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.