Living beings are never our enemies

So says Buddha. Living beings are never our enemies, they are our kind mothers. Only delusions are our enemies. Buddha nature

I want to unpack that a bit because it has helped me stay sane, positive, calm, and with a big blissful heart, with room for everyone, even when I am in the very midst of arguing with people. (I do actually like a good argument, ahem debate — always have, as some of you may have noticed.) Like many of you, I have been discussing and debating Black Lives Matter* – coming from a place of wanting to be not just non-racist but also anti-racist, not just an ally but also an abolitionist. Why?

To be clear, this is not a political but humanitarian issue for me. I do not press political solutions, that is not my area. I do believe spiritual solutions are possible though.

I have felt pretty strongly about the stupidity and injustice of racism for years, maybe most of my life in unequal countries around the world; but there seems to be no better time than right now for us to do something about this 400-year-old US disaster. We seem to be in the middle of an historic outpouring of support that may actually make the difference, that is making a difference. I am not holding my breath for total equality, freedom, and justice just yet. This is samsara. But it would appear that a huge number of people are open to listening, learning, and seeing things they didn’t see before and, if this continues, it will show up in a fairer society.

What does racism have to do with Buddhism?

So what can Buddhism contribute? Or, more to the point, what can I as a Buddhist contribute? And what can I learn too? I was struck anew by this line from The Liberating Prayer a little earlier today:

You who love all beings without exception

It is so true, Buddha really does love all beings without exception, all the time! And how on earth does he manage to pull that off? How do Buddhas never ever lose their love and compassion for all living beings even when they don’t agree with a single word that they’re saying (which has got to be a lot of the time, right, given how much we are all hallucinating what’s going on?!) The answer is: because they never conflate living beings with their delusions. Medicine Buddha love

It is because Buddhas distinguish between delusions and persons that they are able to see the faults of delusions without every seeing a single fault in any living being. Consequently their love and compassion for all living beings never diminish. We, on the other hand, fail to make this distinction, and so we are constantly finding fault with other people but do not recognize the faults of delusions, even those within our own mind. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness.

As we try to understand our own part in this world we have collectively created with others, and as we fight for not just temporary but permanent justice and equality for all beings, we can remember who our true enemies are. Is it not greed and hatred and ignorance that have kept racism alive for so long? These same three poisons that are responsible for every other atrocious thought, word, and deed that has ever occurred? Including cruelty all over the world every day, such as the rapidly growing sex slavery trade, or the mass incarceration, torture, and murder of millions of animals every single minute. Etc etc etc etc etc etc etc. These three poisons are responsible for all six realms of samsara, including the hell realms, for goodness sake, so of course they are responsible for injustice and racism. Systemic racism is but one room of the prison built on these delusions.

Yet living beings are not their delusions. Delusions are our worst enemies, not us. Blaming people for their delusions is like blaming a victim for the fault of their attacker, as Geshe Kelsang explains. Living beings are our kind mothers. I and especially guest writers will be discussing more about how we can get rid of our own and others’ delusions around racism in upcoming articles, and do check out this last fantastic guest article, Dislodging discrimination, if you have not yet had a chance to do so. For now I want to look at this other part of the equation, how we can discriminate all beings as our mothers.

It would make a difference, would you agree? For although we may not always agree with our mother, and indeed sometimes find her to be totally annoying and ignorant, it doesn’t stop us from loving her. We may flounce out of the house muttering about how she knows nothing, but it is only a matter of time before we want to go home again; and if she was really suffering all our conflicts would be forgotten as we tried with all our heart to help her. picture 1

From a spiritual point of view, remembering that everyone is our kind mother opens our heart wide and leads to great compassion, such that we cannot bear their suffering and are impelled to attain enlightenment for their sake. But even from a practical daily getting along with and wanting to help people point of view, this way of seeing people is deeply helpful. When we discriminate all living beings as our mother, we instantly feel a deeper connection with them and responsibility for them.

I’ll say a bit about the traditional meditation based on an understanding of past and future lives, and then explain how we can hold this view even if we don’t subscribe to past and future lives.

