Just before I was to get married I was at the Summer Festival in England. I went up to what was then the Protector Gompa (a special meditation room dedicated to the Dharma Protector). I felt like getting married was the right thing to do for my spiritual practice, but I still had doubts. So I made as sincere of a request as I could that my path be revealed to me. What happened next was the only time something like this has ever happened to me. I was meditating, my eyes were closed, but in my mind a Buddha who I understood to be Tara approached me. She was made of a silvery metalic liquid, but very much alive. In her hands was a baby – in normal flesh and bones that I could see as clearly as I could see any person out of meditation. She then handed me the baby and said, “this is where you will find your heart.” And then everything vanished. I can still vividly remember and see this within my mind. All doubt was then dispelled and I knew what my path was to be. Thirteen years later, I now have five kids!
Prior to my being a parent, I was very much a Vulcan – heart-felt emotion wasn’t really part of my personality, and I was very intellectual in my approach to the Dharma (I still am, unfortunately, but it is slowly changing…). I really struggled with feeling any Dharma realizations like love and compassion in my heart, and as a result I tended to shy away from such meditations and instead to focus on emptiness and other philosophical or technical topics. “Finding my heart” was (and still is), in many respects, my greatest spiritual challenge.
To my surprise, the love I have for my children is not some sappy, mushy sort of thing, but is rather very active. It can best be described as “there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.” It is a feeling of a fortunate assuming of personal responsibility for their welfare – I am glad it is me who is responsible for them, because I wouldn’t trust that anybody else would look after them the way I would and I very much want them to be taken care of. It is a love that ‘knows them’, in many ways better than they know themselves. I know and understand how they work and think, so I am always sensitive to what is best for them. It is a love that happily works for their benefit. It is a love that would rather me have the hardest tasks or the worst things so that they can have the best. It is a love that somehow can see past all of their faults and understand where those faults are coming from and develop compassion wishing to protect them. It is a love that literally laughs out loud when I see their summer portraits and the unique goofiness in each of their expressions!
And here’s the thing: all of this comes naturally. I haven’t worked to develop this love, I just naturally feel it. Venerable Geshe-la explains the reason for this is because we have special karmic connections with these particular beings from our previous lives where we now spontaneously feel a pure love towards them. Of course there are times when our minds are full of delusions towards our kids, but compared to everyone else we feel the most natural love for our kids. It is thanks to my kids that I ‘found’ my heart, I realized what it means to feel an active love for somebody.
The work and spiritual training of a Kadampa parent is to learn to extend and replicate this feeling we naturally have towards our children with everybody else. I had a very good friend who once said, “I only need two things to attain enlightenment, my son and my Spiritual Guide. On my son, I impute all living beings, so by caring for and loving him, I am caring for and loving all living beings. On my Spiritual Guide, I impute all of the Buddhas, and by relying upon and receiving blessings from him, I am relying upon and receiving blessings from all the Buddhas.” There is actually tremendous wisdom in this statement. Practicing in this way is really the doorway for extending our love to others.
Then, when we see others, the trick is to impute “this is my child too, so therefore I should love them as I love my own kids.” How can we understand this to be true? We all know the meditation of all living beings are our mothers. Well, by extension, this also means that all living beings are our children. If our child died, would we think the person is no longer our child? Of course not. In the same way, all of our children have died but they have all been reborn as the beings around us. So we can correctly say that each and every person we meet not only was our child, but still is our child. Therefore, we should cherish them as we do our own children.
Another more profound way we can consider all living beings to be our children is to consider their emptiness. The teachings on emptiness explain that everything is a mere appearance to mind arising from our karma, including others. Basically, emptiness says that everything we see is all a dream. If we dreamt of having a family and children, where do these children come from? Likewise, where do the various people we encounter in our dream come from? They all come from our own mind (and karma). In the same way, if our waking reality is simply the dream of our waking mind, if we are ‘dreaming’ our current family and we likewise are ‘dreaming’ of the other beings we encounter in our world. Where do all of these beings come from? Our own mind (and karma). They are all, quite literally, the offspring of our karma and the nature of our own mind. What is our child if not our offspring? Seen in this way, we can understand Venerable Tharchin’s statement that “all beings are our spiritual children.”
By training in the recognition that all beings are in fact our children, and recalling the love we have and actions we engage in for our children, we then apply effort to do the same for others. In the beginning, yes, it is a bit artificial, but with training it becomes habit and more and more natural. Gen Losang said, “What is natural is simply what is familiar.” With effort, we make it familiar, and then it feels and becomes natural.
When we understand all of this we will feel so lucky to have our children. We will cease to view them as obstacles to our spiritual practice. Yes, it is harder to go to festivals and teachings when you have kids, but every day is a spiritual training. We see how they are a stepping stone for our enlightenment and how without them it would be impossible for us to really progress along the spiritual path. Our feeling lucky to have them will then increase our love even further, creating a virtuous circle of greater and greater love and progress along the spiritual path. Fantastic!
And this is not even to speak of how we can use the love we have for our children in the context of our Tantric practice. We train to be the Vajra Father (or Mother as the case may be) of all living beings. We can bring all of our parenting experience into our self-generation practice. This will not only help our self-generation practice, but it also creates a virtuous feedback into becoming a better parent too.
Your turn: Take the most difficult person in your life right now. How does viewing them as your child change your mind towards them?