I met the Dharma in France at Institut Vajra Yogini in 1983 and I’ve lived here ever since (I’m Australian). I’ve only recently moved out in the last two weeks, but I’m still doing the same job at the center.
I have three children: Julian, who is 14, Chloe, 10, and the little one is Thomas, who is 4 years old. I met my husband at Institut Vajra Yogini, and Geshe Tengye and Geshe Tegchog, who was then abbot of nearby Nalanda Monastery, blessed our marriage.
Our children have grown up in a Buddhist center and have always been around Geshe Tengye. I feel very fortunate living in a Dharma community. One important thing is that our children have never had only mum and dad; they’ve had a variety of adults to relate to. In certain times of their lives it’s been some other special person that’s been the right person at that time whom they wish to be with. This has been very beneficial. You have to be careful that they’re still your children and they know who they belong to and where they live.
There’s an idea in the beginning that they’re born into some sort of safe special place. This is true in a sense because you’re close to a geshe, you’re close to teachings, you’re allowing your children to gain merit. It’s like putting something in their bank for every virtuous act they make during their childhood. Your children haven’t automatically got a special protection, though, and samsara is always with you because it’s in your head, no matter where you’re living. The children are not the responsibility of the center or the community; it’s basically you who must give them whatever guidance and influence they need.
Because of the idea of reincarnation you’re tuned in more attentively to what fears they’re expressing or what dreams they’re telling you about. With a lot of children, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, they come up with interesting images that seem to come from nowhere. My daughter had a great fear of insects when she was really small, a really hysterical fear, completely out of proportion to what was going on. In this life she’s not had any experience that would give her that fear. Lamas told me it was a small karmic debt that she has to pay and not to worry about it. I didn’t worry about it and it went away of its own accord.
I don’t know if other people have felt this way, but I’ve always felt that my children are not particularly mine. It’s a weird thing to say, but they were quite separate beings right from the beginning, with their own story. Maybe we’ve got connections; it’s obvious that’s why we’ve come together again. But they’re really quite separate.
As I said, what I’m doing is trying to put things in bank for later, so they’ve got some support, a little bag of goodies that will come in handy. For instance, at the local primary school, the teacher said to me, “All the Buddhist kids, when there’s some problem going on and we gather in a group to talk about it, they always have a whole list of reasons why that person did what they did, whereas the other kids tend to respond by aggression.” They think the person is bad, nasty, mean or whatever. The Buddhist kids say, “Maybe he had a fight with his mum this morning, maybe dad was cross with them, or maybe the cat isn’t well” – they present a much wider possibility. That sort of thing is quite interesting.
We try to help the kids by example. Both of us have always thought to let the kids know we’re Buddhist and that we’ve chosen to be Buddhist. When they ask questions, we give them the reason why. We wish them to have certain values in life; we don’t talk about them particularly as being Buddhist, but say there are certain values of tolerance, of living together, of giving, of accepting other people, of where the only way the world is going to get better is if we learn to get on with each other better – that’s the basic thing.
I’m certainly influencing them: we’ve been in a Buddhist center and Geshe Tengye has been like their grandfather. They’ve had a lot of blessings from a lot of lamas. They learn mantras and make light offerings. Kids love to make offerings, they adore that. And being around the stupa at night in the dark is fairly exciting, and then lighting candles, and then walking around singing on a lovely starry night. Little kids love doing pujas because it’s not like a church, perhaps, where you have to sit still and be well dressed. Puja is more like having a party: you sit on the ground, and that appeals to all kids. They bring their little bags of books and toys, things that don’t make much sound, and they know they’re not to distract other people, but other than that they do their own thing. And Geshe-la is always there, which they love. It’s a very appealing religion for children.
I think kids naturally like giving. If they see you doing it and see the pleasure it gives you, and what pleasure it gives other people, and they know what pleasure they get when they’re given something, then it becomes something pleasurable as well.
I think adults and children like some sort of action to do when there’s someone suffering around them. When you can’t do anything you feel helpless and stupid, but if you can do something then it helps you cope with the suffering. I think kids can do something active; they can arrange a bouquet of flowers or put the incense and say the mantras, and they feel that will help that person.
Lama Zopa and Lama Yeshe and Geshe Tengye have always said that if you’re working for a center, this is practice. This is what I’ve tried to do. I try to be conscious all the time of that, that every moment of your day is practice.
People with children in centers are working mothers and fathers, and it’s not often seen as that; it’s not often seen as work. Over the years I’ve stopped being so militant. Now, I’m becoming quite old and sort of wise. I’ve felt the need to talk about respect for work, and respect for what people have to deal with in their lives, and that any work is of great value.Tags: parenting