Today is Mothering Sunday, a day where gratitude and love is lavished upon mums up and down the country, and on other dates, across our entire globe. If we put aside the commercial drive of the day, it is quite incredible to think that we have collectively decided as a species to dedicate an entire day just to celebrate our mothers. It speaks volumes about the importance we bestow on our mothers and just how deep and powerful that connection is.
I wanted to take some time on my own Mothering Sunday to write about the kindness of mothers from a Buddhist perspective, and how that love and connection can positively touch our lives and inspire our spiritual practice of compassion.
The first thing I would like to contemplate is just how kind our mothers are. Can we imagine a life without our mothers? Absolutely not, because without our mothers our very own existence is extinguished. Our mothers (alongside our fathers) created us and without them we wouldn’t be alive in this world, we would simply not be here. Even those amongst us who have difficult relationships with their mothers, can be thankful for their own existence. Not only that, but our mothers were kind enough to allow us to live and grow inside their own bodies for nine months, they showered us with nutrients that enabled us to grow. Can we imagine loving a person we have never before met? This is what mothers do, they care and provide for the unknown, a mother loves her child long before they have ever even set eyes on them. Our mothers endure huge amounts of pain and physical discomfort to grow us and bring us into this world, and this is only the beginning. As tiny babies we leave our mothers sleep deprived and exhausted, as toddlers we test their patience with broken ornaments and monumental tantrums, as teenagers we purposely hurt them with words filled with anger and selfishness. And yet through all this, our mother loves us, unwavered. At times our mothers may even hurt themselves to provide for us and protect us, out of pure untainted kindness they may put their own wishes and hopes on hold to ensure we have all our own personal and material needs met. If there were to be a house fire, the fierceness of a mothers love is powerful enough to send them into the building to rescue their baby, an act of strength and bravery spurred on by a love deep enough they would risk their own life to save the life of another human. And so we can see that throughout our lives our mothers are extraordinarily kind, and our first example of someone who not only views another living being as more important than themselves, but also someone who puts the happiness of another person before their own.
Mothering Sunday is our way of thanking our mothers for all they do for us, and in this way we are practicing compassion without realising just how profound it is. We dedicate the whole day to the happiness of another person, we recognise that our mothers happiness is important and we go above and beyond to provide that happiness for her. Not only are we fulfilling another persons wishes, but we feel good about it. This is a perfect example of realising that other peoples happiness matters, that we alone are not the only ones deserving of happiness. As humans we have a (possibly natural, possibly spurred on by society) tendancy to spontaneously believe that our own wishes are more important than the wishes of others. We shouldn’t feel ashamed to admit this, in fact realising this and recognising it is a wonderful practice to begin, and when paired with a little wisdom it works wonders for our mind of jealousy. As we treat our mothers on this special day, we can keep hold of the feeling it brings us and remember that the happiness of others is important.
The love of mothers is clear to see even in the animal realm. We can watch nature programmes and see a baby monkey clinging to its mother as she carries them away from predators, and giraffes nudging their calves as they encourage them to stand. Even animals such as snakes that birth their eggs and appear to abandon them, have kindly grown them in their womb, endured painful birth and found a safe place for their babies to hatch. The difference with animals is that they lack the wisdom of humans, they are unable to consciously develop compassion. They have little or no knowledge of the importance of their existence, they are unable to practice on a wider spiritual level and they are therefore limited to the basic, natural compassion gifted to them. It is when contemplating this that we can realise just how meaningful our human lives are, how lucky we are to not only be able to thank and care for our mothers as they have cared for and nurtured us, but also to have the opportunity to cultivate our compassion on a wider scale.
Buddhist theory around life after death – in a quick simplified nutshell – is that our mind and body are separate; our body is material and deteriotates like a water bubble, whereas our mind is a clear, formless continuum with no beginning and no end. After death come results of passed lives karma, and we are once again reborn into another body. As a result, we have lived countless lives and we will live countless more, until we achieve a pure Buddha mind free from ‘delusions’ of jealousy, anger, hatred and attachment when we will be reborn as a Buddha in the pure land. Whatever our initial thoughts on this belief (which of course is no stranger logically than the belief that we grow wings and sit on a cloud) we can explore the idea and contemplate it. This notion of rebirth and countless previous lives means that we have all at some point, from beginningless time, been ants, birds, cats, koalas, previous humans… and we have all at one moment in time been each others mothers. Therefore in Buddhism, we refer to other humans as ‘all our kind mothers’ (mentally of course, not literally to a stranger in a supermarket…) Whether or not we choose to agree that this is the ultimate truth in the life after death mystery, we can all agree that if we viewed every person we met as our kind and loving mother, then we would care for each other and all living beings with greater compassion and patience than we witness currently in this world. It is both a logical and peaceful view to hold.
Our mothers also teach us that we have limitless pockets of love. When a mother has one child they love them endlessly, yet if they have ten more children, the love for each one never diminishes, it simply grows. Love never wears thin no matter how far it is stretched, it is the fabric of life that comes on an endless roll. We can take our mothers kind example on board and realise that there is always room in our lives to love more and more people… Buddha himself set the ultimate example by loving all living beings without exception.
This is my third mothers day as a mother. The first I was growing my little snowflake baby in my womb, loving him long before we met. The second I was empty in both arms and womb, heartbroken by my loss and spending my days trying desperately to feel like a mother. Today I have empty arms still, and a little life blossoming inside me once more. Today I have cried a flood, my wish to kiss my son is the greatest wish I have on this special day, but it is out of reach and an opportunity I will sadly never be gifted again. Although I can’t see him or hold him, I can feel him and honour him, and I am lucky enough to be able to physically thank my own mother for her love. Today there are many mothers without their children, and their are many children without their mothers. We are living proof that love doesn’t cease after death, and a gentle reminder to not only hold close those who you love, but to take example from our own mothers and grow the kindness and compassion they planted in us from the very day our existence began.
Happy Mother Day to all my kind mothers x