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I Studied Buddhism For Years But Didn’t Figure It Out Until I Became A Father

The following was syndicated from Medium for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].

When I became a lay Buddhist monk 37 years ago I never imagined becoming a father or that I my children would teach me the life truths I had been trying to understand through meditation and dharma study.

There is a story about a Zen monk who wants to become an archer. He seeks out the finest Zen archery teacher in all of Japan. He asks to become his student and how long his training will last. The teacher says, “It will take your whole life.” The monk says “What if I really apply myself very diligently?” The teacher says, “Then it will take you only 30 years.” But says the monk, “What if I double my efforts, how long would it take me then?” The teacher says, “Then it will take you 70 years.” But says the monk “How could it take me 70 years if I am redoubling my efforts!” The teacher says “Because you are so impatient, it will take you longer.”

Patience And Fatherhood
The fast paced world of today’s society addicts us to get more done in less time. It is a trap we all fall prey to. There is a great force pushing us towards moving faster and faster. As I became aware of this, I let my son and daughter teach me the value of patience, not rushing when my daughter needed time to tie her shoes when she was 5, or sitting in my son’s room with him when he was 7 and listening to the adventures of his days. These are dear moments now in retrospect. By taking time to follow their pace I became much more connected with them and with the world around me. We often took leisurely walks together just to enjoy the “beauty of the moment” as we perused our neighborhood gardens. My whole life has been calmer because my children needed me to be patient. It is the number one tool I teach new dads. “The 5 most important tools in your parenting tool box: patience, patience, patience patience and patience.”

“The 5 most important tools in your parenting tool box: patience, patience, patience patience and patience.”

Ask yourself how you really want to feel when you are with your children. It is not easy to enter the moment or the world of a child. That is what patience is for.

In another story a man goes to see Dogen, a great Zen master living in Kyoto. He travels a great distance and goes through many hardships to see him. When he finally gets his meeting he asks the most important question in his life. Master he says, “what is the meaning of life?”

Master Dogen says, “Use good judgement in all things you do.”

The man walks away thinking to himself how simple. “If I use good judgement with my wife and kids, the people I work with, then everything would be so much better. What profound advice I have gotten!” Then something strikes him. He runs back to Master Dogen’s monastery and begs to see him for one more moment. He enters Dogen’s room and asks him, “But master how do I get good judgement?” Ah, says Dogen, “Bad judgement.”

Learning From Our Mistakes
I know all the correct things to do for raising my children now they are adults! I remember getting angry at my son after his asking for his fifth glass of water while I was trying to get him to go to bed. Finally when he got out of bed to ask for another … I came down our hallway in my sweatpants, shirtless, yelling “You get back in bed right now!” He ran into his room. He jumped into his bed and under the covers and said, “Dad you scared me, you looked like a skeleton!” He was referring to how my ribs must have stuck out when I was yelling. It took me 3 weeks for him to to feel trusting again that I would not frighten him with my anger and we could go back to our loving bedtime routine.

Lesson learned for me. That was a hard one. You can have bad judgment and recover, but you need to acknowledge the mistake to yourself and apologize to the injured party. When my daughter was about 2 years old I was making dinner and she was standing on her stool playing with the water in the bathroom sink. Something she quite enjoyed doing. She inadvertently turned the water on in the sink and it began overflowing onto the bathroom floor. I heard her little voice calling me.

“But master how do I get good judgement?” Ah, says Dogen, “Bad judgement.”

When I came to the bathroom door I was horrified to see the small flood encompassing our bathroom. My daughter looking up and seeing my upset look burst into tears. Everything we do as parent has an effect. I pulled the plug out of the sink. Got some towels and we soaked up the water. Lesson learned, No emergency of minor consequence is worth frightening my daughter. Being calm in the present moment, attending to what is necessary, isn’t that what my Zen practice was all about! Thank you, Julia!

A well known scholar went to visit a local Zen teacher. The Zen teacher asked if he would like a cup of tea. The professor said he would. The Zen teacher started to pour the tea from the kettle into the professor’s cup and kept pouring and pouring and it continued to overflow the cup. Finally the professor could not take it any more and says, “Why do you keep pouring when the cup is already so full!” The Zen teacher says “How can I share with you thoughts on Zen when your mind is already so full of ideas!”

Don’t Be An Expert On Fatherhood … Be Open To Things You Don’t Know
So many books, so many experts. I have even become one! But I constantly remind people I counsel and consult that you must trust yourself first. Trust your basic goodness. Be patient, make mistakes, read a few books take advice for consideration, but trust your “horse sense.”

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” is a quote from a famous Zen Teacher. Keep an open mind and allow yourself not to know.

There are many possibilities. There are many ways to be both a loving father and learn many important things about life … if you let your children teach you. They are naturally “Zen!”

Dr. Bruce Linton is the founder of the Fathers’ Forum programs where he leads Men’s Groups for Dads.

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