The Buddha says we have three kinds of parents in our lives.
Our first parents are those who conceive us and give us physical birth. These are the parents who give us life.
These second kind of parents the Buddha refers to as the nurturing parents who bring us up, take care of us. Sometimes, nurturing parents can take even better care of us than our biological parents because they are kind and compassionate towards us and wish us to grow and prosper. So, today we should think about the parents who gave us life and the parents who nurtured us as well.
The third kind of parents that the Buddha says we should think about with gratitude are our parents in Dhamma. They are the ones who help us understand about life, teach us about merit and demerit, good and evil, what is moral and immoral, useful deeds and harmful deeds. They are the parents who give birth to our “Eye of Wisdom” and our spiritual understanding. They are a very important kind of parents. This is why we call our teachers in the Buddha-Dhamma, who gave birth to us in the Buddhist religion, “mothers and fathers of truth.” Because our teachers gave birth to us in truth, we have to regard them as our spiritual parents.
So today we should also think of our teachers with respect and reverence, and with kataññu-katavedi.
Kataññu means one who is grateful for kindness received, and katavedi means one who reciprocates those acts with gratitude. It’s not enough just to be grateful for the good things we received, but we have to repay that debt of gratitude as well. The Buddha says it is good to be grateful, but that’s not enough. We have to find a way to return the kindness that we have received.
This reflection by Ajahn Nyanadhammo is from the book, Gratitude, (pdf) pp.96, 97-98.