Joyful Parents, Successful Children

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

As Buddhist parents, we have a special and very important responsibility to ensure that our children not only receive a good worldly education but are also educated to be good-hearted human beings. In this book, Lama Zopa Rinpoche explains how we can teach our children the good qualities and behavior that are essential for achieving every type of happiness, both short- and long-term.

These teachings were compiled and edited by Ven. Joan Nicell, and published in 2015 by Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. This publication is now available as an ebook from LYWA. We also have a limited number of print copies that we can send to those on request for free (plus shipping.)

6. Helping Children Collect Merit

Years ago, I visited a distant relative and her husband at their home in Darjeeling. Their children were quite young at the time, but every morning, after they had washed and dressed and were ready to go to school, the whole family would go together to their shrine room, which was very beautiful, and do three prostrations in front of an altar on which were many statues. They did this every day before leaving for school. As I often like to mention, the benefit of doing even one prostration to a statue of the Buddha is unbelievable. It creates the karma to be reborn as a wheel-turning king as many times as the number of atoms of the earth that your body covers as you prostrate. To obtain this type of rebirth requires infinite, inconceivable merit.

In the case of those children in Darjeeling, there were many holy objects on the altar and they did three prostrations to them, so can you imagine how much merit they collected. By doing three prostrations, they created three causes of enlightenment. In addition, depending on how many statues there were, they created that much more merit. If there were a thousand statues and they prostrated just once to all of them, they would have created a thousand causes of enlightenment. If your children were to do the same, it would give them so much hope as every day they would create the causes for happiness and success in this life and in their future lives, as well as the causes for liberation and enlightenment. Therefore, you have a very special opportunity to help your children by teaching them to prostrate to holy objects.

There are many other things you can teach your children that will be very beneficial to them. For example, it is good to have an altar in your home with many pictures, thangkas, statues of buddhas and deities. In addition, each of your children can have their own special statue, perhaps of Tara or Chenrezig. Then every day—in the morning and perhaps also in the evening but at least once a day—your children can offer a candy or a biscuit on a nice plate to their own statue as well as to all the other pictures, thangkas and statues. If they can’t do more, they should at least say OM AH HUM to bless the candy or biscuit and transform it into oceans of nectar before offering it. You can also make prayers together such as:

By this merit, may I never cause harm to any sentient being and may I cause all sentient beings to have every happiness up to enlightenment as quickly as possible.

Or:

By this merit, may I, like the Buddha, be able to liberate numberless sentient beings from suffering and bring them to enlightenment as quickly as possible.

By dedicating in this way, your children will not only collect the extensive merit of making offerings to holy objects, but also the merit that they create will become extremely powerful.

If your children don’t create good karma from their own side, how can you expect them to have happy lives? Without merit, without good karma, it is impossible for them to be happy and successful. No matter how many university degrees someone has these days, there is no guarantee that they will find a job and be happy. On the other hand, there are many people who live a happy and satisfied life, who experience inner peace, even though they don’t have a university degree. For these reasons, you must focus on using skillful means to help your children create merit. You must put effort into this so that, sooner or later, they will come to have an easy life, free from problems. By creating merit, they will have every success in life, including finding a job.

I have given you a few examples but there are many more things that you, as a Buddhist parent, can do to help your children. I have already mentioned the Seven Foundations for Happiness and Peace that you should teach them, but you can also teach them all 16 qualities or 16 Dharmas set out by Songtsen Gampo. In addition to providing this kind of education, if you also pray for your children, your prayers will be very powerful due to your strong karmic connection with them. However, at the same time as praying for them, you should also skilfully guide them to do many small practices that create merit in their daily lives, such as making charity to other sentient beings, including animals, insects and so forth.

I want to clarify that when I suggest that at the same time as educating your children, you should pray for them, I don’t mean that you should pray for them to be successful in passing their exams! That is a tiny prayer; it doesn’t create the cause for them to experience happiness life after life, nor does it create the cause for their liberation and enlightenment. Of course, you can pray for their long lives, for them to be healthy, for all their wishes that accord with the Dharma to succeed, for their actions not to become negative karma and for them to not cause harm to themselves and others, but in particular, you can also pray:

May my children develop the same qualities as Tara (or Chenrezig, Manjushri, Medicine Buddha or Lama Tsongkhapa) in this very lifetime and be able to do perfect work for sentient beings, freeing them from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and bringing them to full enlightenment as quickly as possible.

This prayer is short but it includes all the realizations. Another prayer that you can do for your children is the one to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, which possess special qualities:

Due to all the merit collected in the three times by myself, all buddhas and bodhisattvas and all sentient beings, may I and all sentient beings, without the delay of even one second, be able to meet the pure wisdom teachings of the victorious one, Lama Tsongkhapa, who was endowed with pure morality and the brave attitude, who did extensive deeds for all sentient beings and who accomplished the yoga of the two stages—the essence of which is the transcendental wisdom of non-dual bliss and emptiness.

