Kadampa parenting: A guest article

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.

This, for me, is the key to transforming my family life into my spiritual path.

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!

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

18 thoughts on “Kadampa parenting: A guest article”

  1. Nice, really the most important aspect for to become a good parent is to give unconditional love, so to be parent can be a good practice, true. But is a too easy one, I think. To love our sons and daughters is so easy! Is more difficult to hace success in our marriage, we know the high ratio of broken ones. And even more difficult to be a loving person with other relatives, such as envious brothers or parent of the spouse who criticise you again and again…Yes, to have a standard family can be a hell on earth, but not due to our childs.

  2. I recently visited this guest writer. His kids are wonderful. The guy himself has a hectic life and is constantly busy, but his mind is always in the Dharma mode. An extra-ordinary example of a modern day Kadampa, right enough. We were in the car for over an hour and the twins screamed the whole length of time. I know, i know, i have that affect on people! A great example to rejoice at.

  3. Thank you everyone for these inspiring thoughts. Great post and comments, very helpful for my practice. Does anyone know of an NKT parenting blog that’s up and running?

  4. Buddha gave many teachings especially for lay practitioners but much emphasis is placed on the monastic way of life. He spoke at length about being a good parent and husband or wife.

    “creator is a synonym for parent”, and he listed 5 duties for parents: as parents we should create within them 5 understandings:

    1. Help children refrain from unwholesome conduct – he discouraged punishment as a way of refraining from blocking the causes that would eventually harm them but instead leading by example, advising of such actions and their consequences.

    2. Lead them to perform wholesome actions – standing by their values assertively and asking questions of their child to bring about virtuous states of mind; questioning by using their own curiosity to guide them into virtue.

    3. Educate them for a profession – Buddha emphasized a well balanced personal life for successful living and prosperity.

    4. Help children select suitable partners – Buddha advised to look beyond appearances past the physical beauty and see the persons nature. He also draws importance at looking at your own marriage and using that to help the children see a relationship at work.

    5 Transfer family wealth to them at the right time – during their life of development and guidance of us as parents we can be happy then to give our remaining wealth to our children satisfied and without negative regret that we have fulfilled our duty as parents. We also teach them that inner wealth is more important.

      1. The Anguttara Nikaya Numerical Discourses are renowned for the practical advice of the Buddha.

        Also he spoke at length about making wise decisions, understanding our motivation and the effect – very interesting indeed.

        Maybe you should remove this though? Depends on how Kadampa you want it.

        I’ve decided to thank you, i wish you well but i’ve decided not to come back to this site. See you at the Summer Festival!

  5. Thank you so much for this article and all of your wonderful insight. I aspire to have your patience! I have been having a difficult time myself, and wanted to share my experience.

    The Bumpy Road

    Being a parent is wonderful and hard and gratifying and challenging and tumultuous and overwhelming and awesome. The love that I feel for my children is indescribable. It fills me. It strengthens my heart and mind.

    Sometimes I don’t feel strong, though. Sometimes the tumult overwhelms the awe. I forget that it doesn’t have to be hard. I forget that all I need is a moment (Nagarjuna: “By meditating on love for just one moment, we accumulate more merit than we do by offering food to all living beings three times every day”).

    My husband reminded me last night that we have a good foundation. We had our first encounter with Kadampa Buddhism ten years ago, and starting practicing a year after that. We helped start what is now a very thriving KMC overseas. We were center residents for over a year. At one point we were assisting and attending General Program classes at least five times a week. We have participated in countless pujas, day courses, and empowerments. We have taught many classes. We were EPC and AD.

    And then we had a son. And another one.

    And there was no time to teach or go to classes or day courses or empowerments. And in a blink, three years passed.

    I have had to completely rethink – what does it mean to be a Kadampa? The “old” model I made for myself didn’t work. I couldn’t do it all. I couldn’t work full time, take care of two little ones, and run a center. I could barely stay awake! I used to have the best intentions of going to class, or doing correspondence, attending a puja. Those intentions got scrapped time and time again and it made me feel very lazy. I forgot that I just had to change my mind. I forgot that I didn’t have to either do it all, or do nothing. And here I am today and the beautiful blank white board of my mind is fully scribbled on. My shoulders are tense and I am constantly tired. I long for sleep and I react and…react and…react and…react. I get angry and impatient and anxious and sad.

    And I remember that there are Buddhas in my heart and I ask them for help. I cry for Tara to bless my mind. I ask for Geshela to protect my children. I want to take their sickness away when they’re ill and I remember Taking and Giving. My son shares his snack with me and I dedicate his giving. I picture my children in front of me and my heart swells and I have filled my mind with love, even for a second, and that is virtuous and meritorious.

    Last night my husband reminded me that we have an amazing foundation. What does it mean to be a Kadampa mother? I am figuring that out, little by little.

  6. A very inspiring article – I prostrate to you!

    It’s not just lay people who have families, although admittedly the number of ordained people with children is small and mine are grown up enough to have their own now!
    As my children grow older I’ve found I do a lot more ‘silent parenting’ as a very wise Buddhist teacher called it recently. Sometimes we have to just allow our children to follow their own path, even when we can see the pain and heartache to come. We just show the example of not judging them and simply loving them completely unconditionally – so that if and when it all goes horribly wrong, they know they can come back to you and you’ll help them pick up the pieces. Being a parent is a perfect situation in which we can learn the meaning of Geshe Langri Tangpa’s advice to view others as supreme and ourself as the lowest of all.

  7. Oh, this is so to the point of practicing Kadam Dharma. Never had kids myself but I have been working on my marriage of 38 years. All that you said could apply when a couple is committed to their relationship. There are times adversity can rip apart a relationship built upon complacency and unrealistic expectations. Using the Dharma we are taught puts all the pieces back together, just like Humpty Dumpty. We have a good fall and get right back up again!! Great post thanks!

  8. What an inspiring piece this is thank you! I have one child and find parenting an endless means to practice patience, generosity (especially of time) and cherishing love. How you can do that with 5 kids is truly honorable. I love the notion of parenting by example too – this seems especially applicable as kids get older and don’t need as much physical assistance. A gift from the Buddhas! Nice one!

  9. Yes, this post speaks directly to what it means to be both a parent and a Kadampa Buddhist. Children are our mothers as well which is another level of practice.

  10. Actually, when you have kids you DON’T need a beggar to practice giving and an annoying person to practice patience!

  11. Thanks i loved the article…i would like to hear more about divorced parents and how to deal with all the differents expierences…practicing Dharma….

  12. Thank you 🙂 I have teenagers and it is easy to forget the path with all the drama/delusions that arise.

  13. It would be more appropriate to call it Lay Buddhist Practice in the Modern World.

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