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Applying the Philosophy

Buddhist Parenting During a Pandemic

Illustration by ArdeA / Getty Images

A parenting meme had this recipe for iced coffee: have kids, make coffee, forget you made coffee, drink it cold. Parenting is hard enough. Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic, which has essentially turned our home into our office (or unemployment office), classroom, restaurant and gym, and even Maria von Trapp would be nonplussed.

Kidding aside, pandemic parenting has meant juggling ever-shifting demands while keeping our families safe, many times without the benefit of extended family support. But what is our Buddhist practice if not the compass that helps us navigate the most challenging times? Here, we’ll explore how Buddhism can give us perspective and hope amid all the competing demands of pandemic parenting.

1) Our Family Members Are “Good Friends” From the Remote Past

Early in the quarantine, a magazine cartoon showed a family of four at their dinner table with the caption: “O.K., let’s find out if we like each other.” We may have at one point in our life envisioned a family far different from our own. But our Buddhist practice teaches that being members of the same family implies deep karmic ties and relations from the remote past. Nichiren Daishonin spoke of his own family, saying, “It is no doubt because of karmic forces that they became my parents, and I, their child.”[1]

Buddhism holds that each family has been together lifetime after lifetime, playing various roles throughout. In one lifetime, we may have been the parent, in others, the child or partner. In any case, the role we play is to lead our family members to enlightenment, or unshakable happiness in this lifetime—to function as “good friends” who help one another deepen our faith and develop our humanity.

When we’re aware of “the infinite extent of our relations,” as Henry David Thoreau put it, it helps us appreciate our family members from a deeper perspective. Ikeda Sensei says of such ties: “Since we became a family because of a profound connection, we should help one another become happy as good friends.”[2]

2) Every Child Has a Unique and Irreplaceable Mission

The Lotus Sutra tells the story of the “parable of the three kinds of medicinal herbs and two kinds of trees.” Imagine a forest filled with grasses, trees and medicinal herbs, all varying in shapes and sizes. A life-giving rain falls equally upon all, but they absorb the moisture differently and thus grow to varying heights and produce different flowers and fruits. In the same way, the Buddha’s compassion nurtures all people equally, regardless of their differences.

All children have their own unique missions to fulfill, and each has their own wonderful qualities that will blossom in their own time. When we shower children equally with love and compassion, they will come to shine in a way most natural to themselves and their unique mission for kosen-rufu. For that reason, it’s vital not to compare our children to others. Rather, Sensei encourages parents to see their children’s development from a long-range perspective:

When parents worry excessively about children, being elated one moment and discouraged the next, that insecurity is passed to the children, creating a vicious cycle. It is important for parents to remain composed and unperturbed by small matters. Children can grow freely when parents have a rich and expansive state of life. Parents must not be impatient. Of course, when children’s sickness causes concern, you have to take them to a doctor. But even when they seem to be progressing slowly in their physical or linguistic development, it is often best to view these problems from a long-range perspective. We must patiently walk alongside children at their pace.[3]

Especially during the pandemic, when children are experiencing major life changes themselves, it’s important to believe in their potential as a Bodhisattva of the Earth, all the while chanting resolutely for their happiness and growth.

3) Take Everything to the Gohonzon

When Shijo Kingo, a loyal samurai disciple, was struggling with severe work problems and his daughter’s illness, Nichiren Daishonin reminded him that no one can avoid problems, “not even sages or worthies.” In a well-loved passage, he explains that the nature of happiness lies in chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in both good times and bad. He writes:

Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, no matter what happens. How could this be anything other than the boundless joy of the Law? Strengthen your power of faith more than ever.[4]

There is no family without problems, and in the course of parenthood, the challenges can be daunting and surprising. What is the key to winning regardless of the nature and severity of our struggles?

For parents, the most important thing is to make prayer the foundation. This year, SGI-USA members rallied around the HOPE Campaign: hope-filled prayer, opening Sensei’s guidance and Nichiren Daishonin’s writings, planting seeds of Buddhahood and encouraging others. When we ground ourselves in the basics of faith, practice and study, we have the life force to take on and overcome any challenge.

Sensei reminds us:

If you can overcome hardships and trials without being discouraged by temporary ups and downs, both you and your children can nurture an indestructible strength of heart. The foundation for this is prayer. Parents pray for their children and the children respond to that prayer, and in this way parents and children grow together. We must not forget to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. We must never forget the basics.[5]

4) Become Like Cotton

When problems occur in the family, the easiest thing to do is to point fingers. But consider this lesson shared by Josei Toda on May 3, 1951, the day he was inaugurated as the second Soka Gakkai president.

As the ceremony was concluding, President Toda led a song with such vigor that a pitcher and glass on a nearby table smashed into each other. President Toda’s spontaneous response was this:

The pitcher may claim, “I broke because I was hit by the glass cup,” and the cup may say “I broke because I was hit by the pitcher.” In fact, they broke because both inherently possess the tendency to break. What would have happened if this were a clash between a piece of cotton and a glass cup? They would never break. Faith is the same. People think they are unhappy because of other people, but that is wrong. If we become the cotton, others will never “break” us. It is pointless to blame others. We must change our own destiny.[6]

Sensei likened this to child rearing. When parents act like “cotton,” gently enwrapping our children, tantrums and all, we show them what it means to be strong.

5) Find Time to Listen to Your Children

No matter how busy we may find ourselves, try to find time to talk with and spend time with your children. The length of time is not important. Sensei encourages parents: “Talk to them. Try to make time to listen to what they have to say. As long as you have love and compassion, you will find the wisdom to make it work.[7]

Some families may always be together physically but are emotionally distant. At the same time, other families may be incredibly busy, but they enjoy strong bonds and harmonious relationships. Heart-to-heart bonds are not determined by how much time is spent together. Rather it comes down to what is in our hearts.

Josei Toda often said that children are emissaries from the infinite past who have been born to enable their parents and those in their environment to attain Buddhahood. He also called them treasures of the future, saying that we should take the best care of them.[8]

Parenting can be messy, both figuratively and literally. But let us remember the profound mission in fostering the next generation of peacemakers and successors to our movement. When we make prayer our foundation and lean into our SGI community, we’ll not only find the wisdom, courage and compassion to make things work, but we’ll also enjoy the ride.


  1. “Letter to Jakunichi-bo,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 993. ↩︎
  2. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, p. 193. ↩︎
  3. Happy Parents, Happy Kids, p. 26. ↩︎
  4. “Happiness in This World,” WND-1, 681. ↩︎
  5. Happy Parents, Happy Kids, p. 29. ↩︎
  6. Ibid., p. 22. ↩︎
  7. Ibid., p. 87. ↩︎
  8. See March 2021 Living Buddhism, p. 55. ↩︎

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