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Filial piety in Buddhism-By Dr. Justice Chandradasa Nanayakkara


Filial piety in Buddhism

Source:Island

Society consists of network of relationships which are mutually interdependent and interrelated. According to Sigalavoda Sutta the society is sustained by a network of interlocking relationships such as the relationship of parents and child, teacher and pupil, employer and employee and husband and wife etc. Members in these relationships are expected to fulfill their reciprocal duties and responsibilities in a spirit of kindness and sympathy. In the strong web of relationships, parents and child relationship is considered the most fundamental as it nurtures the physical emotional and social development of the child. Moreover, filial piety displayed by children towards their parents in the context of parents and child relationship is seen as the basis for an orderly harmonious society.

Filial piety and providing care for aging parents is not only considered a central virtue in many religions it was also deeply rooted and ingrained in many Asian cultures including Lankan. Traditional filial piety emphasises compliance, courtesy, manners and support to one’s parents and

Children are deeply indebted to their parents. When a child is born it is unable to live even for a few days unassisted. It is the parents who look after and nurse him by providing him all the necessary care and attention until the child is grown up and is in a position to live without the help of others. The love and affection of parents towards their children is indescribable and boundless. Parents do everything within their power in the interests of their children. They spend sleepless nights and keep vigil at the bedside of their ailing children when they are afflicted with illnesses. Parents are even prepared to spend their entire wealth by forgoing their own comfort for the sake of their children. They wish to see their children prosper and live happily. When children are worried and sad, parents too are distressed and sad. Parents never stop worrying about their children even when they are all grown up have children of their own. Such is the parental love towards their children. It is self-sacrificing and selfless. No superior can equal parents not even any devas. They can be likened to God in human form. Their unconditional love cannot be found anywhere else in the universe.

Children learn various lessons under various teachers during their formative years, but the most important lessons such as how to talk, how to eat, how to clean themselves and how conduct themselves learn from their parents, for this reason, parents are known as first teachers (Braham and Pubbachariya).

In bringing up children parents apply essential meditation practices of Four Immeasurable minds (Brahma Vihara). Four immeasurables are Loving Kindness (Metta). Compassion (Karuna). Sympathetic Joy (Muditha), and Equanimity (Uppekka). Parents maintain these four excellent qualities towards their children at all times from the moment a child is conceived. Lord Buddha advised his adherents to honour their parents as Brahma Supreme God as parents have done much for their children.

The Buddha explained the greatness of parents thus. “Monks, Brahma is a term for mother and father. “worthy of offerings”. Because mother and father do much for their children, they bring them up, nourish them and introduce them to the world.”

When the Buddha was questioned as to who could be considered as the God. Buddha replied, “let your father and your mother be your Gods.”In the Katannu Suttas of Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha said there were two persons whom men could not easily repay. They are your parents, even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder and your father on the other shoulder for hundred years, and were to minister to them in every possible way by anointing, massaging, bathing, rubbing their limbs cleaning them of their urine and excrement or even one was to establish parents in absolute sovereignty as universal monarch (chakka catti raja).you cannot repay them.” From this it is clear, parents are the most amazing people children can find around the world for all the sacrifices they have made for them.

The practice of filial piety is good karma in the moral teaching of buddhism. It teaches its followers to pay their debts to parents by supporting and respecting them, actions that are considered to be great meritorious deeds or wholesome kamma in Buddhist moral teachings. Sigalovada Sutta which deals with the code of conduct for laity while enumerating five duties that should be performed by parents towards their children sets out following five duties that should be done by children towards their parents as a form of filial love. 1. Children should support their parents as they have been supported by them. It is one of the paramount duties of children. They should obey them and not displease, ill-treat disrespect them in any manner. They should attend to their needs when they are sick. 2. Children should do necessary duties by the parents. Children should understand what are the requirements and necessities of their parents. 3. Children should uphold the family tradition and lineage. It is important duty of children to continue the good work started by the parents. 4. 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. 5. Children should offer alms in honour of their departed relatives. It is a noble duty and custom to remember and revere parents after their death. According to Buddhist teaching matricide and patricide are considered two of the five gravest karma the consequence of which could rebound in this very life.

When the Buddha on one occasion bowed respectfully at a pile of bones, which was lying on his path Bhikku Ananda questioned him as to why he bowed at the pile of bones. Lord Buddha replying said “from an inscrutable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating and wandering on. A being who had not been your mother at one time in the past is not easy to find, a being who had not been your father, your sister brother, your son and your daughter one time in the past is not easy to find. That is the reason why I bowed down.”

