DUTIES TO PARENTS
(MATTA PITU UPATTHANAM)
By Reverend Phra Hoe
TiRatana Welfare Centre
K45, Jalan Cahaya 4, Salak South Garden, 57100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


 
SABRAHMAKASUTTA

BRAHMA’S FOUR CHIEF OBJECTS OF MEDITATION;
COMPARED TO MATERNAL LOVE
 

Addressing the Bhikkhus, the Lord said - “O Bhikkhus! Just as Brahma extends Loving Kindness, Great Sympathy, Gentleness and Equanimity towards all living beings in common, at all times, similarly do these characteristics spontaneously grow, at different stages in a mother towards her child. First she grows a hopeful and attached kindness in her deep solicitude to become the mother of a well-formed and uncrippled child.

For the first period after its birth, she bears a compassionate love towards it. During its playful stage as a child, her love towards it changes from its second nature to that of a mild and over-sentimental one. In its fourth stage as a full grown self-sup-porting adult, mother’s love towards her child changes to a state of equanimity. (True paternal love towards children does not much differ from that of the mother).”

The Lord has thus compared parents’ love to that of Brahma’s towards all living beings. Home is compared to a divine palace.
 


 

FIRST SCHOOL


Addressing the Bhikkhus, the Lord again said - “O Bhikkhus!  If any child respects and pays obeisance to his parents in the house, his parents are his First Teachers. From birth his parents give him the first training in activities of varied kinds. Then the child is passed onto a second teacher for training in science, to a third for arts and so on.

Following this, the child (who may now be a big boy or a young man) through the instructions of an advisory Bhikkhu, may seek refuge in the ‘Triple Gem,’ may become a holder of the Five Precepts, the Eight precepts, or even become a member of the Order. He may even become learned in the Dhamma and attain the fruits of ·the Path for Emancipation. As a matter of rank, none of these teachers can claim the first position due entirely to the parents. Therefore, the house where a child lives with his parents is his FIRST SCHOOL.”
 


 

FIRST TEMPLE


“O Bhikkhus! If a child pays respectful salutations to his parents in the house, that family is the worshipper of those whom First Worship is due. Just as an ‘Arahant’ (truth seeker absolutely freed from lust and passion) who ignores every wrong of any devotee but extends loving kindness and wholeheartedly wishes the devotee every mundane and supramundane happiness, parents similarly ignore and forgive a child for his mistakes. They wish him wholehearted success and happiness in his career. Thus whatever other worshippers the child may find later, they cannot claim the first position due entirely to his parents. Hence the house wherein the child worships his parents is his FIRST TEMPLE.”
 


 

FIRST PLACE OF OFFERING


“0 Bhikkhus! If any child offers his parents with any offerings in the house, his family is the gainers of those worthy of offering.  Whatever wealth or other property that may have been earned arduous-ly by a son, his parents are the first to deserve its use. Thus such house wherein are those worthy of such offerings, is the first PLACE OF OFFERING.”
 


 

INADEQUACY OF SUPPORT


In the Anguttara Nikaya: the Lord had said: - “O Bhikkhus!  Father and mother are two to whom however much worldly support is rendered but still falls short of the gratitude due.

“O Bhikkhus! If a man can live for a hundred years and nurse his mother on the right shoulder and his father on the left shoulder throughout his life time, feeding them and doing everyotherservices with his own hands - Bhikkhus! even then the devoted hundred years of service so rendered by the son will not completely repay the debt of his gratitude to his parents.

“O Bhikkhus! Suppose a son places his parents in the position of a World Monarch with all the imaginable gifts of the worldly pleasures; even so, O Bhikkhus! his debt of gratitude to them cannot be repaid in full. Why so, O Bhikkhus! Parents have helped the children more. They protected their lives, fed them and made them to see the world. Therefore, how should a son attend to, support and look after his parents so as to completely repay his debt of gratitude to them?”
 


 

ATTEND TO THEM MORNING AND EVENING



Whilst attending to parents, the child should consider them as fields to sow one’s merits. He should attend to them every morning and evening. Those who practise this virtue gain the blessings of the highest esteem.
 


 

ANOINT AND ADEQUATELY SERVE THEM


Parents should well be served with all their requirements, such as food and drinks, clothing, shelter and other very good things. Last but not the least, children should bathe and anoint them in times of their needs.

