We each have different relationships with our fathers, so we should take the time to reflect on all of the different ways our father has helped us and generate a genuine feeling of gratitude.

Most of the time we take what our parents, especially our father, does for granted.  In fact, usually we feel no matter how much our father does for us, it is never enough.  We always expect more and then become upset that they didn’t provide it.  We feel it is our parent’s job to do everything for us, and when they don’t we become angry with them.  Actually, our parent’s job is to teach us how to do things for ourselves – and that necessarily means many instances of “helping us most by not helping us.”  Not helping us is sometimes the best way our parents can help us because it forces us to develop our own abilities and experience with life.  So instead of being angry at our fathers for what they didn’t do for us, we should be grateful for what they did do.  We should especially be grateful for what they didn’t do, because this is what helped us become independent, functioning adults.  We should look deep into our mind, identify the delusions and resentments we have towards our father, and make a concerted effort to remove them.  There is no greater Father’s Day gift we can provide than healing our mind of all delusions towards him.

There is no denying it, our fathers appear to have a great number of delusions.  Whether they actually have these delusions or are just Buddhas putting on a good show for us, there is no way to tell.  But the point is the same:  they conventionally appear to have delusions, and they tend to pass those delusions on to us.  Part of our job as a child is to identify the delusions of our father, then find those same delusions within ourselves, and then root them out fully and completely.  That way we don’t pass on these delusions down to future generations.  We should also encourage our own kids to identify our delusions and to remove them from their own mind.  We have trouble seeing our own delusions, but fortunately our kids can see them quite clearly!  In Confucian societies, they place a lot of emphasis on their relationship with their ancestors.  We need to recall the good qualities and values of our ancestors and pass those along; but we also need to identify their delusions and put an end to their lineage.  Doing this is actually an act of kindness towards our father because we limit the negative karma they accumulate (remember, the power of karma increases over time, largely due to these karmic aftershocks) by preventing the ripple effects of their negativity from going any further.

But I believe for a Kadampa, Father’s Day is about so much more than just remembering the kindness of our physical father.  I believe it is even more important to recall the kindness of our spiritual father, our Spiritual Guide.  My regular father gave birth to me as a person, but it is my spiritual father who gave birth to the person I want to become.  All the meaning I have in my life comes through the kindness of my spiritual father.  He has provided me with perfectly reliable teachings, empowerments into Highest Yoga Tantra practices, constant blessings, a worldwide spiritual family, and Dharma centers where I can learn and accumulate vast merit.  He believes in me and helps me believe in my own spiritual potential.  He has given me the wisdom to navigate through some of the hardest moments of my life, and he has promised to be with me, helping me, until the end of time.  There is no one kinder than my spiritual father.  I owe him everything.  Like my regular father, I have taken his kindness for granted.  I fail to appreciate what he has provided, and I have been negligent when it comes to praying for his long life – something I know I will regret deeply when it is already too late.

My spiritual father also emanates himself in the form of Lama Tsongkhapa, who reveals the paths of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  Lama Tsongkhapa resides at my heart and guides me through every day.  If only I can learn to surrender myself completely to him, he promises to work through me to ripen and liberate all those I love.  My spiritual father also emanates himself in the form of my Dharma protector, Dorje Shugden.  Dorje Shugden is my best friend.  Ever since the first day I started relying upon him, the conditions for my practice – both outer and inner – have gotten better and better.  This does not mean he has made my life comfortable, far from it!  He has pushed me to my limits, and sometimes beyond, but always in such a way that I am spiritually better off for having gone through the challenge.  Dorje Shugden’s wisdom blessings help me overcome my attachment, my anger and my ignorance.  I quite literally resolve 95% of my delusions simply by requesting Dorje Shugden arrange whatever is best for my spiritual development, and then trusting that he is doing so.  Geshe-la is my father.  Je Tsongkhapa is my father.  Dorje Shugden is my father.  My spiritual father also provides for me my Yidam.  A Yidam is the deity we try become ourselves, in my case Guru Father Heruka.  He provides me the ideal I strive to become like.

