How kind can one be to others
if one is unkind
to another kind to one?
In the Katannu Sutta, the Buddha taught that those with integrity would express gratitude towards those who have helped them. It so happens that the ones we should have gratefulness towards are the first humans we come in contact with in this life – our parents. The debt of gratitude we have towards our mothers and fathers is not easy to repay. As an analogy, even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder and your father on the other for 100 years, caring for them by various ways such as helping to massage and bathe them, and even clearing their waste, this would not repay their kindness. Neither would offering them absolute sovereignty over the whole world with its bountiful treasures do. This is so as our parents have done so much… via caring for and nourishing us, and showing us the ways of the world. However, if one spurs one’s unbelieving parents to have faith in the Dharma; one’s immoral parents to have virtue; one’s stingy parents to have generosity; one’s ignorant parents to have wisdom, then one does enough by repaying more than enough – by being their spiritual ‘parents’. To link our parents to the safest and most fortunate rebirths in Pureland where liberation is guaranteed would be very filial indeed!
In the Ittivuttaka, the Buddha remarked that those who live respectfully with their parents while offering them their needs are likened to living with Brahmas at home. Our parents are like the first kindly devas (deities) we encounter. They are also our first teachers, who are worthy of our veneration. Such reverence can even lead to personal heavenly rebirths. Brahmas are gods who dwell in the 4 Brahma Viharas (Sublime Abodes). As our parents are probably the ones who embody these qualities the most in our lives, they are like our personal guardian deities from our moment of birth till their moment of departure. (1) With Loving-kindness, they guide and aid us towards success. (2) With Compassion, they comfort and heal us when we are unwell. (3) With Rejoice, they are glad for us when we succeed. (4) With Equanimity, they let us move on to our own lives when we grow up, while always being there in times of need. In fact, it is also from our parents’ examples that we learn to cultivate the Brahma Viharas towards our (future) children. Lest we forget the ‘divinities’ before us and digress to worship distant or imaginary gods, the Buddha reminded us of the greatness of our parents.
In the Mata Sutta, the Buddha exclaimed that from the inscrutable beginnings of our rebirths, from which we wander on in many lives and realms, it is difficult to find anyone who has not been our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters… at least once in the past. This is the basis of why many Buddhists try to relate to all beings, including those of other realms (hells, hungry ghost, animal, asura and heavens) as ‘mother sentient beings’. The addition of the word ‘mother’ as a prefix serves to inspire and nurture feelings of gratitude towards all beings in general. When we cultivate the Brahma Viharas towards as many beings as we can in action, and to all other beings in attitude, we would be expressing universal filial piety to all our parents (and family members) of the past, present and future. (E.g. Vegetarianism and veganism are simple but worthy expressions of filial piety by being harmless to mother sentiient beings via choice of diet.) That said, ‘charity’ does begin at home. Beginning with the fundamental sources of kindness at home, may we first focus our practice of Brahma Viharas upon our parents, even as we radiate them far and wide to be immeasurable to benefit more. –
Gratitude is the first natural virtue,
which we learn from our loving parents when young,
from which all other virtues are nurtured.