Posts

Mother’s Day

Hi, Mum. Yes, I’m talking to you! Today I’m remembering the kindness of all living beings, because they are all my mothers. This is one of my favorite Buddhist views: it sounds so outrageous at first, but after a bit of thought it comes to be really obvious. All living beings have been our mothers because we have had countless previous lives and in each of those lives we had a mother. Who were all those previous mothers? Everyone around us. They have been reborn into different forms, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have been my mother.

This was actually the topic of the first meditation class I ever went to, and although I thought it was slightly mad I also found it profoundly beautiful, and it really affected the way I saw the world.  I love my mum; she gave me this life and all the opportunities I have. She is the kindest person in the world to me – and everybody has at some time shown me this same outstanding kindness. This way of viewing others is so helpful: I see little birds outside my window just now collecting seeds from my bird feeder to take back to their young, and my heart just opens: once upon a time, they cherished me in just the same way.

When you look at things logically, this view that all living beings are our mother is obvious: it’s just a question of numbers. Countless lives, finite living beings. But the fact that it’s kind of weird also helps me – it makes me take a lighter approach. When a big hairy builder wolf-whistles at me in the street I think ‘that’s my mum’ and instead of feeling intimidated I want to laugh at how strange this world can be!

So today, try out this view: wish everyone a happy mother’s day (just mentally, or they’ll think you’re mad!) and see how close this makes you feel to others.

‘Tis the season

It’s supposed to be the season to be jolly, but how are we supposed to manage that while doing last-minute Christmas shopping? One seasonal-themed way to keep a positive mind is through practicing giving. Just buying presents for people won’t necessarily make us happy, but a mind wishing to give will. Like with all Buddhist practices, giving is about what we do with our mind, not externals. You don’t have to spend a lot in order to be extremely generous.

Last Christmas my mum gave her great-nephew some lego, and it didn’t cost her a penny because it was the lego I used to play with. When we were wrapping it up (which took a long time, as we had to build everything to check all the pieces were there) she was so happy because she was remembering how much joy I got from it as a kid, and thinking about how much it was going to be enjoyed again. That happiness she was feeling is a mind of generosity: wanting to give just to make others happy.

Giving isn’t just about the presents. One of the best ways you can give to your family at Christmas is by giving your time. Time tends to be one of our most closely-guarded possessions, especially if we have lots of extended family pouring in, we start grasping more and more tightly at having some space just for ourselves. Face it, that’s not likely to happen: so try to just let it go. Instead, try deciding to gift your time and your attention to others. Listen to them, take an interest – it’s so unusual, so they will appreciate it, and it will make our mind lighter too.

It only works if you do it from your heart. Putting up with people we don’t like isn’t giving, it’s just repressing our anger. Real generosity has to come from truly wanting to give, knowing that everything – material things, out time, our energy – takes on more value when given away. If we hoard these things for ourselves, where do they get us? At the end of our life, what will we have to show for having kept them? We will have run out of time, and all our possessions will have to left behind. Holding on to things for ourselves gains us nothing; by offering them to others, we fill our mind with virtue and lead a happy life.

Most importantly, we give our love. When we deeply wish for those around us to be happy, generosity in all its forms will naturally follow – and so will a very Merry Christmas!

 

A children’s play

This is a play, not a post. I wrote it for our Family Weekend, but I thought you might like it too. You can find the original story in Joyful Path of Good Fortune, on page 42.


 

The Story of Lam Chung

Cast:

Lam Chung
Narrator / Buddha
Teacher
Lam Chen
Farmer

Lam Chung is sitting as a desk looking bored. The rest of the cast sit at the front of the audience.

Narrator

Once upon a time there was a boy called Lam Chung who hated school. He found it difficult to remember anything. He was probably dyslexic, but nobody cared.

Teacher:

Tell me, Lam Chung, what did Shakespeare mean when he said ‘All the world’s a stage?

Lam Chung:

I couldn’t even finish Harry Potter, how am I supposed to know what Shakespeare was talking about?!

Teacher:

You stupid boy!

