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A Meditation on Mothers

Be seated on your meditation cushion and complete your regular preliminaries of taking refuge and awakening the enlightenment thought, as always. Then visualize your mother, whether living or dead, as you remember her best. Visualize her very clearly in front of you. Think of her sitting there, gazing at you with loving eyes and smiling. See her very clearly and just focus on her. Allow the very clear, conscious recognition that "this is truly my own mother." Now begin the reflection to awaken a recognition of her kindness to you.


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(c) Victoria R.M. Scott and Michael E. Roche, 2003. Reprinted from Three Levels of Spiritual Perception by Deshung Rinpoche, with permission from Wisdom Publications, 199 Elm Street, Somerville MA 02144 USA.

Great Love

When you have set your heart on the happiness of other beings, excluding none, you are endowed with the great love we are talking about here. In certain forms of meditation on love taught by the Buddha, you encompass the entire universe by directing your mind in every direction and then wishing and praying that all beings might always enjoy happiness and the cause of happiness, which is the result of wholesome actions or virtue. If this quality of love is so essential, how is it to be developed within yourself? We will give some practical instructions on the way to thus meditate.

To do this, we start with whatever love we already have in our minds. Most of us have a certain amount of affection or fondness for the people we relate to through family or friendship, so we start with these. We can build on the love we are already in the habit of feeling by meditating first on our kinsmen, then extending this love to our enemies, and finally to all living beings. Now, in most cases, your own mother is easiest to love. From your very birth onward, her kindnesses to you and her claim on your affections are most obvious.

Recognition of Your Mother

Be seated on your meditation cushion and complete your regular preliminaries of taking refuge and awakening the enlightenment thought, as always. Then visualize your mother, whether living or dead, as you remember her best. Visualize her very clearly in front of you. Think of her sitting there, gazing at you with loving eyes and smiling. See her very clearly and just focus on her. Allow the very clear, conscious recognition that "this is truly my own mother." Now begin the reflection to awaken a recognition of her kindness to you.

Recognition of Your Mother's Kindness

To begin with, your mother carried you in her womb for nine months, during which she was constantly concerned for your safety. She avoided actions, foods, and circumstances that might have endangered your health or welfare. Even before you were born, she was thinking about your benefit and making efforts to remove your sufferings. It is actually through her efforts on your behalf that you now have an opportunity to hear the Dharma and the rare chance for enlightenment in this life or in future lifetimes. These auspicious conditions are the result of her kindness in givingyou a human body and molding you in such a way that you value an encounter with the Dharma such as this one.

Even in your infancy, when you were incapable of talking and as helpless as a worm, your mother kept you warm and fed you. At that time you were absolutely helpless and would certainly have died had you been left tofend for yourself. Your mother didn't let you die but nourished you with great love. She carried you in her arms, fed you from her breasts or from her own mouth, and cleaned and bathed you with her own hands. She protected you from diseases and dangers. She held you up between her ten fingers and sang to you. She called you sweet names and gazed on you with loving eyes.

Throughout your childhood your mother couldn't be separated from you even for a single moment. If she was separated from you, it was as if part of her own heart had been taken from her. Her every concern was for your well-being: What were you doing? Were you okay? You were never far from her thoughts even when you were physically separated. When you had grown a little, it was she who taught you how to eat, drink, walk, and sit. She taught you how to communicate; later, she began to teach you to discriminate between what was helpful and what was harmful. In this way she was like a teacher to you. She helped instill a moral sense within you, a code of behavior that is of spiritual benefit years later.

At all times your mother remained concerned for your well-being. If you grew even slightly ill, she became alarmed and called doctors, worried that you might die. She said prayers for you and worried that you wouldn't be as successful as the other kids. She had lamas perform ceremonies for you, had fortunetellers make predictions for you; she went to doctors on your behalf. She was always concerned for you. In fact, it was really for your sake that she grew old; she never allowed herself a free moment or thought to call her own as long as she felt responsible for your well-being. She often went without sleep at night and worked until her bones grew tired. Her feet and hands would ache from working on your behalf, but this she was willing to do. She never begrudged all those long and ceaseless labors as long as you were well provided for and she could feel that you were all right.

For your sake, also, your mother became almost like a miser. She denied herself food and clothing when necessary, and passed up luxuries and comforts for herself that you might have them. The things that she thought toogood for herself — or wasted on others — were all right for you. Had she had the power, she definitely would have made you a universal emperor, placing you at the very apex of happiness and power. By always thinking of you, she thought less and less of her own benefit. Your life and your advantage, your comfort, happiness, and well-being were of more concern to her than her own. Had she spent her life thinking of her own liberation from worldly existence, she might have acquired real happiness for herself. Ungrudgingly, she thought instead of your worldly gain, your advantage, your spiritual progress, your benefit.

How can we forget such kindness? No matter what our relationships with our mothers, how can we deny that they have been, in this basic way, so kind? Let us consider other kindnesses that we have received through ourmother's love. On the round of worldly existence, it is extremely rare to hear the name of the Buddha even in passing. But if you do have an opportunity to practice, thanks to good karma, that practice becomes the cause of happiness not only in this life and in the bardo but throughout future lives. Thus you have the possibility of obtaining the highest good available to living beings, and that opportunity arises only through your mother's kindness, since she gave you human birth and a human form, and reared you in such a way, time, and place that you are able to profit from an encounter with the Dharma.

