7. Gratitude To Parents
(By Ben Xing [Simon Masauko], Malawi)
Respect and filial piety to elders are the focal points of African Culture, traditions and moral systems. The character of African moral society is that it is based on the family, headed by its ancestors and elders, mostly from fathers’ side. More than 2000 years ago, Mencius the philosopher said, people should take care of their own elders as well as other elders. The holy bible says, respect and honor your mother and father so that your days of living may increase. According to African tradition, elders who lack the ability to work are still regarded as a treasure of the family because a man of experience is a man of wisdom. Africans truly believe that filial piety is the most important of all kindness and gratitude. An Indian enlightened sage, Gotama Buddha, explained in his teachings how people should behave towards those who are older or higher in status and prestige than oneself. Gotama Buddha, the enlightened one, expounded thirty-eight rules of conduct describing the highest auspiciousness. Within all these rules expounded by Gotama Buddha, the exhorted one, I find similar characteristics of moral conduct and behavior between Indian thought systems as presented and taught by Gotama Buddha and African thought systems taught by parents and the elders.
To honor those who are worthy of honor is the highest blessing. To an African, parents and elderly people are worthy of honor and respect, no matter how one’s parents may look. A literal translation of an African Malawian proverb “your mother is your mother even if she might have one leg shorter than the other (mai ako ndi ako basi angakhale achepe mwendo) could be: poor or rich, intelligent or dull, good looking or bad looking, beautiful or ugly, clever or stupid, young or old, job or jobless, drunkard or religious—in whatever state, status or situation parents may be, they are worthy of honor and respect.
The Buddha as a teacher is worthy of honor, the Dharma that his teaching and the Sangha that is the holy community of monks is both worthy of respect and honor. Teachers, elders and those who are higher in prestige than oneself are to be honored and respected. To attend closely to one’s parents is the highest blessing. Here, attending closely to one’s parents’ means ministering their duties, making them happy and healthy. To listen to each and every piece of advice given by parents, teachers and elders and to do as advised is the highest blessing. To pay respect to those who are worthy of respect is a noble blessing. One shows respect by making way for them, by bending one’s back on passing in front of them, kneeling when offering things, receiving things by both hands, by offering them a seat when traveling on a bus or train, by sitting in a lower place than theirs, humbling oneself in times of admonishment—these are some African practices by children toward parents and elders.
Whoever abides by rules of blessings like humility, gratitude, leading a chaste life, shunning sins, choosing a blameless vocation, and many more, overcomes all difficulties and oppositions in life and will gain success and prosperity in the present life as well as in future lives. These rules of conduct according to the discourse of the blessings are called the highest auspiciousness because they bring success and prosperity to all who follow them. The rules of conduct are what make an Africa moral system, but we, the young generation of today, have totally forgotten our culture and traditional values. We don’t have prosperity anymore, but are only facing difficulties and opposition in life.
Parents must be regarded as the most superior beings on earth. Parents are the first teachers and are worthy of offerings. According to Gotama Buddha, the Indian sage, parents have five names. Although African culture and tradition don’t have these names, the idea expressed in these names is what African cultures and traditions are based upon, namely: Brahma or God, Pubbadevata or first deities, Pubbccariya or first teachers, Ahuneyya or worthy of offering, and Puratthimadisa or east direction.
The parents are named Brahma, which is like God. Parents radiate loving kindness towards the baby in the womb, wishing that the baby be free from sickness and disease, that the baby be born with full limbs and proper body parts like legs, hands, eyes, etc. As in most cases we see parents feel compassion when they hear the cry of their little baby sleeping on its back, being eaten by mosquitoes or for one or another reason. They feel empathetic joy when the baby can run and play happily alone with a toy or even with other babies, or friends and other people. Parents feel equanimity when the children get married and stand on their legs. Loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity are the sublime qualities of Brahma and the same qualities are found within parents therefore parents are called Brahma.
Parents are called Pubbadevata or First Deity. All the deities can forgive the faults of those who do not know and do not understand, and thus perform things against moral conduct and natural laws. They wish to dispel those people who bring confusion, terror, violence or other bad things to their self or other beings, and only wish to bring out their advantages. They can carry out great benefits for those who give offerings to them. Just like deities, parents also can forgive the faults of their children and find means to help them. No matter how big the fault one might commit, parents always forgive and forget what children do to them. This is the greatest sublime quality present in parents and they are the biggest benefactors among all these other deities, so they are called first Deities. When I was a very young boy I was introduced to Christianity and was taught that God created this triple world, so is everyone, everything and myself. Whatever fault one might make will be forgiven by God the almighty. I was also told that a parent is my second god because they possess the same attributes as God.
