The Heart of a Mother
With Mother’s Day upon us, I want to take a moment to honour what being a mother means. Certainly no mother is perfect. Some are downright challenging. Mine happens to be incredibly kind, and it’s my good fortune to be celebrating her today.
But no matter the mother we’ve known, according to my Buddhist training we all owe them a great debt for bringing us into the world, for this life is a precious gift. Regardless of whether you consider yourself a Buddhist, a Christian, an atheist or whatnot, I believe it’s a valuable point to reflect on.
In this lifetime with all our remarkable human faculties, we have the chance to learn, and to navigate our way through challenges and obstacles that sometimes seem insurmountable but may also end up showing us the depths of our own strength. Given time, we have the potential to develop wisdom. And we have the innate capacity to both give and receive love.
According my Buddhist training, we also have the capacity to cultivate the qualities of spiritual realisation, or enlightenment. One such quality is loving-kindness that knows no bounds. In the ancient language of Pali (the language the Buddha’s teachings were first recorded in), it’s called metta. Within his discourse on metta, the Buddha said:
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
— From the Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness (Sn 1.8), translation by The Amaravati Sangha, Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 2 November 2013. You can read the full text here.
To develop a heart that loves all beings immeasurably and without discrimination might sound impossible. But according to the Buddha, it’s ultimately achievable for any of us. Whether you’re a man or a woman, regardless of your sexuality, the colour of your skin, your nationality, ethnicity or political leanings, whether you’re a CEO or a janitor, whether you’re a biological parent or not, you can start cultivating the heart that loves all beings the way a mother loves her child.
That is the great potential of your life. That’s what makes it so precious. And it is both the potential and preciousness of the lives of the others, too.
Coming to the realisation that this is the potential of my own life has been quite a journey, and was the inspiration for A Spacious Life.
Of course, I can’t give you a road map for developing this level of loving-kindness within the context of your own life. In the tradition I follow we have great teachers for that, and I’m still a work in progress myself. But we can all start by working on our mindfulness, learning to be more present in order to see the world around us with clearer eyes, untainted by our relentless judgements and emotional projections. In my experience, when you learn to settle your mind, it creates space for the innate wisdom of the heart to shine through brighter than it had before.
With this in mind, I dedicate today’s post to all the mothers out there, past, present and future. I dedicate it to my mother who has sacrificed a great deal to give me this precious life, continues to nurture me even in adulthood and supports my aspiration to live with meaning and fulfilment. And I dedicate it to all you great ones who aspire to cultivate the loving heart of a mother towards all our fellow beings too.
With metta, Narissa
Narissa Doumani, author of A Spacious Life: Memoir of a Meditator
live mindfully ~ love openly
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