The kindness of the mother

Nov 25, 2021


One of the meditations in the process of achieving bodhichitta, the radical approach of caring more for others than oneself, is to contemplate the kindness of our mother. Then thinking that because we’ve had countless lives we’ve had countless mothers, so concluding that we must repay their kindness by becoming a buddha and benefiting them, benefiting everyone.


This is quite a surprise to us in our culture where to tend to think our mothers aren’t kind; in fact we blame them for our suffering. And that’s because we say that she made us; she’s our creator. Of course, as we know, Buddha disagrees: she gave us a body, but she didn’t give us our mind: that’s ours and we brought it with us into her womb. There she is, with our father, minding their own business and we come along! Don’t blame her! You set yourself up from countless past lives with this person, to have this particular mother, this particular father.


“Kind” here doesn’t so much refer to a characteristic of the person. The fact is, your mother might well be an unhappy, deluded person, and not an especially good mother. But that’s not the point here. 


The point here is she is kind simply because she did anything at all to facilitate your life. But because of our attachment, our huge assumption that somehow our mother should be perfect, we are outraged when she turns out to be selfish. And then her faults loom large and we forget all about all the countless good things she did for us. 


I remember the moment my mother fell off her pedestal for me. The moment when she stopped being like this perfect goddess, like you think your mother is when you’re little. And that’s because of attachment. I remember the moment I started seeing that she was an ordinary human being. And then I started finding fault in her, and it was downhill from there! Before you know it, all I could see were her faults. This is how thwarted attachment turns into aversion, anger.


So, what are the countless good things she has done for us? She fed us, she sent us to school, she showed us how to wipe our little bottoms and tie our shoelaces. Even you could say there’s more reason to think of her kindness, because if she is deluded, is mean, is angry, and is paranoid, she put up with us. That was much harder work for her than if she’d been patient and happy. How grateful we should be to our mother. It’s so clear, really. 


Even if your mother gave you away at birth, you have every reason to continue to weep with gratitude for her kindness. You know what? She didn’t kill you. There are probably millions of abortions every year, millions. You could even probably argue that there are more sentient beings, more humans who get conceived, who die before they’re born than those who get born. I bet. 


Look at us, we’re still alive. I had an abortion, when I was 23. I was unquestioned about it. I did no way want this kid. 


Someone I know when she was 17, she got pregnant and she decided she wouldn’t have an abortion. I even encouraged her to. “Come on, have an abortion.” She didn’t want to; back in the 60s. She was brave, she had the daughter, and then she had it adopted. 


She had the daughter, she gave it away because she figured she wasn’t qualified, she was 17, it was difficult, whatever the reasons but her motives were pure. Now this daughter, because she’s so fixated on her mean mother who gave her away at birth, so obsessed with that, she can’t really see the real story: that her mother was kind. She gave her life! But she’s never forgiven her for giving her away.


Already hearing this, we can see our mothers are kind. I don’t care how neurotic, how ugly, how maniac, how deluded they are; we’ve all got mothers like this, to some degree. Join the human race. Mothers are cut out of the same cloth as you, they’re deluded sentient beings. 


In other words, what we need to do is paint a new picture of our mother. Stop seeing her through the lenses of our disappointment, our attachment. See her good qualities. This is very simple but pretty powerful.


So, our mothers are kind. If all sentient beings have been our mother, then it follows logically that all sentient beings are kind. Then it follows logically, “Of course I must repay their kindness.” The more you think of a person’s kindness, the more you have the wish to repay it. This is clear. When you really see a person’s kindness, when they’ve done a big favor for you, you really want to do something to repay their kindness. When we start to think about the kindness of the mother, we want to repay the kindness. Not just to the mother of this life, which we think about, but now we’re talking about all sentient beings: we must repay their kindness. Oh my goodness.


Clearly, this is a very radical process; step by baby step we do this type of thinking in meditation, as well as in our daily life, shifting all the misconceptions from the mind now that we believe are the truth: slowly, slowly. Then our heart naturally begins to open, open, open, open. This whole compassion wing is a continuous opening of this mind to encompass all others, finally. Step by baby step.


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