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.