Father’s Day for me is also more than remembering the kindness of my spiritual father, but it is also appreciating the opportunity I have to be a father myself.  I have always been way too intellectual and have found it difficult to have heart-felt feelings.  Before I got married, I went to the Protector Gompa at Manjushri and asked for a sign whether I should get married or not.  I then had a very clear vision of a Buddha approach me and hand me a baby saying, “this is where you will find your heart.”  Being a father has taught me what it means to love another person, to be willing to do anything to help another person.  I use the love I feel for my children as my example of how I should feel towards everyone else.  Father’s Day is a celebration of that and an appreciation of the opportunity to be a father.  More often than not, fathers mistakenly believe Father’s Day is about their children showing (for once!) some appreciation for all that a father does, then when the gratitude doesn’t come they feel let down.  I think a Kadampa father should have exactly the opposite outlook.  Father’s Day is not about receiving gratitude, it is the day where we should try live up fully to be the father we want to become.  It is about us giving love, not receiving gratitude.

Many people are not yet fathers, or maybe they never will be in this life.  But just as everyone has been our father, so too we have been a father to everyone.  We can correctly view each and every living being as our child, and we should love them as a good father would.  The beating heart of bodhichitta is the mind of superior intention, which takes personal responsibility for the welfare of others.  That is what being a father is all about.  We need to adopt the mind that views all beings as our children, and assume personal responsibility for their welfare, both in this life and in all their future lives.  The father we seek to become like is our spiritual father.  What is a Buddha if not a father of all?  This, to me, is the real meaning of Father’s Day.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How to have nothing to fear

(4.20) It is for these reasons that Buddha, the Blessed One, said
That it is extremely difficult to obtain a precious human life;
Just as it is rare for a turtle to insert its neck
Into a yoke adrift on a vast ocean.

It was discussed in an earlier post how we only attain a precious human life once every 637 quadrillion lifetimes.  But we can change these odds through the practice of moral discipline.

Moral discipline in general creates the cause for a fortunate rebirth.  Moral discipline engaged in with a spiritual motivation creates the causes for another precious human life.  The way it works is as follows:  first we contemplate the valid reasons for voluntarily adopting certain vows and commitments until we develop a wisdom desire to do so.  We actively choose to practice moral discipline because we want to and we see the value of doing so.  We then formally take the vows, making the decision to live our life in a way consistent with them.  Later, deluded tendencies that move in the opposite direction of our vows arises within our mind.  Our job at that time is to recall the disadvantages of following our delusions and the advantages of keeping our vows.  We try see through the lies of our delusions and reconnect with the wisdom that lead us to take the vows in the first place.  Once we have rediscovered that clarity of mind, we then voluntarily choose to not follow the deluded tendency, but instead we reaffirm our moral commitments.

This mental action is the moral discipline of restraint, and since it is motivated by spiritual concerns, it creates the causes not just for another upper rebirth, but a precious human life in which we re-find the Dharma.  If 50 deluded tendencies ripen in a single hour (which can sometimes happen when our delusions are really flaring up), and we engage in this process of reconnecting with our wisdom that lead us to take the vows until we no simply do not want to follow our deluded tendencies, then we created the causes for 50 precious human rebirths in that hour!  Not bad for an hour’s worth of spiritual work.

What distinguishes the mere practice of moral discipline from training in actual vows and commitments, such as the Pratimoksha or Bodhisattva vows, is when we train in vows we not only create the causes for another precious human life, but more importantly we create the causes to maintain the continuum of our spiritual practice until enlightenment is reached.  This is a qualitative difference in effect.  If we have countless trillion negative seeds on our mind, and we create a few dozen good ones, the odds of these good ones ripening is still microscopically low.  If, however, we train in our sets of vows, it creates a different karma altogether, one that maintains the continuum of our practice in life after life.  Geshe-la said when we die, we should try do so with fresh vows on our mind.

