Advaita for Mothers (Q. 323)

We are honored to have input from Swamini Atmaprakashananda, a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda  for this week’s question!

Q: My question is, as a mother is it ever possible to not be very attached to my child, and be a mother only by Dharma and karma, and ease from the clutches of Moha for my child. How do I do that? I would greatly appreciate if anything here can help me because I truly am looking for it, and struggling with the issue for a long time.

A (Sitara): Advaita does not really make a distinction between different kinds of attachment. While it is true that the bond between a mother and her child is especially strong, it still needs to be dealt with like all other kinds of attachment.

 So how to deal with it?

 First of all: Trying to overcome attachment by dealing with it directly will only work to a limited degree. So I recommend to deal with it both ways, as described below.

 What I call ‘outer attachment’ finds its expression in constantly being worried about the child’s welfare. This can be tackled directly by surrendering your worries to Ishvara, meaning giving your child into the Lord’s hands. Ishvara anyway is much better equipped than us human beings to take care. Even you as a mother will be unable to anticipate and handle everything needed for your child – simply because you do not have all knowledge and all power at your disposal. Ishvara has both while you can only do the best within your limited human abilities.

 Prayer is the cure for this kind of attachment. Each time you see yourself getting caught up in worries and fears for your child’s wellbeing, immediately pray to the Lord that he may take over, take care of your child and give you peace of mind. So you allow the love for your child to merge into the love for the Lord in your heart and thus learn to trust deeper and deeper that both of you are taken care of.

 The other I call ‘inner attachment’, which in fact is the basis of outer attachment; it is the bond of love that is deeply ingrained in your biological and emotional nature as a mother and cannot possibly be dealt with directly. This need not be overcome, it just needs to be seen for what it is because then it will lose its grip on you. The only way not to be hooked up in it, is in understanding the difference between body-mind-senses and you, for it is the body-mind-senses that are attached to the child (or anything for that matter) not you. Who you are is utterly free. To develop this kind of viveka you need to study Vedanta, doing Atma vichAra. If you have the time to take up some classes or at least regularly read the Gita with commentaries of an Advaita Vedanta teacher, you have done the very best to deal with this kind of attachment too.

 So: First aid is prayer. As it is something you do, karma, it will continue to be held up until you are established in the knowledge of your as well as your child’s true nature being one and the same, sat-chit-ananda. Only in this all attachment dissolves.

A (Ramesam): A great Question indeed!  It takes us from the high sounds of “theory” to nuts and bolts level praxis.

To talk from a high pedestal is easy; but to walk hand in hand with another? – oh no, in Advaita   it is a solo journey for each. No footprints in the sky are left by the birds that flew away.

Because, mainly, there is nowhere to go; nor a need to go anywhere!

You ask: “.. as a mother is it ever possible to not be very attached to my child…

Is it not right in the very nature of every creature, leave alone humans, to be attached to its child?  Why do you want to wantonly go against what is natural? Why should you go for something (an imagined ‘moha’-less way) with effort as against a thing happening effortlessly? To desire something that is not there in the “Now” itself is suffering!

You further express a wish to “…be a mother only by Dharma and karma…”

Dharma, karma, charama or Burma (whatever that means) are all just words of convenience –meaningless sounds by themselves unless you attribute some meaning and significance to that meaning based on handed down wisdom. Let us not worry about dharma or karma but get to the basics of Advaita.

Advaita is the only philosophy that helps us to be free of ‘bondage’ right in this life.

Bondage from what?  What am I bound to?

I am bound to suffer the consequences of actions I do. That means I cannot escape from experiencing the effects of my actions. So either I experience misery if the result of my action is unfavorable for me or I experience joy if the result of the action is favorable.

Freedom from having to go through the experiencing of ‘sorrow or happiness’ is to be free of ‘bondage.’ That is liberation right in this life or Jivanmukti.

Jivanmukti is the name for staying unperturbed, whatever may be the circumstances (= results of actions done now or in the past), like an unflickering and steady flame from a lamp which is in a place where there is no breeze.

