The biography of the baby, boy and man who would become Buddha presses ever onward. Every turn in the classic story of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha’s given name prior to his enlightenment) pulses with inevitability, the greatness to come. Siddhartha is born to privilege. He is wealthy, loved and cared for. But famously, he soon leaves it all behind. At this inflection point, Siddhartha walks away from what most of us hold tightly to, never to return. In time he achieves enlightenment and teaches the Dharma. Then as now, his journey to Nirvana beguiles and inspires.
In Buddha’s Mom, we retrace the biography’s major currents while exploring some less traveled and enticing tributaries. We endeavor to uncover (and thereby recover) all distinguishable early influences. In clinical terms, our focus is on Siddhartha’s early-life attachment experiences especially what in modern terms would be his maternal attachment experience. We continue in this vein and delve into Siddhartha’s major “adult attachment” experiences. These encompass the major emotional, interpersonal relationships of his life. We will try to show with precision how these have mappable, meaningful implications for what becomes Buddhism, and for anyone on a spiritual journey.
Attachment figures and relationships which we will be exploring include: Siddhartha’s birth mother, Mahamahamaya; his adopted mother, stepmother and Buddhism’s first nun, Mahāprajāpatī; Siddhartha’s father, Suddhodana; his wife, Yasodhara; his son and only child, Rahula; and his cousin, brother-in-law and would be assassin, Devadatta. Others include Buddha’s attendant, Ananda and key people he encounters during his many years of teaching, such as Kisa Gotami, Sujata, Sudatta and Subhuti. Toward the end of the book, we consider the culmination of an important relationship between Buddha and the evil deity, Mara.
Throughout we continuously weave back and through Buddhism’s major tenets, most notably attachment. This is the attachment of the Four Noble Truths, the attachment that Buddha declares to be the source of human suffering. Biological attachment has only gained in traction since Bowlby, augmented by affective neuroscience and a modern amalgamation of evidence centered around polyvagal theory and corresponding, emerging somatic therapies.1 The “two attachments” therefore correspond to biological, maternal and social attachment on the one hand, and on the other to the attachment at the heart of Buddhism. The latter, of course, is linked to the ‘cessation of suffering’ and therein to liberation and nirvana.
With great care, relying on varied and reputable resources, we make a case for a deep, permeating, transcendent meaning running through these “two attachments” grounded in a comprehensive body of neuroscience. An “integral attachment” takes the form of an accessible, psychological space wherein neurobiological/scientific and spiritual distinctions can be appreciated in full and also superseded.
As a psychologist over the last 18 years, I have been immersed in paradigm-busting experiences leading up to the ideas presented here. My professional work has included research in attachment as well as therapy with attachment-disordered children, for example, orphans from Romania. In a broad range of settings, I have been privileged to witness the healing powers embodied in the concepts discussed in this book. I share several associated stories. The same ideas and practices, I am persuaded, that help people heal from intense emotional pain translate as vessels for transformation and transcendence.
Relatedly, for the past dozen years as a dad, I have been immersed in what might be called an indigenous, Buddhist approach to attachment parenting. Credit for any constructive ideas regarding attachment goes to my wife, our children and my Thai-Lao Buddhist in-laws.
In my view, big gaps remain between many important, fascinating, inter-related ideas and research findings regarding attachment and ultimate questions of meaning, practice and joy in life. These gaps particularly implicate the feminine principle. Through “her” what I refer to as the human lineage, deep self disturbance, relative attachment and other important ideas go a long way towards mapping sentience itself. Confusion is more commonplace than need be. For example, we long for meaning, but longing, grasping and the like cause suffering. Do we long to suffer? The word “paradox” is often applied to these existential eddies. Sometimes paradox and pithy teachings need to be supplemented with a fuller, clearer, more precise model of human functioning and suffering. I hope these ideas add something of value in this regard and, ultimately, to what it means to be alive.
Potentially, the larger the canvas the higher the resolution. Both oversimplification and overly dense explanations obscure a viable, integral view. Something of a unifying, golden strand is discernible. Here, we will work lovingly and judiciously to trace this thread winding through evolutionary theory, clinical and depth psychology, and neuroscience, then further through Buddhism proper, especially the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, for example, the Vajrayana, Tantric and Dzogchen lineages. The golden thread, as it were, spills into a vast open, accessible, space where “the two attachments” achieve an unrestricted, integrative expanse. I hope these ideas convey a deepening sense of home and belonging to anyone psychologically adrift or emotionally hurting. Any readers who feel moved to comment are invited to visit online (www.buddhasmom.com).