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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
buddhadharma| 45 |summer 2006 This is probably the last Saturday night talk that I’ll be giving for quite a while. I have received news from my sister in England that our mother is extremely ill, and the signs are that she won’t live for more than a few months. So I plan to fly to England in a week to be with her. The Buddha once said (Anguttara Nikaya 2:32) that if you were to carry your parents around with you for their whole lives – your father on one shoulder and your mother on the other – even to the point where they were losing their faculties and their excrement was running down your back, this would not repay your debt of gratitude to them. But you could repay the debt if your parents were not virtuous and you established them in virtue; if they were not wise and you established them in wisdom; if they were stingy and you established them in gener- osity; if they had no faith in the spiritual path and you led them to it. One day, many years ago, I spoke of this teaching very matter-of-factly with my mother, assuming that she would be as impressed as I was with how highly the Buddha praised the role that parents play in one’s life. She responded, as she almost invariably did anytime I tried to spout some spiritual statement, by saying, “What utter balls!” She is very good at keeping me level, as I can get somewhat airy-fairy at times. Her point was that it isn’t a one-way process. She said, “Why do you talk about it in terms of being in debt? What could be more wonderful and satisfying than bringing children into the world and watching them grow? It isn’t like a job that you need to be paid for.” I was really impressed by that. For obvious reasons, recently I’ve been reflecting a lot on my mother’s influence on my life, and it occurred to me that until I met the dhamma when I was twenty-one, she was the main – if not the only – source of my ability to see what was noble and good in the world. I didn’t grow up in a religious household (Eng- land is a very nonreligious country), but both my parents were very good people, especially my mother. She really embodies unselfishness, kindness, generosity, and a tremendous harmlessness toward all liv- ing beings – she is physically unable to hurt any creature. When I wonder where I got the inclination toward that which is good and wholesome and useful, I realize that it came almost entirely from her. After my mother’s father died, she told me that she’d received much of her guid- ance and direction from him. She deeply respected her inheritance of his gentleness, self-effacement, and benevolence toward all things, and she passed those qualities on. She was my main spiritual influence before I went to Thailand; anything that kept me operating somewhere in the neighborhood of balanced human behav- ior was thanks to her. So I’ve developed a great sense of gladness and gratitude toward her for imparting this to me. Another realization that has become clearer to me over the years is that people who come from broken homes, or who have had very unstable family situations, assume that life is unsteady and unpre- dictable; they often have a deep sense of insecurity. I remember being struck by this during my first few years of meet- ing and living with such people – and there are a great many of them in this world. I never would have conceived of the experiences they’d had. Even though my parents had plenty of faults and our lives were not easy, they gave our family an astonishing sense of stability and reli- ability, especially our mother. (My father was often kept busy, first with the farm and then traveling with his work. And besides, I think it was Robert Bly who defined the Industrial Age father as “that which sits in the living room and rustles the newspaper.”) I’ve begun to reflect on the sense of security that arises from this intuition that life has a reliable basis. In stable families, AjAhn AmAro wAs ordAined in the forest meditAtion lineAge of AjAhn ChAh in thAilAnd in 1979 And trAined in englAnd under AjAhn sumedho from 1979 to 1995. he is now Co-Abbot of AbhAyAgiri buddhist monAstery in redwood VAlley, CAliforniA. this ArtiCle is AdApted from his pdf book, who will feed the miCe, whiCh is AVAilAble free of ChArge from AbhAyAgiri. parents impart this. If one doesn’t have this, then one has to find it later on in other ways. For a child, the parents are a kind of substitute for the dhamma, that basis upon which everything rests and around which everything revolves. I didn’t always get on with my parents. But they never argued in front of us, and they were always there, establishing a continuity of presence and support. And thinking about that, I’ve seen that they reflected two qualities of dhamma that are crucial: dhammaniyamata – the order- liness, or regularity, or patterned-ness, of the dhamma; and dhammatthitata – the stability of the dhamma. In a way, that’s the job or role of par- ents – to be stable, the rock that things rest upon. They exhibit that quality of regularity, orderliness, or predictability that we can rely on and be guided by. When I was about twelve, some of my mother’s extraordinary qualities became apparent to me in a very powerful way. I was a growing lad who ate a cooked breakfast every morning before going off to school. In the late afternoon, I would come back and eat cream doughnuts for tea, and an hour later scarf down huge amounts of food at supper. I was turning into a burly youth. And every afternoon my mother waited in her car at the bus stop at the end of the lane, a mile away from our home. One day I got off the bus and she wasn’t there. I thought, “That’s strange.” I started walking – I thought maybe she was just a bit late – and I walked and walked, but she didn’t appear. I got all the way back to the house and she wasn’t there either. When my sisters returned from school, we found out that our mother had collapsed and had been hospitalized. She was found to be suffer- ing from malnutrition. For months my mother had been living only on tea and toast, trying to make our food supply go a bit further by not eating. None of us had noticed, because we’d all been so busy gobbling our meals. She’d