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Ties That BindMaternal Imagery and Discourse in Indian Buddhism$
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Reiko Ohnuma

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199915651

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199915651.001.0001

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“A Mother’s Heart Is Tender”

“A Mother’s Heart Is Tender”

Buddhist Depictions of Mother-Love

(p.11) 1 “A Mother’s Heart Is Tender”
Ties That Bind

Reiko Ohnuma

Oxford University Press

This chapter argues that mother-love is highly idealized in Indian Buddhist literature as the most intense, compassionate, and self-sacrificing type of love possible. As such, mother-love often serves as a metaphor for the compassion of buddhas and bodhisattvas, who are said to love all beings “just as a mother loves her only son.” At the same time, however, the particularistic love characteristic of the mother stands in sharp contrast to the universal love characteristic of the Buddha, and thus mother-love is also condemned as the most pernicious form possible of attachment and suffering. As metaphor, mother-love is idealized; as reality, it is ultimately condemned. The Buddhist depiction of mother-love is further clarified not only by contrasting mother-love with father-love, but also by comparing good mothers and bad mothers, and by contrasting the mother’s love for the son with the idealized son’s love for the mother.

Keywords:   mother-love, particularistic love, universal love, father-love, good mothers, bad mothers

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