A Lesson in Filiality

The Tribe   |   James Roberts  |   March 24, 2011, 5:11 am

My stepfather passed away Sunday afternoon, having been bedridden with cancer for two months. There are a lot of stories to be told about what the past two months have been like for everyone involved, but for this post I just want to tell the story of what my own experience has been like, and how living at The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) has changed that for me.

More than any other Buddhist teacher I have encountered, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua emphasized the importance of filiality in Buddhist practice. I can’t say that I completely comprehend all of his reasons for this unusual emphasis, but I can say that my encounter with this teaching has had an immeasurably positive impact on my life in a very short period of time.

I could say that most of what I’ve learned about Master Hua’s teachings on filiality have come to me through one of this senior disciples, Rev. Heng Sure, through various lectures. Rev. Heng Sure describes filiality as “the practice of returning the kindness of one’s parents.”

I could also say that much of what I’ve learned about this teaching has come to me through my connection to the CTTB community. I have received so much support in the past few weeks from people offering to hear about how my family is doing; people offering to listen to my experience around my stepfather’s death; people suggesting readings and practices that would be supportive to me and my family during this time. I’ve found all of this support also helps me to support my mother, who I’ve been calling often just to check in. I think the most important thing I’ve learned from this, which I could never learn from a book, is that when a person has the support of a caring community, it empowers them to be much more supportive of their own family—and what a blessing that is for everyone.

On a personal level, I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is just seeing how heavy my heart has been since my stepfather’s passing. We were never really very close; we never shared any particularly intimate moments. But I know how important he’s been to my mother, and so I’ve thought of my role in his passing as mostly just being there to support my mother during her loss. So I’ve been, in a way, surprised by my own process of grief.

There is a verse that a friend of mine told to me, also given by Rev. Heng Sure in a lecture on Earth Store Bodhisattva:

The tree would be still, but the wind does not stop.
The child wishes to be filial, but his parents are gone.

In a way, it’s both sad and heartwarming to realize how much you cared for someone, even after it’s too late to express it.

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