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Exiting Samsara

Dylan & Hojun

Dylan & Hojun

One Perspective on Having Children

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.

~~
Laura JacksonHojun 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.

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6 responses to “ Exiting Samsara ”
  1. Jay Lippman
    Jan 25, 2015
    Reply

    Hi Hojun,
    Some nice thoughts in this article, but you are completely wrong about karma. Keep in mind that since the time of the Buddha, among all the many thousands of great masters up until today, not one of them has ever said that the Buddhist teachings on karma are not true. You certainly can’t claim that all those masters are simply afraid of non-existence. The problem is that karma is a subtle and somewhat difficult topic to get your head around. You can not just think about it and expect to figure out whether its true or not. You first need to 1) hear karma teachings – which means to find genuine teachings about karma and study them, 2) contemplate them deeply – which means take them to heart, thinking through their implications etc., and 3) actually putting them into practice in your life. This process takes time and effort. It requires that you start with at least an open mind about ideas such as reincarnation. There’s no shortcut. It doesn’t help to simply believe in karma. You need to think it through until you gain confidence in the truth of the karma teachings for yourself. It’s hard but it can be done.

    The other thing all the great masters say is that understanding karma and living your life according to the way karma works brings you to lead a virtuous life. And this is the basis for the path altogether. Without the foundation of accumulating that virtue, progress on the pass is not possible. In other words, if you want to find your way back to your original nature, non-duality, you must first start with karma. (Write to me and I’ll recommend some specific karma teachings to study).

    Cheers,
    Jay

  2. I’m all for choice as to whether or not people have children. My husband and I decided not to. But that is NOT exiting samsara, as Mr. Lippman explains above. Your children don’t necessarily inherit your karma-they have their own. They’re not just little reproductions of you. And those of us who do not have children still have to deal with karma. Remember, we are aiming for the understanding that nirvana and samsara are one.
    Us non-mothers still go through the cycle of birth, bardo, rebirth.

  3. Jay and EBerger, thanks for your comments. Jay, why don’t you post your recommended karma teachings here in case others are interested.
    As for the masters, well, they certainly go back even further than the time of Buddha as reincarnation is originally a Hindu concept. Karma is karma. It’s a law of nature coinciding with physics. But reincarnation is a concept that doesn’t resinate with me. I’m not attempting to argue that it’s not true. Might be, might not, but there are certainly plenty of masters and scholars out there who consider it superstition.
    After years of meditation practice, I find it it essential to remain in a state of not knowing and not naming.

  4. Yael Codriansky
    Jan 29, 2015
    Reply

    Hi,

    As a mother I would like to share something in this space. For me being a mother is one of the best path I could ever take. It resonates so well with my path in the dharma, it makes it more profound because it is the best place to embodied the teachings. When you are a parent your heart opens so much! and its requires a constant effort to mantain it that way, open with yourself, with your children, your partner and the world around. So many memories about your childhood starts to appear, so many aspects of what you haven’t had the opportunity to touch before. It is so deep if you are willing to just be with it and feel how it’s feels. It is a tremendous opportunity to learn about oneself and the world. Of course everyone can take a personal decision about it. Even being a parent it has so many decisions to take care of. I also have friends, many, that doesn’t want to become parents. It is their decision. They just have to feel their decision, understand it in a deep level, not just words, with the heart. All the best for you all! I appreciate the space to share our diversity. Yael from Santiago-Chile.

  5. Jay Lippman
    Jan 29, 2015
    Reply

    Hi Hojun.
    I suggest a couple of books.
    “Steps on the Path to Enlightenment, Vol 2: Karma” by Geshe Sopa is really a major text book on Karma. Its very traditional and a little bit heavy handed at points, but about as thorough as anything available in English.
    And also a dry but fascinating book if you can find it (it may be out of print) is “20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation” by Ian Stevenson. He was a psychiatrist at UVA who researched living examples of reincarnation in various cultures, not just Buddhist ones, with an approach that is more detective than true believer. After learning the “rules” so to speak, of karma according to the Buddhist tradition as explained by Geshe Sopa, Stevenson’s book gives you a feeling for how karma and reincarnation actually play out in real lives.
    I have taught an in-depth course on karma to Shambhala students for more than 10 years. During that time I have found that when students who were initially skeptical of karma and reincarnation are exposed to the actual, not-watered-down teachings, and have a chance to really think about the meaning, logic and implications, as well as their own life’s experiences, they slowly begin to change their point of view. All I ask of students is that they approach the topic with an open mind – which it sounds like you have as well.
    Best wishes to you.
    Jay

  6. Thank you, Jay,
    It feels that we are at a tipping point in history, or that I personally in the arc of the life of this body have reached a consciousness that I could never have imagined. Though I’m open to learning more about what the great masters have to say about karma, I find it to be a subtle distraction from a commitment to discover ‘what is’ with very little outside guidance. One thing I know from the radiance shining from my heart is this: It wants to see itself.
    Where are you located, Jay?

    Yael, thank you so much for sharing. A big hug to you!!
    -H


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