Never judge a book by its cover

Buddha Shakyamuni said:

I have not seen a single living being who has not been the mother of all the rest.

To really understand what he means requires an understanding of rebirth, which in turn requires an understanding of our continuum of consciousness and how this current dream-like life is not our only life. As Buddha said:

This world is not our permanent home. We are just travellers passing through.

I explain a lot about the continuum of consciousness and rebirth in these articles. The quick jist of this meditation I will take now from the Introduction to Buddha Vajrapani Sadhana:

Normally we point to other people and say, ‘They are my enemies’, but this is a mistake. Living beings cannot be our enemies; they are our mothers. We must understand this. Since it is impossible to find a beginning to our mental continuum, it follows that we have taken countless rebirths in the past and, as we have had countless rebirths, we must have had countless mothers. Where are all of these mothers now? They are all the living beings alive today.

judge a bookNormally we judge books by their covers and people by their covers too, including even ourselves a lot of the time. What do we see when we look at a stranger? Rarely our deep and close history with them. If we could look back at our mental continuum and their mental continnuums and see the interweaving of our minds and bodies going back through countless lives, we would see we have a profound connection with everyone. Maybe we think, “Surely I’d remember!” But I don’t even remember what I had for lunch last Wednesday, let alone all my previous lives.

I don’t have the space to explain the whole meditation right now, but I hope you can read about it in How to Transform Your Life, Joyful Path of Good Fortune, and/or The New Meditation Handbook, and do give it a go.

Regardless of past lives ….

HOWEVER, even if we don’t want to take past and future lives into account, it is still really helpful to decide to view living beings as our kind mothers.

As Geshe Kelsang explains in How to Understand the Mind:

We can choose how we discriminate objects.

Our thoughts are free, and, given that there is nothing actually behind them, we create our world with our imputations.

The defining characteristics of an object do not exist from the side of the object but are merely imputed by the mind that apprehends them. We  can understand this by considering how different people view one object. ~ page 24

what you choose to focus on will growHere’s an example. Let’s say you want a family but cannot have biological children, so you decide to adopt. Maybe you fly half way across the world to see a child who is a total stranger to you – different parents, looking nothing like you, born into a hitherto alien culture, and so on. But you decide, “This is my child. I am going to love them forever.” And then you do love them forever.

Why? Through the force of your changed decision and changed discrimination. That’s it. From their side, they didn’t have to do anything – you just decided. And now you’re stuck with them through thick and thin, and that’s perfectly fine with you.

Or take your pet. Why do you love your pet so much that you would bust the bank to help them, but not all the other cats & dogs in shelters and wet meat markets around the world? Because at some point you decided to take them on, and then you bonded from there.

We don’t have to legally adopt anyone, let alone everyone, to decide that they are our mother and we’re going to love them forever. We can just adopt them in our thoughts. That decision and discrimination will function to bring about a deep feeling of connection and love, and if we do it for everyone, well you can see what a difference that would make.

One example — if someone we love is quite dumb or disagrees with us, it is not so hard to be patient, we don’t hold it against them – sometimes we can even find it endearing. Take your cat, for example.

who me?
Who, me?

There is no limit to our love when we decide to love. We each have the seed for universal love and compassion, and this is a powerful way to grow it.

It is true that everyone has been everything to us, but we focus on everyone as our mother because our Mom has been the kindest person for us – whatever her delusions, without her we would not be here. George Floyd called out to his Mama in his time of need, even though she was no longer alive, in a poignant cry recognized around the world. Most of us would. Our mother is a very important person in our life.

Years ago I was explaining this meditation to someone in Florida and he was really quizzical because he didn’t buy into past and future lives. But he apparently went away and thought about it because he liked the idea – and I know this because months later he came back and, somewhat to my surprise, told everyone in the group how his life had changed utterly for the better. Holding that view of others, even though he didn’t embrace the idea of past and future lives, meant that day and night he was feeling more warm, connected, and respectful to everyone he met and thought about.