Why the different effect between individual moral discipline and keeping the sets of vows?  Because when we practice an individual act of moral discipline, we are throwing our future selves a spiritual life-line.  When we practice a set of vows, we are karmically weaving for ourself a spiritual safety net.  Each vow strengthens and reinforces all of the others in an interactive way that creates for us this minimum spiritual flooring.  Geshe-la explains in Essence of Vajrayana that practicing Tantra is like climbing a high mountain, but doing so on the foundation of our Tantric vows is like adding the necessary safety equipment so that even if we slip, we do not fall.

Different types of vows will create different types of precious human rebirths.  Keeping our refuge vows creates the causes to maintain the continuum of our Buddhist practice between now and our eventual enlightenment.  Keeping our Pratimoksha vows creates the causes for us to maintain the continuum of our practice of a path that leads to liberation from samsara.  Keeping bodhisattva vows maintains the continuum of our Mahayana trainings to enlightenment.  Keeping Tantric vows maintains the continuum of our Vajrayana trainings; and keeping our mother Tantra vows maintains the continuum of our Heruka and Vajrayogini practice.  We invest in insurance for all sorts of things in life; how much more important is it to invest effort in the spiritual insurance provided by our practice of the sets of vows?

The reality is this:  if we keep finding the path and have the wish to practice it, our samsara will slowly but surely come to an end.  If we lose the path, we lose everything and it might be countless aeons later before we can rebegin our practice.  While we have found the way out, we should do whatever is required to stay on the path.  In short, if we lose the path, we have everything to fear; if we fear only losing the path, we will have nothing to fear.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  We shall not even hear the words “fortunate rebirth.”

(4.17) If I engage in non-virtuous actions,
I shall not obtain a human body again;
And if I do not attain a human form,
There will be no virtue, only negativity.

(4.18) If I do not practise virtue now
While I have the good fortune to do so,
What virtue shall I be able to practise
When I am suffering and confused in the lower realms?

(4.19) For if I do not practise virtue
But accumulate only evil,
I shall not even hear the words “fortunate rebirth”
For a hundred million aeons.

At present, the vast majority of our actions are neutral, but if we are honest negativity comes easily and virtue comes only with great effort.  This clearly shows the natural tendencies on our mind.  As Gen-la Losang says, what is natural is simply what is familiar.  The fact that negativity comes naturally to us shows that it is what our mind is most familiar with.  When we do engage in virtuous actions, it is rare and our virtues are weak.  Often we simply show up to Dharma centers or festivals or place our bottoms on our meditation cushion, but fail to bring our mind along too.  During daily life, when difficulties arise, our first instinct is to lie, cheat, steal, avoid, retaliate, criticize, judge, and blame others.

If we do not engage in virtuous actions, we will not take another fortunate rebirth.  Moral discipline is the principal cause of upper rebirth, and upon that we have scantly relied.  If we fall into the lower realms, we will engage almost exclusively in non-virtue.  Look at a day in the life of an animal, a hungry spirit and a hell being.  How much virtue do they accumulate?  How much non-virtue?  What causes do they create for their future lives?

If we think about it, when we suffer there’s no space in our mind for any virtue to arise because we are completely preoccupied with the situation. We know when we don’t feel good, even some physical discomfort, our Dharma practice becomes worse, it becomes more difficult to generate and maintain virtue.  What will it be like when we return to the lower realms experiencing far more suffering than we are now?  Even an animal, where is the space for virtue?  We engage in only non-virtue.   In the upper realms, our experiences will be so pleasant that we will feel no real motivation to practice.  Instead, we will be consumed by jealousy, competitiveness and self-indulgence.  Once the merit creating the causes for such a rebirth is exhausted, we will have no choice but to fall once again in the lower realms.  From this perspective, an upper or lower rebirth are essentially equally dangerous.

