The Urban Dharma Newsletter - March 16, 2007


In This Issue: Buddhism and the Family

1. The Discourse on Layman Codes of Conduct
2. The Sigalovada Sutta
3. Sigalovada Sutta: Responsibilities of a Spouse
4. Family Emotional Wellness. The Buddhist Perspective
5. Parents and Children - Transmitting the Buddhist Heritage Across Generations



Sorry for the delay... I’ve been busy (A Good Thing)... But, here it is... The first Urban Dharma Newsletter this month is all about the family according to Buddhism. You might be surprised and maybe not... The latest Urban Dharma Podcast (www.Dharmatalks.info) is on the 5 precepts... Which ties in nicely with this newsletter... Be well and happy.

Peace... Kusala

1. The Discourse on Layman Codes of Conduct (Sigalovada Sutta)


The main topics that are being described in the Sigalovada Sutta are as follows :-

1. Four Vices of Life.
a. The destruction of life
b. Stealing
c. Sexual misconduct
d. Lying

2. Four Causes of Committing Evils.
a. Desire (Chanda)
b. Hatred (Dosa)
c. Fear (Bhaya)
d. Ignorance (Moha)

3. The Six Channels of Dissipation of Wealth.
a. Indulgence in intoxication - six evil consequences
b. Wandering in streets at unseemly hours - six evil consequences
c. Frequenting theatrical shows - six evil consequences
d. Indulgence in gambling - six evil consequences
e. Association with evil friends - six evil consequences
f. Habit of idleness - six evil consequences

4. Four Kinds of Enemies in the Guise of Friends.
a. One who associates for gain (Annadatthuhara)
b. One who renders lip service (Vaci parama)
c. One who flatters (Anuppiyabhani)
d. One who brings ruin (Apaya sakha)

5. Four Kinds of Real Friends.
a. A friend who helps (Upakaraka mitta)
b. A friend who shares the same weal and woe (Samana sukkha dukkha mitta)
c. A friend who gives good counsel (Atthakkhayi mitta)
d. A friend who sympathises (Anukampaka mitta)

6. Four Ways of Managing One's wealth.
a. First portion for day to day expenses
b. Second portion for business
c. Third portion for business
d. Fourth portion for safe-keeping

7. Six Quarters
a. East - Parents
b. South - Teachers
c. West - Wife, husband and children
d. North - Friends and associates
e. Nadir - Employees
f. Zenith - Monks and Brahmins

2. The Sigalovada Sutta - Dr. C. George Boeree / Shippensburg University


This Sutra is a record of the words of the Buddha to Sigalo, a young middle class man, who was on his way to worship the six directions, east, west, north, south, up, and down. His father had died and asked him to worship in this very ancient fashion in remembrance of him. The Buddha, wishing this ritual to have more meaning for the young man, advised him in detail about how to live a good life as a layman. He phrased himself, as he apparently so often did, using lists, and begins by warning him against many of the evils of the layman's life.

The four vices:

1. The destruction of life
2. Stealing
3. Sexual misconduct
4. Lying

The four things which lead to evil:

1. Desire, meaning greed, lust, clinging
2. Anger and hatred
3. Ignorance
4. Fear and anxiety

The six ways one dissipates ones wealth:

1. Drinking and drugs
2. Carousing late at night
3. Wasting away your time at shows
4. Gambling
5. Keeping bad company
6. Laziness

And he provides details regarding these last six that demonstrate the manners in which drink, etc., lead to one's downfall.

Then he provides a lesson on friendship -- how to distinguish good friends from bad friends. There are four types that are not really your friends, but will make your life miserable in the long run:

1. The leech who appropriates your possessions
2. The bull-shitter who manipulates you
3. The boot-licker who flatters you
4. The party-animal who encourages you to do the same

A good friend, on the other hand, is one who...

1. is always ready to help you
2. is steady and loyal
3. provides good advice
4. is sympathetic

The Buddha even gives some advice regarding one's finances:

1. One quarter of your earnings should be used to cover your expenses.
2. Two quarters should be re-invested in your business.
3. One quarter should be put into savings for times of need.

Finally, the Buddha discusses how one might best benefit from worshipping the six directions.

Regarding the east, a child should be good to his or her parents: support them, help them, keep their traditions, be worthy of your inheritance, and offer alms in their honor when they die.

A parent should be good to his or her children as well: keep them from getting into trouble, encourage them to be good, train them for a profession, make sure they are suitably married, and provide a good inheritance.

Regarding the south, a student should be good to his or her teachers: show respect, work hard, and be eager to learn.

A teacher should be good to his or her students: teach them well, make sure they understand, help them achieve their goals.

Regarding the west, a husband should be good to his wife: treat her well, be faithful to her, share authority with her, and give her jewelry ;-)

A wife should be good to her husband: be gracious, faithful, industrious, and frugal.

Regarding the north, a friend should be good to his or her friends: be generous, helpful, loyal, protective, and so on.

Regarding the nadir ("down"), an employer should be good to his or her employees: assign work according to their abilities, provide food and wages, take care of them when they are sick, share delicacies with them, and grant them occasional leave.

Employees should be good to their employers: Get to work early, leave late, perform their duties well, don't pilfer from the supply closet, and uphold their employer's good name.

And finally, regarding the zenith ("up"), lay people should be good to people who have devoted themselves to the spiritual life: kind deeds, kind words, kind thoughts, opening one's home to them, and supplying them with their physical needs.
And people in the spiritual life should be good to lay people: keep them from doing evil, encourage them to do good, make sure they hear the dharma, clarify what they don't understand, point out the way, and generally love them.

Keep these relationships in mind, he tells Sigalovada, and the ritual your father asked you to keep will have greater benefits than he ever dreamed of. Although some of the details may be a bit dated -- it has been some 2500 years, after all -- it can still serve quite well as a guide to moral behavior for the common man or woman of today!

Buddha concludes with a poem:

Who is wise and virtuous,
Gentle and keen-witted,
Humble and amenable,
Such a one to honor may attain.

