Buddhism and the Family

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Loving
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Buddhism and the Family

Post by Loving » Sat Apr 20, 2019 11:38 am

May someone please kindly advise me on the relationship between true renunciation and familial love?

Gotama Buddha himself is said to have left his parents, wife, and son in pursuit of his spiritual path. Buddhist monks are, in general, celibate and abstain from laborious family ties. Elaborations of the Dhamma extensively emphasise the complete renunciation of sensual attachments and worldly concerns.

Does the Buddha, then, mean to teach a total impartiality between family member and stranger?
Does the Buddha, then, mean to teach that special concern for one's own family, friend, or community is an obstruction to enlightenment?

In addressing my concern you may assume, quite correctly, that I am a novice.

My central concern is this:
Is it possible to be 100% committed to the authentic teachings of the Buddha, even as the monks are, and simultaneously place a great practical emphasis on ensuring the prosperity of one's spouse, children, parents, and other special "loved ones"?
Is it possible for the two to be completely reconciled, within the context of true renunciation?
Is it not possible for the two to be completely reconciled?

What is the precise relationship between true renunciation, on the one hand, and special concern for loved ones, on the other?

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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by Wayfarer » Sat Apr 20, 2019 12:17 pm

Greetings and welcome to DharmaWheel.

:namaste:

That is an excellent question, and well asked. And I'm confident that the answer is 'yes' - that one is able practice Buddhism whilst still maintaining family relationships.

Actually on this theme, may I recommend a book called The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity: At Home, At Work, In the World , Bhikkhu Basnagoda Rahula. This book shows the Buddha 'had an unusually keen insight into what people with everyday concerns need to know' and had many very succinct teachings about it.

Actually one of the motivations behind the movement that was to become Mahayana Buddhism, was that it encompassed the role of the house-holder bodhisattva - one who embodied the quest for enlightenment while still maintaining a household. This is one of the main themes behind the Mahayana Sutra called The Vimalakirti Sutra, in which the central character, Vimalakirti, is a wealthy silk merchant, whose realisation of emptiness is such that the disciples of the Buddha dare not debate him! This sutra was of particular importance in East Asian traditions.

Overall, the Mahayana tradition doesn't draw the same stark distinction between the renunciate life and the householder life as does the Theravada. This is in keeping with the principle that nirvana and samsara are not ultimately separable - that they are, as it were, two sides of a single coin, not the utterly separate realms that they were earlier supposed to be. Renunciation and non-attachment are utterly necessary, but they might also be practiced and realised in the midst of an apparently busy outer life; although to do that requires considerable skill and insight.

In summary, don't think that Buddhism puts you in a situation of having to choose to renounce everything, or renounce Buddhism. There are profound ways of practicing as a householder and spouse.
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by jake » Sat Apr 20, 2019 12:18 pm

I think you will get somewhat differing answers depending upon specifics of tradition.

I found this book to be very helpful: https://wisdompubs.org/book/buddhas-tea ... al-harmony

There is a bit of information on this book in his interview via podcast: https://learn.wisdompubs.org/podcast/bhikkhu-bodhi-2/

Can you unpack what you mean by "true renunciation?"

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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by Loving » Sat Apr 20, 2019 3:58 pm

I'm grateful to you both for replying so helpfully and so promptly. Thank you Wayfarer, thank you jake!

'True renunciation' is a term I encountered in a translation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's The Middle Way, in commentary on Lama Je Tsongkhapa's 15th-century Three Principal Aspects of the Path. The first aspect is called true renunciation, the second the altruistic awakening mind, and the third the correct view of emptiness. This thread may be seen as a case of my early attempt to understand the first, (true) renunciation.

I have just found a record of a talk by Lama Thubten Yeshe in which he introduces the three aspects: https://www.lamayeshe.com/article/three ... s-path-lty. This talk was illuminating for me. In it, Lama Yeshe makes the point that when the disciples of Buddha make a vow to renounce attachment to the senses, they do not remove their stomachs, pluck out their eyes, or detach their ears.