[One another thing.  Simply avoiding action in order to escape the consequences of an action is not an option available. Act we must for, not even a fraction of a second goes without action in the world.  (Let us not enter here into the whys and wherefores of this issue at this stage).]

If I do not ‘suffer and grieve’ finding myself in a sorrowful event or I do not ‘enjoy and rejoice’ in a happy incident, it means it is immaterial for “me” whatever may be the situation that turns up. I have a deep and unqualified acceptance of all things that happen. I have no likes and dislikes, no receivables or rejections. I take things as they come unaffectedly. I say “yes” to every happening.

Now consider this carefully.

Act we must in the world, there is no escape. We cannot avoid actions.

All actions will necessarily have consequences. And we cannot avoid facing the consequences.

But all actions have a subject (actor or doer of the action), the object (what is acted upon or for) and a verb (the actual doing).

For example, ‘I lift the baby’ describes an action. “I” is the actor or ‘agency’ for action, “baby” is the object whom I lift and “lifting” is the verb of action connecting the two.

Considering myself to be “I” as the subject, the distinct ‘agent’ for action, creates the separation of me from the “baby”, the distant object. Action of “lifting” is the way we try to close the distance between me and the baby.

Further, I develop an attachment to the baby by the claim of ownership to the baby – it is ‘my’ baby.

Suppose I do not claim ownership for the baby and I do not also claim myself to be the ‘agent’ for action.  

In other words, I do not consider ‘me’ to be the ‘doer’ of the action. That implies that I do not claim ownership to the action also. Then the action happens spontaneously. It is not that “I” am there as an identifiable separate entity and I decided to act, in this instance, to lift the baby whom I consider to be “my baby.”

 A baby is there. The sound of a cry arose. Two adult hands stretched out and the legs ran. The baby is clutched and pressed against the chest in a diffused cloud of affection. A ‘me’ has not ordained ‘my’ child to cry and then “I” willed to lift the child. It is all just a spontaneous happening in the moment.

The space is there, so is the carpet, the walls, the ceiling, the windows, the trees across the windows, the sounds and noise from the room next, the screech of the cars on the street etc. etc.  So also a baby is there and a lady is here just lifting the baby. It is one whole scene – one holistic experience without fragmentation. And that is Oneness. There is no separate ‘me’ nor anything which is ‘mine.’

So let the spontaneity play the game. Let things happen by themselves from moment to moment. If a sudden rush of an emotion happens in you, well just notice it. Do not have any agenda to stop, resist or nip it. Let it play its role and attenuate. The moment you try to do something with it, it will gain strength and resist all your moves. Just be aware of the things happening and let them run their course.

It is good news that you have already been noticing the different ‘feelings’ arising in you. (Let us not call them with high sounding labels like ‘moha’ and brand them to be satanic!).  It is good news you are not identifying yourself with that feeling or claiming it to be “my” feeling. You are aware of it. Just leave it there and let that Awareness of observing the ‘happenings’ take care of the rest.

When things become too gripping or demanding too much of your attention and energy, do the actions as a dedication to that very “Awareness” observing it. Make it as an offering. “Offering” means you may utter within your mind or openly:  “It is not ‘my’ action, I am not the ‘doer’, I have no interest in what the outcome of this action going to be. I just act as the situation has demanded; I notice at the same time all the feelings and emotions rising in this body. I just do things as naturally as they arise as my offering.”

There is another way also recommended in the scriptures. It is considering all things as yourself. In the above example, the scenario will be: “It is I myself lifting ‘me in the form of this child.’ The space is myself, the floor is myself, the ceiling is myself, the tree across is myself.”  In other words I see myself in each and everything – no separation or distinction.

Whichever way one finds convenient and natural to oneself, one may adopt the practice until the mind is trained to reorientate itself to a new worldview of Oneness.

Summing up, the two keywords are to give up “ownership” of objects and “doership” of actions. Relentlessly practicing this technique as advised in Bhagavad-Gita will lead one to winning over the temptations of the senses and lead one to “relinquishment”, the gateway to Non-dual Oneness.

