The Grace of Parents and Other People



The past few dharma talks were based on this idea, a quote form Daesan a Buddhist teacher,

“ There is a reason why we have two eyes. One is for looking inward and observing our mind, and the other is for looking outward and finding Grace.”

In some ways, these simple lines are a lot of what we do here in our fellowship.

I want to pick up from where were last week – and to put today’s talk into context I want to share again the Four Graces of Won Buddhism again they are,

“The first is the grace of heaven and earth, or of the universe and nature. The second is the grace of our parents, who gave birth to us and nurtured us but not only our biological parents but “parents” in the sense of all the people in our lives who educated us and helped us survive, natured us. The third is the grace of fellow beings, because without them, how would we do anything at all? And the fourth is the grace of law, which means the laws of the dharma as well as secular laws.”

Last week we talked about the first grace – heaven and earth – the universe and nature and this week we are going to talk about the second grace, that of our parents that gave birth to us and nurtured us also to our other parents, teachers, grandparents, uncles, mentors – etc – and briefly the third grace that of other people. Which talked some about during our the last gathering,

The grace of our parents,
The grace of our parents.
I know for some of us this can be a hard one –

If you would have asked me if I was grateful to my parents, let’s say 10 years ago. I would have looked like a deer caught in the headlight.  This can be one of the hardest – that is why in Naikan reflection we begin with our mother and then our father etc. –

So much of the stories we carry and retell ourselves, those that create our reality come from this time of our lives. As I have gotten older, I have been able to look back with much more compassion for my parents, their parents and even the deep wounding that we have shared. Working with gratitude toward even problematic parents can go a long way toward healing and awakening to our inherent oneness.

For those who suffered trauma at the hands of your parents – much Metta to you and your journey – this practice is not to diminish or ignore the great suffering –for the parent that wounded us we can be grateful for one thing that this is our human life itself.

When we talk about the grace of our biological parents, the first thing we are talking about, from the Buddhist perspective,  is giving us human life – the Buddha taught us, that having a life is a precious and rare thing –

There is a classic story about this rarity in the Pali Canon, the ancient text recording his teachings:

The Buddha was speaking to a group of monks. He said, “Monks, suppose that this great earth were covered with water and a man were to toss a yoke with a single hole into the water. A wind from the West would push it East; a wind from the East would push it West; a wind from the North would push it South; a wind from the South would push it North. And suppose a blind sea turtle were there. It would come to the surface only once every 100 years. Now what do you suppose the chances would be that a blind turtle, coming once to the surface every 100 years, would stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole?” And the monks answered, “It would be very unusual, Sir, that a blind turtle coming to the surface once every hundred years would stick his neck into the yoke.”

And the Buddha replied, “And just so, it is very, very rare that one attains the human state.”

The first grace is our very existence. – I mean if you think of it, and we have talked about this before. What a miracle it is that you even exist – your parent and their parents and on and on in our generations – this is a gift and for those who are more secular-minded – one that was utterly unmerited – that is the first grace of our parents, that they gave us a physical body.  How many of us have said thank you for that? I had never done that before – though I have done the opposite many times, complaining about my looks, my height (not tall enough), my weight (not thin enough), my nose (my mother’s), my teeth (my father’s) and our families propensity to heart disease – thanks a lot family!

To acknowledge this grace, we can thank the body given to us, by all of our ancestors.

Bodhipaksa, a Theravadan teacher suggests that we cultivate gratitude for our bodies. He teaches that we can notice that our bodies are whole, and basically functioning, that our heart is beating. We can say out loud “Thank you.” We notice our breath, our lungs are breathing in the air: “Thank you.”

What about when we are not feeling good. Yes, even if there is an illness present w can know that our bodies have the resources to heal itself, and I say to our bodies, “Thank you.” Even if a part of my body is in pain, We focus on the fact that it’s still functioning. If it is our back that hurts we can remind ourselves that our backs are basically functioning well: and keeping me mostly upright, allowing me to move around, and protecting the spinal cord. So I say, “Thank you.”

Now we want to continue looking outward and find grace. – Before we can cultivate a greater gratitude for our parents, first we want to see all of our parents in a broader perspective – During our retreat last year and again this year we practice the Five Earth Touchings as taught by Thich Nhat Hahn – some of the words in the practice are these

In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my blood family.

