Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Parenting as Bodhisattva Training?

As of this writing, I’m 39 years old; I'm a husband, and a dad to three kids: ages nine, five and three; I’m also on a quest to attain enlightenment. No problem, right!? Ok, maybe I could use a little help. ;)

Luckily, turns out there are about 2,150,000 of us actively practicing Buddhism in the United States so surely I’m not alone in looking for ways to apply both my practice to parenting and my parenting to practice. Anyone, Buddhist or otherwise, who is trying to raise healthy and happy children in a spiritual environment can relate to how challenging this can be. I'm by no means the best parent or the best Buddhist, but with about twenty years of study, meditation and reflection behind me, I am able to make efforts at applying what my teachers have given me toward my daily life. Hopefully here I can share some of my successes and struggles, and maybe give others a place to share, vent, teach, question, laugh, commiserate and explore this profound journey. 
So then:

“How does a Buddhist parent?”
Being a parent is no better or worse than not having children, it's just a lot bigger. The profound joys are matched by the fears and heartaches in ways that non-breeders simply cannot fathom. This makes for some serious mill grist. Every single aspect of one’s day becomes an opportunity to engage in the path in a very thick way. There’s the obvious demand for one’s time and attention, patience and understanding, creativity and kindness (which is different from the easy “love” part) — these things that are required of us almost 24/7, and there’s the less-obvious stuff that comes later like providing comfort from fear; teaching flexibility, responsibility and consequences; impermanence; working hard for something you want and suffering through failure. The relationship you have to your children, the utter reliance they have on you, is unlike anything in the world. Welcome to bodhisattva training, deep-end-of-the-pool style. ;)
Hopefully our meditation practice gives us a leg up when dealing the stress and emotional turmoil of raising kids, but I won't say that it has given me any real definite rules about any of this. More just an anchor for rolling through the waves of it all. Almost ten years later, I'm still just feeling it out, you know.

[For the new parents out there, let me assure assure you: things don’t get easier, they just get different! My Rule #1 is “just hang in there.” More on that later.]

“How does a parent Buddhist?”
As the Dalai Lama says, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” If we take the Three Jewels as our refuge, we can call ourselves Buddhist. If we apply ourselves to benefitting others, then we can rightfully say we are on the bodhisattva path. It doesn’t matter how successful we are, just that we are committed, and that we take every obstacle as another chance to learn. At least, that’s what I’m banking on!
My main supports throughout the day are remembering the Four Noble Truths (especially the first one!), applying myself to the six perfections (especially the first, third and fourth) and practicing lojong, “sending and receiving.” With these tools in hand, not only do I (er... mostly) find the strength to do the best job I can, but as a Buddhist I’m able to spend much more of my day actually practicing, rather than “trying to get my job done” so I can go meditate in a corner somewhere.
That's not to say we can do without cushion time — certainly one of the biggest challenges for us parents on the path — but that's a subject for another time.

How do YOU integrate your spiritual practice with the nuts and bolts of being a parent?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you again for initiating this blog...I will share will those I think will benefit!!

    I think there is no greater teacher for developing patient forbearance than being a parent! As there are so many time demands, I don't have hours each day to sit on a cushion and meditate...I'm grateful for 1/2 hour in the evening...it is so very helpful in allowing the mind to settle. It is also for me like diving into the deep end of the pool, where I'm challenged to integrate my practice in the immediacy of situations.
    I think the greatest challenge I've encountered in the past 5 years...is not to exclude my daughter...how to help her understand what I'm doing when I meditate, or do prostrations, mantra's etc...why it is important. For every teaching or retreat I attend, I am reliant on other kind families to care for my child, which requires a bit of acrobatics to pull it off!! While I've seen some parents bring their children to the teachings...my child is too active to sit quietly for so long. I am very grateful to the Rinpoche's who have graciously offered to give shorter teachings to our children. The majority of the sangha I know are those without children, or whose children are grown. I'd love for the experience to be more family orientated...so I do the best I can to share with her in simple ways.