“I tell you, monks, there are two people who are not easy to repay. Which two? Your mother & father.” ~ The Buddha, Kataññu Sutta
“These two people are hard to find in the world. Which two? The one who is first to do a kindness, and the one who is grateful and thankful for a kindness done.”
~ The Buddha, AN 2.118
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
Happy Father’s Day to all the father’s in our lives. Today we celebrate the contributions of our fathers, their remembered kindness, and thoughts of how our ancestors contributed to our creation. We are all in debt, that is the undeniable fact of living. We are indebted to our parents for having us and for their or others’ care in raising, feeding, and educating us. We are tribal creatures and our lives are enhanced by many other beings who contributed time, money, and attention to our lives.
The family we were born into may not be what we would have ordered if we had a choice. Perhaps we wanted more communication, better food, our own room, or more attention—or maybe we didn’t want what we got, too many siblings, or no siblings, harsh discipline and violence, or no discipline, and the belief that no one cared. Whatever our family contained, we are the people we became in response to our conditioning and we are indebted to those who did show us kindness along the way. Scholar monk, Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes about the parents who were not kind and what is expected from the children of abusive parents, “Not only are they abusive to their children, but …[t]hey may demand an unreasonable level of repayment, involving actions that are downright harmful for you, themselves, and others. And yet this doesn’t cancel the debt you owe them for the simple fact that they’ve enabled you to live.” This is tricky stuff. This type of indebtedness does not mean we condone abuse or subject ourselves to further abuse because of the debt of our birth. In the Kataññu Sutta, the Buddha advises those who have parents who are unbelieving, immoral, stingy, and foolish to develop their own wisdom and goodness. By doing so we give the gifts of conviction, virtue, generosity, and discernment to parents who lack these traits through our own purity of consciousness.
Perhaps the most consistent predictor of family harmony is the intention of kindness in thoughts, speech, and actions which are met with gratitude. The Buddha is reported to have said, “Now what is the level of a person of no integrity? A person of no integrity is ungrateful and unthankful. This ingratitude, this lack of thankfulness, is advocated by rude people. It is entirely on the level of people of no integrity. A person of integrity is grateful and thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity” (AN 2.31-32). As the Buddha points out, those who practice kindness and those who give thanks for kindness received are rare and worth celebrating. When we encounter someone, who has gone out of their way to be kind to us, whether they are a parent, friend, or a teacher we are able to give them a gift in return, our gratitude.
It’s much easier to be grateful to non-humans, to the earth, the sky, the flowers and animals that make our lives more wonderful. It is much harder to be grateful to people who are kind and then act like people and say something unkind and harsh. We all make mistakes and we all need reminders. One of the most helpful rubrics is the Buddhist Five Factors of Right Speech. This is a checklist that can help us stay with the intention of kindness and non-harming. It is very beneficial to ask ourselves these questions before speaking: “Do I speak at the right time, or not? Do I speak of facts, or not? Do I speak gently or harshly? Do I speak profitable words or not? Do I speak with a kindly heart, or inwardly malicious” AN V (From The Patimokkha, Ñanamoli Thera, trans.). When we can answer these questions with the open-hearted intention of kindness, that is a tremendous gift of gentleness and wisdom for our family and all those we come in contact with.
Today is a good day to take inventory of those who we are grateful for and make an offering towards them. It may be a verbal acknowledgment of their efforts or the gift of non-reactive speech, it may be cultivating our own faith, virtue, generosity, and wise judgment to share with our parents and with the world. Becoming our best selves, being an asset to the planet and bringing healing to the injustices and brokenness in the world, is one of the best repayments of indebtedness. It is this fullness of gratitude that receives, spills over, and keeps giving, receiving, and giving.
May we all trust our light,
Click on this link to celebrate Father’s Day with a Dad joining his daughter’s ballet rehearsal because she had stage fright. From Joanne Friday