Things My Mother Taught Me

My mother taught me many things I never realized until I was in my mid-forties. She taught me in a silent, unspoken way with her own choices and her own example. It wasn’t until after a conversation with my husband last year that I realized what my mother had truly accomplished by completing a Bachelor’s (and later a Master’s) degree in the early sixties. She attended many classes at UC Berkeley where she was one of the few women or the only woman in her class. After the conversation, I realized I had taken my mother’s efforts for granted. I had assumed that her degree from Berkeley was a common or even expected achievement. Now I know that it was not.

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My mother also taught me not to dwell on the fact that female authors are under-represented in the publishing industry. Most of her life, my mother has chosen to read books written primarily by women. My mother’s love of reading was passed down to me and I spent many summer vacations devouring novels, but I never realized she consciously chose to read female writers. She mentioned this to me a few months ago during one of my visits to their house in Colorado. I have read many wonderful novels and memoirs written by women, many of which I discovered in my parents’ bookcase.

Growing up, I had free run of my parents’ extensive book collection. I was allowed to pick and choose from literature representing all age groups and virtually all genres. Alternatively, my time spent in front of the television was limited. Now I truly understand the value of reading and the importance of fostering good reading habits in young people.

Most importantly, my mother has always been a constant source of good humor, love, and kindness, the heart and soul of our family. She has taught me much more than I will ever know.

Taking Responsibility, NOT Accepting Blame

There is a big difference between taking responsibility for your own life – your own decisions, choices, circumstances, and happiness – and accepting someone else’s blame for the miserable circumstances they have found themselves in. It took me a long time to realize this, especially considering the fact that the people who were always blaming me for their miserable lives were people I didn’t know and had never met. Nor did they know me. 

The people (and there were many) who stalked and harassed me on a daily basis somehow concluded that I was to blame for their predicament – they were all victims of an injustice that I caused, as if I was somehow responsible for their wretched behavior. Yet they had no idea who I was. They still have no idea who I am. As often as I wondered how on earth so many people could behave so horribly, I never really figured out the answer. I know drug addiction played a large part, along with a complete lack of integrity and human decency. Deception and lies were also key components that motivated their behavior. These people manufactured lies (and evidence to go along with it) about me, lies about my husband, my family, my friends, and I’m sure there were even lies about my dog. Honesty completely disappeared from the picture. 

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I finally realized that their behavior has NOTHING to do with me. From a Buddhist perspective, the fact that they made me their target is purely karma. Their behavior stems only from their own lives and their own unhappiness. My willingness to accept their blame only resulted in MY unhappiness.

It’s easy to feel sorry for people who have problems and are suffering, yet it does nothing to help the people or resolve the situation. Especially when there is an addiction problem. Rarely, during the past 13 plus years this has been going on have I felt sorry for myself. Instead, I have used my Buddhist practice to look for happiness within. 

Equality Does Not Mean We Are All the Same

The primary intent of the Buddha was to help every person achieve the same enlightened state he had achieved – in this lifetime. A quote from the Lotus Sutra reads:

At all times I think to myself:

How can I cause living beings,

to gain entry into the unsurpassed way

and quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?

 

Chapter 16 – The Life Span of the Thus Come One

In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha preached several parables to illustrate the universality of his teachings – some specifically to demonstrate how women and evil people were not excluded from the realm of enlightenment or Buddhahood. In the present day, we extend the egalitarian spirit of Buddhism to include all people, all “living beings.”

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Because every person possess the Buddha nature, every person is equally deserving of respect. To disrespect another human being is to disrespect ourselves. Buddhism does not teach “every person is equal, every person is the same. Obviously, every person is different. We are all born into different circumstances, with different abilities, different skills, different talents, and different challenges facing us in life. If we were all the same, we would be living in a world of robots! 

However, Buddhism teaches that every person deserves to be treated with the same dignity, the same respect. When we disrespect others or disrespect ourselves, we lose sight of the path to happiness in this lifetime.

Happiness In This World

I met a young woman a few days ago at my Buddhist center. After chanting, she showed me the first few pages of an essay written by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda about one of Nichiren Daishonin’s writings – a writing titled Happiness In This World. She only had a portion of the essay and wanted to know where she could obtain the remaining few pages. I mentioned that I had a copy of the essay collection and would bring it to her next week. I returned home and reflected on the writing’s title, Happiness In This World

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What does this mean? Happiness in this world. How are we supposed to be happy in the present? In this lifetime? In the here and now? How can we be happy without longing for the past, without waiting for a better tomorrow, without regret or wondering what might have happened if we had done everything differently. Where is happiness in this world? All too often we are looking for it in the wrong place. As President Ikeda states, “In every case, whether we feel happy or unhappy ultimately depends on us. No one else can make us happy.”

– Learning From the Gosho: The Eternal Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin

I read the writing this morning before taking my dog for a walk. It’s a fairly short writing, and the key message to take from it is the idea that no one can avoid problems or sufferings in their lives. No one has a perfect life. Nichiren writes, “Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, no matter what happens.”

Although many days, my problems seem unbearable and never-ending, I try to keep hope alive through my Buddhist faith, my friends and my family. I’ve resolved to start writing on a regular basis. After I completed my memoir, I didn’t have a reason to write every afternoon. Over the past few weeks, I realized that I need to keep writing on a regular basis. This helps give me a feeling of accomplishment and I don’t feel like I’m just sitting around waiting for things to change. I have a lot of “works in progress,” so it’s not as if I’m lacking topics to write about. It’s kind of like the old Nike ad, “Just Do It!” Sometimes I just have to open up the laptop, get off the internet, and write.

Writing is definitely part of my happiness in this world.

When Equality Is a Threat

The most wonderful aspect of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is the teaching of gender equality found in the Lotus Sutra. The Buddha of ancient India taught in the Lotus Sutra that all livings beings possess within them the world of Buddhahood, or enlightenment. Shakyamuni Buddha lived in an incredibly discriminatory society, yet he preached the equality of all people, regardless of sex, social status, or wealth. He taught that discriminating against another person is the same as discriminating against ourselves. 

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Discrimination, racism, sexism, bigotry and homophobia are still alive and well in the U.S. today. We see it on the evening news every night. From the recently expelled University of Oklahoma students, to the newly released Department of Justice report that found Ferguson police and courts’ abusive behavior disproportionately targeted African-Americans. There are just as many instances of discrimination which target other racial/ethnic groups, gays and lesbians, and or course, women.

2015 isn’t so different from Shakyamuni’s time. “Shakyamuni was seen as a dangerous person by conservative elements of society who stood by the status quo.” This is exactly what happened when Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan in October 2012. The Taliban viewed Malala as a dangerous person who was advocating for a girl’s right to an education, something they do not believe in. The Taliban, and many other conservative sectors of society, whether they be political, religious, or social, appear to fear equality in all its forms.