Articles February 1, 2012

Interview: Fatherhood

Jack Kornfield

How has fatherhood influenced/informed/affected your dharma teaching and/or practice?

There is nothing like raising children to open you to wild, inexhaustible love, and vast trust and endless patience. Being a father is one of the greatest joys of my life . . . and it has given a warmth and down-to-earth immediacy to my teaching and practice.

As a Dharma teacher, your children keep you humble. You can’t go home to your teenager and be “a teacher." Once when I got upset, I remember my daughter saying with a smile, “Dad, I think it’s time for you to go meditate.”

Whatever I have offered as a father has been returned one hundred fold.

- Jack Kornfield

Being a father has been one of the most important aspects of my Dharma practice. It’s provided me with the greatest opportunity to cultivate all four brahmavihāras. Lovingkindness has been an effortless outflowing of the heart. When my sons are going through a hard time, compassion—deep caring for their suffering—naturally follows. There’s nothing like seeing Adam or Tony experience success to open the channel to genuine sympathetic joy. But it’s equanimity that is real ongoing practice.

There’s nothing like parenthood to help cultivate equanimity. Staying balanced behind my sons’ ups and downs without trying to take away their pain or make them any different than who they are has been a most profound practice in letting go and honoring their life’s journey. I find the more I’m able to just be there for them without trying to change them, the more they seem to reach out for my moral support and counsel. Being a father is a profound practice, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to cultivate patience, love and an open heart.

- James Baraz

My daughter, Aya, was born soon after I began meditating. Becoming a father rooted me in lay life. This meant engaging in practice intensively both on retreat and within the structures of family life and responsibility. Aya's birth opened my heart. I remember walking home in San Francisco after she was born and I had a living vision, I saw each person as a newborn baby. It put the world in a new perspective to be part of the cycle of life.

In an ongoing way, being a father is like everything else in life—it's a practice. The most significant feature of parenting as practice is letting go. From the minute the child is born they are growing, changing, and developing. If you try and hold them to any one stage or phase, it's dukkha, suffering. I developed a practice model of concentric circles.

As a parent you hold the child appropriately at each stage, but you are also willing to drop that circle when they need to expand and hold them within the next larger circle until that, too, becomes too small and needs to drop away. In this way, parenting has clarified the difference between love and attachment. Attachment is limited and limiting, love is boundless, limitless.

- Eugene Cash