Renunciation is understood as a purely mental phenomenon.

Even still, it is highly doubtful that we could, day-in and day-out, consume decadent foods and drinks in large quantities, relax in extravagant couches, beds and baths, engage in various forms of kink sexual activity, be surrounded by all manner of entertainment media, and so on externally, and at the same time, cultivate complete renunciation internally.

The incompatibility of these two situations means that, even understood as a purely mental phenomenon, pursuit of renunciation has behavioural implications.

These behavioural implications surely affect family life to some extent. The sincere Buddhist practitioner may relate to the family from a position of noncompliance with extravagance, despite the customs of the family. The Buddhist practitioner may also stand with secular therapists in the complete rejection of unhealthy attachment styles that give rise to fear and control.

The original question in a new form is, in what aspects of family relationships do the Buddha and Buddhist masters recommend abstinence? And this is surely a question for which there is a great wealth of material.

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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by DharmaN00b » Sun Apr 21, 2019 3:30 am

I had an experience today on recollection- I thought- I would exchange or sacrifice my life for. Becoming older and jaded to experience the purity and joy of people who replace Me, I abstain in general (reducing strain upon worldly resources) and entertaining those who may potentially benefit from my demise. ( I apologise If this is abstract but I think my message is vaguely relatable)
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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by SunWuKong » Sun Apr 21, 2019 5:12 pm

Honoring and helping your family with compassion and understanding as at least as difficult as joining a monastery. It is maybe even a superior path in today's world.
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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by alfa » Mon Apr 22, 2019 8:27 am

Someone once told me: one should have no family. Fellow seekers of dharma are your family.

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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by Yavana » Mon Apr 22, 2019 11:34 am

alfa wrote:
Mon Apr 22, 2019 8:27 am
Someone once told me: one should have no family. Fellow seekers of dharma are your family.
A wise man once said to me, "Ain't nothin' to it but to do it." I suspect that he may have been talking about practice on the path to awakening.

:namaste:

Loving
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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by Loving » Wed May 01, 2019 11:18 am

Earlier today I read an interesting sutra called the Visākhā Sutta. Its label is Udāna VIII.8 in the Khuddaka Nikāya or Kṣudraka Āgama, of the Pali canon. I will quote it below (trans. Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu):
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Sāvatthī at the Eastern Monastery, the palace of Migāra’s mother. And on that occasion a dear and beloved grandson of Visākhā, Migāra’s mother, had died. So Visākhā, Migāra’s mother–her clothes wet, her hair wet–went to the Blessed One in the middle of the day and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As she was sitting there the Blessed One said to her: “Why have you come here, Visākhā–your clothes wet, your hair wet–in the middle of the day?”

When this was said, she said to the Blessed One, “My dear and beloved grandson has died. This is why I have come here–my clothes wet, my hair wet–in the middle of the day.”

“Visākhā, would you like to have as many children & grandchildren as there are people in Sāvatthī?”

“Yes, lord, I would like to have as many children & grandchildren as there are people in Sāvatthī.”

“But how many people in Sāvatthī die in the course of a day?”

“Sometimes ten people die in Sāvatthī in the course of a day, sometimes nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… Sometimes one person dies in Sāvatthī in the course of a day. Sāvatthī is never free from people dying.”

“So what do you think, Visākhā? Would you ever be free of wet clothes & wet hair?”

“No, lord. Enough of my having so many children & grandchildren.”

“Visākhā, those who have a hundred dear ones have a hundred sufferings. Those who have ninety dear ones have ninety sufferings. Those who have eighty… seventy… sixty… fifty… forty… thirty… twenty… ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… Those who have one dear one have one suffering. Those who have no dear ones have no sufferings. They are free from sorrow, free from stain, free from lamentation, I tell you.”