Changing our perspective changes everything about how we experience our world and other people. Dharma is practiced in accordance with our wishes — we can check whether a teaching might work for us, and, if it does, we can choose to practice it. The reason enlightenment is possible is that we can change our thoughts if we decide to – we can learn to think bigger better thoughts of wisdom and compassion.

I don’t want to be a mean and heartless child (or dog)

There is a powerful verse in The Lord of all Lineages:

All mother living beings who care for me with such kindness
Are drowning in the fearful ocean of samsara.
If I give no thought to their pitiful suffering
I am like a mean and heartless child.

If it is mean and heartless to simply give no thought to all these beings who have taken care of us with such kindness, how mean and heartless is it to actually hate them?! We need to hate their delusions and love them. We can do this.

I read a story a couple of weeks ago about a 55lb dog called Blue who tragically mauled his very loving human mother to death. No one knows why. But what an hallucination he must have been experiencing. This poor woman died despite her love for her four-legged babies, and he was put down because he is unsafe. Where is he now without her protection and love? What has happened not just to her but to him, all because for a few dreadful minutes he recognized her not as his kind mother but as some sort of threat.

hopeAll living beings possess the seed of enlightenment, but animals cannot grow that seed while in an animal body. However, we human beings can choose to change our discriminations and grow our hearts. If we train in this view, not only will we find ourselves striding towards the perfect liberation of enlightenment, but we will also be far more skillful in our ability to support others practically now. We could help change our existing society, a society we after all helped build in the first place through our own karma and other actions.

The party to beat all parties

Later in The Liberating Prayer it says:

Please nourish me with your goodness
That I in turn may nourish all beings
With an unceasing banquet of delight.

Personally I can’t wait for this blissful celebration at the end of my samsara, the most inclusive party in all of time and space, to which every single mother being without exception is invited forever.

Over to you. Would love to hear your comments.

(*By the way, if you object to my using the phrase Black Lives Matter, can I point out that I still also feel strongly about removing everyone’s suffering. To be clear, saying Black Lives Matter is not saying other lives’ don’t matter. For example, saying Rainforests Matter is not saying that other forests don’t also matter. They all do, but sometimes there is a burning need, or an opportunity presented, or some karma ripening to help, or something. And also if black lives don’t matter, or matter less, which has often been the case, then we clearly can’t say that all lives matter.)

Related articles

Dislodging discrimination

Recognizing all beings as our mothers

What is modern Buddhism for?

Loving moms

5.5 mins read.

I saw this video yesterday and, along with 60 million other people, clicked “Like”. Because I really like it and was still thinking of that baby’s face today.

Why does that baby love his mom so much? Is it because he realizes how incredibly kind she has been to him already, and how she intends to carry on protecting and loving him with every fiber of her being, even when she feels grumpy? What’s not to love?

There is a meditation in Buddhism called “remembering the kindness of mothers” where we itemize in detail all the kindness our mother has shown us from the moment we were conceived. The reason we do this is to love her, like this baby loves his mom.

The reason we need to “remember” is because we have generally forgotten and, due to our 3 poisons of attachment, aversion, and ignorance, can all too easily focus on her shortcomings instead. This contemplation redresses that balance. You can find it laid out in detail in Joyful Path of Good Fortune and How to Transform Your Life (available here for free.)

This baby recently had a long stay in his mother’s womb – he was an “uninvited guest”, causing her to swell up like a whale; but she not only let him stay but protected him carefully, “more carefully than she would guard a most precious jewel.” In every situation she thought of his safety. “She consulted doctors, exercised, and ate special foods”, avoided lots of things she really liked such as alcohol and going out late, and nurtured him day and night for 9 months.

You can see why he might appreciate her.

Giving birth to him was no doubt very painful, as it always is; but my guess is she still adored him the moment she clapped eyes on him. He was like a useless blob (still is), unable to do anything for himself except mess his diapers and scream; but she doesn’t care, she still looks after him without expecting anything in return. Even when she is exhausted and bored and has her own problems, she no doubt always shows him “a loving expression and calls him sweet names.”