Rest of cast:

Stupid! You idiot! Etc

Narrator:

Lam Chung failed his exams, and when he left school he didn’t know what to do. His brother was a Buddhist monk, so Lam Chung decided to go and live with him.

Lam Chung gets up from desk and mimes knocking on a door. Lam Chen opens it.

Lam Chen:

Hey little brother! What are you doing here?

Lam Chung:

I’ve got nowhere else to go.

Lam Chen:

Well, you can’t just move into a Buddhist Centre without being involved with the community, you know. You have to be on lots of rotas and study programmes.

Lam Chung looks terrified

OK, tell you what: I’ll just give you one little thing from Buddha’s teachings, and if you learn that you can stay, alright? May everyone be happy; may everyone be free from suffering. That’s it: you got that?

Lam Chung:

Yes, that’s great, I can do that! Err…. Can you write that down for me so I can practice?

Lam Chen hands him a piece of paper and sits down. Lam Chung sits at desk.

Lam Chung:

Ok, I can do this! May… everyone.. be… happy. [closes eyes] May everyone be…? Arrgh!

Narrator:

Lam Chung studied hard, but it just wouldn’t stick.

Lam Chung bangs his head on the desk

Lam Chen:

[calling from audience] it’s been two days already. Have you got it yet?

Lam Chung:

Almost!

Narrator:

He thought maybe if he practiced outside the fresh air might help him think, so he went and sat in the farmer’s field with the sheep.

Farmer stands downstage with the rest of cast behind him as sheep

Lam Chung:

May everyone feel crappy? May everyone be free from happiness?

Farmer:

Come on, son, it’s not that hard! You’ve read it out so many times that I’ve learnt it by now.

Rest of cast:

[imitating sheep] may everyone baaaaaaaaaaaa happy!

Farmer:

See, even the sheep know it better than you!

Lam Chung sits back at desk looking miserable. Rest of cast except Lam Chen return to their places.

Lam Chen:

Do you know the verse now, little brother?

Lam Chung:

No.  I’m too thick; I’ll never learn it.

Lam Chen:

Well then, you can’t stay here. Go home to mum and dad and they can think of something else to do with you!

Lam Chung, trying not to cry, begins to walk off stage. The narrator as Buddha intercepts him.

Narrator:

Hey, what’s wrong? Why are you leaving?

Lam Chung:

Because I am so stupid I can’t memorize even one verse of scripture. Now even my own brother has given up on me.

Narrator:

Oh, don’t worry about you brother; my name’s Buddha Shakyamuni, and I’m in charge round here, not him! You don’t have to leave. Buddhism isn’t just about learning things out of books, there is something for everyone. I’ll give you a job that you’ll be good at, and you are welcome to stay. You can be in charge of cleaning the meditation room, and when you clean just imagine that you are cleaning all the bad thoughts out of your mind. OK?

Lam Chung:

That’s wonderful! Thank you, Buddha… what was your name again?

Narrator laughs and returns upstage. Lam Chung collects a hoover and begins hoovering stage right, humming happily.

Lam Chung:

Perfect! My mind feels cleaner already. Now the other side!

 [moves to stage left and hoovers, then looks to the right]

Oh! I swear it was clean a minute ago, but it needs hoovering again now. How wonderful! I love my new job.

Narrator:

For years, Lam Chung was happy to keep cleaning the meditation room, and as he did this his mind became freed from all negative thoughts. He never ran out of things to do, because whenever he finished vacuuming one side of the room, Buddha would magically empty the dirt back out onto the other side! But Lam Chung never got upset, because he knew that it was helping him to be happier and happier.

[Lam Chung continues to hoover one side, then the other.]

Lam Chung:

Phew! I’ve been doing this a long time. I wonder where all this dust keeps appearing from? Oh! I understand now! It’s all just coming from my mind! When my mind is dirty, the world appears to be dirty too.

[He sits on the throne and meditates]

Narrator:

[comes downstage as Buddha] Well done Lam Chung. I think it’s about time you gave a teaching to show everyone what you have learnt. Come on everybody, come and listen to Lam Chung!

