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Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Family and Relationships : Parenting

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at various locations (Last Updated Aug 14, 2009)

Bringing up Children

Taking Care of Your Child With Compassion
A student wrote to Rinpoche about being unable to practice Dharma after having a baby.

My most dear, most kind, most precious wish-fulfilling Samantha,
Thank you very much for your kind letter. As you expressed your life, so I understand.

Regarding life and taking care of children, the Buddha taught Hinayana and Mahayana, and within the Mahayana, there is sutra and tantra. In order to be free from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and the causes—karma and delusion—and to achieve nirvana, there is the Hinayana, the Lesser Vehicle path. Then there is the Mahayana path, given to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, to free the numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and the causes and to bring them to nirvana, the sorrowless state. Not only that, but to bring them to full enlightenment, peerless happiness, the cessation of even the subtle obscurations, and to complete the perfect qualities and realizations, the omniscient mind. 

Read the entire advice here

Advice During Pregnancy
A letter to a student who was having a baby.

My very dearest, very precious one,
I have read your letter. Actually, Roger informed me what you have written in your letter. I was very happy that you wanted to explain to me your life changes, what happened. I must tell you, express to you, that I was very, very happy to meet you at the house. My heart is with you, in your heart. I am extremely sorry for the long delay in writing or talking to you. My heart is with you.

It is very good you have received the child with him. You should always pray that the child will be most beneficial to sentient beings—to numberless hell beings, pretas, animals, humans and asuras—like Buddha Shakyamuni, or like His Holiness the Dalai Lama; like Tara, like the Medicine Buddha; like Chenrezig, the embodiment of all the Buddha’s compassion; like Vajrapani, the embodiment of all the Buddha’s power; like Manjushri, the embodiment of all the Buddha’s wisdom. [Pray that the child will not give] the slightest harm, so he won’t generate harmful thoughts to himself or to others at all; [pray that] he will generate loving kindness, bodhicitta, loving others, which is the cause of happiness for this and future lives. [Pray that he will attain] liberation from samsara, enlightenment, peerless happiness, cessation of all the mistaken minds, even the subtle ones, and the completion of all the realizations.

As a parent, you have to be a good example for the child, as he will copy the life from you. You must educate the child in those things which are not taught in school, college or university, unless there are Buddhist teachings. This is the most important thing in life.

The only thing for you to do is to create positive karma, which results only in happiness, so this life is filled with only happiness, so that much of your wishes get fulfilled in your life. This is the best advice and the best business so that your wishes will be fulfilled. The best thing is that your wishes are fulfilled, not only for this life, but also for future lives, and for ultimate happiness, liberation from the ocean of suffering, and peerless enlightenment.

These are the things to educate your child in:

Kindness
Kindness to others, not only to human beings, but also to animals, and even to the spirits, day and night.

Rejoicing
Rejoice every time you hear or see good things happening to others—if somebody has a good car, is rich, has a beautiful body, beautiful friends, or any of the good things that others have. So that good karma naturally becomes the cause to fulfill your wishes; it works dependently.  Rejoicing does two things: it brings happiness to others and it brings happiness to you, in this life and in future lives.

Practice patience
Train your mind in practicing patience, instead of allowing anger to arise, which can blow up your life and the lives of others; it can even blow up the world. As you know, historically one man killed many millions of people in the world. We don’t want this to happen to our children and to ourselves. It is the lack of practice of patience that causes all these problems.

Practice contentment
That means inner peace and satisfaction with the life; that is the answer. Most people in the world who do not practice Dharma try to change the outside world, but those who practice Dharma can change their own mind. When we let go, we receive happiness; but when we cling, we don’t get happiness. This is extremely important. Of course, we want to cause happiness for others, to cause everything to become limitless happiness, wealth. This is always good. When we do that, even if we don’t have attachment to our own needs, we receive [happiness] even without thinking.

Forgiveness
Whenever others get angry at us, cheat us or say nasty words, immediately we generate forgiveness, otherwise we give harm back and we create negative karma, and this is the cause of receiving harm from others. So if we generate forgiveness, the result is only happiness. Practicing forgiveness becomes a cause to fulfill our wishes, now and in the future.

Apologize
In daily life, if we give harm or say harmful words, immediately apologize, so it brings harmony to ourselves and others. It brings peace to the world, like this, from person to person. It is very important to train the mind in this way.