He who devotedly does his duties and the services described above can make even stingy parents to become generous, the non-devoted to be devoted, the non-virtuous to be virtuous and the foolish to be wise. He who succeeds in doing this, only can completely repay his debt of gratitude to his parents. He receives the highest regard and praise from the wise. He can enjoy supramundane happiness hereafter.
 


 

BHIKKHUS’ DUTY TO PARENTS


According to the Lord’s instructions, it is a duty of every Bhikkhu to minister to his parents. A Bhikkhu could have his mother brought to his monastery. He should render all support and service by himself but without touching her body. In the case of his father, a Bhikkhu could do every service just as a layman would do.

Once, a Bhikkhu received a lot of clothes for robes. He was anxious to give them to his parents and so he asked the Buddha about it. The lord replied thus:- “O Bhikkhu! When you want to offer them to your parents, what can I say? I can only say that you must do so.”
 


 

ILLUSTRATION ONE



Once, a virtuous young man (Upasaka) devotedly looked after his parents. He himself had to farm their fields also. His parents realised that their son’s duties were heavy and so advised him to marry so that a daughter-in-law in the house could share his duties and help to look after the parents.

The devoted son replied: “How can another person do my duties to my heart’s content?” The understanding parents, however, had match-made a woman for the son. At the beginning the daughter-in-law was very efficient in her household duties. But after sometime, a conflict arose between the two ladies in the house. The wife would complain to the husband about the old mother and threatened to either have the mother sent out or she would not stay in the house any longer.

The wise Upasaka readily answered his wife: “You are still young, so you can go anywhere and live in any condition; but my dear mother is very old, so where can she go to stay? If you want to go, you better do so now at once.” This argument brought about a marvellous re-formation in the wife and she resumed her duties in the same good old way.

When the Upasaka went to meet the Buddha, he related to the Lord a full account of the incident. The Lord replied that it was the same woman who made him to discard his own mother in a previous birth. “0 Lord!” said the Upasaka,

“May you please tell me how that happened.”

Thus replied the Lord:- Once, when the Bodhisatva was born as Sakka (King of the Devas, there was a Upasaka (yourself) who dismissed his mother from his abode, in order to please his wife. The discarded mother led a very miserable life, roaming from place to place doing domestic work. At that time, the upasaka’s wife was expecting a baby and gave birth to a son. The family became prosperous and lived happily.

One day, the wife remarked that from the day that the wretched old woman went away, they had been blessed with a child, wealth, health and every other prosperity and happiness. The old mother came to know about that talk and was very much distressed.  She thought to herself - “If the Dhamma in the world is not lost, how could a son of such ungrateful temperament became a father himself and be so happy! Therefore the Dhamma must be dead and I must perform an alms-giving to the memory of that Dhamma”. So thinking she went to the cemetery to cook the food.

“While viewing this world with compassion, Sakka saw what this old woman was going to do. Disguised as an old brahmin, Sakka descended and asked the old woman for whom she was cooking the food. The old lady replied that such virtuous Dhammas, as supporting and ministering to one’s older relatives or parents was dead, and she was going to perform an alms-giving to the memory of that dead Dhamma.

When the brahmin replied that Sakka ruled the world in accordance with the Dhamma and that it was not dead, she would not believe him. She said that in the world those who lead bad lives, devoid of any virtue in them, do prosper well - such as her own son’s family who drove her out of his house, thereby kicking that virtuous Dhamma off the world.

After the considerable arguments, the brahmin admitted that he was Sakka. Then the old lady became convinced that the virtuous Dhamma was not dead. Then Sakka declared that her son and daughter-in-law would come to her, tender their apologies and take her home.  That came true and they all lived happily ever after.” The Lord said that the mother, son and daughter-in-law mentioned in the story were the members of the Upasaka’s family and Sakka was the Fully-Enlightened One, the Buddha Himself.
 


 

ILLUSTRATION TWO



Once a huge elephant was caught in the jungle and brought to the king. The King ordered that the elephant be housed in a special stable which had been nicely decorated. The elephant would not eat any food that was given to him. Being questioned for the reason, it was learnt that he had left his mother whom he used to feed and look after, in the jungle. The cause of his not eating any food given by the King was that he could not offer his mother’s share first. The King was greatly pleased with the conscientious elephant and immediately released him from captivity.
 