Who is energetic and not indolent,
In misfortune unshaken,
Flawless in manner and intelligent,
Such a one to honor may attain.

Who is hospitable and friendly,
Liberal and unselfish,
A guide, an instructor, a leader,
Such a one to honor may attain.

Generosity, sweet speech,
Helpfulness to others,
Impartiality to all,
As the case demands.

These four winning ways make the world go round,
As the linchpin in a moving car.
If these in the world exist not,
Neither mother nor father will receive,
Respect and honor from their children.

From The Sigalovada Sutta, DN31, translated by Narada Thera

3. Sigalovada Sutta: Responsibilities of a Spouse - Sunday Dhamma Talk 06-03-04 - By Ven Aggacitta - Venue: Residence of Ooi Teow Chuan


Special occasion: Offering pindapata on the occasion of the wedding of Ooi Teow Chuan’s daughter

As Buddhists, we are aware that the Buddha gave a lot of discourses meant to guide us towards liberation from samsara—guidance to go beyond the round of life and death.

Liberation from samsara is freedom from attachments. Marriage is quite the opposite as it is about attachment. However, the Buddha always customises his teachings to the needs of his audience. To a person whom the Buddha knows is ready for renunciation, he will talk about meditation. To others, he would assess their inclinations and temperaments and tailor his talks to benefit the persons concerned.

In the scriptures, there are many discourses given to lay people and Sigalovada Sutta is one such discourse. The Buddha gave this discourse when he saw a person by the name of Sigala worshipping the four directions. When questioned by the Buddha as to why he did so, Sigala could not give a satisfactory answer. The Buddha then explained that praying to each direction has a different meaning. When one worships the west, one is worshipping the duties of husband and wife. So for the western direction, the Buddha expounded the duties of husband and wife.

The importance of harmony in a marriage

Before I go on with this sutta, let me make some observations about the state of marriage in today’s world. In the past, people used to go steady for a period of time and if they found they have an affinity towards each other, then only do they get engaged and subsequently, get married. Marriage is a complex situation. When disharmony arises within the marriage, it affects not only the couple but also the offspring. Disharmony between husband and wife will affect the children as they need an environment that’s conducive to their well-being in order to grow up into balanced adults. Otherwise, when they themselves get married, they too will cause disharmony in their own marriages. Nowadays, with greater awareness of family planning methods, people have a choice to defer parenthood while the couple put their relationship to the test. Divorce is a grave issue when there are children involved.

The role of a wife is more demanding than that of a husband. She has to take care of the household, her husband and the children. In later life she also has to take care of the grandchildren because of her love for the children and grandchildren. It is also attachment to (and responsibility for) children that causes one to chase after wealth—in order to give one’s children and family a good life.

Now let’s get back to Sigalovada Sutta. In it, the Buddha spoke of the five responsibilities of husbands and wives.

Responsibilities of a husband

* Cherish and honour his wife

He should treat his wife as an equal— a partner and friend, not as an inferior.

A case in point is that of someone I met more than twenty years ago in Mahasi Meditation Centre, Yangon, Burma. He was a medium who used samadhi to gain concentration in order to communicate with devas to help people with their problems. During consultations, he would go into samadhi and the deva would give him the solutions to his clients’ problems through clear video-like images.

They were a childless couple. His wife was his partner in his work, acting as a receptionist. One day the deva gave him a message—his wife would die in an accident. He tried all ways within his power to avert the tragedy, but to no avail and his wife died as predicted. He was devastated and from then on lost his ability to go into samadhi and to carry on with his work. He was then in his late 40’s.

As a last resort to deal with his tragedy, he practised vipassana meditation under my teacher Sayadaw U Pandita. The Buddha declared that by following the instructions according to Satipatthana Sutta, sorrow and lamentation could be overcome. Under the guidance of his teacher, he succeeded in doing so by observing his sorrow rather than allowing it to overwhelm him. He also told me that after his vipassana meditation retreat, he regained his samadhi and received even clearer images from the deva.

The moral of this account is that a husband should cherish and honour his wife as the samadhi medium did. However, one should learn to do so with as little attachment as is possible, or else one would have to suffer severely as shown above. If the medium had practised vipassana before the tragedy, he wouldn’t have to undergo so much anguish after it. Luckily vipassana meditation helped him to overcome his sorrow, or he might well have committed suicide.

* Mutual respect

He should accept his wife as an individual, as a person in her own right and not despise her. Thus, he has to maintain a give-and-take relationship.

* Be faithful

Monogamy is the rule in most societies. Practising polygamy will affect the finances of the family as the husband’s income has to be split. It will also give rise to negative attitudes in the matrimonial relationship due to suspicions and jealousy.

* Give her authority to run the household

Although both may be working, it is usually the wife who manages the household. Thus he should give his wife the authority over household matters. In Myanmar and nearer home in Kelantan, the wife is given control over the finances as well.

* Support her wish to beautify herself

It is in a woman’s nature to want to look good so he should provide her with the means to beautify herself. Thus for example, he should allocate some money to her to buy adornments for herself.

Responsibilities of a wife

* Good housekeeping

She has to see that household tasks are properly managed.

* Maintain good interpersonal relationships in the family

Not only does she have to ensure that household chores are well managed; she also has to maintain harmonious relationships with the people in the house. Therefore, as a newcomer into her husband’s family, she needs to be humble in order to carve a niche for herself in the hearts of the other members of the family. Only then can she maintain a harmonious relationship with the family. She also has to establish good rapport with the household helpers. In this way she can maintain harmony in the home.

* Be faithful

Just as a husband should be faithful to his wife, so too must the wife be to her husband. Both have to be more wary in situations involving the opposite sex so that misunderstandings do not arise.

* Wise management of home finances

She has to manage the home finances well and spend wisely.

* Skilful and diligent

She needs to be diligent and skilful in discharging her duties in the home

Nowadays people run management courses to help people organise their work. The Buddha already gave such advice 2500 years ago. So do heed the Buddha’s advice.

