My Lovely Fetter and Building Buddhas

Crossposted over at Dharma Mouth Punch but worth reposting over here….

The ten fetters that bind the us to the world are (1) self-identity views, (2) uncertainty/skeptism, (3) the concious and unconcious clinging to habits & practices, (4) sensual passion, (5) irritation, (6) attachmen to form, (7) attachment to formlessness, (8) conceit, (9) restlessness, & (10) ignorance.

Oh, my lovely, lovely fetters.

We look into so many spiritual recipes to remove our fetters.  Some passed down from generation to generation and some new fusions containing different styles and cultures but they all try to explain and delineate the same thing ~ How many?  How many retreats to I need to go on to remove them?  How many minutes sitting in zazen will do?  How many blogs, Dharma talks or sesshins?  How many masters?  How. Many. Moments.

Every moment is a personal recipe.  It isn’t complex and doesn’t need to be.  The only ingredient of interest is action.  Taking one moment in meditation or mindfulness is the only quantity on which you need to focus.  One moment spent in compassion rather than judgment.

When Master Ikkyu was asked what the most profound teaching of Zen was he replied “Attention.”  When asked for more elaboration and commentary on that teaching he replied “Attention.  Attention.  Attention.  What else is there?”  The questioner grew angrier and asked “Well what is attention anyway?”

“Attention is attention” was Ikkyu’s profound, quiet reply.

A friend mentioned that the endearment I use to describe my daughter “Samsara-toddler” would be better described, in Buddhist terms, as “Fetter.”  My lovely little fetter.  This struck a strong chord as I have felt uncertain and fearful that my practice was faltering due to increased duties at work and at hime.  In reality, it is just my own clinging to outdated modes and ideas of practice (insisting on silent moment for meditation or more free time) that was holding me back ~ not my familial obligations.  Grasping at the past is a fetter and shows an ignorance of or (at very least) a lack of internalization of impermenance.  The life of a householder does not limit practice but allows my practice to change and evolve.  I can either stop practicing altogether or I can adapt my practice to the moment.  I can ignore the fire or allow it to temper this practice. Strengthen it.  Create resolve.

Attention is attention.

My lovely Fetter.

I got up early this morning to practice yoga and sit zazen until I needed to get ready for work.  While beginning my first few stretches my two-year-old walked in and asked for breakfast.  My first reaction was “There goes that. No meditation. No practice this morning.”  But it didn’t feel quite right so I prepared her breakfast and then set myself up for zazen and sat.  While a TV was blaring on one side and a (now fully awake and active) toddler on the other, I sat in zazen for 15 minutes.  The actions and noises and responsibilities were each noticed, addressed and then allowed to move on while I sat under my own personal, domestic waterfall of householder duties and distractions.

There is very little interest in inculcating Buddhist dogma into my child. But for the values that I find dear, I must create a bridge that does not exist here—a bridge to the understanding of Buddhism without ever being Buddhist. Values and concentration without dogma and secterianism.  For a child to see a practice develop is the best way to impart these morals.  To see a calm mind and compassionate actions are the flesh and bones of a little Buddha.  Stories and holidays, retreats and sesshins will create Buddhists but experiences, insights, and concentration will build Buddhas. 

Zen is experiential and the direct experience of a child seeing compassionate action, contemplation and openess in their daily lives will, with care and tenderness, build Buddhas. 

My lovely Buddha.


8 thoughts on “My Lovely Fetter and Building Buddhas

  1. very nicely written

    in my own experience, I bash myself for my clinging attachments to people, emotions, experience…
    I fail daily
    I fell away from almost any sort of practice for several months
    difficult situations made me a “bad Buddhist”

    I have to remind myself constantly that sometimes generosity, or just reminding myself of the precepts, is enough in that moment and to be working towards being ready to resume water bowl offerings, prostrations, etc etc

    I am trying to make life my practice, not fit practice into my life.
    I’m not very good at it, but I am trying.

    Hopefully when I return to India I will be ready for further growth/progress on the path.

  2. My little fetter left for her first year of college last week. There were many days over the past 17 years that I managed to stretch and sit, and many more that I didn’t. What was the difference between those days? Attention.

    Now the nest is quiet. Easier attention? Sure…but that alone will not carry me through an uninterrupted string of morning sittings. It’s up to me to sit.

    Thank you for this post. I especially like “every moment is a personal recipe,” considering that, after sitting this morning, I spent a good long while in the kitchen. Not 100% mindful, but certainly more focused and joyful than
    if I hadn’t taken the time to sit first.

    I’m interested to see how my lovely Buddha does out there, hoping that her foundation is strong to support her building.

  3. Great post. It will get a little better as they get older but you’ve got the right idea. I used to want peace and quiet to sit and my kids wouldn’t let me get that. Eventually, I stopped closing the door and let them in and accepted the distraction they brought. Now they sit with me sometimes and see my practice grow. Kids ate great teachers. They may be fetters but their Buddha Nature shines through much more easily than it does in adults.

    • Kids ate great teachers.

      Oh Shit! That would explain the lack of genuine teachers in my household. Samsara toddler on the prowl!


  4. “To see a calm mind and compassionate actions are the flesh and bones of a little Buddha. Stories and holidays, retreats and sesshins will create Buddhists but experiences, insights, and concentration will build Buddhas.”

    I love this.

    I read somewhere (I can’t remember the source now) where I woman said something along the lines of “People can’t stand me when I’m a Buddhist, but they love me when I’m a Buddha.” We should all try to be Buddhas more often:)…though my kids are older than yours and I wonder what I’ve taught them about being Buddhas at times.

    What the Buddha named his son — Rahula — actually means “fetter.” I’ve often felt uncomfortable with the story of the Buddha leaving his family, but I can sympathize. I went through a period of feeling really isolated and trapped when my kids were very small. A lot of frustration about too much busy-ness, not being able to “hear myself think,” etc. “Spiritual practice,” was one thing, all the mundane stuff was another, and it seemed no amount of reading would force into my brain the realization that life and practice are one and the same. It took sitting in a zendo and chanting about the man standing in water and crying out in thirst to make me go, “Aha!” and realize that this stuff of my life is what I need to practice right now (unfortunately, it came to the point where I no longer sat for quite a while, which I wish I had kept at). The other day, exasperated by my complaining 14 year old daughter, I exclaimed at her, “You’re like the man standing in water and crying out in thirst.” More quick-witted then me, she came right back with, “Duh, he’s standing in salt water!!!”

    Those toddler years go by so quick, someday you’ll wonder where they went and where this big huge teenager with an attitude came from (or maybe yours won’t have the attitude 🙂

  5. My Karate Sensei taught me to practice presence in everything I do without a thought to past or future just the now. It was a breakthrough for me really as I thought I never had time to practice, in fact, I always had time.

  6. High-Five fellow householder practitioner. A child will challenge your practice in every way imaginable. It wasn’t until I stopped thinking of myself and practice as the most important thing in the room that the door of compassion opened up. What a great teaching! Who needs a monastery?!?!

    With Metta

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