But right now, as a human being, we can create space in our mind for virtue.  This is our chance.  We have just enough suffering to be motivated to do something about it, and just enough good fortune to have everything we need to be able to do so.  It is perfect.

I look at how hard it is for me to just try be a good person, much less an enlightened being.  I see how hard it is to not give into my deluded tendencies, much less eradicate them completely.  I see how easy it is to become despondent, discouraged or lazy with our practice.  Attaining enlightenment seems almost impossibly hard that if I am honest, I mostly don’t even believe it is possible.  But Buddha says it is easier to attain enlightenment once reborn as a human than it is to attain rebirth as a human once we have fallen into the lower realms.  It is, for all practical purposes, impossible.  Again the Christian view is an almost entirely accurate approximation of reality – what awaits us is eternal damnation.  Buddhists like to quibble with the eternal part, triumphantly thinking, “oh, those naïve Christians, don’t they understand there are countless lives and nothing is permanent about lower rebirth.”  But their naïve view grasping at an eternal fall is far closer to the truth than our wishful thinking that our time in the lower realms will be short-lived.

Once we fall, we will know only terror.  There will be no Dharma, no Dharma centers, no spiritual friends, no wisdom.  Every day will be a constant struggle, where our only chance at survival will be to engage in actions that condemn us to remain trapped in the lower realms.  Our minds will be dark, clouded, full of ignorance, miserliness and rage.  Even we who have heard of such things as liberation and enlightenment continue to neglect our spiritual trainings; what chance will we have when we live in a world that knows even not of fortune rebirth, but only torment.  Our time is coming.  This is no game.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  When will an opportunity like this arise again?

(4.15) Since the appearance of a Tathagata – a Buddha,
Faith in his teachings, a precious human body,
And a suitable basis for practising Dharma are so rare,
When will an opportunity like this arise again?

We know we have all the conditions necessary for the practice of Dharma—we have perfect conditions, but the question is are we using those conditions?   With these conditions we can discover and put an end to all the paths that lead to suffering in our mind. We probably never had such conditions before and we will probably never have them again.  Human life is rare enough, but one such as we have?

I did the math before and it comes out that we have a life like this only once every 637 quadrillion (thousand trillion) lifetimes.  Buddha likens the chances of us having a precious human life to odds of the blind turtle who lives in an ocean the size of this world and surfaces only once every 100,000 years.  There is a golden yoke (a yoke is what is put around an animal’s head when the pull a cart) floating on the surface, what is the likelihood of the blind turtle putting their head through the middle of the yoke?  The surface of the earth is 510 million square kilometers, or 510 trillion square meters.  If you assume the yoke is 1 square meter and an average lifespan of 80 years, the turtle will rise to the surface only once every 1,250 lifetimes.  Each time the turtle rises it has a one in 510 trillion chance of putting its head through the yoke, resulting in once every 637 quadrillion lifetimes!  Numbers this big are simply beyond our imagination, so for all practical purposes we can say this is our once in an eternity opportunity.  Again, the Christian model of saying we get this one life on earth to do it right is, more or less, correct.  It is as if this is our one chance.  The question we face is are we going to waste it.

Unless we do something with this opportunity, it is meaningless.  We need to choose to use this information to decide to not waste this opportunity.  Until we make this choice, all of our Dharma knowledge will remain intellectual.  It is only once we have decided to embark on the journey that we start to appreciate and understand the value of each instruction we are given.  Shantideva says we need to formally declare war on our delusions, because when we do and the battle is joined, we will then need the instructions.  They will no longer be viewed as optional, rather they will be necessary for our very survival.

(4.16) Today, for example, I might be free from sickness,
Well-nourished, and without afflictions;
But this life is fleeting and deceptive,
And my body is as if borrowed for a moment.

