The Dhamma Is Our True Mother
Repaying the Blessings of Our Mothers
A Dhamma Talk by Venerable Thepvisuddhimedhī (Ajahn Paññānanda—Ajahn Panyananda)
Wat Chonprathan Rangsarit, Pakkret, Nonthaburi, Thailand; August 12, 1990
Honoured lay supporters of the Buddhist assembly, today, August 12th, which happens to fall on a Sunday this year, is the birthday anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen, who is a prominent figure in Thailand. Thai people refer to her as the Imperial Mother, because she is the partner in merit and virtue of His Majesty the King. They have been united in action and spirit performing numerous good deeds for the nation. We the citizens of Thailand and the subjects of Her Majesty call to mind the kindness she has shown and wish her blessings, by way of the radio, television and newspapers, throughout the country.
The sound of the blessings resonates throughout the heavens. If the well-wishes of the people come true, Her Majesty the Queen will indeed live a very long time, and be free from illness, grief, danger and all obstacles. This is the nature of blessings—when one does good everyone benefits, especially us on this Sunday.
Today at the Buddhist Sunday School there was a special Mother’s Day celebration. The children had a lot of fun with the activities. This morning I met with the children and spoke to them about gratitude to their mothers. The Buddhist Sunday School is run by monks. Each year a new group of monks is selected to take responsibility. This year Venerable Mahā Ahgon is acting as director of the school.
This year there are many children—about one thousand, including three hundred young children. More and more, parents are trusting the monks to help shape the hearts and minds of their young children, to the point that the main meeting hall is becoming cramped. In fact the school is spacious—the children simply need to divide into smaller groups. The school is thus able to benefit the wider society.
Mother’s Day is an important holiday in Thailand. In earlier times Mother’s Day occurred in April. Mother’s Day in Thailand was started by Mrs. Phibunsongkhram, the wife of Prime Minister Field Marshal P. Phibunsongkhram. They organized a contest for productive mothers—the award was given to mothers who had many children. The children also had to be exemplary people.
These days they don’t have such a contest for fertility because the population of Thailand has increased sufficiently. They have therefore abandoned this tradition. Now they should have a contest for mothers who have few children! Of course to compete women would have to have at least one or two children. And then one should look at the quality of the children. Awards could be given to those mothers whose children are successful, prominent, and virtuous.
The mother of Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai is one such good person. She has already received awards for raising her children so well. Mr. Chuan Leekpai is an exemplary person—a Prime Minister with little money! Even the opposition parties have claimed there is only one poor person in Thailand—Mr. Leekpai. He is indeed poor—he doesn’t even have a house to live in and at the moment is living with friends.
Recently I sent some monks to invite him to speak in Trang Province. The monks arrived at his home, entered his little room, and asked: ‘Is this the way a Prime Ministers lives?’ He replied: ‘This isn’t my home—I’m staying with friends.’ He didn’t yet have his own home. In fact he had been the senior minister in several different departments and had had plenty of opportunity to enrich himself. He had been the minister of the Department of Agriculture and could have got rich with the sawmills and the forestry officials. But he never got rich with them because he chose not to. He was the minister of the Department of Health and could easily have got rich, because there are many profits and commissions to be made buying medical equipment all over the country. As a senior minister he should have become wealthy, but he didn’t want to. He is someone who is unable to take, unable to consume, unable to deceive others. This is why he is so small. The Thai people like him for this reason.
Later, Mother’s Day was moved to the day of Her Majesty’s birthday. This is similar to National Day, which was originally celebrated on June 24th, to mark the transition of the political system from an absolute monarchy to a democracy.
Countries that have been colonized determine their National Day as the day when they were freed from imperialism. For example, the United States consider July 4th Independence Day, marking the day that it was freed from domination by England. Countries like Thailand, however, which have a monarchy celebrate National Day as the birthday of their monarch. Our king was born on December 5th and therefore this date marks both National Day and Father’s Day. Father’s Day, however, is not as important as Mother’s Day. Mothers have a slight advantage because of the important work they do. Fathers—don’t feel slighted that mothers are given more attention. For when mothers are given recognition fathers also receive these blessings.
One of the ex-monks in Yala has many children, all of whom studied well, have found good jobs, and are good people. Every time they write home they address their letters to their mother, never to their father. People ask him whether his children don’t love him. He replies that they do, but it’s enough that they write only to their mother. When they send money he also benefits because his wife shares it with him. Therefore, he does not feel sorry for himself when people only talk about Mother’s Day.
Parents consist of both mothers and fathers. In Pali mothers are mentioned first in the expression mātā-pitā. In India mothers are given great importance. In the Thai language we mention fathers first—bidah-mahndah—although here too mothers are highly respected. If the woman of the household can look after affairs skilfully, this makes life easier for everyone in the family.
Many important men in the past have found success because of the women of the household. At the time of absolute monarchy men relied on their wives in order to advance, because the women could enter the palace, have access to the inner court, and be on intimate terms with the queen. As a result the husbands were given royal titles. This is still true today. If the lady of the household is on intimate terms with members of the royal family, she is likely to know when vacancies to important positions occur and can influence the next appointment. Women are thus still leaders in the household, even if the fame often rests with the men.
This is similar to organizing a play. Although the actors are important, not many people think of the stage managers, who set the stage and arrange the scenery beforehand. The actors arrive, get dressed up, and perform, but even then the stage managers are busy. One should not underestimate their importance. In every family the women of the household are vital. If these women are virtuous and skilful the family will flourish. If they are not good, however, the family will decline. It won’t advance in status, because people often look to see if the woman of the house is virtuous.
In the United States, when the electorate is about to vote for a president, it is not only the merits of the male candidates that counts. The voters also look at the candidate’s wife, because she will become First Lady. Is she modest, kind, knowledgeable and adequately skilled?—the people look at these qualities as well. The male candidate is more likely to be elected if he has a virtuous wife. For this reason the First Ladies in America tend to be good people. There appears to be only one exception to this rule and that is the wife of President Abraham Lincoln.
According to historical records Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was rather horrible. On the day of his marriage Lincoln got dressed up and was asked by a nephew where he was going. He replied, ‘To hell, I suppose.’ He said this because the bride was an aristocrat from French descent who was very haughty and treated Lincoln like a servant. Lincoln, however, was a virtuous person, with fortitude and determination, and he survived this ordeal.
There are many stories in European history of queens creating all sorts of problems and creating disaster for the ruling kings. These are stories of the lady of the house behaving badly, and for this reason the people in democratic countries also elect the spouses of the president, looking to see what sort of character she is.