4. Family Emotional Wellness. The Buddhist Perspective - Joffrey Po


Buddhism regards the family unit as the basis of the community and society. Family behaviors are the building blocks that eventually determine how society behaves and how it holds the moral and ethical values. A well-balanced and well-adjusted family integrates well into the community. Its emotional wellness is therefore important.

Emotional wellness does not necessarily mean the lack or absence of emotional problems. Even in well-balanced family, emotional problems do exist. Emotional wellness however means holding positive attitudes and how each member of the family copes with and responses to life's events, to each other and to those emotional problems that arise daily.

Let us look at what does "family" mean.

According to Gilding M. (The Making and Breaking of the Australian Family 1991), the term "family" came about into the English language during the 14th century C.E. and upto the 17th century. Its usage was divided between the notion (concept) of co-residence (members of a household but not necessarily related by ties of blood or marriage) and kinship (persons related by blood or marriage but not nescessarily living together). Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the two concepts fused to mean "a small kin group living in the same house".

Turning to emotional wellness and health, Bradshaw J. (Bradshaw on the Family) defines this to be healthy and fully functioning family as one in which everything works. This definition infers that all members of the family are fully functional and that relationships between family members are fully functional also. Exhibitions of healthy mental expressions are therefore essential ingredients that determine the well-balanced social state of the family.

Buddhist social philosophy looks at the "family" as a grouping of people living in the same house. The concept of the "family" is however extended to the relatives, neighbors, friends, community, society and finally to humanity. It regards all human beings as being members of the "one family".

The Buddhist path places great emphasis upon the actions and behaviors of each member of the family. The Sigalovada Sutta (No. 31 of the Digha Nikaya) for instance, details the relationships between parents and children; wife and husband; between siblings. Further it describes hehaviors that adversely affect family interpersonal relationships and therefore ought to be refrained from. In the Anguttara Nikaya II, the Lord Buddha Gotama reveals, "Whatever families endure long, all of them do so because of four reasons, or because of several of them. What four? They recover what is lost, repair what is decayed, eat and drink in moderation, and they put in authority a man or woman of virtue". Here, the first two reasons infers "interpersonal family relatinships" and not to articles or things. The third factor infers some sort of "enjoying and appreciating family life". In the fourth factor, the Lord Buddha Gotama recognizes the necessity of a "virtuous" head of the family be it a man or a woman. A leader of high moral character commands respect within the household. Buddhist social philosophy is therefore in concurrence with today's thinking that the family is usually organized according to some form of generational hierarchy so that such families are able to balance intergenerational continuity and change and to maintain ties among the past, the present and the future.

Appropriate, suitable and necessary verbal or bodily communications support healthy emotional wellness of the family. Buddhism classifies this human ability as "Vinnatti". It means communicating one's ideas to another so that the other understands the former's intention(s). They are done through actions (kayavinnatti) and speeches (vacivinnatti). In communicating, transference of facts and feelings that clarifies, informs, notifies and counsels are deemed essential so that conflict and confrontational situations are avoided. Family members converse and behave in sensibly mature manners. Here choices of words and sentences coupled with mindful bodily mannerism reflects the thoughts. Concerning speech, Lord Buddha Gotama has this to say, "For my part, Brahmin, I do not say that everything one has seen, heard or sensed should be spoken of and I do not say it should not be spoken of. If one speaks and unprofitable states grow, one should not speak. If one speaks and profitable states grow, one should speak of what one has seen, heard, sensed and understood" (Anguttara Nikaya II/172).

Well-integrated networking and connectedness among family members often lend emotional and intellectual support to each member. It is important to share and express feelings accurately and directly so that no misperception arises. Minimizing misperceptions, the family functions with emotional wellness. The concept of "family networking" is expressed beautifully in the Sigalovada Sutta where duties and responsibilities of each member of the family - the father, the mother, the children, the wife, the husband, are described.

A family that experiences and enjoys positive emotional health usually faces minimum conflict issues, be they relationship, data, interest, structural or value conflicts. Conflict issues are avoided when family members are aware of, acknowledge and sincerely respect each other's personal boundary and space. People, even children, need to grow and flex their arms occasionally. Give them room to move and breathe.

Important and momentous events within the family, such leaving home (unattached young adults going abroad); marriage; added members of the family (child/children born); children entering school; divorce/separation of family members; chronic, long-term and terminal illness, retrenchments; family members aging; loss of loved ones - they all add stresses, anxious moments, tensions within hte family. Those are seen as life events. Emotional wellness means coping with those situations. It signifies the expressions of trust and support rather than suspicions and jealousies; the shouldering of responsibilities instead of avoiding; the exhibition of honesty and accountability instead of denying and blaming; the willingness to re-negotiate and mediate situations rather than confront them.

Fun and laughter are spices of life. In moderation and not employed to serve sense gratifications, they are useful antidotes for life's sometimes serious, gray and dreary moments. They assist in the recovery of one's mental equipoise. The Buddhist path recognizes both the situations of mental happiness (sommanasa) and physical happiness (sukha). They belong to the vedana (feeling) group that is the second factor of the 5 Aggregates (panca khandha) and one of the 52 mental concomitants (cetasikas). Worldlings - ordinary people (puthujjana) may find such light moments beneficial for their mental well-being.The family that plays together often stays together. Enjoy good meals and outings occasionally. Participate in family sports and games. People need people - so nurture and appreciate family relationships.

One of the recipes for family emotional wellness is for every member to devote some attention to himself/herself. Does this mean selfishness and feeding the ego? Today's psychologists and sociologists maintain that those are healthy mental activities. However, this is not taken to mean praising oneself; gloating over one's beauty/physique; adopting self-centered stances; elevating one's social status and position. Buddhism, 2500 years ago holds similar attitudes also. In Buddhist economic philosophy, one is required to pay some attention to the acquirement (not hoarding) of wealth for one's economic welfare and security as well as for others. The Lord Buddha Gotama offered such advise to both Anathapindika and Dighanaju. In the radiating of loving-kindness (metta), one starts with oneself first. One needs to be embedded and imbued in "love" first before this can be radiated to others. Taking care of oneself is therefore considered important in Buddhist social philosophy. The Dhammapada verse 166 states, "For the sake of others' welfare, however great, let not one neglect one's own welfare. Clearly perceiving one's own welfare let one be intent on one's own goal".