Or you can pray for them to be guided by Lama Tsongkhapa now and in the future:

In all our lives, through the victorious one, Lama Tsongkhapa,
Acting in person as the Mahayana guru,
May we never turn aside for even an instant
From the excellent path praised by the victorious ones.

This is a prayer that I often recite when I meet with people. I also chant aloud the various powerful mantras1 that purify even the heaviest negative karmas, those ‘without break,’ which cause one to be reborn in the lowest hell and experience the heaviest of sufferings for the longest time.2 I also recite Maitreya Buddha’s mantra and pray that when Maitreya Buddha comes to this world, they may become his disciples, receive teachings directly from him and obtain a predication of their enlightenment during the time of Maitreya Buddha’s teachings.

Another prayer that is very good to recite is the one from the Cittamani Tara practice:

Please bless me to devote myself in thought and action
To the virtuous teacher, the very source of all goodness.
By training in the path that pleases all the conquerors
May I reach unsurpassed enlightenment.

You can pray to Tara together with your children in the same way that you normally pray to her. I am just giving you some ideas and then you can elaborate on them. There are many, many things that you can do to educate your children and give meaning to their having been born into a Buddhist family.

Also, as a Buddhist, you should give the pets, such as dogs and cats that are in your care, a very special life. By ‘special,’ I don’t mean special food or special clothing! I mean that you should chant the powerful mantras to them that purify their negative karma, so that they are never again born in the lower realms and achieve enlightenment quickly. You should chant these mantras to them every day and also recite aloud the prayers I mentioned before, as well as various lam-rim prayers to them.

If you have a stupa, you should also take your pet around it. At my house in Aptos, California, I had a stupa specially made, containing a lot of tsa-tsas, around which to lead a dog that a Mexican woman had saved from being put to sleep and then had given to me. However, you can also arrange as many holy objects as possible, such as tsa-tsas, statues and stupas, on different levels on a table and take your animals around it. In this way, the negative karma that they have collected over many eons get purified. Even one circumambulation around a stupa or statue containing the four dharmakaya relic mantras has the amazing benefit of purifying the negative karma to be reborn in the eight hot hells. So depending on how many times you take the animal around the table, that many eons of negative karma get purified and that many causes of enlightenment are created.

I want to make it clear once again that just by hearing mantras or prayers, even though they don’t understand a single word, just by being taken around holy objects, your pets’ negative karma gets purified and when they die, they will be reborn in the higher realms. It also creates the causes, many times over, for their liberation and enlightenment.

There should be these special advantages for an animal that is in the care of a Buddhist. Since you have this opportunity to help them obtain a higher rebirth, meet the Dharma and a virtuous friend, and achieve liberation from samsara and enlightenment, it would be a great pity not to benefit the animals that you keep as pets for your own happiness.

Since Buddhists should give even the animals in their care a special life, there is no question that they should do this for their children. However, while I know of some Buddhist parents who try to set an example for their children and explain the Dharma to them, I know many others who do not. Instead they let their children do whatever they want. This is a pity because when children are young, before they grow up and leave home, there are so many opportunities to help them collect merit and to give them an education that will plant the seeds of enlightenment in their minds.

Of course, there is no guarantee that you will succeed in helping your children because, as I mentioned before, children have their own karma that they bring with them from past lives. Some children will turn out well, and as teenagers, will be disciplined, compassionate and content. Others, because of the influence of the world and their friends, will become distant from the Dharma and will have a totally different life from what their parents hoped for them. Regardless, as a Buddhist parent, you have the responsibility to give your children some special benefit; otherwise, their being born in a Buddhist family will be no different from being born in a non-Buddhist family.

While your children are young, to not use the opportunity to plant the seeds of good habits would be very unfortunate. By saying this, I am not implying that you should force your children to adopt your lifestyle. Rather, I just want to emphasize that it is important to help them abandon the causes of suffering and create the causes of happiness—not only this life’s happiness but also the happiness of future lives, liberation from samsara and full enlightenment. If they learn some Dharma practices, recite some mantras and so on when they are young, even if they don’t continue with these when they get older, all the merit they collected earlier on will still cause them to meet and practice the Dharma in future lives and will bring them happiness for many lifetimes. Because it is not easy to help your children when they become teenagers and don’t want to listen to you anymore, you should try to benefit them as much as possible while they are young.

In conclusion, there are many ways that you can make your children’s lives meaningful so that at the very least they do not cause harm to themselves and so that, if possible, they also bring happiness and benefit to other sentient beings and to the world. Since as a Buddhist parent you can do so much to help your children, it would be a great pity and also very sad and strange, if you don’t teach your children the things that you have faith in and have found to be of benefit to your own life.3

Notes

1  Refer to Appendix 2 for the 10 powerful mantras. [Return to text]

2  The five negative karmas without break are killing your father, killing your mother, killing an arhat (someone who has become free from the cycle of existence), causing a buddha to bleed and creating a schism in the Sangha (a group of at least four fully ordained monks). These actions are ‘without break’ in the sense that having done any of them, after death, one is reborn in the worst of the hell realms without the break of an intervening life.  [Return to text]

3  See also A Daily Practice for Children.  [Return to text]