To celebrate all kind mothers everywhere on Mother’s Day (USA), including you, since a bunch of flowers is a bit hard to pull off, Kadampa Life offers you instead a double billing. Two fabulous guest articles, one on the Buddhist meditation of seeing everyone as our mother and the other a story of a mother’s love.
Happy Mother’s Day
by Sona Kadampa
If you’re a mother, I hope your family is spoiling you today. As kids, we used to give our mum the works – a lie-in, breakfast in bed, fresh flowers, home-made cards, gifts, and Sunday lunch out.
It felt good to appreciate what she did for us, year after year. And now my own friends and family are having kids, I can see the quantities of love and hard work that go into mothering.
Buddha’s teachings, Dharma, teach us to use that feeling of gratitude as a powerful seed that can, over time, blossom into a vast, unconditional mind of love that encompasses everyone.
It’s a big seed to swallow if you’re new to Buddhism because it builds on an understanding of past and future lives. However, it’s worth the effort, and even if you’re still on the reincarnation fence this beautiful practice can be of great benefit.
In Joyful Path of Good Fortune Geshe Kelsang invites us to consider how our consciousness existed in the moment before mum and dad ‘made’ a brand new body for us to live in. He says:
Where did that mind come from? It came from the mind that existed before conception, the mind of the previous life. This mind itself came from the previous life, and so on without beginning.
In that earlier life we could have been an animal, an insect, or a different kind of being entirely, living in a realm unknown to us. Or, we might have been the next-door neighbour. Whatever kind of existence we had, we definitely had a mum. Maybe we had a butterfly-mum, maybe we had an elephant-mum. Maybe we had a mum very similar to the one we have now. Whoever she was, where is she now? Where are all those mothers now?
I have not seen a single living being who has not been the mother of all the rest.
Whether you believe in rebirth or not, I think this meditation can change your life. Even attempting to view everyone in the way you see your mother at her best, with an attitude of gratitude, appreciation, and unfettered love – opens up a new, loving pathway in the mind.
Every living being – the swimming ones, the flying ones, the many-legged ones, the irritating ones, the peaceful ones, the famous ones and the notorious ones – were once, in a different time and a different form, our mother, and we’ve had a close, loving relationship with them all. How cool is that?
My own mother died when I was a child. I missed her fiercely as a teenager, and feel her absence to this day. This meditation brought a special ‘mum’ feeling back for me, 20 years after her death. Rather than focusing on my personal loss, it taught me to contemplate what Mum gave me – a deep, unshakeable feeling of being cherished and protected. By using my memory to access that feeling, I can turn anyone into my mother. I can ‘remember’ what they did for me – even when, just as my mum sometimes did, they’re having a bad day. Then, I naturally feel close to them, appreciate them and want to do something kind for them. Just like we used to do on Mother’s Day.
Next, Geshe-la gets us to go into those kindnesses in some detail. It’s very extensive and well worth a read.* From her pregnancy to this day, our mother has loved, worried about, and watched over us. We wouldn’t be able to walk, talk, or even think straight without what she gave us. She dedicated her whole life to striving, with no time off, to turn us from a helpless, frog-like creature into a fully functional human being.
You can add your own personal memories to the list. As a single mother, my mum worked harder than anyone I know, giving up so much, just so we could have the things we wanted.
I thought I appreciated this at the time, but I realised years later that my appreciation was still pretty self-centred! One year, on the anniversary of my mother’s death, a Bulgarian friend told me their custom would be to eat her favourite meal on that day. I decided I would do this – but then I realised I had no idea what my mother’s favourite meal was.
Of course, I knew what mine was. Mum cooked a mean macaroni cheese, and her fish fingers and parsley sauce were mouthwatering. But I had to ask a family friend what Mum loved – and got a surprise. She loved steak, with grilled banana on top. I’d have remembered such an unusual meal if she’d ever cooked it – but we kids were not steak fans, so we never ate my mum’s favourite meal at home, in all those years of macaroni cheese and fish fingers.
Still, it’s never too late to show some appreciation, even if your mum of this life is gone. Six months after I met my partner, also a Kadampa Buddhist, his mother died of a long-term illness. In her last days, as the family gathered, I had the chance to promise her I’d look after her son, and to tell her that he was using his life in an amazing way. It meant the world to be able to tell her this.
It’s hard to say these things to a loved one when they’re in the full flush of health, but you can show appreciation in quiet ways, too – for example, by engaging in a gentle, regular process of reducing your delusions. I discovered, a little late in life, that a relationship without the delusion of attachment is well worth having.
As an adult, I acquired a stepmother, and with her I seem to have a quieter, more accepting relationship than many of my friends have with their own mothers.
It took me a long time to work out why our relationship was so easy-going, but I have a theory on it now. We do not ask each other to make us happy. For example, she isn’t particularly invested in or critical of what I do with my life, and my expectations of her unquestioning support, forgiveness, and a share in her resources are – compared to the expectations I had of my mum – moderate.
In Buddhist terms, our relationship benefits from less attachment. That’s a delusion that is often mixed with love and features a lot in families. When we’re demanding, disappointed, or unsatisfied with our loved ones, usually attachment is at work, and it can be squarely blamed for many family arguments and schisms.
