My friend, who has five children including two new twin boys!, has written an article for Kadampa Life on what it is like to be a Kadampa parent.
Some people believe that having children and a family is an obstacle to one’s Buddhist or Dharma practice. This has certainly not been my experience. My children and my family ARE my Dharma practice.
What does it mean to practice the Dharma? It means to clearly understand that we have no problems other than our own negative minds or delusions, and that the solution to all of our problems is to replace our delusions with virtuous minds. To practice Dharma is to apply effort to train our mind in this way.
An Old Kadampa master once said:
The essence of Dharma practice is to harm our delusions as much as possible and to help others as much as possible.
Some people think that situations that provoke delusions are obstacles to our Dharma practice. From my perspective, just as a beggar is needed to practice giving and an annoying person is needed to practice patience, so too situations that would normally provoke delusions in us are needed to practice Dharma. It is (relatively) easy to keep our minds virtuous when everything is pleasant and easy, but it is when we are being pushed to our limits that we are really forced to practice the Dharma.
From an ordinary perspective, family life can be hell on earth – woken up countless times every night, changing dirty diapers, constant crying, total irrationality, kids sticking their fingers in electrical sockets or every other dangerous thing they can find, the emphatic “NO” of a toddler, struggling to get your kids to eat something other than McDonalds and plain butter pasta, constant interruptions, no peace ever, constant fighting between siblings, dealing with “but all my friends already have a cell phone” at age 8, the occasional “I hate you” and “you are ruining my life”, just trying to get out the door or get anywhere on time, and this doesn’t even include the teenage years! Oh, and don’t forget that the average cost of a kid today is close to $400,000 by the time they graduate from college!
But for a Dharma practitioner, these experiences are priceless. Each one of these situations, and the countless others, will generate within our mind all sorts of delusions, such as self-cherishing, miserliness, frustration, anger, jealousy, wishing for gratitude, attachment to our own wishes, etc. When these delusions arise, it gives us a valuable opportunity to practice training our mind in the opponents to these delusions. Day after day, we can work on overcoming our delusions in some of the most challenging situations of our life. If we can learn to be a parent without delusion, frankly, we can do almost anything!
Parenting likewise gives us countless opportunities to “help others as much as possible.” Throughout Venerable Geshe-la’s books he describes all the different ways in which a mother is kind. Of course he does so to try help us generate gratitude for our own mother, but I also think there is a second layer of meaning for us parents: namely, he is telling us everything we ourselves need to do to be a good and kind parent towards our own children. There are of course the obvious things like caring for them, providing for them, changing their diapers, feeding them, taking them on special outings, etc. But often the best thing we can do to help our children is to be a good example for them.
One thing I have learned is it almost never matters what I say. It is just endless blah blah for my kids. But the example I set of the type of person I am is where the real helping comes. If I show the example of somebody who is giving, morally correct, patient, forgiving, dedicated, understanding, compassionate, calm, playful, joyful, fun, hard working, etc., then it is this example more than anything else which will help shape them. How we deal with the challenges of our own life, especially in the context of the family, will shape how they will deal with the problems in their lives. If we constantly blame others for our problems, so will they. If we assume responsibility for our own experience, they will do this too. So all the time in our family life, we can directly or indirectly help others.
Seen in this light, I personally believe that family life is my spiritual practice. I see no contradiction between the two. Yes, it sometimes creates obstacles to be able to go to all of the formal teachings I would otherwise like to or makes it sometimes difficult to find the time to do my daily formal practice, but all day, every day that I am with my family I can practice what it really means to be a Kadampa – to harm my delusions as much as possible and to help others as much as possible. When I see this clearly, instead of viewing my family as an obstacle to my practice, I view them as a gift from all of the Buddhas for my practice. When I see this, I am able to remain happy even when dealing with an outbreak of the stomach flu!
Like this?! Kadampa Ryan now has his own blog!