Lam Chen:

You can’t be serious! My brother’s an idiot. He’s done nothing but clean for years, what can he possibly teach us?!

[the cast sits around the throne]

Lam Chung:

I will now give a teaching on one verse of Dharma. It’s the verse that previously I couldn’t learn, even after months of trying: may everyone be happy, may everyone be free from suffering.

Narrator:

The teaching lasted for three days, and Lam Chung never ran out of things to say, because he now understood all of Buddha’s teachings. All of the people listening were amazed and became very peaceful and happy.

[cast prostrates to Lam Chung]

Being a Buddhist Parent

A guest article by Jane

Before I was a parent I was a Buddhist, now I’m a Buddhist parent, well – I’m learning to be. I’ve only had three years practice! But here are some of my experiences so far…

In my Buddhist years BC (before child) I tried to meditate, spent time looking at how my mind was behaving, tried to cultivate love for everyone and not see faults. Of course my Buddhist practice has had its highs and lows over the years but I genuinely felt it made me happier, stronger, and that I had a real way of helping others. I could deal with things in a more positive, clear and wiser way than I could before.  I studied, read and contemplated Buddha’s teachings. I even had a bit of a routine going with my formal practice! (on a good day).

Then I became a parent and experienced the strange phenomena of having absolutely no time for anything despite being awake 5 or 6 hours more in a 24 hour period than I was before.  Whenever I did have the chance to meditate I’d fall asleep. I was so pleased with myself if I managed to get to the supermarket on the first attempt without having to return home to change a poopy nappy/feed/pick up forgotten purse, that actually sitting down to do my formal practice seemed like a fantasy. Would this ever change, I wondered to myself as I read ‘Peter Puppy’, my Dharma books gathering dust on the bookcase.

With parenthood came anxieties about the baby I’d never had before,  what if she gets ill, hurt, will she be ok at nursery, school, what if someone is nasty to her? I shall have to personally approve of any partner she may have when she is grown up of course….what happens to her when I die? I was worried about dying anyway, now I’m doubly worried!

 There were only two options I could think of – I could put her in some kind of cotton-wool filled stasis so she would never have to experience any suffering or try to show her how to deal with the things life throws at us all. I don’t mean ‘make ‘ her a Buddhist,  that’s her choice, I mean to bring her up in a way which empowers her to know how to be happy, to be content, to understand impermanence, and understand and deal with difficulties, to really help others, to be kind and ….how? well, I thought to myself, I’d better try to live that life myself, and, as a bit of a back up, for when my Dharma practice is a bit flaky, I can make sure she is surrounded by lots of people who are practising Dharma.  I think that one of the best things you can do for a little one is bring them up to know how to be happy. (and NO young lady, you don’t NEED to watch a certain cartoon pig for one hour non-stop to be happy!)

There are many things which being a parent makes you work at, such as love without attachment, patience, and compassion. Accepting defeat and offering the victory is a daily practice (Oh look, what an interesting shape you’ve bent my glasses into, now they will fit teddy!)  Luckily these are the same things that we work on as Buddhists, which means that being a parent has no contradiction with the Buddhist path, hooray! Indeed you get a little extra help with your practice because there’s a little someone making you practise patience, someone whose needs you have to put before your own, and that little someone is utterly dependent upon you to do your best for them. They bring many tendencies and habits with them which are hard to put into context in their daily lives as children. It can be very challenging! However you know they have appeared as your child in this life because you have strong karma together, and because you love them so much you want to do your best, it’s easy to be selfless in a way you didn’t know you could be.

It’s true that you don’t always get the time for the ‘formal’ practice, you don’t get to go to as many formal teachings as perhaps you would like to but it’s just a different path. You have a little Teacher right in front of you who is holding a mirror up to your own mind, showing you what you need to work on.  Then occasionally you have a glimmer of a thought – how amazing it would be to care for all living beings in the same way as I care for this little one! To feel as much responsibility for their happiness as I do for hers.

The marvellous journey of parenthood as a Buddhist: next stop – the beautiful mind of Bodhichitta! (once I’ve got a good night’s sleep of course….)

Take this further: Family Meditation Classes