Saturday, January 9, 2010

Craving & Parenthood

"Life is filled with craving. Craving causes to stress. To eliminate stress, just eliminate craving. To eliminate craving..." the stuff we do. Sit on a cushion. Wear black. If you like Confucius, get up-tight about oryoki, if you like Lao Tse, get non-dualistic about ritual - whatever does it for you. But eliminate craving.

It works for me as an individual - but not as a parent! To aid his life-long happiness I had to go through ten days of misery with my son recently - worth doing, but I needed a strong motivation to launch into such a painful process.

Craving is a great motivator! So, because I craved his long-term welfare, we went through the process, it was horrid, but life's better now and I suspect lots of lumps of suffering have been erased from his future. I only did it because craving made me. Clearly craving eliminates suffering!

Seems a bit of a paradox here. For the Zen practitioner, eliminating craving really does make life better: but as a parent, can one do without it?

Is this the big difference between Zen and Theravada?
Theravada: "Eliminate craving."
Zen: "Seek Right Action. And sometimes craving is Right Action."

What do you guys think? Extra cred points awarded to the opinions of anyone who confesses to being a parent!


  1. Maybe you could be a little more especific about what you mean by "10 days of misery".
    A lot of "the difference between Zen and Theravada" is in what you put in those words. Yes, Theravada sais "eliminate craving". Well, it sais also, abandon your son, he's an obstacle (Rahula means obstacle by the way) and go to the forest (or to a temple to be fed). Theravada sais also "before, during and after doing, thinking or saying something reflect if your action is going to be of benefit for you, for others or both". The Buddha said this to his son (the obstacle). Theravada sais also, put craving into use, until you are able to let it go; in other words, when crossing to the other shore (no "the other shore is this shore" in Theravada) hold really fast to the raft!

    And last, Theravada sais also "right action"; remember, "no path" came much later with the Heart Sutra; until then, there was a path and there was right action in this path.

    But, my question, what has this to do with your son and "10 days of misery"?
    You sit, you wear black (I hope you wear also other colors!) you have a wife, you have a son and...

    Are you going to the left or to the right? or, are you staying where you are?

    (How many points do a I get with this answer?)

  2. I don't know much about differences between Zen and Theravada, but I would say that the idea of eliminating craving poses a problem, as an idea attached to stories and circumstance, and that it is not inherently a problem at all. Craving comes from discomfort, or need. It is the outward movement/seeking via actions and the distraction of thoughts to something to relieve our emptiness and the subsequent hunger. And nothing outside of ourselves can do that, can change that, can forever fill that emptiness or hunger. The subtle yet quantum shift from seeking out to turning inward relieves the discomfort that causes craving not by avoiding or "trying to eliminate" craving, but by feeling one's self without the added anxiety of trying to eliminate it. In feeling hungry, in pain, alone, and broken, there is really nothing to crave.
    I am a parent. It is my understanding at this point in my brief experience of the matter, that i can not, in reality, relieve or prevent my son's suffering. As I can not know his experience in the past, present, or future. I can only come to know my own. In any attempt to control his future suffering i only see myself suffering in the illusion of control. He does not need me nor anything from me. His karma is his own, and my karma is my own. My craving for my son's well being, happiness and protection, is a projection of my own cravings for myself. And in doing things that I believe will will be of greater good to him in the long term, I feel less suffering, but I do not believe a story that his suffering will be changed by my doings. It breaks my heart to see him suffer, so I try to relieve it, but I can't myself out of the equation... my own experience of relief in the act of offering relief. I too, am curious to know what you guys think. And extra extra credit points for the opinions of parents.

  3. Do Jhana, thanks for the info on Rahula - I never knew that! Yes, I go along with the notion of using craving, then releasing it when appropriate - that's what I try to do.

    Shojin Yushi, I feel we can act to diminish our children's suffering. If you feel it's their karma that runs things, fine - but then my intervention is part of my son's karmic fruit!

    The actual situation was about my son getting on with everyone at school but not taking time to make proper friends with anyone - a friendship tourist, which is fine at school but leaves one rather lonely in the holidays. Having subtly hinted at the situation in the past to no effect, I had to state it rather baldly. Pointing out that someone has no friends is painful and causes friction in a relationship - but say nothing and he'd have a long summer of lonliness come the long vacation. I've no regrets - when awoken to a challenge, he tends to deal with it successfully and thus a few days' discomfort and associated pain in our relationship will more than pay off in terms of lonliness and feelings of inadequacy avoided - but I needed that craving for his overall happiness to make me bite the bullet and say something painful.

    So Do Jhana, the "ten days of suffering" about which you ask - I was craving being close to my son, had a temporary distance from him emotionally, and that caused suffering. Should I have worked on not craving closeness with my son? I think not - anyone disagree?

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  5. What a great blog. I agree with you Michael. As parents we can act to diminish our children's suffering.

    If being a orphan or having parents who doesn't care about parenting is part of the karmic fruit, why having parents who care would not be part of someones karma?

    Clearly we can't have everything under control, but we can do some actions to prevent or relieve suffering in others.

  6. Hello everyone,

    I'm no parent (so I guess I'm going to need more points :P), but I am pretty sure that craving has to be abandoned (or let go, if you prefer). Craving, in any form that I'm aware of, makes me suffer. This is what I observe. So the Buddha said, if you want to be free from suffering for ever (aka Nirvana), then let go of craving. However, we can choose to let some amount of suffering in our lives (it's a free world, after all :).

