Family and Community

The interrelationships of individuals to family and community are very important in Buddhism. Buddhists believe in an infinite number of rebirths. Therefore, as the Buddha pointed out, everyone you meet has at some stage been your mother or father and at some stage you have been their parents. Thus everyone should be treated as if they are members of your family. The Buddha advised a man called Sigala (Digha Nikaya 3.185-191) on his responsibilities as a householder, including advice on relationships: you should take care of your family, respecting your parents and looking after your children; treat your partner well and fairly; choose the right sort of friends as friends can have a good or a bad influence on you; have a good relationship with your teachers and pupils, respecting the teacher and trying to give the pupils the best possible education; treat your employees fairly and your employer with respect by not wasting time and doing your best; and finally, you should make your living in a good way, one which doesn’t harm your fellows.

To a certain extent family life in Buddhism is seen as the polar opposite of the holy life. Monks and nuns, Buddhists’ spiritual leaders, are in this position because they have renounced family life. In the early Suttas / Sutras there is a lot of negative material concerning family life – children and partners are seen as distractions, for example. However, Buddhism still recognises the importance of the laity – they, after all, make the life of the renunciant possible by supporting his or her lifestyle. Equally, it is from families that the next generation of monks and nuns come. Therefore family life and the life of those who reject it (i.e. the Sangha) should be seen as mutually dependent on each other. Furthermore, in Mahayana, there is an increased emphasis on the importance of the laity. In the Mahayana Sutras, for example, many bodhisattvas appear as laymen or laywomen. Thus, being a Buddhist while having a family or being part of a family is not seen necessarily as a problem. In fact in Japan Buddhist priests are married and do not renounce family life. In Tantrayana as well, there are many lay teachers.

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