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The Drive to Conceive, Parenting and Self-Inquiry
Ann: I read your article on the dharma of parenting and found it insightful but challenging. I desperately want to have a child but am having a lot of trouble falling pregnant. It has become an obsession that has taken over my life and is interfering with self-inquiry. Your take on parenting contains quite a severe warning. Can you advise me on how the scripture sees wanting to have a child?
Sundari: The drive to conceive is a natural impulse that Isvara builds in to underwrite all sentient life. Life just wants to continue and will do anything to do so. The drive is relentless, Isvara makes it so. But when it’s not working to fall pregnant, it may clearly suggest that having a child is not in your karma stream. That is not to say it is wrong to avail yourself of what our current technology offers to do so.
I cannot advise you on what to do, that is your call. As an inquirer, you need to ask yourself without prejudice or self-judgment: What is behind this strong desire? It is not necessarily contrary to dharma, but if it is so binding and all-consuming, it will stand in the way of self-inquiry. It is not up to you whether you conceive or not. Maybe Isvara will eventually relent and give you what you want – or not. And as you know, there are two ways to be unhappy: getting what you want and not getting what you want.
Usually, to tell someone in the grip of this drive that maybe they are trying to make themselves complete by obtaining an object, which will never work, does not fly. There is no magic wand with magic strong enough to dissolve such a compelling vasana, unless one is a true viragi and can apply dispassion and karma yoga. Many women will go to incredible extremes psychologically and physically trying against all odds to conceive. What they will endure is heartbreaking and a testament to how powerful this drive is.
It is a beautiful thing to have a child. For another human to emerge from your body is both mystical and momentous. It is a holy experience to give birth and welcome a new life into the world. Babies arrive pure as the driven snow, a tabula rasa, innocent and totally dependent, inspiring love so powerful virtually nobody is immune. Most parents experience love in a way they never have before: visceral, powerful, all-consuming. The feeling of protection is overwhelming.
But what most parents do not realize is that the all-powerful love they feel for this pure and helpless being suddenly in their care is actually love for the Self they are, and the child is too. There is no separation. Instead of understanding that they are simply a human spaceship for another being to live out its karma, parents see the child as “their” child. This may well ensure the survival of many children, as the burden of taking care of a child sets in after the initial euphoria wears off. Parenting a newborn requires more self-sacrifice than most parents anticipate. It gets easier as the child grows, but the responsibility remains enormous.
The sad reality is that as wonderful as it is to know the love of a child and for a child, like everything in this world, it has a serious downside. Aside from the huge drain on all faculties and finances, “your” child is never yours. You can never hang on to it. Children are meant to leave you as soon as they can, a drive which is also built in, and thwarted to everyone’s peril. This is the small print Isvara does not make clear when we sign on to become parents. There is another mind here, and while it may be in your care for a while, it is going to be what is going to be. It belongs to Isvara, and not to you. It must live out its karma. Few people get parenting right because it is so often based on ignorance, co-dependence and need.
Looking at the world today, it is clear that truly happy family structures are few and far between, mostly for this reason. But the drive is understandable, given that most people under the spell of duality believe they are incomplete. There is no one who is going to love and need you quite like a child will. Until they don’t, of course. The seduction of the lifelong “mate” who will never leave you and love you no matter what is huge, and an illusion.
Much as you may feel entitled to it, it is not your child’s responsibility to love you. It is your responsibility to love yourself, and in so doing teach your child to love themselves. Loving your child as proxy for loving yourself and feeling virtuous about it is abusing your role as a parent. It is your responsibility to discharge your duties as a parent, and while a large part of that is to love your child as you love yourself, your main job is to teach them to fly, to leave you. To make a child dependent on you is totally adharmic and very damaging to you and the child. Many more parents that would care to admit to it, who were once desperate to have children, feel that if they had it over, they would pass. If one cannot at least apply karma yoga, parenting can be hell. So karma yoga is, as always, the only way forward.
~ Love, Sundari