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My first exposure to Buddhism was watching Seven Years in Tibet in my German childhood. Most memorable were the following two scenes of Buddhist monks in orange robes.

In the one scene, some monks were carefully making a large picture out of coloured sand in a room with large windows. Upon completion (after one year of labour), the monks would simply open the window to let the wind carry the picture away.

In the other scene, monks were very carefully turning soil. Apparently the monks had to be especially careful not to harm any earthworms, because, according to their belief, their mothers would be reincarnated as earthworms.

Needless to say, I found it very arbitrary at best that mothers should be reincarnated as earthworms and was troubled by this first impressions for the next decade or so. Unfortunately, I still haven't been able to solve this mystery.

So my question is, as it has been for many years, is there any connection between mothers and earthworms in Buddhism?

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    Not an expert here, but perhaps we should use [non-violence] as a tag rather than [ahimsa]? My understanding is that [ahimsa] is more a Hindu/Jain thing. – senshin Jun 18 '14 at 1:22
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    @senshin Right. I checked Ahimsa on Wikipedia, where it says "Ahimsa is one of the cardinal virtues and an important tenet of major Indian religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism)". I'm fine with [non-violence], if that's the better jargon. – Earthliŋ Jun 18 '14 at 1:27
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    ahimsa is a Buddhist concept as well, but probably better to use the English, no? – yuttadhammo Jun 18 '14 at 1:57
  • @Yuttadhammo I think that we have both non-harming and non-violence in English. I opened a meta discussion. – Earthliŋ Jun 18 '14 at 2:05
  • The explanation quoted in the movie is, "Please, no more hurting worms. In a past life this innocent worm could have been your mother." Also it wasn't monks who were digging: it was Tibetan labourers. – ChrisW Jun 7 '15 at 13:02
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I'm pretty sure the belief is not that earthworms become mothers, it's that every earthworm has most likely been your mother at some point in the past, as per the mata sutta (SN 15.14-19):

At Savatthi. There the Blessed One said: "From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. A being who has not been your mother at one time in the past is not easy to find... A being who has not been your father... your brother... your sister... your son... your daughter at one time in the past is not easy to find.

"Why is that? From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released."

So, the point is that the love and care we have for our mothers should really extend to all beings, since we are all intimately related - a corollary is that your boy/girlfriend has also probably been both your mother and your father at one point :)

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    "a corollary is that your boy/girlfriend has also probably been both your mother and your father at one point" And as a second corollary, my intestinal parasite at some point as well. Thank you very much for the reference. – Earthliŋ Jun 18 '14 at 2:16
  • @Earthliŋ If one of the answers looks good, would you be willing to accept it or supply feedback? – Hrafn Jun 28 '14 at 8:30
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This question assumes frame of reference different from the one Buddhism operates in. The point of teachings is to produce a certain state of mind, that will affect your behavior in certain way, that will eventually lead to better results, up to and including Enlightenment for you and the rest of the sentient beings.

In this case, the image of mother is used as an epitome of unconditional love. By visualizing your mother and generating the feeling of love to her, you generate a certain emotion. Then, you learn to project this emotion on other sentient beings. In actual practice you start with the people who are naturally close to you, like your friends and relatives, and slowly expand it until all beings are included. The movie uses the worms scene to vividly illustrate to the audience the sheer depth that Buddhist compassion/love goes to.

Worms are not your mothers :) Everything is your mother. Everything is sacred. Everything is love!

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