Many people are exploring possible congruences between
parenting and practice. The consensus so far: no easy matter! For example,
a parent with access to formal training in a Buddhist community may
yearn to participate in an intensive meditation retreat yet
balk at leaving her children for a week. When the choice is to go on
retreat (and proper child care is arranged), troubling questions
continue to arise.
Consider what Victoria Kieburtz, a mother,
With my own "suffering" diminished
and the dust settled, I had fallen into a duality which
identified the sufferers as outside myself, outside
my zazen [meditation].
In order to help them, I had to be with them in real-time.
How could I fulfill my duty to truly help anyone, other
than myself, if I was isolated in sesshin? We are told
that sesshin benefits beings on seen and unseen levels,
but I failed to feel that in my bones. What I did feel
was that my children were home for an endless week without
me, and that my absence was a source of pain for them.
is the skillful path in such a situation?
is as hard to get the children herded into the car pool
and down the road to the bus as it is to chant sutras
in the Buddha hall on a cold morning. One move is not
better than the other.
The obverse of this same dilemma, not attending
retreats, is that it is a constant challenge to treat common household
activities, on the scale of making beds or settling arguments, as
a fully authentic path of awakening. "It is as hard to get the children herded into
the car pool and down the road to the bus as it is to chant sutras
in the Buddha hall on a cold morning," asserts poet-activist Gary
Snyder (who has done both). "One move is not better than the other."
Newly articulated practices and principles are
often applicable beyond Buddhist circles. "Part of your work as a parent is to keep growing
in self-knowledge and in awareness." "Try seeing the children
as your teachers." "Instead of sitting up all night in meditation,
sit up all night when the children are sick."
Thich Nhat Hanh recommends “hugging meditation”:
Hugging is a beautiful Western custom,
and we from the East would like to contribute the practice
of conscious breathing to it. When you hold a child in
your arms, or hug your mother, or your husband, or your
friend, if you breathe in and out three times, your happiness
will be multiplied at least tenfold.
If you are distracted,
thinking about other things, your hug will be distracted
also, not very deep, and you may not enjoy hugging
In a monastery,
a bell calls monks to meditation; in a home, a bell can call family
members to mindfulness. A mother in the San Francisco area reports
that a household bell has become a natural part of family life:
It lives on the altar in Jason's room, where anyone can get it at any
time and bring it to sound anywhere in the house. Whenever the bell is
sounded, we all stop whatever we are doing and breathe three times. Then
we continue mindfully with what we were doing. Our bell has been sounded
to greet new guests, on the way to the bathroom, in the midst of bustling
dinner preparations, during meals, in the heat of arguments, and directly
after angry outbursts.
Buddhism was originally a monastic tradition.
Does family practice stray too far from original Buddhism?