 

ILLUSTRATION THREE



Lord Buddha’s Chief Disciple, the Great Thera Sariputta, before attaining Pari-Nibbana would like to establish his mother, Lady Sari, in the Triple Gem. This, he realised, was the only course open to him whereby he could completely repay his gratitude to his mother. He therefore informed the Buddha of his intention to enter Nibbana in the same house wherein he was born. Accompanied by 500 Bhikkhus, he left Jetavana Temple for his destination.

He reached his destination on the seventh day. Whilst resting under a bayan tree, he saw his nephew Uparevata. Uparevata was asked to inform Lady Sari of Ven. Sariputta’s homecoming and to have bedding arrangements made for the 500 Bhikkhus. Accordingly Lady Sari sent a delegation to welcome Ven. Sariputta and the 500 Bhikkhus. On arrival, the Great Thera went straight to his room. Shortly after, he got a serious attack of diarrhoea. His followers including Ven.  Cunda Thera attended on him. Lady Sari, much concerned for her son’s sickness, stood at the door watching eagerly.

Moments later, she saw four great beings going in and then out of the room followed later by a second being who also left after a little while and lastly a third being of a very shining body. After the third being left, she drew near to the room and inquired about her son’s health from Ven. Cunda. Ven. Cunda then informed the great Thera of Lady Sari’s presence.

Being rather inquisitive, she asked Ven. Sariputta who the four beings were and who was more exalted (referring to the four devas or Ven. Sariputta). “They are the four chief devas of the Catumaharajika Heaven who with swords in hand guarded our Lord Buddha from the day of His very conception in His mother’s womb” replied the Great Thera.

“Who is the one that came after and are you higher than him?” asked the mother.

“He is Sakka - the king of Devas who followed our Lord Buddha with robes in his (Sakka’s) hand when He descended from the Heaven Tavatimsa” said Ven. Sariputta.

“Who is the most glittering one that came after him?” asked Lady Sari again. Ven. Sariputta said, “He is your blessed teacher Maha Brahma.”

Lady Sari asked, “Are you more exalted than my blessed Maha Brahma also?”

Being told that Maha Brahma held the Lord Buddha in a golden net when He was born, Lady Sari was much overwhelmed at the exal-tation of her son and the Lord Buddha. Addressing Lady Sari, the Great Thera said, “O Maha Upasika! At the time of my Lord’s birth, His Great Renunciation, His Great Enlightenment and His Expounding of Dhamma Cakka Pavattana Sutta, this Great Earth quaked. In the whole universe there is no one greater or higher than Him in Virtue, Meditation and Knowledge that leads to Eternal Freedom from all bondage.”

After explaining the Nobility of the Buddha Ratana, Lady Sari was much overjoyed and attained the fruits of the First Path of Sotapatti. Having accomplished his objective, Ven. Sariputta left the room.  At the dawn of the day, all his 500 disciples assembled. After address-ing them, the Great Thera Sariputta lying on his right side in bed, attained Pari-Nibbana.
 


 

ILLUSTRATION FOUR



There lived at Savatthi, a rich old brahmin who gave half of his wealth to his four sons in equal shares and got them suitably married.  After sometime the brahmin’s wife died. Fearing that their father would remarry and the second wife’s child would then inherit the remainder of their father’s wealth, they planned to induce the brahmin to give them the rest of his wealth. So they attended to him to the best of their ability.

Waking up from his nap one evening, he heard his sons discussing the worries and problems of the old. They tactfully assured their father not to worry about such matters but leaving it to them. Believing and trusting them to take care of him the rest of his life, the old brahmin gave the rest of his wealth to his four sons, leaving himself nothing.

He stayed happily at his eldest son’s house for a few days until he had a row with his daughter-in-law. Despising her, he left the eldest son’s house and went to seek shelter in the rest of his son’s houses.  He had the same bitter experience right through and with no where to go, he became a wandering ascetic with a begging bowl in hand.  After some time, it struck him that Lord Buddha might help him and so he went in search of the Lord. Arriving at the Lord’s temple, the Lord asked him why he was in rags. He told the Lord that he was driven out of his son’s homes and with no place to go and no one to help him, he finally resorted to this asceticism.

The Lord replied thus:- “O Brahmin! There will be an assembly in the city today. Your sons will also be members. Go there and tell the audience everything and point out that your walking stick had been more useful than your sons.”