A (Shuka): For anything to be created, an intelligent cause, material cause and ancillary causes are required. For example, to make a pot, a Potter who has the skills to make a pot, Mud which is the material cause, and pot-making-wheel, stick etc which are ancillary causes, are required. 

 Similarly, in making of a baby, the Mother, is the ancillary cause, without whom, even the omnipotent God cannot make a baby. The baby looks up to its Mother, as we look up to Īśvara, since the Mother can do impossible feats (from the baby’s point of view) such as walking, running, carrying, feeding, taking care of the Baby which the Baby himself/herself cannot do. There is a huge level of trust and sense of security to the baby, and it rests assured in the presence of its Mother. That trust, if broken, will lead to juvenile psychological issues. This is the reason why it is mandatory that a Mother should never be away from her baby for up to 4 1/2 years. 

 A good Mother is one who realizes this responsibility and ensures that the bond is unbroken. 

 An important corollary that arises out of this understanding is that the Mother is only an ancillary cause and not the “owner” of the child; that she is only a “Trustee” of the child. A trustee has all the responsibilities to take care of the child, but never to consider it her own, become attached and be over-protective of the child. Treat children like Garden; as a gardener, your responsibility stops with watering the plants regularly and removing the weeds. Do not ever interfere with the process of flowering, for that is something that they are naturally endowed with by God. 

A (Peter): It is good to hear that Advaita attracts your mind and that you find the contributions of bloggers to be of value. It may be necessary to point out that only one of the current bloggers is the mother of a young family who probably comes close to knowing what you are likely to be experiencing from her own personal experience. With that caveat, here’s the response of a father of three and grandfather of two.

 1. Advaita Vedānta is concerned more with identity and less so with duty (dharma).

 ‘I am a mother’ is a statement of identity, further qualified by ‘who has been fascinated with Advaita for some time now’ and ‘truly looking for (help)’ and, even more than that, one who has been ‘struggling with the issue for a long time’. If you believe all of the above, to which you probably add ‘Indian background’, ‘devout Hindu family’ then strong attachment to children is almost inevitable. No point in beating yourself up over it. Given the circumstances it is the most likely scenario.

 If, however, you see ‘mother’ as a role that comes with certain duties of love, care and nourishment towards a child then this could be the first step in shaking off attachment in the form of excessive emotional entanglements. I emphasised the words ‘towards a child’ because these duties do not apply to all the other roles you are likely to have: ‘wife’, ‘daughter’, ‘sister’, ‘friend’, ‘boss/employee’, ‘colleague’, ‘citizen’, ‘house owner’, ‘car driver’, ‘woman’, ‘advaitin’, ‘seeker’, etc.

 When you are driving your car you are a ‘driver’: you are not driving as a ‘mother’ (unless children are in the car). This way of looking at things is only to say that there are some times when you are naturally free from the label ‘mother’. In those moments you are free from ‘the clutches of moha for the child’. Yet, by habit, the identification with being a mother tends to pervade all other roles, even though the actual experience is that this is not who one is 100% of the time – even at the transactional level. Seeing this to be the case will be a start of playing the role without believing the identity that goes with the duty of mother.

 2. One’s own duty cannot be avoided, but can become transformative with the right attitude.

 The duty of a mother is to care, nourish and give her child the necessary rudder with which to navigate his or her own life successfully. This means knowing when to intervene and when to let go. It’s a fine balance: the parent stands for the child’s faculty of discrimination till such time as the child has sufficient knowledge of the world and of values to start to exercise his or her own buddhi. (This is around adolescent, not in their 30s as many Indian parents believe!) On each of their 16th birthdays, for example, I went out for a one-to-one meal with each of my children and said that from that point onwards I would endeavour to treat them as young adults and not scold, chide, chase, demand, direct them, because I believed they were now at a stage to start flexing their own discriminative muscle. I added that, of course, I would still be around to advise and guide and support whenever asked.

 In the first third of the Gītā Arjuna is told over and over again to do his duty, to avoid doing the duty of another, to set an example for others, etc. And then he is given the secret: perform your duty as an offering to the Lord, accept whatever outcomes you face as the grace of the Lord, and never transcend universal values. This is the key that coverts duty into a yoga. In this context yoga means that which prepares the mind for the knowledge of the truth of one’s self by which one transcends all struggle and pain and finds the happiness that one has always sought.