Courage
If you feel discouraged, think the human mind has so much potential. As the great bodhisattva Shantideva said in the Bodhicaryavatara, “If you get upset, there is no point to be worried; there is no meaning to worry. If it is something you can change or you can do, there is no point to worry. Just achieve it, do it.”

For example, if you want a huge mountain to be made of gold, or if you want the sky to become gold, this doesn’t make sense, so just let go. So there is no reason to be worried; just accept and let go. If there is something you can do, there is no need to worry about it; just do it. Like that, this quotation is extremely good when we are experiencing problems or creating problems with our mind. This is very, very important for the education of children.

I love you, with much prayer to you...

 

About Having a Child
Rinpoche gave the following advice to a student who was about to give birth to a child.

Since you have directed your life in this way, to have a child, you have a great responsibility now to bring up your child. Without saying many words, I just want to inform you that you should plan to lead the child’s life in the style of Universal Education (UE). First, if you can study the UE subjects I put together. There are five very basic attitudes and qualities to teach the child, so that your child can bring happiness to this life, from life to life, bring happiness to all sentient beings, cause less harm to others, and eventually bring all sentient beings to full enlightenment. This means knowing Buddha Dharma and educating others, and then bringing your child in the path to enlightenment.

These five very basic attitudes are very important to keep in one’s mind. This is the cause of inner peace and happiness for your child, also to give peace and happiness in everyday life to others. In this way, wherever your child is, in whatever part of the world, he or she still brings happiness to so many sentient beings, human beings, animals, and all other beings.

These five basic attitudes are:

1) Kindness
Have kindness not only towards friends, but to strangers, especially to one’s enemies, and to everyone. Generate kindness day and night for everybody, every human being, animal, etc. Practice kindness all the time, sincerely, from your heart. Think of others’ happiness and cherishing others. This makes all your actions very pure Dharma. Even if you don’t explain all this to your child, you can educate through example. This creates a good, happy life, and it becomes pure Dharma against the self-cherishing thought. This is the antidote, the medicine, for all the sicknesses, and the chronic disease of the self-cherishing mind, which has been affecting us from beginningless rebirths and harming us all the time, from time without beginning. If you don’t generate this mind in this life, when you have all the opportunities, then it means you will continue to suffer forever. This practice is unbelievably beneficial. By practicing kindness, there is always joy and happiness in your life, always fulfillment. It makes your life so meaningful when you practice kindness to others. It always makes your life fruitful, meaningful, and useful. Then, one has no time, no space for depression or suicidal thoughts; one is always able to enjoy unbelievable happiness.

2) Rejoicing
Whenever you see good things happening to others, for instance, you see someone has a better house or car than you, you rejoice. If someone has found a friend, found great success in business, any good thing that happens to others that you hear or see, all the time, rejoice. Think how wonderful it is that this sentient being had this happen. Rejoice in others’ wealth, beauty, education, power, etc. It doesn’t mean you are desiring or wanting these things. This is a bodhisattva’s attitude, when good things happen to others, to rejoice. Rejoicing is the antidote to jealousy. The delusion jealousy is an obstacle to your own success and happiness in this life and future lives, including liberation and enlightenment. It is not only an obstacle to your own happiness but also an obstacle to the happiness of others. The antidote to this is rejoicing in every single success. When you rejoice it becomes an unbelievable source of success for you. The result of rejoicing once is success in one’s life and for many hundreds and thousands of lifetimes. You can also practice rejoicing when you do the seven limbs or in the lam-rim. Rejoicing is such an easy way to collect the most extensive merits. Every second that you rejoice in your own merits you collect limitless skies of merits. Also, when you rejoice in others’ merits, you collect even more merit, and all the merit collected since beginningless rebirths is doubled. If you rejoice in bodhisattvas’ merit, and there are numberless bodhisattvas, this is unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable; you can’t imagine the merit one can create. From rejoicing in numberless Buddhas’ merits, even just the merits they create in one day, you collect more merit than normally it would take ten thousand years to create (without rejoicing). This is just to give you an idea how important this practice is. Rejoicing always keeps one’s mind happy. It fills one’s heart with inner peace and happiness.

3) Tolerance
Anger is more harmful than all the dangers of the wind, earth, and fire put together. These dangers just separate one’s consciousness from one’s body (cause death), but the real harm, the real danger, is anger. It can destroy all one’s merits, all the causes of enlightenment, all one’s causes for liberation from samsara, and it can destroy the cause of happiness in this life, future lives, and all one’s successes. Anger causes harm to sentient beings, as well as to oneself, from life to life. Also, it causes other sentient beings to get angry, which then causes them to experience heavy suffering. Being tolerant always keeps one’s mind in peace: peace for one’s family, husband, wife, child, neighbor, country, and the whole world; from life to life there is peace and tolerance for all sentient beings.

