Monday, April 15, 2013

In Tribute to Mother Beings

by Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni

Compassion From the Heart of Mother Southard
via seescapes.com
To those who are mothers themselves; to the mothers of all of us—to whom we owe our lives, and to the loving mother within you—within all of us.

If we share more than fifty percent of our DNA with carrots, imagine how much all of us of every gender share the kamma or the capacity for loving mothering!

During our last year's “Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering,” an eminent psychologist gave a presentation on “Spiritual Bypassing.” In his introductory lecture, he mentioned that at the heart of all religious and spiritual practices, we share the anxiety of our incarnation as beings that grew in the exquisitely nourished and protected environment of the womb and were then expelled from this primal, genitive Eden. And then feeling the agony of separation, a feeling attenuated by the mother’s holding, that mutual beholding in enraptured loving attention when child and mother gaze into each other's eyes. Then that changes. He said that our whole lives and our spiritual journeys are then based upon and centered in that love, that separation, and then the finding within ourselves and our later relationships (including our relationships with ourselves) that reunion, or relegare. Relagare is Latin for religion—that is, reunion.

Nursing by Alex Grey
I spoke in marvel at that time of the power of metta. In the chant from the Karaniya Metta Sutta, the Buddha explicitly invokes the example of a mother's love for her only child. This memory is invoked and activated in us, and then we allow this activated metta to thoroughly pervade our bodies and minds. The feelings and perceptions of being known and held in love begin to spread outwards—outwards from our skin, our pores, our body, our heart center— up to the top of our heads: above, below, around, and everywhere, to all as to myself—unbounded, expanded, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, without ill will (Four Boundless Qualities). Our whole nervous system repolarizes; our cells rejoice in the bath of metta; our brains light up and radiance fills our bodies; the energy field around us shifts, brightens, becomes a dancing, radiating rainbow of liquid gold; our world is illuminated. "This is said to be the divine abiding." Not only are we to do this once, but again and again, "whether standing or walking, seated or lying down" as multiple dimensions of the interrelationships of our being are illuminated and defragmented.

When we become so concentrated, we enter samadhi—the final fold of the Noble Eightfold Path—the pathfold that links directly back into and serves as the primary supportive condition for insight, the arising of wisdom and right view. This is samadhi, a unified experience, an experience of reunion—the reunion of all of our faculties that have been fractured, fragmented, dispersed—all coming back together again in harmony with one another. All of the energies of our bodies, our hearts, our minds come together—unified as an exalted experience, leading to deeper and deeper states of consciousness.

This experience is part and parcel of our humanity—our heritage in having come to birth as a womb-born human being—an experience that cannot be copyrighted by any religious or non-religious tradition, but was much exemplified and encouraged by the Buddha who gave precise and detailed instruction on its cultivation, its development, and its practice. Furthermore, he included this experience as eighth in the Noble Eightfold Path, as one-third of the threefold training, as one essential factor in the wings to awakening, or bodhi bojjhangas. This experience is strong in the Buddha's teaching—and he describes it as "the ancient path, rediscovered . . . to be seen and known for themselves by the wise."

In Sri Lankan Buddhism, the Buddha is sung of in poetic verse as the Budu Amma, the Buddha Mother. Through numerous similes in these verses the compassion of the Buddha is compared to that of a mother. In the Gotami Apadana of the Khuddhaka Nikaya, the Buddha’s own foster mother, shortly before her parinibbana, said that she nourished and raised the Buddha on mother's milk for which he called her mother and she called him son. And, as he nourished and raised her on the milk of Dhamma, she called him both mother and father (see Walter's "A Voice From the Silence: The Buddha's Mother's Story"). The Buddha praised his two foremost male disciples, Theras Sariputta and Mahamoggalana as most excellent in their teamwork through being like both a mother and a wet nurse in caring for, nurturing, and raising up those who were newly born in the holy life, those who were entering into the monastic Sangha (see Nyanaponika and Hecker's Great Disciples of the Buddha). Venerables Sariputta and Mahamoggalana were examples of men who had transcended classical gendered male roles and activated their full potential as wise, loving, compassionate, present beings of responsive awareness. The foremost female disciples of the Buddha, Khema and Uppalavanna, were similarly praised by the Buddha in their leading care for the Sangha, as well as for their wisdom and power.

The disciple praised as foremost in metta, however, was not one of the Buddha's male or female monastic disciples, but a laywoman. And the two of the Buddha's great disciples who were praised as foremost in union were a laywoman and layman couple—the mother and father of Nakula.

Women were proactively included, as were men. Monastics were proactively included, as were lay disciples. Single disciples were proactively included, as were those acting and living in partnership. The Buddha asked us to remember all of them in our practice of Recollection of the Sangha as great examples of metta in action, of liberated and liberating awareness, and of a harmonious and unified "in tune" samajiva, a relational embodiment.

We understand through modern neurobiology that even the memory or imagination of such inspiring examples can have a profound impact on our bodies and brains—on our immune systems and health, on our experience of happiness and well being, and even on the quotients of our worldly success—on the loveliness of our experience of abiding with ease within ourselves and with others, not to mention the impact that such inspiration can have on our own path of awakening wisdom and becoming free. Indeed, this inspiration can turn on the light of the spirals of genetic codes within us, which holds amazing potential, just waiting to be touched, to be called forth into life, into action.

To all those saintly, nonhuman and very human mother beings of any and every gender—my tribute.
To all those on the Path who are doing so, and who will do so—my tribute.

To the Buddha and all those who have become buddha in his wake
To those of his great disciples—my tribute.
To awakening itself, its factors, its folds, and its training—my tribute.

And to those who find the Way themselves by their own merit and this very special capacity of being human—my tribute.

To each one of us,
and to all Mother Beings,

May you have all the best that this Way has to offer
May you truly know the blessings of being born human.

With Heart of Metta,
Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni

~ for the love of all beings ~
Polar Bear’s Gallery” by National Geographic
Mental-leaping polar bear image—
thanks to the gift of my own mother, with love

This article has been reposted with permission from Dhammadharini.

Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni

Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni is an American-born member of the Buddhist Monastic Sangha with a background in Zen and Theravadan Buddhism. Venerable Tathaaloka began her journey into monastic life nearly twenty-five years ago, and was granted full bhikkhuni ordination by an multi-ethnic gathering of the Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni Sanghas in Southern California in early 1997. In 2005 she co-founded Dhammadharini, "Women Upholding the Dhamma" and the first Theravada Buddhist women's monastery in the Western United States here in the San Francisco East Bay. Following in the late Ayya Khema's footsteps, in 2009 Ayya Tathaaloka became the second Western woman to be appointed a preceptor in Theravada Buddhism. She has been active in training and fully ordaining women ever since. Inspired by the Forest Traditions in Buddhism, for the past five years she has concurrently been involved in founding a rustic off-the-grid women's monastic place of practice in the forest of the Sonoma Coast named Aranya Bodhi: Awakening Forest Hermitage, while sharing her time with the hermitage's "in the Bay" annexes in Fremont: the Bodhi House and now the Peace Pagoda. To learn more about Ven. Tathaaloka's visit her website

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