Father’s Day Reflections: Parental Mind

By Roshi Kipp Ryodo Hawley,
Westchester Zen Circle / Zen Center of Los Angeles
June 20, 2021, Westchester Zen Circle Newsletter

[Edited by Lane Igoudin]

I was recently asked to lead a conversation on Fathers’ Day about what we learn from our children and Zen parenting. What came to me was Dogen Zenji’s writing called Tenzo Kyokun, or Instructions to the Cook. There he brings up the three minds the Zen practitioner develops: joyful mind, magnanimous mind, and parental (‘elder’s’) mind (roshin). Quite helpful for all of us, not just the monastery cook.

Dogen explains “parental mind” (‘roshin’), in T. Griffith Foulk’s translation, as follows:

“So-called elder’s mind is the spirit of fathers and mothers. . . People who are outsiders cannot understand what their state of mind is like; they can only understand it when they themselves become fathers or mothers. Without regard for their own poverty or wealth, [parents] earnestly turn their thoughts toward raising their child. Without regard for whether they themselves are cold or hot, they shade the child or cover the child. We may regard this as affectionate thinking at its most intense. A person who arouses this spirit is fully conscious of it. A person who cultivates this spirit is one who truly awakens to it. Therefore, when [the cook] watches over water and watches over grain, in every case they should sustain the caring and warmth of child-rearing!”

This is how parents give their best effort, and how the cook gives their best effort. And, how we can give our best effort all through the day. There’s nothing magic about watching over the water and grain, other than the ordinary magic that results from giving 100% of our attention to what we are doing right now. And that really can be magical.

And in conjunction with this, I thought of the line from the seventh Zen Bodhisattva precept: “I will give my best effort and accept the results.” Note the word “give” in the precept. I see this as wholehearted giving with no thought of return. No strings attached.

What happens when we throw ourselves completely into our effort, doing the very best we can [for our children], without expecting anything back?

We can then accept the result with no qualms.

We have no power to change the current conditions, but how much energy do we waste lamenting it? Completely accept this moment and all of history leading up to it.

Now – what can we do about the next moment, [i.e., what is it that my child truly needs right now]? It hasn’t happened yet, and even though we can’t control it, we do have influence. Offer everything you have to help the next moment come into being. Your viewpoint is absolutely unique, so give it to the world. Don’t be stingy (eighth Zen precept)!

Be fully effective by not wasting time and energy complaining about [your child’s] past and present [actions], and instead putting all that energy into our shared life going forward. Give it all away with no expectations of return, and you’ll naturally be in equanimity, so when the results become evident you’ll be able to accept them completely. And immediately move on to attending to the next moment.

Over and over and over.

* Bracketed additions and boldface in Roshi Ryodo’s text are by Lane Igoudin.

Photo: A Buddha statue from the Mogao Grottoes © Lane Igoudin, 2016