Then, on realizing the significance of that, the Blessed One on that occasion exclaimed:

The sorrows, lamentations,
the many kinds of suffering in the world,
exist dependent on something dear.
They don’t exist
when there’s nothing dear.
And thus blissful & sorrowless
are those for whom nothing
in the world is anywhere dear.
So one who aspires
to the stainless & sorrowless
shouldn’t make anything
dear
in the world
anywhere.

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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by SunWuKong » Wed May 01, 2019 4:38 pm

I suspect that formally cutting off all contact with family is the sign of a cult. Buddha did not do this as much of his family followed him into the Sangha. If your practice is so fragile it cannot handle human contact, how are you to deal with teacher and sangha? You will be a basket case.

At the same time, I have heard that deep emotional family ties can complicate the Path. A more relaxed, casual understanding is required. I question why anyone on the Mahayana path chooses to be a monk. My opinion - it's a cop-out.
"We are magical animals that roam" ~ Roam

Loving
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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by Loving » Wed May 01, 2019 8:21 pm

SunWuKong wrote:
Wed May 01, 2019 4:38 pm
I suspect that formally cutting off all contact with family is the sign of a cult. Buddha did not do this as much of his family followed him into the Sangha. If your practice is so fragile it cannot handle human contact, how are you to deal with teacher and sangha? You will be a basket case.

At the same time, I have heard that deep emotional family ties can complicate the Path. A more relaxed, casual understanding is required. I question why anyone on the Mahayana path chooses to be a monk. My opinion - it's a cop-out.
I see some good points here. As for becoming a monk... although I have heard some very young monks express their less-than-pure motives for choosing that life, it does seem like a natural choice if one's primary focus is meditation, and/or one has great faith in a particular tradition.

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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed May 01, 2019 8:28 pm

SunWuKong wrote:
Wed May 01, 2019 4:38 pm
I suspect that formally cutting off all contact with family is the sign of a cult. Buddha did not do this as much of his family followed him into the Sangha. If your practice is so fragile it cannot handle human contact, how are you to deal with teacher and sangha? You will be a basket case.

At the same time, I have heard that deep emotional family ties can complicate the Path. A more relaxed, casual understanding is required. I question why anyone on the Mahayana path chooses to be a monk. My opinion - it's a cop-out.
Seriously? How many monks or nuns have you known that practice in Mahayana traditions?

I've known and taken teachings from some amazing ordained people, who I hardly think are engaged in any kind of "cop out", but rather wanted to dedicate their lives to the Dharma and to draw a definite line between their practice and worldly pursuits. The ordained teachers I've had also did not lack for a deep understanding of people, what might be called "emotional intelligence", so the idea that ordained people are just hiding from the world is not always so.

It's not the thing for everyone, but it's hardly a universal "cop out" in Mahayana traditions, sort of an amazing thing to say, frankly. I have to say, that's kind of questionable to paint so many amazing teachers and practitioners with such a broad brush.
His welcoming
& rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
Knowing the dustless, sorrowless state,
he discerns rightly,
has gone, beyond becoming,
to the Further Shore.

-Lokavipatti Sutta

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SunWuKong
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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by SunWuKong » Wed May 01, 2019 10:54 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Wed May 01, 2019 8:28 pm
SunWuKong wrote:
Wed May 01, 2019 4:38 pm
I suspect that formally cutting off all contact with family is the sign of a cult. Buddha did not do this as much of his family followed him into the Sangha. If your practice is so fragile it cannot handle human contact, how are you to deal with teacher and sangha? You will be a basket case.

At the same time, I have heard that deep emotional family ties can complicate the Path. A more relaxed, casual understanding is required. I question why anyone on the Mahayana path chooses to be a monk. My opinion - it's a cop-out.
Seriously? How many monks or nuns have you known that practice in Mahayana traditions?

I've known and taken teachings from some amazing ordained people, who I hardly think are engaged in any kind of "cop out", but rather wanted to dedicate their lives to the Dharma and to draw a definite line between their practice and worldly pursuits. The ordained teachers I've had also did not lack for a deep understanding of people, what might be called "emotional intelligence", so the idea that ordained people are just hiding from the world is not always so.