(The law of the country at the time was that any man enjoying his parent’s wealth without caring for them would be sentenced to death).

The brahmin followed the Lord’s instructions and after hearing their father’s words, the four sons begged at his feet to save them.  Having paternal sentiments, the ascetic said that his sons would take care of him and his sons were thus warned. Fearing for their lives, the sons took care of their father very well and the old brahmin grew healthier. Remembering that this was due to the good Lord, he visited the Lord with offerings and became a Buddhist.

One day his eldest son wanted to celebrate an event and consulted his father regarding invitations. His father said that the Lord Buddha was the best and only friend he had and so they invited the Lord and five hundred Bhikkhus for a feast. During the feast the Lord then quoted an illustration regarding ministering to parents. He also explained the four fundamentals of Buddhism=Suffering, cause of Suffering, Emancipation from Suffering, the Path for the Emancipation of Suffering and at the end of the Lord’s sermon, the old brahmin, his four sons and two of the daughters-in-law attained the fruits of the First Path of Emancipation=Sotapatti.
 


 

MANGALA SUTTA:



“To minister to parents; to look after, make provision for and take care of a wife and children are causes for one to accrue blessings of high esteem.” - So said Lord Buddha in reply to a question laid before Him by one Devata.
 


 

ANGUTTARA NIKAYA:



Addressing Mahanama, the King of Devas, the Lord said - “Should there be a person in the world, who shall, by sweat of his brow, earn a right livelihood, and out of such earnings he spends for the ministration of his parents - he shall be a noble son.”
 


 

PARABHAVA SUTTA:



“If a son, being himself in able circumstances, were not to care for and minister to his old helpless parents, such conduct shall be a cause for his destruction.” - Said the Lord Buddha in reply to a question of a Devata.
 


 

VASALA SUTTA:



“If a person, being wealthy and could well afford such deeds were to neglect his parents and leave them uncared for, such person shall be an outcaste.” - So said the Lord Buddha in reply to Kasi Bharadvaja Brahmin’s question.
 


 

SIGALOVADA SUTTA:


“Wise people wish for children and bring them up in being expectant about them. The following are the five expectations treasured by such wise parents in relation to their children so brought up:-

(1 )   “He (or they) whom we milk, whom we feed, wash, bathe, anoint, dress, nurse and hopefully bring up with considerable difficulties would in turn feed us, bathe us, anoint us, nurse and look after us in our disabled age.”

(2) “They (or he) would appear on our behalf and protect us in case of any trouble from the King or the Government going to fall on us - even foregoing their own engagements or other important affairs for our sake.”

(3) “When we have children who shall not waste but shall protect our wealth and add to same, the good name of our generation would be maintained unimpaired for long ages, and as such, they would continue to practise the customary ancestral family events such as regular alms-giving etc., as practised by us!”

(4) “When they grow up as well-becoming principle-abiding persons suitable to be descendants of our generation, they would inherit to our wealth and other possessions and deal with them in rightful ways!”

(5) “When we are dead and gone, they would perform alms-giving and other charitable or religious rites to our memory and would make us to participate in the merits they may thereby accrue!”
 

“THE HINDU SCRIPTURES ALSO PAY A GLOWING TRIBUTE TO PARENTS BY STATING THAT ONE RELIGIOUS TEACHER IS WORTH TEN SECULAR TEACHERS, ONE FATHER IS WORTH A HUNDRED RELIGIOUS TEACHERS, BUT ONE MOTHER IS WORTH A THOUSAND FATHERS.”
 


 

THE DUTIES OF PARENTS



It is the duty of parents to see to the welfare of their children.  In fact the dutiful and loving parents shoulder the responsibilities with pleasure. Although at times some ungrateful children forget the invaluable services rendered by their compassionate parents and insists on rights, forgetting their duties, yet parents with a few exceptions, frequently attend to all their needs even after they have left homes.

To lead children on the right path, parents should first set the example and lead ideal lives. It is impossible to expect worthy children from unworthy parents. Apart from the Kammic tendencies, children are influenced by the defects and virtues of parents too. Responsible parents should take every precaution not to transmit undesirable traits to their children.