I see my mother and father, whose blood, flesh and vitality are circulating in my own veins and nourishing every cell in me. Through them, I see my four grandparents. Their expectations, experiences, and wisdom have been transmitted by so many generations of ancestors. I carry in me the life, blood, experience, wisdom, happiness, and sorrow of all generations. The suffering and all the elements that need to be transformed, I am practicing to transform. I open my heart, flesh, and bones to receive the energy of insight, love, and experience transmitted to me by all my ancestors. I see my roots in my father, mother, grandfathers, grandmothers, and all my ancestors. I know I am only the continuation of this ancestral lineage. Please support, protect, and transmit to me your energy.

I appreciate he that Thay acknowledged the reality of many of our familial experiences “I carry in me the …the sorry of all generations.” – I wish I could have been farther along in my practice when my mother was alive – to sit with her – not as my mother but as the 15-year-old girl afraid falling asleep alone that first night it the Catholic Reform School for Girls.

For me, this kind of practice – connects me to my larger family; my ancestral family. It reminds me that my father is in me and I am in him, the skillful and unskill parts of him. My mother may be dead, but she is alive in me – for my mother and I reconciliation was not possible in life, but that does not stop with her death, we are reconciling a little more each day, because she is alive in me right now and in many ways speaks to you through me.

I love this prayer that Thay has writing along this same line –

I am aware that my father is fully present in every cell of my body.
I invite my father to breathe in with me. Breathe out with me.
I would like to invite my father in me to sit with my back – this is my back, but it is also his back.
Father and son. Father and daughter. Breathing together.

Breathing in, I feel so light. Breathing out, I feel so free.
Daddy, do you feel as light as I do? Do you feel as free as I do?

I know that my mother is fully present in every cell of my body.
I invite my mother to breathe with my lungs, to sit with my back.
This is my back, but it is also hers.
Mother and son breathing in together. Mother and daughter breathing in together.
Mother and son breathing out together. Mother and daughter breathing out together.

Breathing in, I feel so light.
Mother, do you feel as light as I do?

Breathing out, I feel so free.
Mother, do you feel as free as I do?

The first step In Naikan, the practitioner, lists everything that his or her mother ever did for him or her. At first, this can be really challenging because as one practitioner related, my mother never gave me anything – she was drunk all the time. Or like I did with my father, anything he gave me I discounted because he only did it because he felt guilty – In Naikan reflection, motivation is not considered – our story of our parents or the “why” for anything that was given is disregarded – it is what was given, as simple as making me breakfast, washed my clothes, etc. Even a drunk mother can fix a bowl of cereal. In Naikan reflection this counts.

This is where Naikan reflection is different – I found that there is such a thing as gratitude theory in philosophy – in that motivation is important. But not in Naikan -and this stripping away of motivation is essential because at best it is a second-hand memory narrative that we have constructed – it is hard to realize that memory is powerful and resonant at the same time it is not a videotaped playback of our lives.

We then move into the other two questions of Naikan to put things in perspective. – When we look at what we have returned and the problems we have caused the other, we become freed from our one-sided and often inaccurate narrative; Gratitude is born out of the realization of how much is given, up until now we have not been able to see the abundance. The small egoic-self’s constant craving and its relentless state of perceived scarcity is finally permeated by the reality of so much grace; by a new understanding of the oneness of life. This is only magnified when we realize that a similar grace surrounds us because of the many others that support us.

In our previous dharma talk, we discussed the third grace, the grace of other people when I shared these lines from Gyomay Kubose Sensei,

“We do not understand that we are literally able to live and enjoy life only because of other people and things. If one really understands this truth, he cannot help but become humble and appreciate others.”

And also these from Ryuichi Fuji

The universe is a harmonious activity of all things. Nothing can be without all others. All is in one and one in all.

Everything, no matter how small it may be, is as real as everything else. The ultimate goal of each being is to realize the meaning of the oneness of all things, thus identifying self with all others.

We may all see one another in one and see the grace that attends, the gifts that abound from the earth, from our parents, our fellow beings!

Next week we celebrate Dharma Day.  Officially it is on Friday, but we will celebrate as a Sangha on Sunday – it is the celebration of the teaching, the insight first being shared with the world by the Buddha. How appropriate that is the last of the Four Graces, The Grace of the Dharma-


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