    Of course, as Shojin Yushi said, "trying to eliminate" craving is another form of craving, and so it causes suffering.

    After reading the whole story, I guess you made a wise decision by confronting your son that way. But to do that you don't need craving, do you? Could you still have done the same thing without experiencing craving? Yes. Would you have experienced less suffering? I guess so. So, the main question (or the question I would ask myself and do ask myself each and every time) is: do I really need craving to do what I do? So far, I've found the answer to be "No" (the hard thing, actually, is to let go of that craving, and I'm sure it must be truly hard when it comes to your son). And that's why I still have faith in the path and in the wisdom of Master Gotama (and all the rest that came after and before him :P).

    May you be well

  7. When "right action" is painful, craving can give us the final kick up the arse. It helps us do the right thing.

    And yes, the craving, as is always the case, makes us suffer - but parents are willing to endure that suffering, indeed to embrace it if it brings their children peace of mind.

    I don't feel Gotama would object. He would say, "The building is on fire. If you go back in, you'll be burnt." But if you told him your family was trapped inside, he'd spring up and say, "I'm going in with you."

  8. Hi Michael,

    I just found your blog and I find it very interesting. I'm also a parent, married father of three children and craving is daily in here, in my life. But I don't think it's "bad" or anything. Life is life and life is full of practice. Craving itself is not wrong but attaching on craving... that's not good. We have a possibility to practice Buddha's path every second, every moment. We have a chance to learn from our mistakes.

    Take care!


  9. Thank you for your post. Your suggestion that it is attaching to craving - not the craving itself - which is the problem is very helpful. Yes - if we are mindful of the carving and accept the consequences of the craving, then that is a family life, Zen-style.

  10. Hi Michael,

    I too think Uku's on to something with that. A question on Dosho Port's blog promted this response from me:

    He asked: Is a person of great refined activity through interconnection free from suffering?

    I reckoned: 'Great refined activity'... sounds sort of sterile, right?

    What if 'great refined activity' is, or involves, dragging my ass kicking and screaming through the shit hole of my messy inconsistent and manifestly unrefined life. What good would I be to anyone if I hopped straight on the nearest cloud a farked off up to someone else's Seventh Heaven?

    What would I learn in that that would be any use to anyone?

    When I think of the processes of refining things (oils, wines, manure, garbage...) the first thing that springs to mind is the mess.

    Later on a follow-up question arose in my noggin...

    ... which leads me to the question of whether it's possible for someone to be 'too realised'... you know, too far over their own delusion to be of any use to us bozos down here???

    I think maybe a feature of 'the Bodhisattva Way' (and I'm wary of even using that term) is not to free oneself from suffering in the 'transcendant' sense, but to leap free of it, and fully experience it, in order to be of service 'down here' right in the thick of it.



  11. ...When we 'leap free' we have to drop back down to Earth and deal with matters at some point was my notion there.



  12. Perhaps what you're expressing is the difference between refusing to stand in a cold stream, or just accepting that your legs feel a certain way when you stand in a cold stream.

    One approach is rather more helpful than the other if people need carrying across to the other side.

  13. Yes, M.

    In terms of parenting, in my own case, it has to be said that there are often the effortless, seemingly innate, spontaneous and natural responses to looking at the cute, cuddly faces of my kids and just responding to what needs at that time. No problems there/then.

    On the other hand, there is the element of all of the crap that I just have to put up with... and I'd be lying if I said there wasn't an element of endurance and struggling to maintain high tolerance levels in my 'caring' for kids that are sometimes irrational to satanic extremes.

    There's 'fine lines' and grey areas too... what do you let them away with? What do you not let them away with? Is it right to get cross with them if they do this or that, or don't do this or that?

    And, of course, there's all that 'modern parenting' literature and lore that new parents bore you with if you're unlucky enough to get stuck beside them at parties (now THAT is stuff that I am certainly not attached to and do not crave ;-)



  14. Great discussion. As the father of a 15 year old son into deathcore metal, craving is something I have been thinking about a lot lately - particularly watching young men at metal gigs seeking experiences, on stage or in the mosh pit, hungry for anything that will register to them as real. Being free of everyday mind definitely happens at metal gigs.

    And craving can't be all bad. After a couple of hours without water I crave something to drink - or die of thirst.

    Craving for my son to acquire the skills to successfully navigate his life is a real, heart felt drive - tempered by a growing realisation that the things I thought would "make a difference" to him hardly register and yet he has been deeply affected by what to me where slight, trivial behaviours or words.

  15. Hi Mike,

    My son is learning the drums - I am paying £25 each week for him to progress towards something like "deathcore metal". I question my sanity!

    But perhaps it's not bad Zen training for him, as the only way to survive in a mosh pit is with Zen mind - focus on living fully in the moment and you'll be fine. Go in tnetatively, fearing injury, and you'll be injured!

    I don't think there's any teaching saying that craving's "bad" - simply that it brings with it suffering. Today I was craving that my son would hold his hockey stick properly (ok, not much compared with World peace) and he wasn't holding his stick properly, so I suffered. That's part of the deal. But if I hadn't craved other stuff in the past, he'd now be missing out on the benefits that come with being selected for the hockey team. Some things you can buy your children with your money; some things you buy them with your time - but some things it seems one can only buy with one's suffering!