No wonder he loves her.

And this will continue. Every day of his early childhood she will rescue him from disasters “and consider things from the point of view of his own safety and well-being”. She will stop him sticking fingers in light sockets or running in front of buses – she will have to keep an eye on him day and night even though it means she can do none of the things she used to take for granted, such as leaving the house to do stuff whenever she felt like it. She will make sure he stays warm and cozy, even if she is cold. She will shop and cook for him, endlessly, even when she is tired and hungry herself. She will be very concerned for his health – she would rather be sick herself than see him sick. As Geshe Kelsang points out:

Our mother naturally behaves toward us like someone who has gained the realization of exchanging self with others, cherishing us even more than she cherishes herself.

Yeah, what’s not to love?!

As he grows older, she will teach him all the essential life skills, “how to eat, drink, speak, sit and walk.” She will send him “to school and encourage him to do good things in life.” Any knowledge and skills he acquires will “mainly be a result of her kindness.” Even when he becomes a moody teenager and finds her totally uncool, she will still try and give him space and whatever else he needs. Even when he leaves home and never looks back, except when he needs $100 or his laundry done, she will let him go but never lose the love. He will always be in her thoughts, and “in the back of her mind” there will always be some worry about him. For as long as she draws breath, she will never cease to care for him. “She may be old and weak and scarcely able to stand on her feet, and yet she never forgets her children.”

Seriously, no wonder he is looking at her like that.

As we would be looking at our own mother if we remembered even a fraction of what she has done for us.

By meditating in this way, recalling the kindness of our mother in great detail, we will come to cherish her very dearly.

mother's kindness 2And then we spread that love to everybody, realizing that everyone is our kind mom. This is because, as Buddha taught and Geshe Kelsang explains:

Since it is impossible to find a beginning to our mental continuum, it follows that we have taken countless rebirths in the past; and if we have had countless rebirths, we must have had countless mothers. Where are all these mothers now?

Good question, where does everybody get to from life to life?

They are all the living beings alive today.

Imagine having that affectionate regard for everyone all the time? This would be a very different world. It would be a world full of love, gratitude, and appreciation wherever we turn. It would be a very happy world.

And if you are thinking, “Well, even if I believed that everyone was my mom in the past, they aren’t my mom any more!”, you can think about your present mom and ask yourself: “If she were to die today, would she cease to be my mother?”

Once our mother, always our mother. If this baby one day looks at photos of his mother taken a couple of years earlier — before he was even conceived — he will still think, “Ah, there’s my mommy before she had me.”

We always have a choice how to view people. We can continue to see them through the lens of selfish desire, aversion, and/or ignorance, and continue to be miserable as a result. Or we can decide to stop being taken in by superficial and ever-changing mistaken appearances, learning to look deeper and therefore kinder.

As Geshe Kelsang says:

Because of changing our rebirth, we do not recognize our former mothers, relatives and friends, and now because of this we see the majority of living beings as strangers and many even as our enemies. This mistaken appearance and conception is ignorance. Strangers and enemies are just creations of this ignorance. In truth, there are no living beings who are strangers or our mothers because they are all our mothers, relatives or close friends.

There is nothing fixed about our world. Ignoring or adopting this view is our choice to make. I think it depends what kind of world we want to live in.

Over to you. Your comments are much appreciated below 😊

Related articles

Choosing to be grateful is choosing to be happy 

World of kindness 

Is there life after life? 

 

Choosing to be grateful is choosing to be happy

turkeyAs mentioned in the last article, giving thanks, or being grateful, is an effective way to feel good. It can also help us help others, inspiring us to repay kindness instead of taking it for granted, ignoring it, and/or focusing on others’ faults.

And gratitude is not something we either have or don’t have – we can deliberately cultivate it until it becomes a strong, natural habit that inspires us every day.

