อาจารย์ อมโร


One of the many wholesome qualities that the Buddha encourages us to develop, among the many different pieces of advice that is contained in the Tipitaka is the quality of gratitude, particularly gratitude to our parents. This is a very prominent theme in Asia and in the Pali tradition. Gratitude is Kataññu in Pali, and reciprocation is Katavedi. Katavedi is the response to generosity or kindness and is a way of indicating the quality of gratitude or gratefulness. Kataññu-katavedi is very often spoken of and commonly cultivated and is considered a significant quality in people’s lives in Asia.

Sometimes in the West, this can seem like something that’s a bit remote or distant or something that doesn’t have much meaning for us. But these are significant and useful qualities to reflect on. Why would the Buddha emphasize that so much? In various teachings, he points out that this is a beautiful and appropriate attitude to cultivate towards our parents – the quality of gratitude, Kataññu-katavedi. Because, as he says, another word for parents is “the first teachers.” Why is that? Because our parents bring us into the world, they teach us how to live as human beings, they introduce the world to us, they enable us to function in the world.

…So often in the West, where families are much more fragmented, people who have had very difficult experiences with their family do not like to talk in this way about gratitude to parents. Immediately the mind says, “Hohoho! Rubbish! You’ve never met my dad,” or “If you knew my mother,” or “If you had had a mother like I had, you wouldn’t say that.” “Carry her around on my shoulder? I won’t even go into the same room with her. Won’t even visit her estate.”

So, we can sometimes feel a deep resentment and criticism, a negativity towards our parents. It’s very easy to grow up in that way, although I don’t perceive anybody here as having such a particularly deep-seated resentment. However, it’s pretty common for us that we can carry around stories of how our parents did us wrong, or treated us badly and didn’t look after us well, our having been neglected, or farmed off, or being unloved. Maybe we don’t even know who our parents are but we were given up at birth for adoption, or our parents couldn’t cope with us and we were taken care of by relatives. Maybe so.

…Even though we might feel we have a genuine cause for complaint about our parents’ shortcomings and there may have been some seriously damaging results from living with them – neglect or poor treatment or physical violence of various kinds, and certainly I do not mean to belittle that – but it’s also helpful to put ourselves in the shoes of our parents and to consider how people can try their best but still make mistakes. People can have a good heart but still not be perfect and not fit our ideals. In this, in a way, I find the real root of gratefulness, of gratitude.

Rather than dwelling upon our parents’ faults, always comparing them to an ideal and dwelling on the shortcomings, even if they are justified, we should look at the gifts that have come from them. We have the gift of life, a living body, we have a mind, we have the capacity to feel and to know, and we have the requisites for enlightenment. A body, a mind, the capacity for kindness and the capacity for understanding, the wisdom for mental training – we have these capacities.

And the enormous benefit, the blessings that these comprise, is inconceivable. But it’s easy for us, isn’t it, to dwell upon the shortcomings, the things that didn’t work out right, the things that were painful and the things that really did leave some scars and to miss the wealth of blessings that have come to us.

In cultivating gratitude to our parents, it’s not just a matter of taking an idealistic view for ourselves that, “I should be grateful; I should let go of all my complaints, my grumblings and negativity.” It’s also helpful – even in the light of the shortcomings and the difficulties, the things that weren’t fitting the ideal – to look at the greater picture of what makes up our lives. While those things are painful results of actions we feel were poorly done, we should just see these as a wonderful opportunity for us to cultivate compassion and to cultivate the quality of forgiveness and a sense of empathy with how difficult human life is.

These reflections by Ajahn Amaro are from the book, Gratitude, “Gratitude to Our Guides.”