There is a concept often communicated in Buddhism that goes like this: “We have all been everybody’s mother before.” Whether your views lean toward reincarnation or not, there is much value in this phrase as a metaphor for how to be in the world. I like to reframe it in my mind as, “We are all everybody’s mother RIGHT NOW.”
People do horrible things. People do unconscious things. People hurt people, and animals, and ecosystems, and the planet. We ALL behave badly and unethically at times, whether on a grand scale (like the decision-makers at Exxon Mobil or the US Senators opposed to commonsense gun laws) or a teeny-tiny scale (think about the last time you gossiped about someone, or lashed out in anger and said something hurtful). We are all steeping in various depths of ignorance, delusion, greed and hatred, and our actions are proof of this reality of human suffering.
Given that this is how the world goes ‘round, who are we to judge, really, who is worthy of our love, goodwill and kindness?
Can you imagine extending the same goodwill you naturally feel toward your own children to every single person on the planet — all 7.1 billion and counting fast — no matter what their behavior or your beliefs about said behavior? Can you feel, in your heart, compassion even for those your mind has decided are evil, or not deserving of love, or beyond hope? Can you embrace the possibility that every single human being is worthy of kindness, and of your kindness in particular? And even the possibility that those who commit the most atrocious deeds are the most worthy — and the most in need — of our benevolence?
The Metta Sutta (Discourse on Lovingkindness) is the Buddha’s central teaching on this idea. There is a line in it that goes like this:
“As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings.” — Ref.
The idea is that we could (and should) choose to generate and develop an attitude of goodwill toward every single being. And that we could (and should) protect this attitude, and commit to it, as fiercely as a mother would protect her own womb’s child.
This fierce protection of what is so deeply beloved is at the core of the radical and compassionate Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation, which birthed the very first Mother’s Day in 1870. Her proclamation is a call to end war and violence as a means to solve differences, an end to throwing our children into battle, and, at its core, the acknowledgment that every child — no matter which “side” he or she is on — is a child worthy of our love and protection. Every child is OUR child, and we must behave as such if we want peace in our hearts and in the world.
Here is the full text of the proclamation:
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!
Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, Disarm!’
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail & commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesars but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace. — Ref.
Though 143 years have passed since Julia’s grand and passionate intention, it’s pretty astonishing how relevant her words are today. We are still living in a world where violence and hatred and their side-effects and outgrowths often seem to dominate our existence, so there is obviously still work to be done. Serious work.
So, on this weekend where lenses and psyches are turned toward mothers and mothering in observance of Mother’s Day — thanking, pampering, honoring, acknowledging, gifting, missing, processing, letting go, wondering, loving, remembering, cherishing, all of it — let’s also devote a little piece of our hearts to practicing an even bigger, more encompassing kind of love: an intention to begin a conscious practice of directing kindness and goodwill toward all beings, no matter what, unconditionally, for real.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
We are ALL the Beloved Community. The Beloved Community is not a clique or a popularity club. It is not invitation-only. There are no dues or fees. There are no entry requirements and no one is excluded. We need only wake up to our power as lovers in order to see the Beloved Community all around us, within us, everywhere.
Let’s start now, with this day, to make our love a little wider, a little bigger, a little stronger. Let’s practice sending goodwill to someone difficult to love. Let’s open our hearts, our minds, our molecules to embrace the possibility (probability) that we are all one, even if we might not intellectually or scientifically understand what that means. We are all everybody’s mother (and father and son and daughter) RIGHT NOW.
We can begin with this simple paraphrase of the Metta Sutta:
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be healthy.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be at peace.
I will leave you with a poem/song I wrote for my children, from my mother’s heart. It is also for all children, and all grown-ups, and all beings. Put it on and dance, cry, receive, transmit, observe, meet, understand, and welcome your kindness, your goodwill, your love. Start with a place you know deeply: your love for your own children. And expand from there. This is how we save the world.
comes and goes another year
like the light that flies ‘tween us dear
listen to the dry leaf fallin’
through the air what do you hear
bodies earthy like trees growing
minds like ocean water flowing
hearts of love like fire burning
spirits breathing shining learning
we are stardust
we are shiny
we are huge and
we are tiny
we are ancient
we are new
we are me and
we are you
we are mother
we are father
we are son and
we are daughter
we are newborn
we are olden
we are stardust
we are golden
shine your soul upon your shadows
ask them in for conversation
hold it all in just this moment
can you watch it fly away
what is my love for you darlin’
sun or moon or ray of starshine
now the flower hears the mornin’
singing’ love songs to the dew
Happy Mothers’ Day! I love you all.
All content copyright 2013 Charity Kahn.