For example, researchers in one 2003 study randomly assigned one group of study participants to keep a short weekly list of the things they were grateful for, while other groups listed hassles or neutral events. Ten weeks later, the first group enjoyed significantly greater life satisfaction than the others. Other studies have shown the same pattern and lead to the same conclusion. ~New York Times, 11/22/2015 

Buddhism can help us feel grateful on a large life-altering scale. The entire Lamrim, or stages of the path, teaches umpteen reasons for feeling lucky and grateful, and not just small ones either — some of these reasons are existentially cosmic, or cosmically existential, if you know what I mean.

Precious human life

world hurtsIt starts with our precious human life, realizing what we have compared with the sheer enormity of suffering of people in the lower realms right now, such as Butters, who is not only a small cat with zero control over his life (or bowels at the moment) but who also has to be jabbed with a needle twice a day to overcome his nausea. Or the flood of scared, exhausted refugees. Or the bundled up, unwashed man who keeps trying to play Frisbee with himself in the snowy park, muttering and shaking his head as he yet again walks after it to pick it up. Or …, or …, or …?  Or even compared just with those who don’t know at all how to make themselves or the friends around them happy, even though that is all they have ever wanted?

We have the option in this life to attempt whatever we want, spiritually speaking, including developing bodhichitta and becoming a Buddha. There’s a great story in Meaningful to Behold about a one-legged man who falls off a cliff on to the back of a wild horse. As the horse gallops off, the villagers yell at him to get off, but, knowing this horse ride is an almost impossibly rare opportunity, he replies: “Not on your life!”

“That’s awesome!”

In Buddhism, the precursor meditation to developing gratitude and love for all living beings as our mothers is recognizing that they are all our mothers. The other day I overheard someone after receiving his first teaching on this: “That’s awesome!” he said, nodding his head a lot and smiling. Pause, then: “But life would be so much fun then, if we thought that. Where would the suffering be?” Another pause, before he answered his own question. “I guess we’re all still experiencing suffering and I’d want to get us ALL out.” Such confidence he had at that moment to deal with suffering, coming from a feeling of being whole and connected, not from a feeling of being bereft and helpless.

Waves on an ocean

We receive kindness from everyone every day – we are like waves in an ocean. A wave in an ocean may put up his watery hand and say, “Look at me! I’m distinct! I’m unique!” In a way he is right, and we’re all distinct and unique; but if we scratch beneath the surface we can understand that this wave is made up entirely of all the other waves. In the same way, we cannot exist on any level without others, we owe them everything, we are already in a symbiotic relationship with them all. Check out Eight Steps to Happiness for the meditation.  gratitude 5

Takes some contemplation to get there, and for it to be emotionally authentic; but we do come to see that others are the very infrastructure of our being, the very part and parcel of our existence – and that holding onto a separation between self and other is like trying to cut the sky in two with a knife.

Contemplating our interdependence naturally leads to gratitude and a feeling of richness and completeness – after all, as a wave, you have all the other waves in you already, you are missing nothing. (Did you know, by the way, that the word “whole” comes from the Old English hal, meaning “entire, unhurt, healthy”?)

3 reasons to feel good

Next time you’re feeling low you could check and see if you are assuming anything along the following lines: “Of course, the causes of my depression are out there in my lost friendship, my dead-end job, or my miserable life! It’s obvious. Plus, although I’m trying to be a happy Buddhist, what about all that endless suffering I keep hearing about! I’m doomed! I can’t handle all this. And look at everyone else having so much fun without me!”

By the way, I know this is true (taken from that same article today in the New York Times):

For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult. Even beyond deprivation and depression, there are many ordinary circumstances in which gratitude doesn’t come easily.

But I still think it is worth the effort to cultivate gratitude, and maybe we only need to think of 3 things — just 3 will do — that we can be grateful for to open that door.

gratitude 4Maybe pick from these 3 categories (just a suggestion, as is of course everything else you read on here.) Any order will do.

