By Leigh Ann Lipscomb
I had a home altar for meditation for over eleven years. Though I’d changed some of the altar’s adornments over the years, it always had a small Buddha, candles, a hand-painted porcelain tea cup for rice and incense, various rocks I’d collected in nature, and pictures of my children.
When my daughter was around four or five years old, the altar—my sacred little haven of refuge—intrigued her. She’d go over when I was not there, pick up, and study the various adornments, and sometimes even sit on the cushion, clearly mimicking me. She’d sit still for a minute at most, and then she’d run off again. Though some part of me wanted to protect my private space from the intrusion of children, later I’d be glad to not have discouraged her from spending time there.
Since I received the formal transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings in 2003 in Plum Village, my altar has sported my ordination certificate. The certificate has the signatures of the teachers, the place and date of the ceremony, the refuge vows, and the full text of the trainings.
One day, my daughter picked up my ordination certificate and asked, “Mommy, what is this?” I explained that when I was away, I’d gone to a retreat, and a ceremony took place where I made a commitment to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. I said, “This is the ceremony people sometimes take as an early commitment to the path of practice. At the end of the ceremony, the teacher gave me this certificate.” When my daughter learned to read a couple years later, she sat at the altar fairly often, reading the certificate. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, as she was curious about so many things.
It was the summer of 2008. We were packing and preparing to leave for the Family Retreat at Deer Park Monastery, which was my children’s first trip. I explained to them that we were going to a monastery where monks and nuns lived full-time to practice Buddhist teachings, and that other parents and children were also coming. “Mommy,” my daughter asked, “Will there be a Five Mindfulness Trainings ceremony?” The question surprised me, and I said yes. We continued our packing, and I turned my attention to other things.
The next day as we were about to leave, she told me she’d like to receive the trainings in a ceremony. I was deeply touched. She was seven, and I didn’t consider it possible for her to understand the trainings nor did I think she’d be allowed to participate in the ceremony at her age. Yet this was almost irrelevant, as her aspiration moved me.
Shortly after we arrived at Deer Park, I explained our situation. The kind, compassionate monk did not roll his eyes in amusement or dismay, as some part of me expected he might. Instead, he explained that in Vietnam it was not uncommon for children my daughter’s age to receive the trainings. As the retreat progressed, he and the nun who’d been working with my daughter in the children’s program felt it was appropriate for her to participate in the ceremony. We decided she’d take all the trainings except the Third Mindfulness Training—the training on sexual misconduct.
The temple ceremony was beautiful; my gratitude and happiness were indescribable. Even now, five and a half years later, when I recall her sitting on her cushion as the trainings were read and the monk calling her name to receive the certificate, tears come to my eyes. The connection I felt to my practice that day even exceeds the connection I have felt during my own ordination ceremonies. The dearness of our children is beyond words and the lessons are life-affirming and life-changing.
Today, my daughter is a happy, thriving seventeen-year-old. Though times have changed and right now she doesn’t want to mimic me or sit on the cushion, we remain very close. I can see that the story of her taking the trainings might have unfolded differently had I been attached to its outcome. Watching her has taught me that the most important things in life cannot be pushed, only exemplified. At times, the merits of the practice can exceed anything previously imagined.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM DHARMAMAMAS.COM/2017/04/26/HOW-MY-SEVEN-YEAR-OLD-CAME-TO-TAKE-THE-PRECEPTS
Leigh Ann Lipscomb, Spacious Presence of the Heart, is a single mother of two beautiful kids, Devin (19) and Iris (17). She lives in Chico, California and has practiced with Slowly Ripening Sangha since 2001. She has a Ph.D. in chemistry and loves writing about the Dharma and helping others transform painful childhood experiences and limiting beliefs.