Why do we become so complacent?  I think the main reason is we forget that because we’re human we must die.  We may be healthy, wealthy, happy, all these things.  But the fact is all this will come to an end.  Inevitably I will become unhealthy, unwealthy, unhappy.  When things are good, we assume they will last forever, and then we are shocked when they come to an end.  We should not take for granted our present circumstances, but always recall that karma changes fast.  Our lives can be turned on their head in an instant, or worse we can lose our life altogether.

While we have it good, we should use our time wisely to store spiritual provisions for the long road ahead.  In George Martin’s A Game of Thrones they say, “winter is coming.”  The meaning is the current good times will not last and we must prepare for the hardship we know is coming.  Our spiritual winter is coming, whether we freeze to death or make it through the winter depends entirely upon how we use our time right now.

We do not want to be the person who arrives at the time of death empty-handed, with nothing to show for the spiritual opportunities we have had.  Venerable Tharchin says we should “live our life from the perspective of our deathbed.”  We should view each situation as we go through life through the lens of how we will think about it when we are on our deathbed.  If it is not going to be important to us on our deathbed, then it is not important now.  If it will be important to us on our deathbed, we should consider it important now.  If we live our life in this way, there is no danger of our wasting our precious human life nor dying full of regrets.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Using Lamrim to strengthen our conscientiousness

It is said that the Lamrim directly or indirectly opposes all delusions.  I personally find that there is not a single Lamrim meditation that cannot serve as the opponent to any delusion.  Of course, certain Lamrim minds are the most direct and obvious opponents, but it seems to me every Lamrim mind can serve as the opponent to every delusion.

It is not enough to just intellectually realize this is true, we need to make a point of gaining actual experience in using the different Lamrim minds as opponents to the different delusions that arise during the day.  Most Kadampa practitioners meditate on the Lamrim in the form of a 21 meditation, 21 day cycle.  To deepen our experience of this, each day we should make a point of only using the Lamrim meditation for the day as the opponent to each and every delusion that arises during that day.  Of course sometimes, when our delusions are particularly strong, we may need to bring in other meditations to help, but most of the time our delusions are mild and the Lamrim meditation of the day is more than sufficient.  By training in this way, we will come to see the Lamrim as a 21 tool toolbox, and we will become like a master craftsman who can use his tools to accomplish any spiritual goal, or like a skilled physician who knows precisely which medicines can be used to counter which diseases.

Shantideva now shows us how we can use the different Lamrim meditations to increase our conscientiousness.

(4.13) Even though there have been countless Buddhas in the past
Working to benefit all living beings,
Because I have so many karmic obstacles
I have not been a direct object of their care;

We have a precious human life.  In all of our past lives when delusions or negative tendencies arose, we were powerless to stop them.  But now, we have the extraordinary good fortune of having met the Buddhadharma.  We now have perfectly reliable methods for reducing and finally eliminating our deluded tendencies.

We are like somebody who has been bullied their entire life, and they finally meet a qualified martial arts master, who patiently trains them in the methods of combat so that they can defend themselves.  Since beginningless time we have been bullied by our delusions, but we have finally met a qualified master in the arts of combatting delusions.  If we train patiently and consistently in the methods we have been taught, we will not only be able to defend ourselves, we will eventually emerge victorious over all of our delusions.  The only thing required of us is the perseverance to see it through to the end.

(4.14) And, if I remain like this,
Again and again I shall have to experience
Sickness, incarceration, laceration,
And mutilation in the lower realms.

Most of our past lifetimes have been spent in the lower realms.  If we apply no effort to abandon non-virtue or harmful actions, then we will simply go back to where we have spend most of our time.  The lower realms are our real home in samsara, our time in the upper realms is like going on vacation to some fancy beach resort only to have to deplete our karmic savings to pay the bill and return to our regular home in hell.