  • My potential. I do already have all the seeds for great happiness and freedom within. My Buddha nature is indestructible. It is there, I just have to re-access it and give myself a break from focusing on all that’s wrong with me, that limited painful self.
  • Something existential/big picture of our life. For example, I have a precious human life! That’s about as likely as a blind turtle managing to stick its head through a golden yoke that is floating on an immense ocean, but I’ve managed it. Or, another example, I have found Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and/or a Spiritual Guide who can take me wherever I want to go! Or, another example, others are immensely kind all the time in every way. No wonder Geshe Kelsang keeps saying, “How fortunate we are.”
  • Something in our daily life. For example, today I get to be indoors and warm even though it is snowing out there, and the trees are beautiful in the Fall light, and I’ll be able to hang out with some lovely people, and … whatever, just start counting your blessings however you like, big or small, and see where you end up.

Thinking about these things, hopefully we’ll feel gratitude, we’ll feel lucky. And I reckon we are only as lucky as we feel.

gratitude 7We can then think, if we like: “How come I have all these things?” They pretty much all come from others. In that way we’ll feel even more thankful, and even better.

As the same NYT article says:

It’s science, but also common sense: Choosing to focus on good things makes you feel better than focusing on bad things. As my teenage kids would say, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.”

Is no news good news?

“No news is good news,” we say, maybe because we do so want things to stay predictable and our boat not to be rocked. However, as everything is impermanent, everything is news, in that everything is new every moment. There’s a Kadampa rejoicing group on Facebook where people just share things to feel good about – it is all news, but sometimes it lifts the heart. If we take the time to spell out the good stuff in our lives, we will feel gratitude. And we will naturally want to share it with others.

Opposite of taking things for granted

Also, as Louis CK says in this video:

Taking things for granted is the opposite of gratitude.

I like his anecdote:

I was on an airplane and there was internet – high speed internet – on the airplane. That’s the newest thing that I know exists. And I’m sitting on the plane and they go, “Open up your laptops. You can go on the internet.” And it’s fast and I’m watching YouTube clips – it’s amazing – I’m in an airplane! And then it breaks down. And they apologize, “The internet’s not working.” The guy next to me goes, “This is bullshit.” Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only 10 seconds ago.

Can gratitude help prevent worry?
Mighty Quinn and Butters
Butters (behind) when he was still a butter ball.

Our thoughts are not fixed and we can re-arrange them to our advantage. I find I am having to do that today as the foster kitten Butters is really very sickly. He has transformed from a bouncy butterball into a skinny little thing weighing less than a pound, just lying there listlessly. I can (1) uselessly worry that he’s going to die etc, which helps neither of us; or (2) feel grateful to him for giving me this opportunity to cherish someone else for a change, even when they are pooping over everything. I’ve been doing #2 as much as I can, and can report a considerable difference in terms of peace of mind.*

Try counting them

Finally, here’s another method I use to feel good. I don’t know if it’ll work for you but feel free to give it a try. Love is known as “the great protector” — it always protects us from mental pain and makes us happy, so the more of it the better. If you could wave a magic wand and make people happy, who would they be? Count them all. Think about them a bit. Then, as they feel the same about their friends and relatives, wave your magic wand for their people as well. And so on. And then, if this is going well, you might find it pretty easy to feel quite spontaneously grateful for just how much opportunity you have to love others, grateful for just how many people there are to love. Seriously. This can work!

Heartburn or heartwarm?!

Thanksgiving, when this article was originally written, is the official day to give thanks in the United States. It can be an excuse to slaughter defenseless turkeys, get indigestion, and argue with relatives, or it can be a heartwarming reminder of our good fortune. What would happen, do you think, if 300 million people stopped blaming & complaining for a whole day, and instead focused with gratitude on what we have?

This article is of course by no means exhaustive about what we have to feel grateful about, so please add your ideas to the comments.

*Update on ButtersButters
He died in my arms at 2am on 11/25. Many people were kind enough to pray for him, including Venerable Geshe-la. May all living beings be loved like Butters.

Celebrating Mother’s Day

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

mother's love 2If 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?

Buddha’s answer:

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.

mother's day in BuddhismNext, 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.

mother's kindness

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.

Reggie and Vera SteadAt 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.

Reginal Stead MBE lead violinist BBC Northern OrchestraAs 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.