According to the Sigalovada Sutta, there are five duties that parents should perform
 


 

(1) TO DISSUADE CHILDREN FROM EVIL



Home is the first school and parents are the first teachers. Children usually take elementary lessons in good and evil from their fond parents. It is unintelligent parents who directly or indirectly impart an elementary knowledge of lying, cheating, dishonesty, etc to their children during their childhood.

In a certain Jataka story, it was stated that a king had a very unruly incorrigible son. He was taken to an ascetic who was living in the royal park. With the prince, the ascetic went for a walk round the park. Espying a small nimb plant not more than two feet in height with a leaf or two, the prince questioned what it was. The wise ascetic advised him to taste the leaf. Embittered by the pungent taste of the leaf, he at once ordered it to be destroyed, remarking that if this tiny plant was so bitter then, how much more bitter would it be if it were to grow to a bigger tree.

“Root it out!” he ordered. “Pause for a moment, O prince,” said the ascetic. “People’s opinion of you is the same. If you are so unruly as a prince now, what would you be as a king?” the prince took the hint, and by that single piece of advice he became a completely transformed person.
 


 

(2) TO PERSUADE THEM TO DO GOOD



Parents are the teachers at home; teachers are the parents in school. Both parents and teachers are responsible for the future well-being of the children. They sit at their feet during their impersonal age, influenced by their thoughts, speech and deeds. So it is the duty of the parents to place them in the most congenial atmosphere both at home and in school. Simplicity, obedience, kindness, good manners religious zeal and other kindred virtues should be taught to them.  Germs so planted will eventually grow into fruit laden trees.

Let them at least observe the five elementary principles of regulated behaviours:

(i) by observing the first principle of non-killing they cultivate harmlessness and compassion. They begin to realise the sacredness of life.

(ii) by non-stealing it fosters uprightness and honesty. Gambling should not be encouraged as it leads to future miseries.

(iii) by observing good morals, children should be taught to be pure and chaste. Parents should set the example, 0ther-wise children would follow suit. Immoral parents cannot expect to have moral children. The pure and clean life of the parents is a blessing both to them and parents.

(iv) by observing the truth, children should be encouraged not to tell lies. If they had done some wrong,1et them confess it without trying to conceal it with another wrong. Children should be so trained that they enjoy the confidence of the parents. They should be advised to utter what is right, true and good. A guarded tongue would stir millions to be good and do good.

(v) by observing abstinence from drinking and smoking. Sipping of a little wine is the modest beginning, temperance is the middle, over-indulgence is the inevitable end. In this connection, the enlightened parents should first practise teetotalism before they advise their worthy children to observe this fifth principle of non-drinking and non-smoking.
 


 

(3) TO GIVE THEM A GOOD EDUCATION


A decent good education is the best legacy that parents should bequeath to their children. A more valuable treasure there is not.  It is the best blessing that parents could confer on their children. Not only sons but also daughters should enjoy this benefit. Facilities should also be provided for them to sit at the feet of an educated and holy monk to receive religious instructions. Material progress and spiritual development are equally important.

One should not be separated from the other. Dhamma knowledge acquired should be encouraged to be put into practice. As the Dhammapada states ‘he who learns the Dhamma without acting accordingly is like a cowherd who merely counts others ‘kin.
 


 

(4) TO GIVE THEM IN MARRIAGE TO SUITABLE INDIVIDUALS


Marriage is a solemn act that cannot be easily dissolved without causing other problems. Parents should help their children to have good marriages without conflicts. Conflicting interests mean inevitable disagreement. The highest gift a person on earth can receive is a good wife or husband but a bad one is the bitterest curse of human life. In the words of the Buddha, wife is certainly the husband’s best friend.  It is the duty of the husband to treat her as such and act as the greatest benefactor to her, regarding her as his second self. The loyal and dutiful wife pays the highest regard to her ideal husband as her most benevolent protector. A wife should also attend to her religious duties. She should be hospitable to monks and ascetics who visit their homes.
 


 

(5) TO HAND OVER TO THE CHILDREN, AT PROPER TIME, THEIR INHERITANCE


Human parents not only love and tend to their children as long as they are in their custody, but also make preparations for their future comfort and happiness. They hoard up treasures at personal discomfort and ungrudgingly give them as legacy to their children.  Children, who inherited the wealth, should guard and spend the wealth inherited to minister to their parents dutifully.

What had been discussed above was taught by the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago and holds true up to this day. Children have not only duties to their parents but parents too have duties to their children.