 So do the needful for the child – no more, no less – but act not only for the child’s sake, not only for the family sake, but in the clear knowledge that mokṣa is YOUR true goal and that performing duties – mothering, cooking, working, being a parent, etc – as a purifying yoga is what prepares the mind to assimilate the teaching about this truth of oneself. No other way will prevent deeds from clinging.

 Good luck, your child sounds lucky to have a mother who is turned towards truth. (I know that Dennis has also put the question to my revered teacher Swamini Atmaprakāśānandaji and I will feed back her response.)

A (Swamini Atmaprakashananda, reported by Peter): The questioner’s statement raises a number of questions: Why is she fascinated with Advaita? What does she mean by saying she is a beginner? What is she seeking? Answers to questions such as these give a context: simply giving binary answers to questions like these is not always helpful if you do not know the context.

 As a mother it is possible to not become attached to the child if you understand what attachment means. And when you call yourself ‘mother’ the very word tells of your choicelessness about doing your duties and necessary karma. Mother implies sacrifice, dedication, commitment, concern, affection, care: the one word not on this list is ‘attachment’. Attachment will not be there when you understand what attachment is. One’s role-play definitely has nothing to do with attachment.

 Doing your duties as a mother for your child will definitely prepare your mind for freeing yourself from the clutches of moha. Mothering as a duty will contribute to the removal of moha if you understand what moha means.

 In fact mothering is an unpaid, incomparable, dedicated sacrifice which should be a joy in the midst of the pains and difficulties in the life of a woman – if she understands the very concept of duty. Performance of one’s duties in conformity with dharma (values) makes the journey of life struggle-free and stress-free by making it complete, meaningful and successful.

 This understanding is possible only if the very purpose of the journey of life (and the means of accomplishing it) is clear. If you call yourself a seeker you should clearly know what you are seeking. Not only that, you should also know where and how what you’re seeking should be sought.

What you seek is not restricted to you alone: the entire humanity is seeking for it, but some seek knowingly and others seek unknowingly.

 The person who has analysed what he or she really seeks through all their achievements comes to know that all a person really wants in life is absolute peace. Peace lies in being happy, and happiness is not something to be attained. Therefore discovering happiness for one’s peace is the absolute aim of human life. And the discovery of happiness as discovery of Truth as one’s self becomes the ultimate end, which is the spiritual end.

 If this is clear then one need not be dependent on the performance of duties or on the results of actions or on the external world of people, relationships, objects for one’s happiness and peace. Doing anything – including one’s duty as mother or wife or father etc – is only for living this life, to prepare one’s mind for knowledge, and also for living in line with universal law and order. This helps one avoid conflicts. Then there is no attachment.

 Performing any duty, being dependent on the action and its fruits for our happiness, is attachment. Being dependent is attachment, being independent is detachment. As long as you are dependent on doing your mothering duties for your happiness, it is attachment. As long as you are dependent on your child’s happiness for your happiness, it is attachment. By shifting your dependence you will not only be able to do your duties efficiently, but also you’ll be more relaxed, free from attachment and struggle. The more you express your love for your child the more your child will be able to express the same in the future. The child can only express what it has enjoyed.

 Although not a direct answer to your question, you might also be interested in listening to what Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswatiji has to say on the care of children:


A (Dennis): I think you are misunderstanding and misusing the word moha here. This means ‘delusion’ and is one of the ‘impurities’ to which the mind is prone. This ‘dirt’ or mala is said to tarnish the mind and prevent us from seeing clearly. Making up this dirt are such sentiments as raga, dveSha, kAma, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, matsarya. (These are, respectively: attachment, aversion, desire, anger, greed, delusion, pride and jealousy.)

