Raising Our Children, Sharing Our World
By the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Exclusive to the Shambhala Times, courtesy of Lady Diana Mukpo
I have been the father of my own personal, physical children. I have also been the psychological father of many semi-grownup children, and I have been the father of a larger vision, of how our world can actually give birth at all. I feel that I have the authority and the experience to express myself about all of these levels of fatherhood, although I still feel humble, nevertheless.
To begin with, I would like to correct a problem in our language. When we refer to our offspring, we should refer to them as children rather than kids. Calling our children “kids” is like referring to others as “you guys.” It has a somewhat lighthearted connotation, but at the same time we sound embarrassed.
There are so many demands put on parents. In the Buddhist community, there is a demand on you to practice meditation and you have social obligations of all kinds, such as volunteer work and sharing other responsibilities within the community. On top of that, you have your job, you have your relationship with your partner—a husband or wife who might be quite a handful—and on top of that you have your children, who may be absolute handfuls to handle. So you might begin to feel that you are going to explode. You try to use every finger, let alone both hands, to help you maintain everything at once. Keeping up your daily schedule of meditation practice becomes impossible. And then, on top of that, you also have to look after your economy. There seems to be no time left to press your shirts or dress properly or clean your house. All sorts of demands are made on you. Partly because of your personal commitment to practice and partly because of other social commitments, all sorts of demands bounce back on you, so that you find your life completely full, absolutely full. We don’t even have time to change a diaper, let alone change the oil in your car. But at the same time, those things are necessary. We have to make time for the most basic things in life, in order to make things valid.
When you are finally able to send your children to the babysitter or to school, at least part of your life seems to be taken care of, organized and worked on. But I should warn you about regarding your children only as sources of disturbance and disorder in your life. When you want to hear a certain lecture, go to some public function, or for that matter have an affair or spend time with your wife or your husband, there is often a tendency to want to park your children somewhere. You love them, of course, but nevertheless the mentality of regarding them as some kind of temporary nuisance comes up.
You would like to become a free person once more—for twenty-four hours or a few hours. You would like your freedom for even ten minutes—and so you provide your children with bottles and pacifiers to keep them occupied. In England, they call their pacifiers dummies, which should tell us something. I find that a very insulting attitude towards your own body and flesh—which are your children. Because you are having a very important discussion, you remove the kids from the room. You feed them somewhere else and put them to bed early. I’m not particularly saying that you should be on duty with your children twenty-four hours a day or that you should feel heroic and warriorlike in dealing with your children. But parking your children away somewhere or not even being able to find the time to clean them up is not so good.
On the one hand, there’s a problem with sending your children to school to get rid of them so you can have some free time. On the other hand, practically speaking, in order to have time for anything else in your life, you need a school or some other situation for your children. However, there is a very thin, hairline’s difference between having a convenience mentality towards caregivers as opposed to having dedication to one’s child.
The main point I’m concerned with is that we should not transmit any sense of rejection to our children. Whenever we feel that the children are nuisances, that’s because we are being the nuisance rather than our children. School should not be regarded as a place where you make a deposit, like a bank. You check your child in and get your serial number. When you finish your business, you can come back with your serial number and retrieve your child. Sending your children to school is not like checking your coat at a restaurant.
We are actually building a Buddhist world so that our children can grow up in an atmosphere that is right and good. It’s revolutionary and represents a fantastic vision that we are trying to build such a world. We would like to bring up our children in a situation in which parents, teachers, caretakers and even administrators are all working together, joining forces to upgrade the early growth of our young ladies and gentlemen—which is fantastic.
I personally decided not to put my child into a school that was very sloppy. I didn’t have any resentment of the caretakers, but I felt that the atmosphere was not good. It seemed that many of the children were parked there like little cars, and I didn’t want to park my child in the parking lot. It was sloppy, dirty and casual, and without an appreciation of basic dignity. If there’s basic vision, then I would include my child in that situation with delight.
It might be very convenient to have your children in a preschool of some sort, but school should be an expression of our dedication and our actual understanding so that our children can evolve there, so that we can actually build them up. Our children can learn how to eat, how to handle things, and for that matter how to roll around on the ground and how to relate with other children. Basically, we need to learn how to bring up all of our children as statesmen, royalty almost. In our world we don’t have a prescribed royalty as such. However, everybody who learns to handle themselves and to relate with reality fully and properly and with dignity comes through that experience with confidence—which is the equivalent of royalty in this case.
Through applying Shambhala vision to how we raise our children, we develop mutual confidence, so that our children are not regarded as under-developed apes but as embryonic beings, who have the seed of being fully developed within them. As Buddhists, we say that people inherit their own Buddha nature. In dealing with their children, sometimes people forget this. Because young children can’t eat, get dressed, change their diapers or walk without help, we regard them as subhuman beings. That would be called setting-sun vision. Setting-sun people do not believe in the Buddhist vision of Buddha nature. They think that human beings are basically apes and their approach to survival is based on the fear of death. Really being alive and actually performing properly in a real world is what we call Great Eastern Sun vision. It is very important to take that attitude towards raising our children. We have to understand that raising our children is actually upgrading basic human existence. The world of the Great Eastern Sun upgrades itself by itself. Sophistication, confidence, dignity, power, sanity and practice all build up tremendously if we work together and have the right attitude. We don’t want to leave our children behind, obviously.
All sorts of nuisances may take place, but they are not setbacks. They are part of the journey. Although the tires on our vehicle might be punctured and our transmission might need to be replaced, we keep going. We continue on our journey. In fact, having children provides a tremendous connection with the real world and also with the dharmic world and the vajra world, if I may say so. I found that out myself. At the beginning of my journey, I felt: “I am a mendicant monk. How fantastic. How free!” Then I began to fall in love and I thought, “Maybe I can just fall in love and be with my wife. How clean cut.” But when I first heard a San Francisco doctor say, “Congratulations. The test is positive,” I didn’t know what to say. I felt that I’d been pulled down, made into a part of the world, that the ship had dropped its anchor. Throughout the pregnancy, I was constantly suspicious.
But when my child was born, I realized that there could be no obstacles between my wife and myself. In fact, having a child opened a new avenue of relating with the Great Eastern Sun. It’s a perpetually shiny and fantastic sun—although at some point I was hoping that it would be a daughter. It is a fantastic feeling to be a father and an originator of another clan, a further extension of my particular mission, which is to propagate the vajra world and the Shambhala world. It actually works, and it feels very good.
We should have some sense of delight in having children. We can actually open our world to them, whether they are large or small, ten years old or two weeks or even one day old. The Buddhist world is a real, genuine and powerful world. Some day, I hope that a Buddhist-inspired educational system can be presented, where children can actually learn to sit and practice. Some kind of early training and discipline are very much called for. It’s not so much that we are trying to turn our children into Buddhists or Christians or anything else. But we are trying to share the world with them, which is a good world.
We might face all sorts of obstacles, but we can work with them one by one. When one baby needs a diaper changed, we do that. Another one might have diarrhea but we can work with that too, step by step. It’s not so difficult. I’ve been changing a lot of diapers, for people young and old. I’ve been breast feeding a lot of people, as well as bottle feeding some of them. I myself have acted simultaneously as both father and mother. I appreciate how it feels. There is a lot to do, but the whole thing is wonderful.
Based on the Opening Talk to Alaya Preschool
March 10, 1978
Edited by Carolyn Gimian
Copyright 2009, Diana J. Mukpo
Unless noted otherwise, photographer unknown.
All photos courtesy of the Shambhala Archives.