4) Contentment
Without contentment, one follows desire. By following desire one generates negative minds and other negative emotions. This causes negative karma, which causes harm to oneself as well as to others. It also causes other sentient beings to create negative karma, which creates the cause for them to suffer; it brings other sentient beings to the lower realms, besides oneself. So, having contentment is very important. Otherwise, without contentment, you can become crazy. Following desire is only the cause for continuous suffering, not only for individual sentient beings but for the society, country, and globally, for all sentient beings. So many millions of billionaires have everything, so much wealth, but all of this is created by following desire, so they can never be satisfied, always wanting to be wealthier, and then engage in harming others and cheating others; their life becomes like a prison. This is without mentioning the result that they are creating which will take them to the lower realms or future human rebirths, suffering for many hundreds and thousands of lifetimes. You can see that this is very important, particularly to educate about and teach this. Also, it is important that you don’t destroy your life with drugs, alcohol, and many other things. Without contentment one can get depressed, one isn’t able to find meaning in one’s life, and one causes more suffering. So, it is very dangerous, because thinking in this way can destroy your most precious human life, that gives one all the opportunities for all happiness up to enlightenment, liberation from samsara, as well as the happiness of all future lives, including this life. Developing contentment gives the opportunity to totally change one’s mind and develop bodhicitta, loving kindness, and compassion for all living beings, numberless beings in each realm. It becomes the cause of happiness in all future lives, liberation from samsara, everlasting happiness, and brings you to full enlightenment. Along the way it causes happiness even in this life. You can see that in one second of this precious human life one can actualize this, so to not do this is a very foolish thing. One’s mind is not thinking of Dharma, of the purpose of life, the real meaning of life, which is to benefit others, to free others from all sufferings, and bring them to enlightenment, everlasting happiness. Not generating a good heart, not thinking of others, only thinking of oneself, one’s own happiness, is completely the wrong way to think. By thinking of others’ happiness, it is unbelievable what you can achieve, all the happiness, not only happiness in this life, now, today. Cherishing the “I” causes all the problems that one experiences now. It completely occupies the mind, and then one can become suicidal, even kill oneself, for no reason at all. By not thinking of the real cause of the problems, one’s mind is full of problems, and one continues to create more suffering and the causes of the lower realms. Whether one is reborn in hell or as a happy migratory being depends on one’s karma; the answer is karma. If one kills oneself, one just goes to the lower realms, the hell realms, where there is the most unbelievable suffering, and where one experiences the heaviest suffering in samara for an unimaginable length of time. Then, when one’s karma is finished there, one is reborn again in the lower realms. You can see how one can totally deceive oneself. Thinking incorrectly can cause one to kill oneself, as if that will take you away from these problems. Thinking that way is totally deceiving oneself.

5) Forgiveness
If someone harms you, angers you, abuses you, or disrespects you, whatever happens, forgive this person. Practice forgiveness immediately, then there is peace in your heart and also in the heart of the other person. This is the cause of world peace, bringing peace to one person, because that person is part of the world. By harming any person in the world, you are causing harm to the world; this is the opposite of world peace. By bringing peace to just one more person you are bringing more and more peace into the world. That is unbelievable. Then, from life to life, one will have no anger towards sentient beings, only peace and happiness. Gradually, you have more peace and happiness, also in one’s future lives, then liberation and enlightenment, and then you are able to liberate and enlighten all sentient beings. There is more peace in your heart, in your family, in the world, and for all sentient beings. In the same way, if you cause harm to others, then immediately apologize to the other person. Again, this brings more peace to you and to that person immediately. And this brings world peace.

As much as possible, try to teach these five attitudes, seeing that suffering is the result of bad actions, so as much as possible to develop good actions, a good heart, and then you are able to help others. In this way, as much as possible, increase the good qualities, peace, and happiness in this life, and then you are able to achieve enlightenment, and to liberate numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment. These are the very basic things, the real education, and the best education for your child. Also, if you can, study the 16 human dharmas. Bring the real Dharma attitude to your child, in order to bring your child to enlightenment and to have limitless skies of qualities. To be able to cause that is the best gift, the real meaning of having a child, from the parents’ side. There is also benefit for you, everyone can use these attitudes, especially if there are people in the past that we have had difficulties with.

