by Hojun Laura Jackson, New York City
On a recent trip to California, I witnessed my 3-year-old nephew Dylan launch a spectacular tantrum at a kiddy carnival following my brother’s failure to win him a goldfish. Nothing mattered more than going home with that fish. His meticulously painted lion’s face melted into streams of yellow, orange and black. The desperate cries of deep emotional agony were heartbreaking.
My internal response was and remains, “Geez, am I glad I never had kids.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m madly in love with Dylan. And immensely grateful to be his aunt…not his mother.
I’ve often wondered why so many women have a driving urge to make a baby, while others, like myself, have none. Then the insight hit…samsara.
Could it be that the cycle of birth and death is nothing more than the cycle of birth and death? I’m born, I grow up, I get pregnant, I give birth, I care for my children, I die…repeat, ad infinitum. Could reincarnation simply be the passing down of customs, behavior, and beliefs to this entirely new being, along with a unique and complex DNA imprint of all the karma of his or her previous lives, meaning the lives of his or her mother, father and ancestors all the way back.
Yes! It makes perfect sense. The concept of reincarnation has never resonated with me, and I know I’m not alone. It has always seemed a bit like the Christian concept of heaven and hell, a myth created for folks unable to face the thought of non-existence.
And now when I look at Dylan, I see a near carbon copy of my brother at three. I was nine. I remember. My brother’s reincarnated self is right here, being raised by his previous incarnation, happily diluted by the DNA of my sister-in-law and her long chain of ancestors.
It’s ALL happening in the eternal now. Everyone’s karma continually flowing and combining with everyone else’s karma in a continuum that always and forever exists in this very moment. Can you see that? Even a glimpse has the power to activate a spontaneous explosion of bliss. Ahhh.
So what explains my lack of maternal instinct on this continuum? Why was I always more interested in Barbie dolls than baby dolls? Could it be that my karma doesn’t require a rebirth? Has my spoke on the wheel of samsara played itself out? Am I done?
Well, uhh, yeah. It looks like I’m done. And again, I’m not alone. I have dozens of friends and relatives, both male and female who by choice or circumstance will be exiting the wheel of samsara. Kind of like pruning a branch on the ancestral tree.
With world population accelerating, jobs dwindling, environmental devastation and wild habitats disappearing, can we really hold on to the tired, old assumption that one needs to have children in order to be fulfilled and/or taken care of in old age? I’m not suggesting that having children is a bad thing, but it is time to awaken our collective consciousness around it.
Stop and think about it. Every child born generates an enormous carbon footprint, especially in developed countries. Opting not to have children, having less or adopting will do more for the environment than any manner of upgrading light bulbs, recycling, lowering thermostats, et al combined.
So what do I do with the luxury of all this time not spent raising a reincarnation of myself? As a Buddhist, the choice is obvious. To cultivate bodhicitta – the mind that strives toward awakening and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings.
I’m certainly not interested in dedicating this one precious life to attaining material wealth or social status or notoriety. I dropped most of that many butt-on-cushion sits ago. The impulse to attain more than I’ve already been blessed with still lingers, but it’s more an old habit than a real desire.
My purpose for being here is to find the way back to original nature. Buddha nature. Non-duality. Self realization. All else is just a series of trivial pursuits inside of an immensely seductive dream.
I’m heading back to California in a few weeks to hold Dylan’s hand as he dives deeper into the suffering that comes with his developing sense of a separate self. And my prayer is not that he someday produce offspring so I can enjoy being a great aunt in my old age. My prayer is that he someday realize he is the goldfish.
Hojun Laura Jackson is a member of Shambhala Meditation Center of New York, New York Zendo Shobo-ji, and co-founder of North Fork Buddhists on the East End of Long Island. She has traveled extensively, including pilgrimages to Buddhist sites in Japan, India and Thailand. She is an advocate for conscious procreation and is in the process of forming an organization that provides mentoring to people struggling with the decision of whether or not to have children.