We are each made differently and yet we need to live harmoniously and co-exist peacefully in a family. Though each is an individual we are required to discharge and share common goals and interests. Each of us possesses our own sets of priorities and needs. Still we are required to set some of those differences aside in order to maintain family unity and togetherness. Thus a family with each member knowing and playing his/her part(s) well determines the emotional wellness of the family.

5. Parents and Children / Transmitting the Buddhist Heritage Across Generations - Ven. Dr. Medagama. Vajiraganana Nayake Thera


"Social life begins with our parents; the intellect is cultivated through our teachers; family life is adjusted through experience; the world is appreciated through friends and relations; interdependence is realised through our employment and our final goal is achieved through spiritual guides."

Society is a complex unit consisting of individuals each having a specific relationship with one another. Each person has a special place within the order of things. Each has a set of duties to perform and the well-being of society depends on how each individual member functions in it.

One essential requirement for a happy society is that the individuals constituting the society must have tranquillity of mind. This tranquillity of mind arises from purity of thought, word and action, which means the observance of an ethical lifestyle based on the five precepts. As human beings we are unique in our ability to see the difference between good and bad. We have the capacity to make moral choices and thereby to influence the pattern of our own lives and that of others. This influence is exerted through our thoughts, speech and actions. If we are able to develop an inner purity and strength, then we have the basis on which we can give, in all our relationships, what is needed by others. It is we who can create a harmonious and safe society.

The moral, economic and social stability and well-being of a society are all rooted in the life-long disciplines of family and marital relationships, training in the habitual use of reason to balance varied needs, to act for others' welfare, and to rejoice in others' good. These are the essential elements by which we grow together.

Society grows through a network of relationships which are mutually interdependent. Every relationship is a whole-hearted commitment to support and to cherish. The world is a society of beings who depend utterly upon one another. We can grow neither materially nor spiritually unless we are committed to one another. The function of all social bonds is to provide a life-path both as a realistic discipline and as an opportunity for fulfilment, which guides and rewards at every stage from birth to death. In this strong web of relationships, marriage plays a central part.

The relationships of parents and child, teacher and student, husband and wife, friend and companion, employer and employee, the ordained and the layman - these are the roles we play; these are the very framework of society. In the family we learn the values, skills and disciplines required to fulfill our roles in society at large. All these relationships are developed by generosity, kind and gentle speech, a life of service and the warm, responsive quality of the mind. This is how.self-development serves others. Let us appreciate that true freedom is found in the undying care and protection of the united family - given this, there need never be divorce or a breakdown of traditional morality.

Buddhist teachings are designed to enable men and women to achieve fulfilment and satisfaction in this life through their own efforts, and to establish a social order for the welfare of all, that is, it advocates a way of life that ensures the creation of a healthy society. Buddhism also gives insight into the very nature of man and events. It makes available the means to develop a simple and practical discipline of life suited to one's own temperament and conditions. It creates a steady growth of confidence, generosity, moral energy, sensitivity, concentration and understanding. These are the pillars of both the spiritual and of the family life. Work, stability, generosity and joyfulness are the marks of such a life-style, and these are generated in a way that accommodates change and does not depend on superficial tastes; above all, such a bond is a shield against suffering. The basis of the Buddha's teaching is that every thought, word and deed has significance both for one's own welfare and for the welfare of others.

The life of marriage is a unique balance of enlightened self-interest and unselfish devotion. It should be a religious partnership, a relationship free to grow, with trust and freedom from fear. Different, but complementary, each partner develops strengths which support and sustain the other, neither is superior nor inferior - it should be a true partnership.

"If, householders, both husband and wife hope to be in one another's sight so long as this life lasts and in the future life as well, they should have the same faith, the same virtue, the same generosity, the same wisdom; then they will be in one another's sight so long as this life lasts and in the future life as well."

This statement of the Buddha's emphasizes four qualities, which both partners should develop equally in their attitudes, outlook and modes of behaviour. These are faith, virtue, generosity and wisdom.

Each relationship is based on the intelligent commitment of one partner to the other. Each lives primarily to support, guard and guide the other. This spirit is one of loving acceptance. The fulfillment of the human heart and mind in marriage is finding a balanced way through a testing and unsatisfactory world, a slow and patient task of constant awareness and love. This is the path for those who seek to triumph over difficulties and limitations, to establish virtue, patience, concentration, wisdom and freedom. Rigid teaching about male and female roles, about rights and privileges, are most likely to generate differences of opinion, factions and disappointment. In short, marriage grows from understanding, not impulse; from true loyalty, not indulgence. Marriage functions as an understanding of the balance of the needs of many, not the private satisfaction of the two immediate partners. The institution of marriage provides a basis for nurture and culture, and protection from loneliness, deprivation and fear. A wholesome, secure and loving relationship in marriage is of the utmost importance to the well-being of the family and of society.

The legends contained in the Jataka stories provide many excellent similes which help to clarify the teachings of the Buddha. In the Rukkhadamma story (Jataka no.74) we find expressed the value of solidarity:

"It is meet that kinsfolk should dwell together in concord and unity. For, when kinsfolk are at one, enemies find no opportunity. Not to speak only of human beings, even sense-lacking trees ought to stand together. For in bygone days in the Himalayas a tempest struck a Sal-forest; yet, because the trees, shrubs, bushes, and creepers of the forest were interlaced with one another, the tempest could not overthrow even a single tree but passed harmlessly over their heads. But alone in a courtyard stood a mighty tree; and though it had many stems and branches, yet, because it was not united with other trees, the tempest uprooted it and laid it low. Wherefore, it is meet that you too should dwell together in concord and unity."

