In Japan in recent years, there has been an increase in cases of extremely vicious child abuse, parricide, and infanticide. Why should such horrendous incidents occur within families, which are the smallest units of a community, and particularly among immediate family members, who should be the most able to understand one another? No prescriptions have been discovered, either for the root causes or for a strategy to solve the problem, and it seems that both the government and those involved in education are at a loss.
As a lecturer and counselor in family education, I have the opportunity to travel all over Japan. When I listen to the people who come to me for parent-child counseling, I cannot help but think the parents and children or husbands and wives are all living their lives individually, without cooperating with each other, isolated from each other. I also have a strong sense that there has been an extraordinary increase in people who now lack a social nature.
Why has this sense of isolation advanced into the relationships among family members? I believe that the background for this is individualism that has gone too far due to the misunderstanding of the meaning of the rights and freedom of the individual. There is so much asserting of personal rights and freedom that selfish assertions fly about even between parent and child or husband and wife, and one can see that as a result families become fractured and their members become isolated.
The shape of the family has changed a great deal in Japan since the end of World War II. With urbanization and industrialization, the large extended family has been transformed into the small nuclear family. Along with this has come a weakening of connections with one's grandparents and of the veneration of one's ancestors, and a loss as well of any real sense of family members supporting each other as they lead their lives; there is a predominance of self-centered values that take for granted that individuals should live just as they want to.
In the meantime, as for education within the family and in schools, an approach that aims at intellectual training has become the mainstream. Whereas education used to be for the enrichment of our humanity by stimulating the growth of intellect, emotion, and volition, it has now lapsed into giving too much importance to the intellect.
Because of this, parents, children, and schools have all become zealously focused on simply raising grades so that the children can, as they say, "get into good schools and be hired by good companies." It's not possible, however, for all children to be first in their school or class. Obviously, this leads to rankings and the emergence of dropout students. As a result, this has brought about a feeling of frustration both in parents and children concerning the children's future paths and ways of life, a frustration that is taken out on those closest to them--their own family members.
In Buddhism, the condition wherein one's life is not going as one would like is called suffering. Although suffering is the ordinary state inherent in one's life, most people, because they try to lead their lives their own way, wind up deepening their suffering instead. I cannot help but think that at the root of every case of child abuse, parricide, or infanticide there is a person acting on a selfish impulse to change things--no matter how, or whatever they may be--that are not going as wished.
How should we change the families and family relationships of today? We need to reintroduce values that are other than intellectual, values such as gratitude and consideration, perseverance and sharing. At this point I would like to offer the idea of the Four Immeasurables that are preached in Buddhism. They are: loving-kindness; compassion; sympathetic joy; and equanimity. Simply stated, loving-kindness is the state of mind of wanting to make people happy; compassion is the state of mind of wanting to release people from suffering; sympathetic joy is the feeling of sharing in people's joy; and equanimity is the state of mind of forgetting the charity performed for others and the harm given by others, spurning all reward.
Everyone has these qualities by nature--all human beings. However, one's way of seeing things through a self-centered mind buries these intrinsic states of human nature, and this leads to fractured families whose members become isolated from one another. I fervently hope that someone in every family, no matter who that member may be, will put the Four Immeasurables into practice and bring about even the slightest change in the family relationships, and thus regain a way of living that is once again befitting of true human beings.
Takayo Maruyama is the director of the Research Institute for Family Education in Tokyo, affiliated with Rissho Kosei-kai.
This article was originally published in the January-March 2009 issue of Dharma World.
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