It's not the thing for everyone, but it's hardly a universal "cop out" in Mahayana traditions, sort of an amazing thing to say, frankly. I have to say, that's kind of questionable to paint so many amazing teachers and practitioners with such a broad brush.

I don't see the celibate teachers as being better than the rest. Maybe necessary 1,000 years ago. I think it should be a private personal matter as to whether or not one lives asexually or sexually. I'm not sure what you are calling "ordained?"
"We are magical animals that roam" ~ Roam

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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed May 01, 2019 11:15 pm

SunWuKong wrote:
Wed May 01, 2019 10:54 pm
Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Wed May 01, 2019 8:28 pm
SunWuKong wrote:
Wed May 01, 2019 4:38 pm
I suspect that formally cutting off all contact with family is the sign of a cult. Buddha did not do this as much of his family followed him into the Sangha. If your practice is so fragile it cannot handle human contact, how are you to deal with teacher and sangha? You will be a basket case.

At the same time, I have heard that deep emotional family ties can complicate the Path. A more relaxed, casual understanding is required. I question why anyone on the Mahayana path chooses to be a monk. My opinion - it's a cop-out.
Seriously? How many monks or nuns have you known that practice in Mahayana traditions?

I've known and taken teachings from some amazing ordained people, who I hardly think are engaged in any kind of "cop out", but rather wanted to dedicate their lives to the Dharma and to draw a definite line between their practice and worldly pursuits. The ordained teachers I've had also did not lack for a deep understanding of people, what might be called "emotional intelligence", so the idea that ordained people are just hiding from the world is not always so.

It's not the thing for everyone, but it's hardly a universal "cop out" in Mahayana traditions, sort of an amazing thing to say, frankly. I have to say, that's kind of questionable to paint so many amazing teachers and practitioners with such a broad brush.

I don't see the celibate teachers as being better than the rest. Maybe necessary 1,000 years ago. I think it should be a private personal matter as to whether or not one lives asexually or sexually. I'm not sure what you are calling "ordained?"
You don't know what it means to be ordained in Buddhism? You know, a monk or nun who follows some version of the Vinaya, theoretically. Being ordained is about a lot more than celibacy, even though that is a part of it clearly.

Do you have any actual experience with Buddhist monastics? It really seems like you are somewhat unfamiliar with the entire idea of monastic renunciation in Buddhism, there is so much more to unpack there than just sex or lack of it. We can talk about different types of renunciation, but simply dismissing all monastics in this way is disrespectful in my opinion.

Do you know some monastics personally you thought were "copping out" or something? Have you never taken a Buddhist teaching from a monk or nun?
His welcoming
& rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
Knowing the dustless, sorrowless state,
he discerns rightly,
has gone, beyond becoming,
to the Further Shore.

-Lokavipatti Sutta

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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by SunWuKong » Thu May 02, 2019 1:42 am

Different schools of Buddhism, different requirements of ordination. Yes I know monks and nuns and have taken teachings from them. I don’t know that there is a qualitative difference between what renunciants teach and lay teachers teach. You think observation of the vinaya makes that kind of difference? Quit hedging around the issue, I see what you are doing.
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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by SunWuKong » Thu May 02, 2019 2:05 am

The original post is about monasticism. There are many varieties of Buddhism that ordination does not require this. This is really a matter of your own education. Yes, I have had both householder and monastic teachers, and I won't say one path is better than the other. I didn't mean to place value judgement on the idea of celibacy as "copping out" but i get sick of people being judged as less, and treated as less simply because they are laity. At some point I may want to cop out too. I don't want to fully burn that bridge.
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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Thu May 02, 2019 2:50 am

SunWuKong wrote:
Thu May 02, 2019 1:42 am
Different schools of Buddhism, different requirements of ordination. Yes I know monks and nuns and have taken teachings from them. I don’t know that there is a qualitative difference between what renunciants teach and lay teachers teach. You think observation of the vinaya makes that kind of difference? Quit hedging around the issue, I see what you are doing.
I am just pointing out that I think you put your foot in your mouth with your earlier blanket condemnation of Monastics. I do my best to be as direct as possible on DW, so if you think I am hedging around something, i'm not sure what it would be. I think you are incorrect in broadly calling monastic life a "cop out", though i'm sure it is in plenty of individual cases.