The moral code comes first in family life, without which selfish desires and resentment might leave no relationship unharmed. In the family the parent is committed to guarding, supporting and guiding the child equally in pain and in pleasure, in success and in failure, remembering that authority is bound up with forgiveness. A family which trains in coping with pain and disappointment, pleasure and greed, is itself the best institution of education. This training of the conscience is provided through the two great protectors of righteousness - shame (hiri) and fear (ottappa). Hiri is the embarrassment felt by an individual if one finds onself not adhering to the good behavioural pattern that one expects of oneself; ottappa is the dread of punishment or retribution if one is caught committing some wrong or the dread of the kammic result of such an unwholesome act. Conscience develops as one finds one cannot bear to break the family code or to be seen dishonouring it. What greater shame is there than to destroy the very trust that feeds us, which is the source of our pride and joy? With trust and mutual respect, with confidence in each others' responses, the family becomes a closely and strictly ordered unit in which the respect for age and respect for seniority felt in the mind is expressed by acts of both body and speech.

No true religion and no good society can develop where the relationship of parents and children is not cherished above all. According to the Buddhist teaching, the family is the most important and formative association for the socialisation of the human infant. Sons and daughters learn various things under various teachers when they grow up, but the first, most important lessons they learn at home from their parents - like how to talk, how to eat, how to clean themselves, how to behave, etc. Hence the Buddha said that parents are Brahm - God - and also are the first teachers: "Brahm is a term for parents. Early teachers is the term for parents. Parents are worthy of offerings, because the mother and father do much for children. They bring them up, nourish them, and introduce them to the world." No matter where the parents may be when the children grow older, they should visit their parents and offer them all their necessary requirements and gifts. That is why the Buddha said they are Worthy of Offerings. When the Buddha was asked, "Who are the gods?" he replied, "Let your father and your mother be your gods." Brahm is believed to have four noble qualities (Brahma Vih ras), namely: loving kindness (mett ), compassion (karun ), appreciative joy (mudit ), and equanimity (upekkha). Parents maintain these four qualities towards their children throughout all the different events of life from the moment of conception onwards. Therefore, the reciprocal relationship between parents and.children, and the attitude of parents towards their children, are fashioned by these four qualities. The Buddha advised his followers to widen these feelings to apply them to all - these social feelings are to regulate our relationship towards our fellow-beings as well as between the individual and society. At the beginning these are social qualities, yet they can be developed into spiritual states which are highly blissful if cultivated properly.

When a child is born it is unable to live even for a few days without the help of someone else. It is the parents who look after and nurse him. Parents have to provide all the essential care until the child becomes grown up and is in a position to live without the help of others. The love of parents towards their children is beyond words, it is limitless. They do everything humanly possible to care for their children. They look after them, even going without proper sleep themselves, and they spend sleepless nights for the sake of their children. They nurse them, feed them, wash them, clean them and arrange for their comforts to the best of their ability. Parents are willing to spend all their wealth and forgo their own comforts for the sake of their children. They spend lavishly on their children's education, their one and only purpose being to see their children prosper and live happily. Their children's joy is their joy, their children's prosperity is their prosperity. If the child falls into any difficulty, his parents are also distressed and miserable. Limitless is the assistance and help which are rendered by parents to their children.

"As a mother gives up her own life for the sake of her child..." This quotation is from the Buddha's sermon on Loving-kindness, the Metta Sutta. This self-sacrificing love, love that seeks to protect and benefit, to feed and teach, even at the extreme cost, is a mother's love. It is this love that the Buddha taught. It is practical, caring and generous, and it is selfless. But this love should not be kept just for one's own child, this is the love to radiate to all of humanity, in fact to all beings.

According to the Sigalovada Sutta, which deals with the code of conduct for the laity, there are five duties to be performed by parents towards their children. These are:

1. The parents should dissuade their children from doing evil. Parents are the first school for their children, where they learn their elementary lessons in good and evil. Therefore, parents should be very careful to steer their children away from all kinds of evil, such as lying, cheating, dishonesty, revenge and so on.

2. The second duty of parents is that they should persuade their children to do good. By their words and by their example parents should persuade them to develop and manifest good qualities, such as kindness, obedience, courage, honesty, perseverance, simplicity, good manners and other kinds of virtue.

3. The third duty of parents is that they should give their children a good education. The best legacy that parents can bequeath to their children is proper, decent education. There is no treasure more valuable for a human being than a good education. Parents should see that their children learn a suitable art or science along, of course, with good ethical and moral principles. Education develops discipline, and the disciplined person is a blessing to any nation or country.

4. The fourth duty is that parents should arrange a suitable partner in marriage for their children. There are two types of marriages, i.e. love marriages and arranged marriages. Marriages are either brought about by love or they are arranged by parents. It is a paramount duty of parents to see whether the marriage of their children would develop into a life-long companionship, because marriage should start with love coupled with the advice of the parents. It should, however, develop later in life into a companionship. The wife is called in Buddhist literature "the second most important person in one's life", the Pali term is "dutiya". The wife is also called "the best friend" (Bhariy param sakh ).

If husband and wife do not assist each other, do not love each other, do not share their happiness and sorrow with each other, do not look after each other, do not respect each other, their experience will be life-long misery. The parents have the right to advise their children with regard to their proposed marriages. Parents should admonish them and explain the duties of a husband and wife as given in the Sigalovada Sutta.

5. The fifth duty of parents is that at the proper time they should hand over their inheritance to their children. During their lifetime loving parents not only do everything for the prosperity and well-being of their children, but they also make all preparations and arrangements for their future comfort and well-being. Their ancestral property, together with their hard-earned wealth, form a proper bequest or legacy.

