Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Mother of all Mother's Day Wishes

FTD would love me if I send roses to all my mothers.

Celebrating Mother's Day reminds me of a prayer we say at the Buddhist center called the Eight Verses for Training the Mind. (For those unfamiliar with Buddhist practice, the title of this intersession says it all. I mean, what other spiritual practice asks for help training the mind? This is why I love Buddhism. Anyway, I digress ... )

My Mom, 1972
The Eight Verses compose a beautiful prayer that asks for wisdom and a shift in perspective when encountering difficult situations and—especially—when interacting with difficult people. It's the whole "my enemy is my greatest teacher" thing. You know, realizing that people who are obnoxious or mean or otherwise unpleasant are really helping me more than people who are pleasant and kind and compassionate because I have to really work hard to overcome my aversion to unpleasant assholes.
Digressing, again ...

We say this prayer and ask to transform our minds so that we can perceive the truth. The seventh verse is relevant today:

In brief, may I offer benefit and joy
To all my mothers, both directly and indirectly,
May I quietly take upon myself
All hurts and pains of my mothers.

The first hundred times or so I recited this verse, I didn't really understand it. I thought it was an analogy or metaphor. But as I learned more about Buddhist beliefs, this verse took on a  deeper meaning. I still can't claim to fully understand it, ( His Holiness the Dalai Lama provides a commentary on this pray on his website which I linked here and above,) but what I do understand now has opened up my heart to the world—at least on my less-bitchy days.

Buddhists believe everyone has been born in various forms countless times. Therefore, the theory follows that at some time or another my mindstream (or consciousness) has been embodied as your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, your cat, your dog, your hamster. And visa versa. In sum: We're all spiritually related. (And no, not like the backwoods characters in a James Dickey novel.) This may or may not be a literal relationship. No one really knows, except maybe someone like the Dalai LamaThe point is that I should revere all beings as if they gave me birth. I should not discriminate about who I love if I am to truly practice compassion. All life is precious. All men and woman are of equal value. That's equanimity, and it's tough to practice.

In a literal—but not necessarily Buddhist—sense, I should revere all my fore-mothers and recognize that their suffering is my suffering. This is what Buddhists call karma, or action, the law of cause and effect. I am indeed obliged to the woman who conceived, carried and gave birth to me as I am to the woman who gave birth to her, etc. Likewise, I am the product of all my forefathers and and their mothers and fathers. If not for my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-infinity-grandparents, I would not be here today exactly as I am. Millions of actions had to happen exactly as they happened, when they happened, in order for me to have been conceived and my mindstream to have joined this particular body.  I revere that amazing process and how incredibly miraculous life is. When I start to think about it all ... well, it's mind-blowing.

Today and every day, I pray for the benefit and joy of all my fore-mothers and I humbly (quietly) take on all their harm and suffering. In doing so, I accept that I am the sum of the parts, the product of all that has happened and that I have a part in what will happen. My actions matter—often more than I count on or know. How I respond to life does not just affect my happiness, but it affects the happiness of all those around me, and all those around them, and so on, and so on ...

So Happy Mother's Day to my dear mother in this life and all my mothers infinitum!

Eight Verses for Training of the Mind*

With the determination to accomplish the highest welfare for all sentient beings who surpass even a wish granting jewel, I will learn to hold them supremely dear.

Whenever I associate with others I will learn to think of myself as the lowest among all and respectfully hold others to be supreme from the very depths of my heart.

In all actions I will learn to search into my mind and as soon as an afflictive emotion arises, endangering myself or others, I will firmly face and avert it.

I will learn to cherish beings of bad nature, and those pressed by strong sins and suffering as if I'd found a precious treasure very difficult to find.

When others out of jealousy treat me badly, with abuse, slander and so on, I will learn to take all loss and offer the victory to them.

When one whom I've benefited with great hope unreasonably harms me very badly, I will learn to view that person as an excellent spiritual guide.

In short, I will learn to offer to everyone all hope and happiness directly and indirectly and respectfully take upon myself all harm and suffering of my mothers.

I will learn to keep all these practices undefiled by the stains of the eight worlds conceptions, and by understanding all phenomenon are like illusions, be released from the bondage of attachment to self.

*There are many translations and this is the one we say at Losel Maitri Buddhist Center.

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