According to one of the Suttas, it is very difficult to repay the debt of gratitude to our parents. The Buddha says that even if we can carry our mother and father on our shoulders for a hundred years, we cannot fully reciprocate their kindness. Even if we were to carry them, one on each shoulder, for the rest of our lives we will still not repay the debt we owe them because the kindness they have bestowed upon us is truly incalculable.
Consider the Buddha’s own life. We’ve learned that after his birth his mother passed away when he was only 7 days old. He lost the most important, the most beloved person in his life when he was still such a young baby. Although he had a step mother named Mahapajapati who looked after him and took full care of him perfectly well, the death of his mother could have been one of the causes that made him aware later on of the suffering caused by birth. This is because his birth had brought misfortune to his mother. Birth is suffering, a cause for pain, and even in some cases, death.
Yet despite any discomfort and pain brought on by pregnancy, our mother’s love for us is evident even before we are born. She loves us by avoiding harmful food and eating only what is nutritious. She tries her best to stay healthy for the benefit of her unborn child.
This is because of her love for her child even though she doesn’t even know what kind of a person her child will grow up to be: what he/she will look like, whether tall or short, fair of skin or dark, intelligent or dull, good or bad, polite or impolite, etc. She doesn’t know any of these things, but still she loves the child in her womb unconditionally. Her only wishes are to keep the child safe from harm, to be able to care for the child the best she can, and to provide for his/her every comfort.
Such is the all-encompassing mother’s love for her unborn baby in her womb who sleeps and consumes the energy from the mother’s own flesh and blood in order to grow. When it is time for the baby to be born, the delivery process can be fatal to the mother. But she doesn’t worry about her own safety. She only wants her baby to be born safe and sound. This is how a mother thinks.
This reflection by Ajahn Nyanadhammo is adapted from the book, Gratitude, (pdf) pp.94-96.