Swami Dayananda, in his ‘Gita Home Study Course’, equates moha to having what he calls ‘false values’, inculcated by society. And there are no end of these in modern Western society, propagated by television and films, such as thinking one has to go and drink alcohol whenever something goes wrong. Clearly, looking after and looking out for one’s child, until it is old enough to do these things for itself, is not a delusion or false value. On the contrary, it is the duty of a mother in the same way that it was Arjuna’s duty as a kShatriya to fight the battle. The strong emotional feeling that is associated with this duty is simply Ishvara’s way of ensuring that even those who might not be aware of dharma, nevertheless still (usually) end up doing the right thing.

6 thoughts on “Advaita for Mothers (Q. 323)

  1. I truly feel blessed and very grateful for all these wonderful responses to my query. Thank you all very much for your time and effort to help me clear some of my ignorance.
    I read all the responses at least three times so I can grasp the content and the message within. To summarize the gist of what I understood I came up with a list( not in any particular order). Please review the same and correct me as necessary.

    1. The nature of a Mother is such as to have a strong bond of love with the child, and that is the way it is supposed to be. Be ONE with that nature.
    2. A Mother is just entrusted to bear, nurture, protect and love the child, and not to claim the ownership of the child.
    3. The word ‘Mother’ is just an identity of the mind-body-senses like all other identities one has.
    4. It is this mind-body-senses that is attached to the mind-body-senses of the child, and not the true Self which is free of all attachments.
    5. One way to tackle this outer-attachment is by Prayers, and surrendering your worries and fears for the child to Ishvara.
    6. To perform the Motherly duties and not expect the fruits of the actions. That is true detachment.
    7. To give up “ownership” of objects and “doership” of actions.

    Now reading the list, this itself is an ‘Awakening’ for me. The message here is crystal clear!! Thank you!

    @Dennis – I understand the word Moha doesn’t quite explain the attachment of a Mother to her child. It is not properly used in this context perhaps. I don’t know which word would best describe this. Is it VAthsalya? Mamatha?

    • Lakshmji, how beautifully and intelligently you summed all the answers up! You will certainly be able to spiritually benefit from motherhood in the best possible way.

      • Sitaraji,
        Your response to the query struck a deep chord in me. I came to realize that all my fears for my child is just an outwardly attachment to her mind-body-senses. I want her to be healthy and happy because that in turn keeps me happy. That is what I understand is attachment. Performing motherly duties in a way which keeps my happiness is not the way to go about. To perform my Dharma as a mother and to not be attached to the fruits of my action is true detachment. Swamini Atmaprakashananda explained that so beautifully!

        It was amazing when I realized that all the responses were pointing in the same direction. Like I said, it was so clear what each one of you were trying to say, and it all culminated in the same essence.
        Again, thank you very much!

  2. In the most simple terms, you are feeling the deep attachment to your child as a mother. When you introduce the possibility of not being attached to your child, you create a conflict between what you are experiencing and what you think you should or could be experiencing. An opposing idea has been introduced and these two ideas fight it out. If you begin to pay attention to both of these ideas or movements in your body/mind without trying to do anything about them, just letting them be there, experiencing both movements, you will see another perspective open up to you that is not within this conflict. You will begin to relax your reaction to your attachment and see both movements (attached and not attached) as being in your mind only. This is an important step, stepping out of conflicting ideas and emotions. I hope this can help you in every way.

    • This blog is certainly helping me to step out of the conflicting ideas that I have, and help me overcome my deep ignorance even though I’m just taking the baby steps in that direction right now. Thank you for your response!

  3. Lakshmi,

    I get back to the thought/concept/feeling that even though I may THINK
    I’m attached to something, I can’t really, really BE attached to it. Even though
    I may go through the whole range of stuff about attachment such as fear,
    concern, anxiety, wanting to see a particular outcome from actions, I really am
    NOT attached to that, whatever it may be. In “reality” I am NOT attached to it, can never be!

    So, for me, even though I may go through suffering and, sometimes, joy in attachment, it’s still an illusion to think I am attached. After the range of emotions and thoughts regarding the thing to which I appear to be attached….I still AM. All those whirlwind emotions, “good” and “bad”, eventually are gone…but I remain…If I was NOT, none of those could be perceived….(all my opinion, no qualifications for any of these statements).

    Best wishes,

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