The most important thing in life to bring benefit to you and others, including one’s enemy, is to practice Dharma.

With much love and prayers...

 

Bringing Up Children
Rinpoche visited two students and also spent some time with one of their children. Afterward, Rinpoche sent the following message to the parents about this child.

 Your daughter has turned out to be very, very good. You should rejoice. I was very happy to see her; I felt very positive. All the effort you have made, carrying the baby for nine months, giving birth and bearing all the hardships, experiencing difficulties, exhaustion, and the worry of taking care of her all those years, besides educating her – it is all so meaningful because she has become a good human being, positive, and wants to help others.

I mentioned to her about helping young people, so she has started something with the young people at the university where she studies. She has joined up with a few other young people. She has turned out quite good. This makes meaningful all the suffering, hardship, and worries that parents bear to take care of children, also working to earn enough money.

Now, from what I saw, it seems your daughter's life has become positive. She tries not only to not harm, but to be kind to others. So, all the effort, over so many years since she was conceived up to now, all the expenses for the well-being and education of the child, have become meaningful.

Having a Child with Physical Disabilities
Rinpoche gave the following advice to a family who has a child who is blind and has some physical disabilities. The family asked if the child would be like this forever.

My very dear Gilles,
Both of you should think of the situation many other children are in—many have great difficulties such as being Siamese twins or deformed in many serious ways. So many families have to experience more difficult situations than yours. My point is you should not think you are the only ones in this situation. Take some time and contemplate that many other parents are in a more difficult situation.

I am going to try and help you as to how to think about and relate to your situation. You should be very grateful to Buddha/God. Think Buddha/God gave me this small child to look after and to help me develop my spiritual practice, to purify heavy negative karma that I have created in the past. This is Buddha's gift, helping me to be free from my oceans of negative karmas, and this is Buddha’s gift for me to develop my practice and to develop full enlightenment and peerless happiness.

Think that your child is cherished by countless buddhas and holy beings—bodhisattvas. So many bodhisattvas collect vast amounts of merit in every second and actualize the path for the benefit of every single being, including your child. So many buddhas competed the two types of merit and actualized the two kayas (two Buddha bodies) for the benefit of all beings, including your child. There are so many buddhas and bodhisattvas, including Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, who sacrificed his life for three countless great eons, and gave up his family and wealth when he was King; the whole point was to actualize the two types merit for all sentient beings, which includes your child. Like that, there are so many buddhas, and all of them achieved enlightenment to benefit all sentient beings, which includes your child.

Therefore, every day when you offer service to your child, this is the best offering to all the buddhas; this is the best puja for all the buddhas. This is the most pleasing offering to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas. You both should offer service to your child with this awareness and on the basis of this. In this way, your child makes your life so meaningful, gives you a lot of satisfaction, and makes your life so fulfilling. In your heart you should have the wish to benefit all sentient beings, to bring them to liberation and enlightenment, to be able to enlighten countless sentient beings from samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should not try different treatments for your child, I am not saying that, there are many different methods to try to heal: traditional and alternative, and there are many different kinds of healers, not just in hospitals. So, in the meantime, you can look for different methods, see if there is anything that can help her. This way you can feel that you have tried everything.

I am very happy to hear that you are both thinking of accepting the situation, that is very important, because your child was born to you in this life, in this way, due to past karma, both your karma and the child’s karma. Karma is not inherently existent, but is formed by wrong actions created by the mind in past lives; usually they are performed without your knowing the result that you are creating. Maybe the action was performed to try to achieve happiness at that time, but it was performed with a selfish mind, a mind of ignorance, attachment, and anger. Because of this attitude it became a negative karma and the result was suffering, maybe to be born like this.

So, your child being born to you comes from karma on both sides. But this karma is not forever, it doesn’t last long, it is a very temporary situation. You shouldn’t think it is forever, because when death comes, one’s life is like dream, it’s gone, all your plans for the future are gone. It is good to remember this now because it helps you realize that this current situation, this life, having this child, could end at any minute.

This is a very broad way of thinking, a positive way of thinking. Your child is also a teaching for you by showing this aspect, being born like this. If we don't practice Dharma and abandon negative karma, then we can all be born like this in the future. Your child is telling all of us that.
With much love and prayers...

More advice by Lama Zopa on this topic:
Advice on "Making Children's Lives Meaningful" on the Advice Book's Children page.

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