You and every single sentient being—all the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, asuras, suras and intermediate state beings—are like one big family. This is because every one of them has been your mother not just one time but numberless times throughout beginningless lives.
Every sentient being has given you a body numberless times, not just a human body but also the bodies of different kinds of animals, hungry ghosts and so on. Each time you were born from a womb or an egg, they gave you a body. Just taking into consideration the times you were born with a human body, every sentient being has given birth to you numberless times.
Then as your human mother, they were kind to you in four ways: they protected your life from hundreds of dangers every day; they educated you in the ways of the world; they bore many hardships for your well-being; and they created a great amount of negative karma for the sake of your happiness. Every sentient being—every hell being, every hungry ghost, every animal, every human being, every asura and every sura—has done this for you when, as human beings, they were your mother. Similarly, when you were born as an animal, your mother was kind to you; for example, when you were born as a bird, day after day, your mother went to look for food and killed many insects and worms to feed to you.
It is truly unbelievable how these mothers of old protected you, bore so many hardships for you and created so much negative karma for you. Can you even begin to imagine their kindness? But, unfortunately, almost every single one of their actions became negative because it was done out of attachment.
To avoid this happening, the best way to take care of children is to think of them simply as a sentient being rather than as my child. For example, when you generate bodhicitta for all sentient beings at the beginning of a spiritual practice, such as reading a prayer, doing a session of a retreat or even just reciting a mantra such as OM MANI PADME HUM, you do it for the benefit of all sentient beings—the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, asuras, suras and intermediate state beings. If you do these activities for every single sentient being including every single insect, it goes without saying that you also do them for your own children. If you think in this way, you will have the same motivation to care for your children as you would any sentient being.
Because your children are sentient beings, you have received every happiness experienced throughout beginningless lives from them. You also receive all your present happiness from them and you receive all the happiness of future lives from them (not just the happiness of one future life but the happiness of all future lives). In addition, you receive liberation from samsara from them and you also receive the realizations of the entire path up to enlightenment from them. By understanding and recognizing this, you will see that your children are the most precious and kindest people in your life.
So when you begin a practice with the motivation of bodhicitta, the thought to achieve enlightenment for all sentient beings, recall that your child is one of those sentient beings and do the practice with that awareness. Similarly, when you conclude a practice with the dedication to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, remember that your child is one of those sentient beings.
Of course, all other sentient beings are exactly the same as your children in being precious and kind, but because you, as a parent, have a particular karmic connection with and are responsible for the specific sentient beings that are your children, you should always pay special attention to the fact that your children are included among those sentient beings.
By thinking in this way, you will have a totally different attitude toward your children; there will not be the slightest negative thought caused by the eight worldly concerns,1 and instead you will take care of them motivated by the positive thought of cherishing a sentient being.
On the other hand, if you allow yourself to come under the influence of the eight worldly concerns, when your children do something to please you, something that you like, you will happily take care of them. However, when they do something that is contrary to your wishes, something that upsets you or makes you angry, you may even be tempted to give them up entirely. This change in your attitude towards them happens because you are attached to your own happiness and want to avoid suffering and problems.
With bodhicitta, you feel that your children are the most precious and the kindest beings in your life. If you have this attitude, you will take care of them with a healthy positive mind rather than with a negative emotional mind and the pain of attachment.
As a parent, you can make yourself happy by thinking:
How wonderful that my life can be beneficial for even one sentient being.
How wonderful that I can take care of even one sentient being.
How wonderful that my limbs can be useful for looking after and bringing happiness to even one sentient being.
Especially when you encounter difficulties—when your children do not listen to you, when you cannot control them and when you feel disappointed with them—it is good to rejoice in these ways. If you can do this, there will be no difficulties in your heart. With a sincere wish to help your children, you won’t have that annoyed and exhausted mind that wishes to give them up. Motivated by bodhicitta, you will be able to rejoice in having the opportunity to help them.
Likewise, the motivation for doing a job that involves taking care of other people’s children or the elderly should be exactly the same as the one you have for looking after your own child. The thought, “This person is the most precious and the most kind,” is the best attitude to have when you are doing this kind of work.
With the motivation of bodhicitta, every hardship that you undergo and every single service that you do for others will purify negative karma collected throughout beginningless lives. Your job will also become a means for you to collect extensive merit and a chance to practise all six perfections or paramitas: giving, morality, patience, perseverance, concentration and wisdom.
To practise the perfection of wisdom, for example, you can think that you, the care-giver, the action of taking care of the other person and the person you are taking care of are all empty of true existence and merely labelled by the mind. Motivated by bodhicitta, everything you do to take care of someone else becomes a cause of enlightenment and a quick path to enlightenment.
In a Buddhist text, it is mentioned that even though Maitreya Buddha generated compassion and bodhicitta much earlier than did Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha achieved enlightenment first because his compassion was much stronger. His strong compassion enabled him to collect much more extensive merit and purify far greater negative karma accumulated in the past. For example, when in one life as brothers, they encountered a family of five tigers dying of starvation, Maitreya Buddha did not offer his body to them whereas Guru Shakyamuni Buddha did.
In the same way, if you are able to generate strong compassion for your children, and instead of being driven by attachment to them, you use them to practice Dharma, your children will give you enlightenment.
Also, if motivated by compassion, you do a job that entails taking care of other people’s children or the elderly, you will receive realizations and enlightenment from those people. Similarly, even if you just look after a pet with this motivation, you will receive enlightenment quickly from that sentient being.
1 Wishing to experience happiness and to avoid suffering; to gain material things and to avoid losing them; to be praised and to avoid criticism; to have a good reputation and to avoid a bad one. [Return to text]