Why We Hate Our Parents
"When I first came to this country," the Tibetan lama recounted, "I thought, 'This is the way children should be raised all over the world.' So careful, so loving, so much attention." In the middle of his Dharma talk, he was suddenly speaking quite personally. He had been explaining some of the finer points of what he called "naked awareness," the mind's capacity to see deeply into its own essence.
We were on retreat in Litchfield, Connecticut—about 70 of us, practicing together in silence, learning an ancient meditative yoga called the Great Perfection. But like a sailboat tacking to grab a fresh breeze, the lama was now heading in a different direction. He screwed up his face, mimicking the expression of a doting parent, and lapsed into an uncanny imitation: "Here, honey, just try a bite of this. Are you okay with that, sweetie?" Leaning forward, with his shoulders hunched over an imaginary child, he looked for a moment like a mother bird hovering over her nest.
Startled out of our meditative reveries by the lama's impersonation, our attention quickened. "It's not like in Nepal or Tibet," he continued. "If a child does something wrong, he just gets slapped. Leave him in the corner crying; it doesn't matter. Treated that way, sometimes the child gets a little dull, stops caring about things. That is not so good. But then I found out, here everyone hates their parents. It's so difficult. Relationships are so difficult. In Nepal, this doesn't happen. I can't understand this very well."
As quickly as he brought the subject up, he dropped it again. I found myself wondering if I had even heard him correctly. Usually Tibetan teachers talk only about how special mothers are, about how their kindnesses allow us, as totally helpless infants, to survive, over and over again. It is the kind of teaching that we in the West often find refreshing, if slightly intimidating, because we have ignored those basic aspects of the mother-child relationship in favor of more conflicted ones. In an infinite series of multiple lifetimes, the traditional Tibetan argument runs, all beings have in fact been our mothers, and we can cultivate kindness toward them by imagining their prior sacrifices for us. But here was a lama who, however briefly, acknowledged our more difficult relationships with our current parents. He seemed as startled by our difficulties as I had been on first hearing of the meditation wherein all beings are considered our mothers. I was intrigued by his candor and disappointed that he did not take the discussion further.
But a day or two later in another talk, the lama, 35-year-old Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche of the Drukpa Kagyu and Nyingpa lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, raised the subject again. In virtually the same language, he expressed astonishment at the level of anger that his Western students seemed to harbor against their parents. Clearly it was bothering him. That night I left a note for the course manager telling him that, unless somebody else volunteered, I could explain to the lama why Westerners hate their parents. The next morning, someone tapped me on the shoulder after meditation and told me that the lama would meet with me.
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