Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
by Laura Gow, New Zealand
I am the youngest of three children. There are four years between me and my sister, and my brother is five years older. As a child, I was desperate to be just like my brother and sister and would get incredibly frustrated when I couldn’t be. I felt like I had to do big and amazing things to make up for the age gap. There were times I would do things just to shock others or behave like a youngest child often does—badly.
On Boxing Day, about five years ago, my sister and I had a big disagreement and my parents took her side. I was gutted and deep in my heart felt totally wronged. This incident forced me to take a step back and look critically at my relationships with my family and the roles that each of us played. This turned out to be a long and hard process. I looked back on my life and tried to make sense of why I behaved the way I did around family and why they behaved the way they did around me. Fortunately for me, eight months into this process I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
Meanwhile, life carried on and I was trying to be the best mother I could be to my two wonderful young daughters. As I struggled with the daily pressures of bringing them up, my own childhood and upbringing became somehow magnified. I was trying to work through all this family stuff and I fell into the trap of blaming my mother for all my problems. If only she had shown her love for me the way I needed her to. If only she had treated me the same as my brother and sister. If only she would stop criticizing the way I do things . . . too many if onlys.
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda has said:
It is a human tendency to blame others before reflecting on oneself. But if you do, you will never discover the real cause of the problem, and there will be no real improvement.
related article My Life is My Greatest Treasure by Fern Brown, Canada Fern Brown describes how her Buddhist practice has helped her to come to terms with an unhappy childhood and become a stronger person and a campaigner for pedestrian rights. As I continued blaming my mother, my relationship with her got worse. I found myself focusing on negative things only. It got to the point where I found it difficult to act nicely toward her. I was so angry! I stopped phoning and we would only speak when she rang me. I would only visit when I had to and my stomach would be tied in knots of anxiety about how it would go.
I must have been so hard to be around, always defensive and critical. At the time, I thought it was all my mother’s fault, yet she was just reflecting back my own anger, blame and resentment.
However, I was chanting and quietly my inner state of life was changing. There were small breakthroughs happening all the time. My anger was starting to become less frequent. My mother even bought me a book on Buddhism! I kept coming across quotes and guidance from President Ikeda about how important it is to treasure our parents. The more I chanted, the more my heart felt uncomfortable. How could I call myself a Buddhist when I was failing so badly in this key relationship? As I chanted more about it, I began to realize that I was the one responsible for how bad things had become.
At the beginning of 2012, I decided to really challenge and change this situation with my Buddhist practice. I wanted my mother and I to enjoy each other’s company again and, most importantly, I wanted to be able to be myself around her and accept her for who she is. I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to be the best daughter I could be.
Old feelings kept resurfacing unexpectedly. I was torn between old patterns of blame and my new awareness of the situation. Things seemed to get worse. On top of it all, I was having challenging moments with my mother-in-law as well!
related article Buddhism in Cuba by Joannet Delgado, general director, SGI-Cuba Joannet Delgado, general director of SGI-Cuba, shares her journey of discovering Nichiren Buddhism and how it took root in her country. I got some advice from a women’s leader. She suggested that I chant to be grateful to my mother. My immediate response was “Be grateful?!” “How could I be grateful when she did this and that?”
“Yes,” she said. “Be grateful. And if you can’t find anything to be grateful for right now, chant to be grateful that she gave birth to you because without her you wouldn’t be here.”
So that’s what I did. I chanted to be grateful to my mother for giving birth to me. It was difficult at first but I found that the more I chanted the easier it became. Not only that, I started to discover other things about her that I was grateful for. She helped me to become the person I am today. She let me have a multitude of pets as a girl: a pony, fawns, ducklings, a dog and a cat. She has always supported the decisions I’ve made throughout my life. Gradually, my outlook shifted from one of criticism and resentment to one of gratitude, understanding and compassion. Then our relationship really started to change.
First, I asked Mum to look after the girls so I could attend an SGINZ course. I focused on being really grateful for her help and, of course, she was wonderful. A couple of months later, Mum had a knee operation and I offered to visit a couple of times a week to help her with cleaning, meals and other such things. It was a pleasure to spend time with her and it felt good to be helping. By the end of the year, things had improved to the point that I was able to experience Christmas without any anxiety for the first time in years.
My relationship with my mother continues to improve. Interestingly, it has turned out to be totally different from what I thought I needed it to be, yet it is more genuine now because I feel that I can be myself and I love her for who she is. I have noticed significant changes in my relationships with my sister and mother-in-law as well. The ripple effect has been phenomenal!
No one is more wonderful than a mother. And there is nothing more noble than a mother’s heart.
I know that the only reason I have been able to change and rediscover a friendship with my mother is because of my Buddhist practice. I am especially grateful for this.
I’d like to share this quote from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda:
No one is more wonderful than a mother. And there is nothing more noble than a mother’s heart. I hope you all treasure your mothers. Truly praiseworthy are those who have a sense of gratitude and appreciation toward their parents.
[Adapted from the March 2013 issue of Focus, SGINZ; photos courtesy of SGINZ]
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