Buddhists are taught that parents are for the child as the earth itself is to all plants and creatures. The debt of moral obligations can never be repaid to one's parents, even if one were to sacrifice one's life for their sake. If a child ministers to his parents with everything possible for a hundred years, if he establishes his parents in supreme authority in absolute rule over the mighty earth, not even thus could he repay his debt to his parents. This is emphasized by the Buddha (Gradual Sayings I, Book of Twos 4-2), "I declare that one can never repay two people, namely mother and father. Even if one carries about one's mother on one shoulder and one's father on the other, and doing so would live a hundred years... Even if one establishes one's parents in supreme authority, in the absolute supremacy over all the world... even then one could not repay them. Why so? The reason is that parents do much for their children; they give life to them, nourish and bring them up, and introduce them to the world."

There are some children who do not realize this or who forget the amount of affection and care which their parents have lavished upon them. Parental love is always greater than filial love. One cannot expect children or babies to be grateful or dutiful as they are still immature, but it is very wrong if children are ungrateful, stubborn or disobedient when they grow up. There are three types of children described in the Buddhist scriptures. These are: Avaj ta, Anuj ta, and Atij ta.

1) Those who are inferior to their parents in every respect are called Avaj ta;
2) Those who are on the same level as their parents are called Anuj ta; and
3) Those who excel their parents in every way are called Atij ta.

Even in their dreams parents do not want their children to be inferior to them. All parents without exception want their children to excel them in learning, in virtue, in position and so on. Therefore, every child must endeavour to fulfil these hopes. Parents' one and only hope is to see their children grow up as good and ideal people. They would be happy if their children surpass them, and they would surely be unhappy if their children fall below their.expected standard. In order to lead children on the right path, parents must first set an example for them to follow.

In the first years, the young mind is nourished by the moral code of the parents. The Buddhist heritage has no dogmas to pass to future generations. It is a way of life based on the criterion of unsatisfactoriness of life due to craving. This craving is eradicated by the successful practice of generosity, morality and wisdom, and it is these qualities that are taught by example and guidance from one generation to another. One is mindful that it is not only what the parents profess, but rather what they really are and do, that the child drinks in, involuntarily and lovingly. The child enters the world moulded by the parents.

In five ways parents communicate their real sense of right and wrong, for the protection of the child, the protection of the family, and the protection of the society:

1. They rejoice in the welfare of others; they resist the impulse to harm others by cruelty, anger or hatred. Buddhists undertake to train themselves to avoid killing or hurting any living being.

2. In relation to possessions - they truly honour other people's rights, and give freely and wisely, after protecting their own. Buddhists undertake to train themselves not to steal or cheat.

3. In relation to honour and purity in relationships - where fidelity is a virtue, neither temptation nor seduction abuse the safety of marriages of families. To Buddhists all others, with the exception of one's spouse, are like either a parent, a brother or sister, or one's child. Buddhists undertake to train themselves not to commit adultery or sexual misconduct in act or in thought.

4. In speech - their speech is truthful, kindly, just and sensible. Buddhists undertake not to speak falsely.

5. In responsibility - the parents never risk their own or their family's honour or safety through intoxication. Buddhists undertake to avoid hallucinogenics and intoxication which will cause carelessness.

There are some ways for children to repay partially, but not fully, their debt to their parents. That is: by dissuading them from evil, by encouraging them to do wholesome deeds, and by being good children living as close to the ideal as possible. If they live as ideal children that is one of the ways to repay their parents. Parents should be provided not only with fleeting material pleasure, but also with substantial spiritual pleasure, like confidence, morality, wisdom, etc. Dutiful, loving children are always obedient to their parents, who have bestowed upon them their overflowing love and compassion. They never disregard their wishes. They never get angry, nor provoke them, nor hurt their feelings. They always uphold their good name and honour by showing excellent character, refined behaviour, charming manners and a noble demeanour. In every way and to the best of their ability they should try to be worthy children of worthy parents. They do nothing which might discredit their parents' good name even after their death.

The Rock Edicts of the great Indian Emperor Asoka (280 BC) concern themselves very much with the duties of children to their parents: "Meritorious is obedience to mother and father." "Right conduct to mother and father is obedience." "Obey mother and father." "Listen to mother and father."

In the Sigalovada Sutta the child is advised how he should honour his parents:-

i) As the parents have supported the child, so should the child support the parents. Sons and daughters should support their parents. They should wait upon them when they are sick or old. In fact they should deem it a great blessing and privilege to minister to, wait upon and look after their parents when they become helpless, old or destitute.

ii) The child should do the parents' duties. Children should always try to understand what are the requirements and necessities of their parents, and they must try to provide them to the best of their abilities. Children should not hesitate to provide anything that their parents need for their satisfaction. They should see to the comfort and happiness of their parents.

The Bodhisattva considered it his greatest privilege to sacrifice even his own life for the sake of his parents. It is a Bodhisattva virtue, a Bodhisattva ideal to look after his mother and father. It is a duty not only to see to their material happiness, but also their spiritual progress. Children should try to encourage their parents to develop virtues such as generosity, morality, piety, wisdom, etc.

iii) Children should uphold the family tradition and lineage. It is an important duty of children to continue the good works started by their parents. They should preserve the family tradition. They should carry on any philanthropic or social work started by their parents, especially after their death. The good name of the parents should be preserved by their worthy children. Good, cultured children do nothing to bring discredit to the good name of their parents.

iv) Children should act in such a way as to be worthy of their inheritance. Whatever legacy or property they receive from their parents should be protected and, if possible, increased. Children may earn a lot in later life, but they should always preserve the ancestral property with due honour and care.

v) Furthermore, children should offer alms in honour of their departed relatives. It is one of the noble duties and customs to remember and revere parents after their death. Children offer alms to monks and the needy, and then transfer the merits acquired thereby to the departed ones.

Buddhists believe in rebirth. They know that their departed parents have taken birth somewhere else. Therefore, after performing suitable meritorious deeds they radiate their thoughts of goodwill towards their dead parents, wishing them well-being and happiness wherever they may be. Periodical alms-givings are held or donations are given to charitable institutions, books on the Dhamma are published, schools, hospitals, orphanages and so on are established in the name of the parents. Dutiful and loving children perform various philanthropic works in order to perpetuate the hallowed names of their parents. They do so as a mark of gratitude in memory of their beloved parents.

