Our Parents of Great Compassion

Mother’s Day is celebrated in the month of May.  Some people feel the closest maternal connection to the woman who gave birth to them.  Others have a special connection with mother figures who are not their birth mother, but those who have given them great care and kindness over the years.  I recall one temple member whose mother lived far away, but they would often say “I am fortunate to have so many mothers here at the temple in the Buddhist Women’s Association.”  When one of the BWA ladies would correct them on a mistake, they would graciously reply.  “Yes, Mom.  I’ll do it that way from now on.”  If one of the BWA ladies helped them with a task, they would gratefully say, “Thanks, Mom!”  Those “Moms” were not their birth mothers, but they were a consistent presence of care and support.

This feeling of caring parental presence is not limited to one’s birth parents.  In May we also celebrate the birth of Shinran Shonin with our Gotan-e Service.  Shinran Shonin left home at the age of nine to receive ordination at the Shorenin Temple, where he began a period of twenty years of intensive monastic practice.  Although he was separated from his parents at a young age, he clearly felt a caring parental presence in his life.  Shinran describes the parental care he feels in the following words from Lamp for the Latter Ages:

Shan-tao’s Hymns [on the Samadhi] of All Buddhas’ Presence states that Śākyamuni and Amida are our parents of great compassion; using many and various compassionate means, they awaken the supreme shinjin in us. Thus the settling of true shinjin is the working of Śākyamuni and Amida.

(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 540)

Parents of great compassion like Sakyamuni and Amida are not limited to our birth parents.  Because Amida Buddha is continually working to bring about our liberation, Shinran Shonin refers to Amida as our parent.  That “parent” that Shinran Shonin speaks of goes beyond physical form and distinctions such as male and female.

I find an inspiring story of appreciation for parents of great compassion in the following episode from the life of Osono, a woman who lived deeply in the Nembutsu.  During a visit to our mother temple, the Hongwanji in Kyoto, Osono was so delighted by the Buddha’s teaching that she was excitedly sharing her appreciation while sitting in a rest area on the temple grounds.  A priest who overheard her conversation, tapped her on the back and admonished her in a loud voice, saying “Where do you think you are?  Is this the way to behave in front of our mother temple?  This is no place for idle chatter.  Do not lose sight of where you are because the winds of impermanence may soon blow in your direction.”  Without turning around where she was sitting, Osono simply replied, “Do you suppose my caring parent will ever lose sight of me?”

My powers of concentration are very limited, and my attention is led astray the moment a longing or irritation pops into my mind.   When I reflect upon my own awareness of the needs of those around me, I realize how much I get wrapped up in my own agenda.  In spite of my distracted nature, Amida Buddha’s mind never wavers from concern for all beings.   Even if I lose sight of where I am, my parents of great compassion do not lose sight of me.

Those parents who show unwavering care for us may be our birth parents, or they may be our friends from the Buddhist Women’s Association.  Amida Buddha is called the Buddha of Immeasurable Life because Amida never ceases to work to guide me to lasting peace of mind.  Amida Buddha is also call the Buddha of Immeasureable Light because wherever I travel on the journey of this life, Amida’s wisdom is illuminating the path forward to peace of mind.  Amida Buddha is our parent of great compassion who never loses sight of us.   Reciting the words “Namo Amida Butsu” is an expression of the gratitude felt for the abiding presence of our parents of great compassion.

Namo Amida Butsu