Shining World

The Scripture and the Burden of Parental Attachments

The Scripture and the Burden of Parental Attachments

Samuel: It’s been a while since I sent you an email. And to be honest, it’s also been a while since I’ve been involved with Vedanta. This has to do with a series of very sad and stressful events in recent months. I was too stressed and too tired for spirituality.

I keep the story as short as possible.

My elderly father (74 years old) – who has been an extremely difficult man all his life – had a serious crisis about four months ago. He had a very bad rage attack during which he threatened to kill my mother and to commit suicide. He had been in bad shape mentally and physically for much longer, but only then did we realize how bad it was. We had to have him transferred to a psychiatric hospital, where he still resides now. We brought my mother to a retirement home. All this has caused a lot of stress, not only for them but also for my brothers and in-laws. There is also the financial issue, because he has never saved, all his life. Both have lived for free in my house for more than 20 years (I live elsewhere). On top of that, most of us got corona, during those same stressful months. Especially my youngest brother was very ill and even had to stay in hospital for some days. I’m glad to say that that problem is over now, we’ve all recovered.

But the other problems remain, of course.

But I think the emotional aspect is much worse than the practical and financial concerns. Both my father and mother are very unhappy at the moment. My mother wants to go home, but she is too old and in need of care. And we can’t take her home either. We all work full time and live in small houses. Also, both are very difficult people to live with. My father will have to move to a retirement home too (but one with a closed ward, he’s still too dangerous).

The whole problem has much to do with the fact that my father has both an antisocial personality disorder and a narcissistic personality disorder. This was confirmed by his psychiatrist, recently. We assumed this a long time ago, but of course, people with narcissistic personality disorders are the last people who are willing to go to a psychiatrist. These personality disorders, together with the onset of dementia, have led to the current situation. He was also recently diagnosed with cancer.

And here is my question: my family and I also suffer emotionally from this whole thing. We are terribly sad. Sometimes I’m even so sad that it makes me lethargic. I almost can’t think of anything else. There’s sadness, but also feelings of guilt because we had to put them ‘away’… But there’s no other solution. I’m especially sad because they are so unhappy.

The core of my question: how to deal with the sadness of others (in my case my parents)? What if a person him/herself almost succumbs, because he or she is so unhappy because of the sorrow of others? What does Vedanta say about such a problem?

Thanks in advance.

Sundari: I am so sorry to hear about the sad karma you have had to contend with. It is never easy to advise people what to do on an emotional level, especially one as difficult as this must be for you and your siblings. However, the teachings are not ambiguous when it comes to dharma. The dharma of a parent is to love and care for their children so they can become independent and confident. It is not dharmic for parents to depend on their children or make them dependent on them. The dharma of their grown-up children is to love and respect their parents and to live their own lives, free of their parents. There should not be an obligation to look after them or to take on their karma and unhappiness. I know though this is easier said than done in certain situations. It may be that in some circumstances have no choice to help if there is no other option. 

But we can help practically without taking on our parents’ unresolved karmic issues. Here the scripture can guide you. It states very clearly that we cannot do the dharma of another, it never works out well for us or the recipient.  Helping anyone, especially family, is very difficult because we are only ever responsible for our own karma. Though there are times when it is dharmic to help but doing so must be with extreme dispassion in the karma yoga spirit. Isvara is very strict about this. No parent is perfect because Isvara does not make perfect jivas, but it sounds to me that your parents never became mature adults, nor took responsibility for cleaning up their karma.  They dumped all of it onto their children.  You have been taking care of them for a long time at a great cost to you all emotionally, and no doubt, financially too.

It is very hard to sever the emotional attachments we have to parents and to our children.  I know because I am a parent, and I discovered recently that I still had an emotional attachment to my daughter that was based on emotional security. Emotional security is not love.  Love is free of fear, attachment, and obligations. The only thing love “needs” to ‘do’ is love, nothing else. It is the expectations and identifications we load onto love that make relationships so difficult and cause so much suffering for all concerned.

You have done all you can for your parents. You did your best, you loved them well. You cannot make them happy, nothing can. Happiness never comes from anywhere other than from the Self. It is time to consider your needs above their wishes.  Putting them in the appropriate home where they will be taken care of is all you can do.  If you do not do this, you will destroy your own life. How does doing this or being sad about the situation your parents are in help anybody, least of all, them? You will only add suffering to the suffering. Be strong.  You cannot fix them, save them nor change their lives. It is not up to you.

Remember that your ‘parents’ are not your parents, and you are not ‘their son’. Those are just roles that allowed you to play out your karma with them and they with you. They are the Self as are you. Love them dispassionately as the Self. Do not let tamas in the form of guilt take over the mind, root it out. Guilt can serve a purpose sometimes when we break dharma, but it is mostly a totally useless emotion. It is the kissing cousin of shame, which is self-negation at its worst. Both shame and guilt are destructive to peace of mind and originate from the lie that we are ‘flawed’ and unworthy, the scourge of duality.  This is most likely why you feel so tamasic. You are taking on your parents’ karma and it is not meant for you. As the Self, there is no karma for you. As a jiva, karma is only karma when we are identified with the jiva and its story.

Take a stand in Awareness as Awareness with a clear heart, trust the scripture, which says unequivocally that you and your parents are whole and complete, needing nothing. Give yourself credit for all you have done for your parents and hand them into Isvara’s care. It is time.

Samuel: Thank you very much for your wise and above all heart-warming words. You cannot imagine how important this is to me. Your words have given me strength, and most importantly, a boost to take up the teachings again. It is strange that in times of sadness and stress people drop the very thing they need most, both physically and spiritually. This is ‘tamas’ in full operation. But your words are the perfect antidote. Many thanks again, and greetings to James!

Sundari: You are most welcome Marc, I am so glad you turned to the only source of wisdom, which is your own true Self.  It certainly is strange that when we need it most, we turn away from the unchanging truth of who we are.  But that is the nature of Maya. Never forget karma yoga, it is the only emotional burnout insurance there is.  Hand it all over to Isvara, know that the results are not up to you, and it is not your problem. You have carried out your duty as a good son, there is nothing more you can do, so relinquish all doership.

Much love


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