As a son or daughter one has to be useful to one's parents in whatever way one can. One should not demand things that one's parents cannot afford, but try to make the best use of the facilities they are in a position to provide. One should develop one's inborn talents, and also gain whatever new knowledge one can, so that one grows up to adulthood as a capable person, ready to shoulder some responsibility in society. Hence, when one grows up to adulthood one should be in a position to engage in some useful trade or profession to earn enough to maintain oneself and also to help one's ageing parents and other deserving relatives and friends.

When one is married one should not be a burden or cause embarrassment to the partner, but should be in a position to contribute in whatever manner possible to make the task of the other easy and pleasant. Next, as a parent too one should be an asset, a source of strength and inspiration to the children. When one grows old and feeble one should try to be as little a burden as possible to the children.

This moulding and shaping of duty-conscious and law-abiding family members (parents and children) will lead to the emergence of a good social order with the consequent result of creating a contented humanity - that has been the aim of the Buddha's teachings. Hence we can see that he taught that the happiness of a whole society depends upon the happiness of the family. This way of life resonates with the ideal of caring for others.

The importance of mett , loving-kindness, must be fully recognized. This loving-kindness must first be shown to oneself, the individual must be confident in himself before he can be of service to others; then this love should be radiated to one's parents, "As I am happy, may my parents be happy". In this way we radiate these pure thoughts of goodwill to family and friends; to neighbours; to strangers; to those who may be unfriendly or hostile towards us; to all of humanity. The most frequently-recited and meditated upon sutta in Buddhism is the Metta Sutta - this should be recited daily by all Buddhists.

When such love is taught and becomes the most central theme of one's life, and the status of the family is held as the nucleus of society, it can be more easily appreciated how, in Buddhist countries, family unity is still extremely strong. However, as modern materialism creeps into the fabric of every culture; as media such as television, with its perpetual salutations to the glories of covetousness, becomes available even in small villages; as childrens' education places greater importance on skills for monetary gain than on excellence in character; so even in the bastions of Buddhist culture we are finding a waning of traditional values.

Some reasons for the erosion of traditional morality may be that modern youth takes less notice of the advice handed down from one generation to another, advice such as has already been quoted: ".. .should have the same faith, the same virtue, the same generosity, the same wisdom" Instead they rely on the earthly emotions which are tied more to sexual attraction of the present than of a life-time commitment - not that Buddhism in any way demeans the importance of sexuality in the committed relationship, for this surely is the strongest emotion of mankind. But such emotions should be used wisely, used correctly; marriage should neither be dependent nor ignoring its real nature, but become free of dependence on it - this thinking would surely maintain the safety of a lasting relationship.

As the children, with their fine education, move from their home environments to get work elsewhere, often in a foreign country, slowly the "thin end of the wedge" of corruption of moral standards is inched into their weakening traditions. The first, even the second generation, may be able to hold on to the ethics inherent in their heritage - most fortunate are those which survive longer.

Another reason for the decline in human relationships and weakening of traditional morality is often that a person may have too many undertakings, no only would he not be able to complete these undertakings successfully, but on the other hand he could upset everything and also would not be able to live happily with his kith and kin due to the fact that his duties and obligations to them would be neglected owing to lack of time and absence of mind.

To tackle these crises let us not cling to the older rules just because they may have appeared successful in the past, let us not insist on acceptance of dogma, let us not try to conquer with authority, but let us reintroduce self-respect, self-confidence and self-love.

True freedom is found in a life based on the greatest safety, which requires the undying care and protection of a united family. Certainly, given this, there need never be a person who is lost or lonely. Even if a child's immediate family are all dead, he still has uncles, cousins, and in-laws. All should see it as a source of honour and fulfillment to adopt, feed and love the child. This is true not only for a child, but also just as much for the old and infirm.

The moulding and shaping of duty-conscious and law-abiding members of a family (both parents and children) mean the emergence of a good social order with, as a consequent result, the creation of contented humanity. That has been the aim of the Buddha's teachings.

So we can see that the Buddha has taught that the happiness of the whole society is based on the happiness of the family. This way of life is permeated with the ideals of caring and being cared for. It guards tradition. Heart, mind and body are given to the creation of happiness for others, here and now. This will bring its own undying rewards hereafter.


About the Author

Ven. Medagama Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera is the chief incumbent of the London Buddhist Vihara and Sangha Nayaka Thera of the Sri Lankan Sangha resident in the United Kingdom.

6. GRATITUDE TO PARENTS / Questions 1 - Ajahn Sumedho


Question: How do people who have a lot of anger towards their parents develop gratitude towards them?

Ajahn Sumedho: This is not an uncommon problem, because I know that teaching metta on too sentimental a basis can actually increase anger. I remember a woman on one of our retreats who, whenever it came to spreading metta to her parents, would go into a rage. Then she felt very guilty about it, as she was not able to forgive and develop loving-kindness to her mother. Every time she thought about her mother, she only felt this rage. This was because she only used her intellect; she wanted to do this practice of metta, but emotionally felt anything but that.

It's important to see this conflict between the intellect and the emotional life. We know in our mind that we should be able to forgive our enemies and love our parents, but in the heart we feel, 'I can never forgive them for what they've done.' So then we either feel anger and resentment, or we go into rationalisations: 'Because my parents were so bad, so unloving, so unkind, they made me suffer so much that I can't forgive or forget,' or: 'There's something wrong with me, I'm a terrible person because I can't forgive. If I were a good person I would be able to forgive, therefore I must be a bad person.' These are the conflicts that we have between the intellect and the emotions. When we don't understand this conflict, we are confused; we know how we should feel but we don't actually feel that way.