Because we have a lot of merit ripening right now, we can generate the false impression that we have a mind filled with the kind of potentials that lead to fortunate rebirth and that we will continue to meet the teachings of Buddha.  But this is wrong.  We have a mind filled with negativity.  How can we know this? – we can look at suffering, dreams, tendencies similar to the cause, looking at other living beings, how close we are to madness and overall considering the structural parameters of samsara (lower realms only accumulate non-virtue, upper realms burn up all merit on externals, etc.).  The karmic gradient of samsara is steep, and it is all downward sloping.

For all practical purposes our choice is simple:  either we attain enlightenment or we fall back into lower realms.  There really isn’t much of a middle here.  In this sense, the Christian duality of Heaven or Hell is not far from the truth.  Yes, there are exceptions, but they are temporary.  We ultimately fall back into this choice.  So we first need to accept that this is our situation, and then actually make our choice to get out.

Living in denial of the situation we are in doesn’t change the fact that we are in it.  The sooner we accept that and make a decision, the sooner we get out.  We don’t know how much longer we will have the opportunity to choose before samsara chooses for us.  We have no idea the karma on our mind, and it can go off at anytime.  This is the reality of things.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Retaking our vows with no intention of keeping them

(4.11) Those who repeatedly renew their Bodhisattva vow
Only to go on to incur further downfalls
Will remain for a long time enmeshed in samsara,
Obstructed from attaining higher spiritual grounds.

(4.12) Therefore, I must practise sincerely,
In accordance with the promise I have made.
If, from now on, I make no effort,
I shall be reborn in lower and lower states.

Here, we need to make a clear distinction between the correct and incorrect way of approaching our vows.  The correct way is to “work gradually and skillfully with all the vows, while maintaining the intention to one day keep them all perfectly.”  The incorrect way is to “allow ourself to incur downfalls thinking it doesn’t matter because we can simply retake our vows.”  There is a world of difference between these two approaches.

Deluded tendencies arise in our mind all the time.  The training in moral discipline takes this as a given.  We would not need to train in moral discipline if deluded, negative tendencies did not arise.  Some people, falling on one extreme, relate to their vows as if the arising of a deluded tendency itself is a downfall, and so when it occurs, they immediately repress the tendency.  The result of this is as predictable as it is tragic:  the strength of the deluded tendencies grows and grows until one day the person “cracks” and then binges on their delusions and negative habits.  Spiritual bulimia is not the goal.

The other extreme is whenever a deluded tendency arises we simply give into it, knowing we will be defeated by it anyways.  Usually we rationalize this in one of two ways, either we say, “we are not there yet where we are ready to take on this particular deluded tendency” or we tell ourselves, “this action is not so bad, lighten up.”  If we take this approach, we never really get serious about our practice of moral discipline.

The worst, of course, is intentionally engaging in negativity thinking it doesn’t matter because we can just retake our vows and all will be good.  I call this the Don Corleone method of purification, we go to Confession while our hit men are out killing our enemies.  Purification practices and the restoration of our vows only works if we are sincere about it.  They are not get out of jail free cards. When we practice like this, our underlying intention is to continue to enjoy samsara.  Such a practice will bring no real change.   We will not move forward.  If we carry on like this, Shantideva says we’ll remain for a long time enmeshed in samsara.  We need to sincerely reconstruct the pathways and behavior patterns within our mind.  We need to cherish our vows as a way of doing that, and sincerely work with them all to retrain our mind.  Conclusion: we mustn’t let things slip, as we have done. More importantly, we must never give up.  Through considering the results of letting things slip or of giving up, conscientiousness will naturally arise.  Because we don’t want those results, for ourselves or others.

