In the Tibetan schools of Buddhism, a teacher is called a Lama. In this word “lama”, the “la” means “high“ or “best“, and “ma” as in many languages, means “mother“. So, the Lama is the “best mother”, and this idea, that the teacher, ideally even the Buddha, is like a mother, is very widespread in Buddhism. The compassion of the Buddhas is like the feeling of a mother for a child.
I remember, when I was a child my parents took me to live in Cyprus. I was an only child and my mother was alone with me as there were not very many other English people; and when I was only three years old, my mother decided that it would be a good idea for me to attend the local convent school; and apparently – I don’t have a direct memory of this – but apparently, she took me to the school and she stood there talking to the nun who would take me into the building and handed me over to the nun, Sister Kevin, and I burst into tears and cried bitterly, but my mother steeled herself and walked away and stood behind a nearby hedge and watched from a distance; and, apparently, as soon as she was out of sight my tears stopped and I became interested in what this new world was, that I was now entering and sister Kevin took me by the hand and led me into the building – and I was ok. And my mother was, of course, greatly relieved to see that things were all right.
And, of course, this is … this is a common sentiment and difficulty that one encounters: the mother feels great tenderness for the child and when the child cries and is distressed, the mother only wants to comfort the child, but at the same time the mother knows that it may be best sometimes to steel herself and let the child go forth into the world and not be overly protective.
This is the same in the relationship of a spiritual teacher to the disciple. The teacher wants to protect and nurture the disciple, but also knows that for the disciple to grow, sometimes you have to face these situations, where there is distress or there is a challenge, or there is a difficulty and you have to steel yourself and manage the emotions that come up.
So, this is the position of the Lama - the best mother. The best mother is not the one who necessarily always give in to the child’s emotion, and, of course, the conditions, in which the emotion arises, may quickly change as they did for me: as soon as my mother was out of sight, a completely different mentality took over and I was now exploring a new world.
We all hope for those whom we are responsible that they will explore new worlds, that they will grow and develop and take on new things. In our Global Sanga we see people taking on responsibilities, organizing things, getting on, solving the difficulties that arise. This is a wonderful thing. We all care deeply for one another – like mothers for their children.
Thank you very much
Namo Amida Bu