Not only in this lifetime has your mother been of benefit to you, but in many prior lifetimes as well. Again and again she has served as your kind mother. Through countless lifetimes she has been as kind as in your present life. Countless times she has had to beg to feed you. Countless times, she has been born among fishermen and hunters and has committed sinful actions to save your life and promote your happiness. Countless times she has had to live among the animals and die to save you from the attacks of others. If you were to collect all the milk that you have drunk just from this one kind mother over the countless eons of time, it would be more than all the water in the oceans.

In other lifetimes she has been not only your mother but your father, and has done much for you. She has been your kinsmen, your best friends, your lovers. If you collected all the tears she has shed for you throughout time, they would more than overflow the oceans. In fact, were we to make a list detailing the various kindnesses that this one mother has done for you throughout time, it would take an eon to compile. There is no evading the fact that this present mother of yours has benefited you in countless ways. You should, therefore, recognize that kindness.

Recognition of the Need to Repay Your Mother's Kindness

Having recognized your mother's kindness, you should also recognize your responsibility to repay it. Having received so much benefit and love from another being, what kind of person would simply reap the advantages of it and not have the thought that "I, too, have some responsibility here and should repay this kindness. I have received great kindness from this being, and it deserves to be repaid"?

It would be a very cruel-hearted child who could forget all about his mother's kindness, or take it for granted and say it was "just her bad luck" or "so much wasted energy on her part," not feeling any obligation to repay her. From a Buddhist point of view, this kind of neglect and avoidance is an indication of a very base, mean sort of human character. Thus, when you set about to recognize your obligation to repay your mother's kindness, reflect in this way:

Even after benefiting from my mother's kindnesses one after the other, lifetime after lifetime, year after year, I haven't yet started to repay her. What have I really done to help my mother so far? How have I done anything that has truly promoted her happiness? I really haven't repaid her, and yet, if I don't make efforts to do so, I don't deserve any self-respect, nor am I worthy of any respect from others. It is just too cruel-hearted to forget all about it. It is quite obvious that I should repay her kindness, and I will. I will consider this kind mother of mine and her present situation, and reflect, "How can I repay that kindness? How can I really benefit this mother of mine? What would be most beneficial for her?"

Reflecting in this way, you will realize that helping your mother achieve material comfort or financial stability — by giving her a holiday in the Caribbean, for instance — won't really repay the kindness you have received. What she really wants and needs, and what would be most beneficial to her, is happiness. If she were truly happy and had happiness's cause, that would be the very best thing you could wish for her. If you could achieve your mother's true well-being, you could be sure that you had repaid her in the best possible way. Having understood this, you may reflect:

When I look at this mother, I see that she is not very happy. She doesn't even have the causes for present and future happiness. Through her concern for me and through ignorance of the Dharma, she hasn't accumulated those virtues and spiritual qualities that would truly make her happy.

Meditation on Repaying Your Mother's Kindness

Meditate on your mother: just focus on her and think about her, with a feeling of sadness about the plight she is in and her inability to achieve the happiness she longs for. Then, directing your mind toward her with real love and a genuine desire for her happiness, again think:

How wonderful it would be if she could only possess happiness!
Think in this way again and again, sincerely longing for her happiness. This is called "cultivation of love connected with longing." Then reflect:
It is not enough to just sit here and think, "May she be happy, may she be happy." I must do something for my mother. I really must achieve her happiness somehow.
This is called "cultivation connected with the resolve to act." Again think:
May this kind mother of mine have happiness! May she always have happiness and its cause, which is virtue! May this mother of mine truly have happiness and its causes!
This is called "cultivation connected with strong aspiration. After reflecting on her in this way, think:
But thoughts alone don't achieve my mother's happiness; I must actually do something. What am I going to do? Right now, I am unable to help her. I just don't have the spiritual qualities, the wisdom, or the power to establish her in the kind of happiness I know she wants, needs, and deserves. The only way I can help is by achieving buddhahood and the ability to remove her sufferings, establishing her in that kind of happiness. For her sake I will strive for buddhahood. I'm going to practice the Dharma rightly, just the way it has been taught, in order to achieve buddhahood and the ability to remove her from her present suffering and establish her in the highest happiness.

Cultivate love in these three ways. If you are stronger in one of them, start with that one and gradually build on it. Switch from one to the other in your meditative sessions: they are all meditations on love. Just replay them back and forth, lengthening and shortening the time of meditation according to your state of mind — whatever is best for your own meditation. Practice in this way for a long time, and repeat your efforts regularly. Every day set aside some time for this meditation on your mother, so that it becomes very easy, very natural, and not a hard exercise. Finally, you should think:

At present, I don't have the power to help my mother attain happiness. Who does have this power? The Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha have the wisdom, compassion, and power to help my mother right now. They are endowed with that kind of spiritual power.

Pray to the Three Jewels, your teacher, and the lineage of teachers from your heart on your mother's behalf. Call on them to bless and protect your mother, remove her sufferings, establish her in happiness, and do all that you are presently unable to do for her.

It is very much as if a mother who lacked arms were to see her baby being carried off in a torrent. Knowing that she is unable to rescue her child from drowning, all she can do is call for help. This she does, running along the bank, calling for other people to come quickly and rescue her child. Lacking the ability to establish your mother in real happiness at present, all you can do is call on the buddhas and bodhisattvas to help.

You will soon find that, by building on your existing affection, love flows easily from your heart. When you have used this image of your mother with some success, move on to lovingly visualizing your father, by simply adjusting the details. From there, work on your kin, your friends, and on strangers for whom you have no feelings. Next, meditate on your enemies, who arouse anger every time you think of them. Recall that they have all been your own kind mother in past lives, but that they are unable to recognize this because you and they are so changed; in their deluded states, they cannot see that reality. And until such time as you can really see these enemies as your mother, remember the harm to yourself of vengeance and anger.