Geshe-la advises us to “work gradually and skillfully with all our vows, while maintaining the intention to one day keep them all perfectly.”  Our actual commitment – our actual vow – is to never abandon the intention to keep them all perfectly in the future.  This protects us against the extreme of just letting loose and indulging in our negativity whenever it arises.  Working gradually and skillfully with all our vows humbly accepts that the practice of moral discipline is a training, something that we work with over a long period of time gradually learning from our mistakes and doing a little bit better each day, each month, each year, each decade and indeed each lifetime.  This protects us from the extreme of repression, thinking that we are supposed to act perfectly from day one.  I usually do self-initiation three or four times a year.  At such times, I try reflect back on how I am doing with all of my vows.  I will mentally make new commitments where possible to do a little bit better with my vows than I did the last time I retook them.

The key to moral discipline is to move beyond “shouldn’t” to “I don’t want to.”  When we think, “I shouldn’t engage in a certain action” implicit is within us a desire thinking, “but I still want to do so.”  Shouldn’t-based moral discipline generally just leads to repression.  Instead, we need to contemplate the faults of delusions, karma, the benefits of moral discipline, our spiritual goals and the practicalities of what works and what doesn’t, and get to the point where we can “see through the lie” of our delusion.  Our delusion promises us that if we follow it, things will be better.  We instead shine the light of wisdom on this, realize that no, if I follow my delusion it will just make things worse.  Then, we refrain from engaging in the negative action because we simply don’t want to.  We know we will suffer more if we do.  Such moral discipline is sustainable.  Once we have realized this wisdom once, then, every time a deluded tendency arises, we recollect our wisdom that lead us to the decision to commit to certain practices of moral discipline.  We reaffirm that, “no, I don’t want to do that” and then we refrain.  Practicing in this way, our moral discipline and wisdom will improve in tandem, with each reinforcing the other.

Mother’s Day for a Kadampa

As Kadampas who practice the Lamrim, every 21 days is Mother’s Day.  We are all quite familiar with the various contemplations of how all living beings are our mother and how kind they were to us as our mother, therefore we should develop a profound feeling of gratitude towards our mother of this life and all our mothers of our past lives.  Very often though, primarily because we make our meditations intellectual exercises of recalling certain points as opposed to exercises of the heart where we change our feelings, these contemplations on the kindness of our mother no longer really move our mind.  We might recall them, but we don’t internalize them and let them touch our heart.  On actual Mother’s Day, we should take the time to reflect deeply and sincerely upon them so that our heart moves and we genuinely feel gratitude and a wish to repay our mother’s kindness.

I sometimes wonder if ancient Tibetan culture was the same as our modern culture.  In modern culture, particularly in modern psychology, the trend is to blame our mother for all of our problems.  We are encouraged to go back into our childhood and find all the different ways our mother made mistakes and that is “the underlying cause” why we are the way we are today.  We likewise completely take for granted everything our mother has done for us.  As kids, we are completely blind to it.  We think it is “normal” that our mothers do everything for us, and we feel “justified” in getting angry with them when they don’t do it perfectly.  In truth, our mother could have just abandoned us on the street.  She owes us nothing.  Nobody owes us anything.  It is our expectation that they do that actually prevents us from appreciating all that she did for us.  It is the very nature of modern motherhood to give everything you have to your kids only to have them take your kindness for granted, blame you for all of their problems, and want to have nothing to do with you because you are such an embarrassment.  Perhaps it has always been such, which is why the meditation on the kindness of our mothers has always been taught.

On Mother’s Day, I think it is important to not just express our gratefulness, but to sincerely apologize for what a jerk we have been to her over the years.  Explain that when you were a kid, you didn’t understand, and now it is only as an adult (and perhaps a parent yourself) that you are beginning to realize all she did for you.  Apologize for yelling, apologize for disobeying, apologize for being embarrassed by her, apologize for ignoring her, and apologize most of all for taking for granted all that she has done for you.  Explain to her that all of your good qualities now come from her.  My father once said about his mother, “everything good in our family comes from Grandma.  That’s the truth.”  This is a perfect attitude.  It is the truth.  The truth is mother’s really struggle with the fact that everything they do is taken for granted and that they are blamed for everything.  Yes, it is good for them in terms of being able to learn how to give love unconditionally, but it is hard.  All it takes is one honest conversation where you admit you were a real butt with her, and where you express sincere gratitude for everything you previously took for granted.  Such a conversation can heal decades of grief.

