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Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

East Meets West Parenting

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Buddhism began for me as it did for many converts in the West: I saw an inspiring TV show about Asian philosophy at the age of 16, read some books and began meditating. But by college I felt myself wavering and leaving Buddhism for something more stimulating only to get bored again and move on once more. It wasn’t until I met my wife, a Japanese girl studying English in college that things gradually changed. Japanese tend to follow an eclectic blend of Shinto, Buddhism and various folk beliefs in some proportion or another, depending on the individual or family. Her family is decidedly Buddhist owing in large part to the family business of making grave markers, like small obelisks, there. Shinto festivities are observed only minimally in their household.

In our relationship, now spanning ten years, it was clear that our understanding of Buddhism was quite different. Some of this could be attributed to conversion as opposed to growing up with it, but also my approach to Buddhism relied heavily on facts, books and intellectual arguments while her view of Buddhism relied on humility, gratitude and piety. In those early years I might have been an educated Buddhist but not necessarily a pious one, and certainly not humble.

My first visit to Japan in 2005 was a big turning point for me as I finally got to see Buddhism in an actual Buddhist culture, and I learned much in the ten days I spent in Kyoto, Nara and other cities. The culmination was at an ancient Pure Land Buddhist temple called Chion-in in Kyoto where I saw a lone priest chanting before a statue of Amitabha Buddha. From this brief time, I learned that there was a lot more to Buddhism than books and meditation, and now a bit wiser, I began to rethink how I approached the Path.

In late 2006 our daughter was born. Gone were the days when I could idle away on the computer or meditate whenever I wanted; we had a little one to clothe and feed now. But I still remember one night when she was about four or five months when I rocked her in my arms trying to get her to sleep. It dawned on me that I would be her role model for men throughout her life and that the little things I said and did would have a subtle, cumulative impact on her. I really decided then that I wanted to be a light for her. From that moment on, instead of dallying with philosophical interests, the decision to undertake the Five Moral Precepts became a life-long pursuit, one where this new parent has faltered more than a few times, but the positive benefits to her keep me from giving up. As the Japanese say, “Seven times down, eight times up.”

In Buddhism there exist beings called Bodhisattvas, ones who pursue Enlightenment lifetime after lifetime, helping others along the way, until all have reached Nirvana and have been liberated. The primary feature of the Bodhisattva is their tireless effort to assist others, putting this effort before their own pursuits. Questions may arise as to whether such beings are real or not, but they definitely exist at the very least as an archetype of diligence, compassion, moral conduct and effort. This is something for all of us to aspire to, whether we are parents or not. If one makes the resolution to live a better life, to focus more on the happiness of others, and to pursue wisdom, one is said to have awakened to the Bodhicitta, the mind of a Bodhisattva. However weak the effort, the aspiration is a noble achievement, and something I hope every parent discovers in their lives, not just for their own inner-happiness, but also for those they care for.

© 2010 – 2013, Doug McLean. All rights reserved.

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Doug McLean works as a computer technician for a large company in Seattle, and is a Japanophile and linguistics hobbyist in his spare time. He is now the father of one three-year-old princess, and a husband to a loving and down-to-earth wife. In his spare time, he enjoys blogging at Japan: Life and Religion, as well as amateur writing on the side. They are raising their daughter Buddhist.

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