Our parents are not just parents like the way most of us think. They are even more important than we imagine. Because we are born with ignorance, we need people who are Pubbacariya, or first teachers, to guide us through the dark world. Our parents introduce us to this triple world. It might be interesting to see that most of us were taught how to eat, drink, speak, walk, and sit by our parents. Distinguishing between family members and friends is taught to children by parents. Not only did they teach us to distinguish good from bad, but also respect from disrespect, and love from hatred. Before a child leaves where he belongs, most of what he already knows is because of his or her parents; therefore they are called Pubbacariya.
As a way of gratitude to what others has done for us, we usually do a certain thing for them. Our parents may be or are called Ahuneyya, which is worthy of offering. Parents have special qualities to receive offerings brought from afar due to the great care and support, or even sacrifices, which parents volunteer in order to raise their children—for all this they are worthy of offerings from children. No matter how far a child may leave, the child still must take some offerings to give to his or her parents. So they are called Ahuneyya...
Puratthimadisa or Eastern Direction: parents give the first help that children receive. Whatever helps a child might need, parents make sure to provide and assist the child no matter the cost, and for this reason parents are called Eastern Direction.
As aging is a natural process, we understand that it will happen to each and every one of us. After taking care of children, parents reach an age when their body is tired, very old, physically weak, and mostly they are sick. This is the time to show gratitude and offer assistance and help. Children must make sure that their duties towards parents have been done thoroughly. Children should help bathe their parents, should massage them, wash their clothes, and dress them in clean clothes. Children should prepare meals for parents and feed them, giving them suitable fruit and vegetables to increase their vitamins and immune system. Always entertain parents and give them words of inspiration and encouragement. The Buddha said, “Oh monks, one can never repay two persons, I declare. What two? Mother and father are the two. Even if one should carry about his mother on one shoulder and his father on the other and so doing should live a hundred years; attain a hundred years; and if he should support them, anointing them with unguent kneading, bathing and rubbing their limbs and they meanwhile should even void their excrement upon him; even so could he not repay his parents. Moreover monks, if he should establish his parents in supreme authority, in the absolute rule over this mighty earth bounding in the seven treasures, not even thus could he repay his parents.”
If we do not have anything to be grateful about, our life is a dreary plane. Parents are not perfect human beings and because of this they also can wrong their children, but children need to think beyond the negative aspects of what had been done to them. We must also develop the four sublime states, which parents have got, such as loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity, because sooner or later we will become future parents. If life was just a continuous complaint and we did not remember anything good ever done to us by parents this is called depression. It is impossible to ever imagine being happy again. Being able to support and look after our parents is considered to be one of the greatest blessings in life. To forgive and forget the negative deeds done to us by our parents is the noble quality of a successful child. The Indian sage Gotama Buddha encouraged us to think of the good things done for us by our parents, by our friends, teachers, whoever; and to do this intentionally—to cultivate it, to bring it to into consciousness quite deliberately rather than just letting it happen accidentally. Through this practice one sees how good and compassionate are parents and how difficult is for parents to raise and bring up children; hence, honor your mother and father so that your days of living may increase. Whatever we do will never be enough to repay what had been done for us by our parents.
Simon Masauko, a Malawian who has finished his three year diploma course on Buddhism in South Africa; he can explain many parts of the Buddha’s teachings. But here in his article mainly has mentioned about parents and gratitude. He has found some good points from Tripitaka and compared to African culture. He has already mentioned that “I find similar characteristics of moral conduct and behavior between Indian thought systems as presented and taught by Gotama Buddha and African thought systems taught by parents and the elders.”
This word is correct and it came out from his comparative study. The Buddha’s duty is to remind and guide in the practice and understanding ourselves. Buddha appeared from times to time and taught about these things to the world. Most of things are within the world. But some time people have forgotten or could not found them. After Buddha appeared, he helped the people of the world to understand and perceive them. The Buddha adds only few new things as new teachings on to his teachings. Most of others are already in existence.
Simon Masauko again said about their cultural values. He said, “The young generation of today, have totally forgotten our culture and traditional values. We don’t have prosperity anymore, but are only facing difficulties and opposition in life. ” I have talk about this under chapter 05 - What are the present challenges for the spread of Buddhism in Africa? One of the reason is that; Loss of African culture and traditions.
The Buddha has given a deep explanation about elders and gratitude and other more teachings on the Sigalovada sutta . I have explained them in chapter 06 - How to face the challenges for the spread of Buddhism in Africa?