Sometimes when we encounter the meditation on the kindness of our mothers we develop all sorts of objections because it is true, our mother did make a lot of mistakes.  My mother had all sorts of serious mental health issues, we had an off and on terrible relationship until eventually she killed herself on my wedding day.  I had all sorts of resentments towards her for years, then I had guilt after her suicide, and now I find it difficult to think anything good about her.  All I see is her many faults and delusions.  Most of us have problems of one kind or another with our mothers.  I personally feel it is vital that we identify the delusions we have towards our parents, in particular our mother, and work through them.  We need to get to the point where our mind is completely healed of all delusions towards them.  This is not only a way of repaying the kindness of our mother, it is a way of healing our own mind.

Our mothers were not perfect, they made many mistakes, and they were full of delusions.  This is also true, and acknowledging that fact is not a denial of their kindness.  We can hold the view that they were emanations of Buddhas who appeared to make the mistakes that they did to give us a chance to grow.  Every child grows up cataloging the many mistakes their parents make and resolves when they are parents they won’t do the same thing; only to find when they do become parents they wind up making all the same mistakes.  The power of osmosis with our parents is the most powerful force shaping our lives and shaping our mind.  It is not enough that we heal our mind of all the delusions we have towards our mother, we also need to look into our mind and identify all the delusions we received from her.  Venerable Tharchin once told me the only reason why the people in our life appear to have delusions is because we ourselves possess the same delusions within our own mind, we therefore project beings who have the same faults.  Our task, therefore, is to identify within ourselves the delusions that appear in others and then root them out completely.  When we do so, he said, several amazing things will happen.  First, your relationship with the person will improve.  Second, you will have less delusions in your own mind.  And third, the faults you see in the other person will gradually “disappear.”  Why?  Because they were never coming from the other person in the first place.  He concluded by saying, this is how Bodhisattva’s ripen and liberate all beings.  When we attain Buddhahood, he said, it appears to us as if everybody attains Buddhahood at the same time with us.  In fact, we see that they have always been so.  If we love our mother, this is essential work.

Mother’s Day, though, is about much more than just our relationship with our own mother of this life, or even recalling the kindness of all our past mothers.  I think on Mother’s Day we need to recall the kindness of our Spiritual Mother, Guru Arya Tara.  Tara promised Atisha long ago that she would care for all Kadampas in the future.  The fact that we have a spiritual life today is due to her kindness.  She gave birth to our spiritual life.  Like all mothers’ kindnesses, we don’t even see it.  She operates unseen, and we take it for granted.  But there is no doubt, it is thanks to her that we have a spiritual life.  She gave birth to it, she has nurtured it, and she cares for us now even if we never think of her.  For some, she appears herself as Vajrayogini, and therefore serves as our Highest Yoga Tantra Yidam.  Tara is one of the Buddhas who often appears early in our spiritual life.  Almost everybody has a very positive experience with encountering her.  But then, over time, we tend to forget about her as we move on to other practices.  But like any mother, she never forgets her spiritual children.  We should remember this, and generate our thanks to her for it.

Finally, I think it is worth recalling that just as all living beings have been our mother, so too we have been the mother of all living beings.  We can correctly view all living beings as our children, and love them as a good mother would.  The contemplations on the kindness a mother shows to her child are not there just to help us develop gratitude towards our mothers, they are also examples of the attitude we should have towards all of our children.  How many of us would be willing to remove the mucus from a stranger’s nose?  Our mother did that for us.  We should love others so much that we would gladly, and without hesitation do the same for others.  Of course, that would never happen, but the mind that is willing to help any living being in any way we can is the real meaning of Mother’s Day.