Good morning to all who are present either here at the temple or viewing the live stream or even those who only read this blog. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, and Happy Mother’s Day to my mother who died in 2002.
The most famous mother in the Lotus Sutra is actually a demon. Kishimojin is not the only mother in the Lotus Sutra, she is however the most famous one and a statue of her is usually present in Nichiren Shu temple, ours is on a side altar left of the main altar. Kishimojin is a manifestation of Hariti from India who is the deity representing fertility, childbirth, and childhood diseases. She has both a positive attribute and a negative one as well.
In Eastern mythology just as in Greek mythology the deities were not always without some negative characteristics. The deities were not simple beings who only represent good or evil as is the case later on in Western European mythology where many of the lesser qualities are frequently ignored or not spoken of.
This is actually rather fitting to consider as we celebrate this special day we set aside to celebrate our mothers. Every one of us has a mother, but not all of us are comfortable celebrating our mothers. For many the relationship with their mother is complicated, encompassing both good and bad emotions. Over time some come to a greater appreciation of their mother as they learn to set aside the negative memories. And over time some never reach that healing and continue holding a negative image of their mother.
Mother’s too frequently have complicated relationships with their children. It isn’t always that a child brings joy to the life of the mother.
Relationships are always complicated though we may wish them to be simple.
Kishimojin is portrayed as an ogress or a non-human in Japanese iconography. Throughout the ages in her various representations in different cultures she is not always depicted as such. The influence of the Lotus Sutra on Japan and Japanese culture perhaps is the reason why Kishimojin is depicted in such a way.
According to mythology Kishimojin is the mother of many children, the number varying in different tellings, but in the Lotus Sutra she has 10 children who are raksasa, or devil, and they receive their nourishment by their mother stealing human babies to feed them with.
I had often wondered how this negative image of Kishimojin stealing human babies came about, there must have been some reason for this idea. As it turns out it is the negative aspect of childhood disease that is the root of the idea of Kishimojin stealing human babies.
In the story the humans make pleas to Shakyamuni Buddha to do something to save the children. The Buddha steals one of Kishimojin’s babies and hides it under his robe. When Kishimojin discovers her missing baby and after looking everywhere she goes to the Buddha greatly distraught. The Buddha produces the baby and explains that while she has so many children humans usually only have one or two babies so as much as she missed one of many so too humans miss even more the loss of one of so few.
Repenting her ways Kishimojin then vows to protect practitioners of the Lotus Sutra and to no longer steal babies to feed her own. In Chapter XXVI Kishimojin and her children make vows to protect those who uphold the Lotus Sutra. This is why we set aside a special place for a statue of her.
“Anyone who does not keep our spells
But troubles the expounder of the Dharma
Shall have his head split into seven pieces
Just as the branches of the arjaka-tree [are split].
Anyone who attacks this teacher of the Dharma
Will receive the same retribution
As to be received by the person who kills his parents,
Or who makes [sesame] oil without taking out worms [from the sesame],
Or who deceives others by using wrong measures and scales,
Or by Devadatta who split the Saṃgha.”
(Lotus Sutra, Chapter XXVI)
As I mentioned in the beginning not everyone has a good relationship with their mother, there may be many complicating factors in our memories of our mother. Not everyone has had a good experience with their mother through their lifetime. And not every mother had good experiences with their children. It may not be possible to forgive either our mother or for mothers their children. The hurts may be too deep and too severe.
My own relationship with my mother both when she was alive and even in death is one of those complicated ones. Neither she nor I were perfect in any way. We were neither all good nor all bad. That is most commonly the way of much of our lives. Yet what are we to do with the negative stuff, for the good stuff is usually easy to accept.
I believe that no matter what it is possible to shift our thinking to one of possibilities. Through our practice of Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra it is possible to change our lives in such a way as to open up new ways of either viewing the past or of reinterpreting previous experiences. For some whose mother is no longer living it can be difficult, that is the case with me. There is no one living to sort things out with, and so the work is left to the individual.
Sometimes we are left only with the possibility of moving on, of not being help captive by the past. Sometimes we may be able to come to a realization that no thing is either all good or all bad, even though is it frequently easier to hold on to the bad stuff. It may take learning how to less tightly hold on to the negative and more firmly grasp the sometimes tiny bits of good.
Today on this Mother’s Day it is my prayer that we can all come to celebrate our complicated relationships with our mothers while also realizing that we too are complicated individuals and our mothers may have also complicated relationships with us.
I cannot imagine the difficulty of nor the joy of motherhood. I can only be in awe of the efforts of being a mother. Even my mother showed devotion to being a mother even if it manifest in ways that were sometimes hurtful to me. Today I would like to remember those efforts of nurturing, rearing, providing, protecting, sacrifice, pain, and suffering that my mother gave.