According to the Maha Mangala sutta, when deity from the celestial world requested the Lord Buddha to enumerate the great blessings that would lead to one’s success and welfare in the world, the Buddha while describing thirty-eight such blessings referred to support extended to one’s parents as a great blessing in following terms. Mata pittu Upatthanametam Mangalam uttam (supporting the mother and father is a great blessing).

In Dhammapada to the Buddha has disclosed being dutiful to one’s mother and father would bring happiness in this world (Sukka matteyya loke atho petteyyata suka). Which means “respect for one’s mother and father brings happiness.”

In Anguttara nikaya Buddha mentioned the ways how to repay love, kindness, and gratitude to one’s parents thus “Oh, Bhikkhus, whoever encourages their faithless parents and settles and establishes them in morality, or whoever encourages their stingy parents and settle and establishes them in generosity, or whoever encourages their foolish parents, and settles and establishes them in wisdom such a person, in this way repays, more than repays what is due to their parents.

Three types of children have been identified in the Buddhist scriptures, they are children who are inferior to their parents in every respect (avajatha). Children who are on the same level with their parents (anujatha) and lastly children who excel their parents in every way (atijatha). Parents would be happy if the children would surpass them and would be unhappy if they fall below their expected standard.

It is a matter of immense regret and grief that with the western influence, urbanisation and fragmentation of family life more and more adult children are becoming insensitive to their moral obligations and evading them. Even the adult children who are capable of caring and looking after their feeble aging parents are leaving them in old age homes and run away from their moral obligations. Many elderly parents suffer violence, neglect, isolation on a daily basis at the hands of their children. A large number of elderly parents live all alone. While some who live alone have taken a conscious decision to do so, many others do this because of lack of option. They have been isolated, neglected, hounded out of the houses built by them at their own expense and housed in old age homes, because they are victims of fast eroding social values at the hands of their own children and society at large. Traditional Sri Lankan society cared and respected the old age and the wisdom, abilities and confidence that came with it.

Along with the growing number of elderly citizens in the country abuse and neglect of aged parents is bound to become a widespread issue in our society. Most children do not realise the amount of affection and care their parents have extended to them. They must realise parental love far greater than filial love.

Old parents should not feel abandoned by adult children they raise. Children could see how the relentless and inevitable change of time has taken its toll on their parents and it should serve as a lesson for them right before their own eyes. We must treat our aging parents just as we hope to be treated in the future, and care giving should living example to their own children and grandchildren. In the past adult children with their life partners used to take care of their parents out of goodness of their heart, as abdication of care giving responsibility, unlike the western societies was considered culturally and morally unacceptable.

Time was when ageing parents were taken care of by their adult children. There was a moral obligation to make sure their aging parents were cared for. It was considered a tenet of filial piety.

Ageing parents usually undergo pangs of loneliness and boredom, and, therefore, need companionship. There is always a tendency for aging parents to develop a pessimistic approach to life, which can be avoided if the adult children provide them with abundant love, care and empathy. They expect their children to sit with and talk to them about the happenings of their life in calm in a cordial manner in their twilight years.

Parents consider children are a great comfort in their old age. Therefore, we must treat our old parents with loving care. It should be remembered that parents gave every moment of their happiness for our comfort and joy. They have cared for us ever since we were infants. We never know the sacrifices they went through for us. We should not despise or repulse and we should not look at them as a burden but speak to them humbly and graciously. It is regrettable today children forget that the foundation of their life was built by parents.

Our parents showed us the world and in return we should not show them old aged homes. We will only realise their value when they are gone and see their empty chairs. When our parents are old and cannot take care of themselves it is our duty to pay back their love, efforts by serving them in every possible way, even at the cost of personal sacrifice.

Adult children should realise that ageing is a continuous and irreversible process. Everyone undergoes this phase of life at his own time and pace.

We should bear in mind that life is a cycle and one day roles will be switched, ageing parents may need you now, but day will come when you need your children as you grow old. Old age has been referred to as the most delicate period of life, and it is the time parent’s health problems become more obvious. It is also the time they need loving care and affection as they become, physically, emotionally weak at this time. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that children should be mindful of heir filial duties and take care of their frail and aging parents.





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