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Buddhist Parenting

by Karunagita

Buddhist Parenting
by Karunagita

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/talks/details?num=OM780

Talk given at the Buddhafield Festival, Devon 2006

Kavyasiddhi: 'Dharma Warriors' — how do you become a warrior? What weapons do you
have? What tools do you use? What areas are you working in? What's your battle ground?
We've got a series of battle grounds that we work in; a series of areas that we're engaged in —
we engage at work, we engage in our families, we engage walking down the street, we engage
with the planet as a whole — so we've got a series of symposia, talks from different
perspectives on each day. It just means different people giving their perspectives. So, if you
stay for the whole morning, you get a bigger perspective!

Today's area for the 'Dharma Warriors' is 'Parenting'. It is an area that I am guessing most of
you are familiar with, definitely as a child, and probably as a parent! So, you have found
yourself in this area — what do you do? How do you practice? What is the best way?
Karunagita has got a book coming out in the autumn: 'Growing as a Parent — What Buddhism
Has To Offer' — fantastic! — so she's going to be talking about that...

Karunagita: Ok, thank you very much indeed.

I just want to start by saying a bit about how I came to be standing here, really — and going
back in time to when my first child was born, which was 1994. By then I had already been
around the FWBO, going to retreats and meditating, for about four years, and it was a big part
of my life and a real priority for me. I didn't call myself a Buddhist — it took me a very, very
long time to start referring to myself as a Buddhist — but it was really important in my life.

And then when I had my first child, for the next two and a half years I managed to carry on
doing that. I carved out space from life as a working mother — you know — whenever my
baby went to sleep I went straight to meditate, and when he was about 18 months old I went
back on retreat. It felt like I was very fixed on doing this: 'I need to keep on doing this; I need
to keep meditating; I need to keep going on retreat; I need to keep up as much as possible
with my spiritual life as it was before I had children.'

But then I had another baby after about two and a quarter years, and once I sort of surfaced
from that... I realised it just wasn't possible!... [LAUGHTER] ...you know — there wasn't
that time; there wasn't the 'baby goes down for the nap, I can meditate; baby goes to play-
group, I can meditate,' — because one [baby] went, but the other was still there, and awake!
— and, you know, wanting to play.

Before [the second baby] was born, I would do this, 'OK, I can meditate, because he's in this
space' — but quite often something would happen: he would wake up early, he wouldn't
sleep, it wouldn't work out the way I had planned it all. And then I'd get quite frustrated and
quite resentful. I was quite focused, and if it didn't work that way I would get quite twitchy,
or if I'd missed my meditation I was quite irritable... and it was all a bit tentative.

And anyway, once Ella was born that all fell apart. I couldn't do it any more; it didn't work
anyway. And I went through this quite brief phase of: 'Argh!' — you know — 'what do you

And then this thought came up — you know, when these thoughts come up from somewhere
in your body rather than your mind!... [LAUGHTER] ... it was like, 'well, I can't step out and
go and do Buddhism any more... I'll just have to bring Buddhism into my life!'

At the time it felt like just this sense of resignation: 'Oh, no, I can't do that any more, so I'm
going to have to do it differently.' But actually, what started then (nearly ten years ago) was a
journey of exploration that hasn't by any means culminated in writing this book and giving
this talk, but is very much ongoing. But it certainly has brought me to this point, and it's been
quite a journey.

Throughout that journey, that whole process of writing has helped me to clarify and confirm
and feel much more positive about the context of being a parent, and also about trying to have
a spiritual life, to develop spiritually.

But throughout that exploration the whole question has been: 'Well, how? How do you do it?'
— you know. It's very much a practical thing: 'I know it's possible, but how? I know it's quite
easy, but how?'

And so, as part of that exploration, I volunteered to do a book for Windhorse, which is
coming out in the autumn. And during the process of that, I have interviewed a lot of
Buddhist parents — about 25 or so — quite a few of whom (or some of whom) are in this
room, and many others are somewhere else wandering around in this festival!

What I did was I interviewed lots of people — and I also, obviously, have been trying to DO
this [Buddhist parenting], in practice, for years — and then drew all of that information
together into separate themes, which form the chapters of the book. And what I have decided
to do today is just pick out three of those themes to talk about — because seven is far to
many to have all in one go.

Within each of those themes, it is very much about all of them being opportunities; they are
all opportunities to develop spiritually in the context of being a parent, and most of them also
have with them their own sort of pitfalls, you know — there are also pitfalls.

So throughout this process of exploration, it's about, 'well, how can we make the most of all
the opportunities that are actually there — and embrace those and enjoy them and benefit
from them — without spending too much time so deep in the pitfalls that you can't see
beyond the surface?'

So I have chosen three areas from the book to talk about today...

Growing In Love

The first of them is about 'love' — about love and about letting go, and those two things taken
together — because love and letting go are so much part of being a parent, and when we talk
about spiritual growth and spiritual life, what we are talking about is growth in wisdom and in
compassion — in love — so love obviously is fundamental to the spiritual life.

Love is one of the great gifts that is sort of handed on a plate, if you like, by becoming a
parent. In fact, the Buddha draws on the idea of parental love — mother love — in a very
famous sutta...

'Just as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, it is that much love that we are
aspiring to feel for all people, for the whole of the universe, all of the time.'

...It is unconditional love. What parenting gives us is an insight into what it actually means to
love unconditionally.

One of the fathers that I interviewed for the book (who I've actually never met, so he may
even be here — it was on the phone!) — one of the things he said in the interview was: 'Well,
my life began when my son was born.'

And I said: 'How do you mean? What began?' — and he paused for a minute, and then he said:
'My heart'... he just felt like his heart had suddenly opened and really engaged with life for the
first time when his son was born.

It is that love, that strength of love — unconditional love — that is the natural order of things.
That is what we are capable of feeling for all beings, for all of creation, for everything around
us, all of the time. And actually being able to feel that, in response to our children, just gives
us — even if it's momentarily... I mean, it's not something we live all the time, year in, year
out, as parents, but even if it's just flashes at times — that gives us an insight into what we
are actually capable of feeling all the time.

So one of the things I emphasise is just to accept that as a gift — it's a gift of heart-opening
— and really embrace that, and use it, and draw on it.

Also — if we are living our lives in the context that we are on a spiritual journey, we're on a
spiritual path, we're looking to develop spiritually — you are feeling that love in the context
of, 'this is what I am aspiring to feel'. So you don't see it as, 'this is just my mother-child (or
father-child) bond.' It's like: 'This is love — this is what I am aspiring to feel for everybody, all
the time.'

And you can just take moments, sometimes, to reflect on that.

Obviously, it comes with a pitfall — you know — one of the pitfalls is, 'it's all so threatening
out there, and I love this being so much,' you can sort of close down into a little family unit,
trying to seal off everybody else, because it's all so threatening...

So, it's about making the most of the opportunities, really. And it's not about, 'we'll instantly
radiate love to everybody, just because we're parents!' — if that was true, the world would be
a really different place, because so many of us are parents. But, you know, maybe you will
suddenly notice you're getting a ...

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