I’m nowhere near controlling my attachment, but the natural situation with my stepmother has shown me how peaceful and fulfilling a loving, attachment-free relationship can be. So, to help mothers everywhere, including my own – all of them – I’ll be working to replace attachment with appreciation this Mother’s Day.
We can’t give breakfast in bed to every mum in the world this Mother’s Day, nice as that would be. But we can appreciate the contribution every single living being has made to our wellbeing, now or in the past, and meditate on that warm, gentle feeling of ‘thank you’.
*Editor’s postscript: If, as sometimes happens, your mother suffered from strong delusions and/or bad habits and was not there for you, it can help to recall that she did give you your body, and apply these contemplations instead to your principal caregivers as you grew up.
A Mother’s Love
by Eileen Stead
It is said in Buddhist teachings that a Mother’s love is the closest we can get to pure love in samsara, where most experiences of love are contaminated by the deluded mind of attachment.
I once asked for a definition of love, and the answer came, “Love is wishing for the happiness of others without expecting anything in return.” A totally selfless love without a thought of one’s own happiness or comfort. This is why a Mother’s love is said to be the paradigm of love, for what kind Mother would not leap into freezing water to save her child from drowning?
This is the story of one such Mother, but it was not the freezing water of a fast flowing river but the “dark satanic mills” of Huddersfield from which she rescued her two children. When she was a girl, she had a dream, or should I say a passionate wish, to be a singer. She did have a lovely pure voice, and was sometimes called upon to sing the Soprano solos in the “Messiah” at the local church. But alas, her destiny was to work in the clattering environment of the Mill, which she hated.
At the age of twenty six, Carrie Brogden (a good Yorkshire name!!) married, and soon became pregnant. Now in those days — 1908 — there was a paucity of prenatal care, and when she went into labour early on a Whit Monday morning nobody had suspected that the young couple would be blessed with twins. But that was it–first a big healthy boy followed by a diminutive but equally lively girl; and from that moment, Carrie Brogden made a vow that her children would have the opportunity she never had. They would become musicians. How she would achieve this, she had no idea, but she had planted the seed in her heart.
When the children were six and a half, the First World War broke out and life changed dramatically for everyone. The young men were hastily conscripted and shipped off to the battle fields of France and Belgium. The horrors of that war — the fighting in the trenches, the loss of limbs, having to survive in the waterlogged ground with your dead buddies lying beside you – provided endless agonies.
Carrie’s husband did come home eventually, but he was a saddened man. He was suffering from angina, and, worse than that, he had been gassed and found breathing difficult. You may be thinking “What has all this got to do with Carrie’s ambition for her children?” But wait! There was to be a small War Pension. Not a lot, but, she thought, just enough to pay for music lessons. Bravely, she announced her plan to the family. The Pension would pay for the Music Lessons, and not be used for anything else. She herself would become the breadwinner.
Having found an excellent violin teacher for the boy and piano teacher for the girl, she started her life of selfless dedication to earn the money she needed to fulfil her promise. Being an excellent cook, she would rise at some unearthly hour to start cooking; and then would sell her homemade “pies and peas” from the kitchen window. She became well known in the neighbourhood and did good business. Later, her husband, who had recovered a little from the war, began to make ice cream, which was also very popular.
This they did for a number of years. The young teenagers were by now progressing well in their studies, particularly the boy who, according to his teacher, was the best violin pupil he had ever taught. At only sixteen, he was asked to lead a small orchestra in the one and only silent cinema boasted by the local town.
As was the custom in the North of England in those days, anyone in work brought home his or her pay packet on Friday and placed it unopened on the kitchen table. The mother then took charge, opening the envelopes and handing out a meagre amount of pocket money to each member of the family, keeping the rest for household necessities. At least that’s what the young man thought, but all the money he earned at the cinema was put secretly away in a box while she continued to slave away in the kitchen.
When the young man was eighteen, fully grown and winning first prize in violin competitions amid glowing reports, his teacher said, “To continue to be a success, he must have a good Italian violin. I’m taking a trip to Cremona and will bring back a couple of instruments for him to try. They will be expensive, I’m afraid, about two thousand pounds.” The young man was aghast and looked at his Mother in consternation, but she coolly replied, “Yes, we can afford that.” I‘m sure you must have guessed, dear reader. She had saved every penny he had earned in the Cinema, and in that box was exactly the right amount of money to buy the Italian instrument. I remember its name. A Joseph Gagliano. A fine violin.
From there on his career blossomed, and after the Father died of a heart attack at the age of sixty Carrie Brogden attended every concert of her now famous son. She felt great pride and knew in her heart that she and she alone had made this possible. Of course, without his dedication and natural ability it could not have happened, but she understood that, without her, he would most likely be working in the dreadful clattering atmosphere of the mill.
This is a story of a Mother’s love, but being in samsara, as we are, did attachment creep in? A little pride perhaps? Who would begrudge her a little of that? I think the holy beings would understand, and forgive her.
Editor’s postscript: Reginald Stead MBE become a member of the Hallé Orchestra in the 1930s and went onto become the leader of the BBC Northern Orchestra from 1945 to 1971. The BBC conductor, Edward Downes, later stated that Stead was “one of the finest leaders in the country and could play all the solos beautifully.” Eileen first heard him when she was six and he was eighteen; she was bewitched by his violin playing while on holiday with her father. Years later they met again and married.