Observation of the Vinaya certainly makes a difference for some practitioners, and there are some teachers whose teaching and experience is obviously informed by the practice of formal or informal renunciation. Again, I wouldn't even say it's my preference, but when you read someone like Ajan Chah (as one example), it's hard to argue that he would be the same teacher were he not a renunciate. Granted not a Mahayana example, but one off the top of my head.
There are many varieties of Buddhism that ordination does not require this.
Yes, of course there are lay ordination traditions, so?

There are also non-monastics who are celibate yogis etc. etc.
SunWuKong wrote:
Thu May 02, 2019 2:05 am
The original post is about monasticism. There are many varieties of Buddhism that ordination does not require this. This is really a matter of your own education. Yes, I have had both householder and monastic teachers, and I won't say one path is better than the other. I didn't mean to place value judgement on the idea of celibacy as "copping out" but i get sick of people being judged as less, and treated as less simply because they are laity. At some point I may want to cop out too. I don't want to fully burn that bridge.
I guess we run in very different circles. I do not run into much "ordained superiority" in my own, and the ordained teachers I've had have never said a single word about the lay lifestyle being "lesser", nor did they encourage people whose karmic circumstances brought them to lay life to give it all up.
His welcoming
& rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
Knowing the dustless, sorrowless state,
he discerns rightly,
has gone, beyond becoming,
to the Further Shore.

-Lokavipatti Sutta

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Wayfarer
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Re: Buddhism and the Family

Post by Wayfarer » Thu May 02, 2019 7:47 am

SunWuKong wrote:
Wed May 01, 2019 4:38 pm
I suspect that formally cutting off all contact with family is the sign of a cult. Buddha did not do this as much of his family followed him into the Sangha. If your practice is so fragile it cannot handle human contact, how are you to deal with teacher and sangha? You will be a basket case.
I don't know about that. The verse we're discussing is plainly addressed to renunciates - and Buddhism has always been in some fundamental sense a renunciate religion. The Buddha left his home and his family. Actually it has been said that the meaning of his son's name, Rahula, is 'fetter'. This was characteristic of the religious outlook in those times.

In intro sessions at Buddhist Library, I'll sometimes be asked, 'Isn't leaving his family a selfish thing to do? Doesn't it show that he just abandoned his responsibilities?' And the way I generally respond is - consider if he had been drafted into the military, and died on the battlefield. Would that be 'abandoning responsibilities'?

The reason that is relevant is because our culture will recognise some causes as justifying such an action - like, being drafted into the military. Nothing wrong with that, a lot of people will say, because you clearly don't do that for selfish purposes.

Well, it's the same in the case of the Buddha, except the 'enemy' was Mara, and the 'battle' was with Samsara. And he won that battle, for the benefit of all mankind. Furthermore, it took supreme self-sacrifice on his part to do that. He wasn't engaged in a quixotic adventure to please himself but a matter of life-and-death.

Clearly there is also a place for householders in Buddhist life - as I mentioned earlier in this thread, there's an excellent book on the Buddha's teachings on worldly prosperity, derived from primary sources, published by Wisdom Books. And also the Mahayana have always put an emphasis on the idea of householder practice; and there are married, ordained clergy in Buddhist culture. So it's not an all-or-nothing choice. But I think it's a mistake to try and fit the teachings into what moderns think is normative - there are things about Buddhism which are just outside that framework.
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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