[Buddha-l] Joanna Kirk <jkirk@spro.net>

jkirk jkirk at spro.net
Sat Feb 24 20:57:34 MST 2007

So I wonder and ask if, in the texts somewhere, the Buddha is said to be
like a mother. When I was in Thailand in 1985, I was told that brief
inscriptions under folk art paintings of the Buddha on truck headboards
addressed him (calling on him for protection) as Mother.  A Thai person told
me this, but as I don't read Thai I could not confirm it myself. If the
Buddha was considered then, as ordinary Indians today consider and address
powerful patrons/saviors/helpers--as "Maa-Baap", Mother-Father--perhaps this
usage is as ancient as the texts. If it had been common in those days, it
would serve to solve the householder/monk ethical conflicts just noted, by
transcending the householder
ethics level in favor of the sangha vows level, by turning the Buddha into a
parent --as Catholics do when they address a priest as Father.

I do not know of any maternal reference to the Buddha in the Pali Canon.
However, the Pajaapatii Gotamii Apadaana has an interesting passage which
may throw some light on the concept of a greater "spiritual family" as 
against a "biological" one. 

31. O Well-gone One, I am your mother; | and you, O Wise Hero, are my father:
     O giver of happiness of the True Teaching, | O refuge, I was given birth by you, O Gotama!

(For Walters' tr, see Buddhism In Practice (ed DS Lopez, Jr, 1995:121)

Here we clearly see worldly language used by Gotamii in pada a, and Dharma language 
in pada b. Gotamii is "mother" because she suckled Siddhattha as a baby (could she 
have been the Bodhisattva's real mother?) But she declares the Buddha to be her "spiritual
father", since she benefitted from his teaching.

What we have here is a good example of a "debiologization" of the family, expanding
it (or breaking the barriers) to include all beings (like Indra's net of jewels), recognizing
that all beings (not just humans) are really one cosmic family. However, in the early 
Buddhist context I think this refers simply to a common human family (cf Vaase.t.tha 
Sutta, where the Buddha speaks of a common species, Sn 600-611). I don't think 
any religion has so successfully developed such an idea and actually applied it as a 
social reality (the Buddhist monastic system).

We do however have an interesting case of a monk, namely, Saariputta, who is compared
to a mother, in the Sacca Vibha"nga Sutta (M 141):

"Cultivate the friendship of Saariputta and Moggallaana,bhikshus. Associate with Saariputta 
and Moggallaana. They are wise and helpful to their companions in the holy life. Saariputta 
is like a mother; Moggallaana is like a nurse. Saariputta trains others for the fruit of 
stream-entry; Moggallaana for the supreme goal. Saariputta, monks, is able to declare, 
teach, describe, establish, reveal, expound and ex­hibit the four noble truths.” (M 3:248)
Really interesting, Piya..........thanks for finding a sutta example of what I asked about,  when Sariputta is compared to a mother (and Mogallana to a father.) I see this as a variation of the contemporary folk practice I referred to earlier.  The Thai folk practice I came across--addressing a painted Buddha image as mother--doesn't exactly correspond to the differences found in these suttas. The latter referred to living people, the folk idea to an image. But the folk also have been described as acting as if the Buddha was like a god who is present, and so asking him for maternal protection, the mother being the dominant symbol of such protection.
In other cultures, truck slogans address only Mother, asking for protection...it might be the Virgin Mary, the driver's own mother, or a goddess. 

And yes, I see the point on Gotami's use of two different metaphors of address, one alluding to her early role as second mother to the bodhisattva as infant, and the other wittily warping the familial term father into evoking the ancient simile of spiritual rebirth, when she says the Buddha is father, and also/thereby gave birth to her (merging the two parental functions).   
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