Friday, May 3, 2013

Gratitude to Parents

Question: Why do I have to care so much about my parents, especially if they were bad to me?

         Our parents brought us into this world, and we have them to thank for being alive. If our mothers hadn’t cared for us during pregnancy and endured child birth, we couldn't be here. We must be grateful for all the food and nourishment they provided us with. So many times they labored to keep us dry while getting wet themselves, and so often they cleaned away our filth when they didn’t want to put up with it anymore.

Original Photo by Micah Sittig available on

           Parents often endure a lot of hardship and save the best for the benefit of their sons and daughters. They can commit bad deeds they would never dream of, just to protect their kids and provide them with what they need. All these precious gifts can often go unnoticed as children go up. No matter how far away parents are, all parents still worry about their children, and that worry never ceases no matter how old they get.

       Yet when we are told to make sacrifices for our parents as they age, we often can't do so from the bottom of our hearts.

          The reason for this lack of true giving comes from the fact that we are suffering in our own lives at present. If we do not yet know the joy of being alive for ourselves, we can't thank our parents for giving birth to us.

           Some people in great emotional anguish may even think, "Actually, if my parents never brought me to this world, I would never have had to suffer this much." This is a very sad way to look at life, and it downplays everything your parents have done to raise you.

          People who commit suicide in essence are rebelliously defying their parents. They are holding a grudge against their very birth into this world. They show heavy resentment to their parents by thinking, "Why did you have to give birth to me? I didn't ask to be born."

           Parents may try to object and direct more attention to the hardships they have gone through for their children. "Look at all we've done for you. You should be grateful to us!" But a thankless child could fire back, "You both brought me into this world out of your own free will. I didn't ask you though. Did I?" This can progress even worse, "I wish I had never been born!!" With that being said, it becomes very difficult to debate any further. How could a parent respond back to that?

         Whether one can truly feel gratitude to one's parents or not depends on knowing the reason we were born. To find that reason is the purpose of life.

           If we do not know the reason we were born, then we will never fully understand why we have to be appreciative to our parents. Mom and Dad may have raised us with a lot of effort and sacrifice, but without knowing why we’re here, there is no concrete reason as to why we must be dutiful to our parents at all.

Original Photo by TimothyJ available on

          A Zen priest by the name of Ikkyu said that we live our lives day in and day out sleeping, waking up, eating, and using the bathroom. Likewise our lives go through many stages from child to adult. About this Ikkyu wrote, "A girl blossoms as a young woman, blooms as a bride, fades as a mother, and scatters as an old woman." Nowadays, women can of course choose to not marry or focus on career instead of raising children. But the point he was making is that we go through all these  phases of life only to fade away in old age. We have no idea of what’s next. Is death our destruction, and that’s all? According to Buddhism, it isn’t.

           If that were the case, it would render the value of human life to just a tiny bubble floating on a river. It would mean that those who are blessed in life with wealth and material things are just trying to make their bubble stronger or larger. But in time, their bubble will still burst for sure. Today, there are more than seven billion people on Earth. They are all like bubbles of various sizes destined to burst. A bubble can't expect to float forever. Then what is the point of living? Is it to only struggle for a better life as long as we can? Do we live to ignore the inevitable and just die? That can’t be it. There must be an answer.

            People are always worried about their retirements, 401k plans, and pensions. "Will I have enough to retire at 65?" These are only problems we deal with while we are still alive, but “what will happen after death?” No one makes an issue of this, yet it's in reality the most crucial matter there is. Science and medicine are trying so hard to keep the bubble from bursting, prolonging the inevitable for as long as possible. But why must a bubble that is bound to pop, have to float on or move forward at all? We must be born here for a reason.

            Our world is full of delusion and suffering. From time to time, we think to ourselves, "Why is it just me that has to suffer so much?" We see others as more happy than us, and think we are the only ones who must endure the worst suffering. As the expression goes, "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." We believe that weeds simply don't grow in our neighbor's perfectly manicured garden, and only we must toil at pulling out endless roots. We don't realize that all people are suffering in this same way.

            People with extreme feelings of desperation feel that life is unbearable when they compare themselves to others. Though science and medicine have made great progress, the issue of suicide remains a serious and troubling issue. In these cases, we may wonder, "Why did I have to be born? I didn't ask to be here." We find no gratitude to our parents for giving birth to us or raising us when we find life's pressures to be too impossible to bare. Yet Sakyamuni Buddha explained that we were not born to suffer. He said that in heaven above, earth below, we as human beings are born with a single and precious mission.

             So then what is that one and only purpose of life that we were born to fulfill? People tend to mistake the many way stations of life for the ultimate purpose of life. They include going to school, getting a job, marrying, forming a family, building a house. All these are means of living, and although they do help us carry on day-to-day, they are not the ultimate purpose of life.

              The purpose of life is to obtain absolute happiness. This kind of joy lasts for eternity and is clearly taught in the Larger Sutra of Infinite Life. There are many buddhas other than Sakyamuni in the universe, and this sutra teaches that through the promise of the master buddha, Amida Buddha, we can enter into a wondrous world of no hindrance while alive. Upon reaching this level of enlightenment, obstacles no longer stand in the way toward our birth as a buddha in the Pure Land, a place of utmost bliss where there is no suffering. To attain this never-ending form of happiness is why we were born human. (This will be explored at length in future posts.)

             If we would not have been born into the human world, we would have never had the opportunity to seek for this truth. By listening to the teachings of Buddhism, we can realize the great joy of being alive and for likewise grasp the debt of gratitude we owe to our parents.

Original Photo by stevendepolo available on

              You can tell young people today to look after their parents all you want, but it will fall on deaf ears if the kids don't know why they're alive. Whether we feel truly grateful to our parents or not depends on whether we have realized the joy of being alive as a human being for ourselves in the here and now.

              Our bubbles will burst some day unexpectedly. And yet we live with all our might looking away from it... to what end? Then what should we really do with this short, temporal life? Morals and ethics do not even begin to answer this fundamental question of why we were born. Whether we can make full use of morals and ethics depends on whether we find true, lasting happiness -- right now in this very moment. In Buddhism, there is a concrete reason to why we're here. It's to attain absolute happiness!!!

               Once we accomplish this joyous purpose of life, we marvel at how wonderful it is that we were born human! Naturally, we feel grateful to our parents who brought us to this world. We will realize why our lives, like tiny bubbles that are bound to burst, are so infinitely precious. Simultaneously, we can't help but to make efforts in fulfilling the debt of gratitude that we owe our parents.

                After all, without being born into this world and listening to the teachings of Buddhism, how else could we experience the everlasting joy that makes us shout, "This is why I was born human! How glad I am with the way I've lived my life. I'm the most blessed being alive on Earth!" Please continue to listen seriously to the teachings of Buddhism until you arrive at this exuberant state.

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