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Lions Roar : March 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 23 THERE IS A STEADY BUZZ in the online forums, a murmur- ing on the message boards. Parents who espouse Buddhist beliefs are wondering how to raise their children differently. As a Zen Buddhist and mother, I watch these online dialogues. Sometimes I venture a comment or two. The questions are of- ten the same as those asked by any parent: How do I deal with my anger? How do I get my child to sleep? How can I help my child make friends? What should I do about sibling rivalry? And sometimes the discussion ventures into metaphysics and reli- gion: How can I teach the concept of reincarnation? How do I introduce chanting? How do I teach the precepts? How do I get my child to meditate? How do I observe Buddhism at home? Underlying these questions is the presumption that we Bud- dhists do things a certain way—and by implication, the best way, when and if we can. “I’m just a real-world parent aiming for the Buddhist ideal,” wrote one questioner, giving a philosophical cast to the good intentions that drive most parents. It’s ironic to see Buddhism associated with the idea of better parenting, since the Buddha was not what you or I might call an ideal father. He left his wife and infant son at the onset of his spiritual quest and never returned to his fatherly role. We can surmise that he never revisited the past with regret or doubt. But then, he was the Buddha, and not a Buddhist. So what does it mean to be a Buddhist parent? Scanning the chats, I often feel that I lack the minimum re- quirements for admission into this circle of well-meaning par- ents. Sure, I’m a Buddhist, but that’s the only “ist” on my list. I’m not a lactivist (breastfeeding advocate), pacifist, or minimalist. I didn’t co-sleep or attachment-parent. I wasn’t a babywearer and I’m not a homeschooler. I’m not “pro” this or “anti” anything. I’m not quite green and I’m only intermittently vegetarian, depend- ing on what’s in the refrigerator or who’s coming to dinner. I sometimes sense that Buddhism just becomes one more la- bel appended to a set of scrupulously chosen sympathies, one other philosophy in a collection of righteously advocated opin- ions. The thing is, I don’t practice Buddhism as a philosophy and I have no idea how I would. I practice Buddhism as a practice. That’s how I practice parenting, too. I practice paying atten- tion. I practice forgetting myself. I like to think that it makes a difference; that it makes things better. Still, any certitude I have dissipates the minute the poo-poo hits the air purifier. So what does it mean to be a Buddhist parent? When people in the neighborhood learn that I practice and teach Zen, they are usually less curious about my life than about my daughter’s. “What does it mean to be the child of a Buddhist priest?” they typically ask. I likewise wonder if some of the peo- ple in the online groups I visit are not quite as interested in being Buddhist parents as they are in raising Buddhist children. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how to do that either. Of course, I am who I am. We have Buddhist imagery and ILLUSTRATIONBYKATHERINESTREETER A Cypress Tree, A Kiss Goodnight “What does it mean to be a good Buddhist parent?” wonders Zen teacher and mother KAREN MAEZEN MILLER. Like any koan, the answer is in the mystery and beauty of the moment. KAREN MAEZEN MILLER is a Zen priest in the lineage of Taizan Maezumi Roshi and the author of Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood. MAR 18-41.indd 23 MAR 18-41.indd 23 12/19/07 2:34:05 PM 12/19/07 2:34:05 PM