With the intellect we can figure it out ideally; we can create marvellous images and perceptions in the mind. But the emotional nature is not rational. It's a feeling nature, it is not going to go along with what is reasonable, logical, sensible - so on the emotional level we have to understand how we actually feel. I've found it helped to have metta for my own feeling. So when we feel that our parents were unkind and unloving to us we can have metta towards the feeling we have in the heart; not being judgmental, but having patience with that feeling - to see that this is how it feels, and then to accept that feeling. Then it is possible to resolve that feeling. But when we get stuck in a battle between our logical perceptions and our emotional responses, it gets very confusing.

Once I began to accept my negativity rather than suppress it, I could resolve it. When we resolve something with mindfulness, then we can let it go and free ourself from the power of that particular thing - not through denial or rejection, but through understanding and accepting that particular negative feeling. The resolution of such a conflict leads us to contemplate what life is about.

My father died about six years ago. He was then 90 years old, and he had never shown love or positive feelings towards me. So from early childhood I had this feeling that he did not like me. I carried this feeling through most of my life; I never had any kind of love, any kind of warm relationship with my father. It was always a perfunctory: 'Hello son, good to see you.' And he seemed to feel threatened by me. I remember whenever I came home as a Buddhist monk he would say, 'Remember, this is my house, you've got to do as I say.' This was his greeting - and I was almost 50 years old at the time! I don't know what he thought I was going to do!

In the last decade of his life, he was quite miserable and became very resentful. He had terrible arthritis and was in constant pain, and he had Parkinson's disease and everything was going wrong. Eventually he had to be put in a nursing home. He was completely paralysed. He could move his eyes and talk, but the rest of his body was rigid, totally still. He hated this. He was resentful of what had happened to him because before he had been a strong, independent, virile man. He had been able to control and manage everything in his life. So he hated and resented having to depend on nurses to feed him and so on.

My first year here I remember discussing my parents with my sister. She pointed out to me that my father was a very considerate man. He was very considerate and thoughtful towards my mother. He was always eager to help her when she was tired or unwell - a very supportive husband. Because I came from a family where it was normal for a man to be like that, I had never recognised those qualities. My sister pointed out that it is not often that a husband is supportive or helpful to his wife. For my father's generation, women's rights and feminism were not the issue. 'I bring in the money, and you do the cooking and washing,' was the attitude then. I realise then that I had not only completely overlooked these good qualities, I had not even noticed them.

The last time I went to see him, I decided that I would try to get some kind of warmth going between us before he died. It was quite difficult to even think this, because I had gone through life feeling that he didn't like me. It is very hard to break through that kind of thing. Anyway, his body needed to be stimulated, so I said, 'Let me massage your leg.' And he said, 'No, no, you don't need to do that.' And I said, 'You'll get bedsores, because you really have to have your skin massaged.' And he still said, 'No, you don't have to do it.' Then I said, 'I would really like to do it.' And he said, 'You don't have to do it.' But I could tell that he was considering it. Then I said, 'I think it'll be a good thing and I'd really like to do it,' and he said, 'So you'd really like to do it?' and I said, 'Yes.'

I started massaging his feet, his legs, his neck and shoulders, his hands and his face, and he really enjoyed the physical contact. It was the first time he had been touched like that. I think elderly people really like being touched, because physical contact is quite meaningful, it's an expression of feeling. And I began to realise that my father really loved me, but didn't know how to say it because of his upbringing. He'd been brought up in an Edwardian time in a very formal environment. His had been a 'don't touch, don't get emotional' sort of a family. They had no great emotional explosions, feelings were always controlled. Now I realised that my father was quite a loving sort of man, but he could not express his feelings because of his background. And I had this great sense of relief. I couldn't understand him when I was young, because I did not understand his upbringing and what he had been through. It was only when I grew older that I began to understand the consequences of having such an upbringing; once you are conditioned in that way, it is difficult to break out of it. I could see when I looked back that behind the behaviour of my father there was love, but it always came out in a commanding or demanding way, because that is the only way he knew how to talk. Like the way he said, 'Remember, this is my house, and you have to do what I say.' If I was going to be offended by that, I would have had a miserable time. But I decided not to pay any attention to that statement and not make a problem of it. I saw him as an old man losing his control, and maybe he saw me as a threat. He probably thought, 'He's going to think I am a hopeless old man, but I'm going to show him.'

Those who have taken care of paraplegics or quadriplegics know that sometimes they get very cantankerous. We can think we are doing them a favour, but they can be quite demanding because when people are helpless like that they become very sensitive to the patronising way of healthy people towards the sick: 'Let me help you - you're an invalid.' This type of thing is also seen when young people care for the elderly.

Eight years ago, we had a man who wanted to come and die in the monastery. He was 80 years old, an Englishman who had been a Buddhist since 1937. He was a very nice man, and he had terminal cancer. So he stayed here at Amaravati and people from a Buddhist group in Harlow that he had founded and inspired would come to look after him; sometimes when they couldn't come the monks would look after him. I had noticed that some of the monks were getting patronising about him. But this man would not take any of it: 'I might be dying and all, but I'm not stupid,' he'd say, and he made it very clear that he was not going to put up with such behaviour. So we have to be aware when we look after the elderly or the sick, we have to watch our reactions.

When we look at life from a historical point of view we see that it has always been difficult for people. When you visit a graveyard and read the gravestones here in England, you can find many of them are for young women - 25 years old or so - who died in childbirth; or for babies. That was very common in England just 100 years ago. Women could not necessarily expect to survive childbirth. Now, when someone dies in childbirth we are surprised and upset by it. We think life should not be like this, life should be fair. Our expectations are very high, and we can be very critical because we think that life should only get better and better. Yet even if we have everything, we can still live a joyless life. So it's how we relate to life, and how we develop our minds that counts - it's nothing to do with wealth and status, or even good health.

Life is a difficult experience, and it is an on-going one. You keep learning until you die. Life is difficult but you keep thinking it should not be so, that it should be easy. Now, I think that life should be difficult, because that's the way we learn.


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