I’ve had a home altar for meditation for over 11 years now. Though I’ve changed some of the altar’s adornments over the years, it has always had a small Buddha, candles, a hand-painted porcelain tea cup for rice and incense, various rocks I’ve collected in nature, and pictures of my children.
When my daughter was around four or five years old, she began to be intrigued by the altar, my sacred little haven of refuge. 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 that I’d not discouraged her from spending time there.
Since I received the formal transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings in 2003 in the Plum Village Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, my altar has sported my ordination certificate. This certificate bears my English name as well as my dharma name, Spacious Presence of the Heart. It also has the signatures of the teachers, the place and date of the ceremony, the refuge vows, and the full text of the trainings (precepts).
One day my daughter picked up my ordination certificate and asked me about it. “Mommy,” she said, “what is this?” I explained that when I was away, I’d gone to a retreat, and that there had been a ceremony 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 had given me this certificate. It was a couple years later, when my daughter learned to read, that she began to sit 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. The surprise came later.
It was the summer of 2008. We were packing and preparing to leave for the Family Retreat at Deer Park Monastery. This would be my children’s first trip to Deer Park. 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?” I was surprised by the question, and 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 would like to receive the trainings in a ceremony. I was surprised and 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 for me this was almost irrelevant, as I was so moved by her aspiration.
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, but 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 that she’d take all the trainings but number three—the training on sexual misconduct.
The temple ceremony was beautiful, and my gratitude and happiness were indescribable. Even now, four 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 16-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, and that at times, the merits of the practice can exceed anything previously imagined.
About Leigh Ann Lipscomb
Leigh Ann Lipscomb is a single mother of two beautiful kids, Devin (17) and Iris (16). She lives in Chico, California and has practiced with Slowly Ripening Sangha since 2001. She has a Ph.D. in chemistry and does science writing and test development for Pearson. Besides her children, her passion is new age physics and she is very close to holding certification in Resonance Repatterning, which is a technique for healing and shifting our energies around our childhood traumas. She writes for fun and loves reiki, too. She has served on the Northern California OI Caretaking Council and also on the board of Sky Creek Dharma Center. She was ordained as an OI member in 2009 in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, receiving the dharma name True Mountain of Goodness.