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Volume 4  No 3

The Dharma in Blossom

The Way of Filial Piety
By Venerable Shen-Kai

It is nothing unusual to see parents caring for their adult children as if they were young children, even though they may already be grandparents themselves. Such is the love parents have for their children. Filial piety is its reciprocal. It goes beyond material and spiritual comfort. In Buddhism, filial piety is not complete if we do not guide our parents to take refuge in the Three Treasures because this is the first step towards enlightenment.

It is quite a problem for a person to command a good reputation if he is only concerned with pursuing knowledge, fame, status and wealth, and not being filial to his parents. A person who is unfilial is bound to receive criticisms and contempt from others and casts away his reputation. From time immemorial, we know that sexual lust heads the list of all vices, while of virtue, filial piety is the first. How can an unfilial person commands the respect and trust of others? How would others want to collaborate with him in business and in work? Thus, filial piety is a virtue that is greatly honoured by all.

In "The Sutra on the profound kindness of parents and the difficulty in repaying it", the Buddha said that, "Every person in this world is closest to his parents. Without them, he cannot be born." If it were not for our parents who gave birth to us, educate and provide for us, where would we be today? The Sutra states, "For ten months while the mother carries the child, she feels uncomfortable whenever she rises, as if she is lifting a heavy burden. Her movements are restricted like one who is sick and she faces difficulties with her appetite. When the ten months have passed and the time comes for the birth, she undergoes all kinds of pain and suffering. She is frighten. Then comes the blood. Such are the sufferings she has to bear. After child birth, she saves what is sweet for him and those that are bitter, she has them for herself. She carries the child, nourishes him and cleanses him. There are no toils or difficulties that she is not willing to undertake for the sake of her child. She endures both the cold and heat, and never even mentions what she has gone through. She reserves the dry place for her child and sleeps in the damp herself. For three years she nourishes the baby with her milk, which comes from the blood of her own body." Although, it is such a suffering for parents to bear a child, they are without regrets and complaints. With all their might and tender care, they bear the responsibility of bringing up a child wholeheartedly without any expectation of returns of any sort. They provided for and educated the child into a useful person. For such greatness of parental love and care, the grace is as deep as the mighty ocean and as vast as the boundless sky. Even with the passage of millions of kalpas, it can never be requited. Thus, the Buddha said, "If there was a person who carried his father on his left shoulder and his mother on his right shoulder until his bones were ground to powder by their weights as they bore through to the marrow, and if that person were to circumambulate Mount Sumeru for a hundred thousand kalpas until blood flows from his feet and covered his ankles, that person would still not have requited the profound kindness of his parents."

The grace from parents is immense; it is as high as the mountain and as deep as the ocean. It is indeed a great sin and an extreme evil if we do not accord them our filial piety and repay our parents' profound kindness. It is such a great shame of us! Be it so, how then should we show our filial piety to our parents? I suggest the following:

1. Be gracious and joyful when receiving their admonitions and guidance, and put them into practice. Be these admonitions stern reprimands or gentle guidances, understand that they are for our own good. Therefore, it is not right to harbour anger, hatred, resistance or resentment. We must be law abiding citizens and do not commit wrongdoings that causes pain and disappointment to our parents.

2. Provide and care for their daily needs, such as accommodation, food, clothing and medical care. We should try our best to provide them with the best comfort.

3. Their needs should not be neglected because we are busy pursuing fame and wealth. We must be aware that filial piety is not fulfilled by the mere provision of material needs. They need spiritual comfort too. What parents treasure most is the tender-heartedness of their children, rather than just material enjoyment.

4. Keep them informed when travelling, lest they worry about our well-being. We should never leave home without a word or stay away from home for days on end, as these will cause them to worry and suffer.

5. When they are ill, we should personally serve them their prescription and food. We should be by their side day and night to give them inner peace and comfort so that they will have a speedy recovery.

The above are a few guidelines to the common matters relating to filial piety that are within our capability. In fact, these are not all. According to Buddhism, we should go one step further to encourage our parents to learn Buddhism so that they too can be liberated from the suffering of transmigrating in the six realms of existence. This is truly great filial piety. The Buddha has said, "Even if all of us wholeheartedly look after and give the best luxuries to our parents, but did not lead them into the faith of the Three Treasures (the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha), it is still considered unfilial."

Why did the Buddha said this? Because if the parents did not encounter the Dharma and take refuge in the Three Treasures, they will not know and will not observe the Buddhist precepts, for example, the Five Precepts and the Ten Virtuous Deeds, and will not therefore have a strong will to be born in the Buddha's pure land. Consequently, it is difficult to ensure that they will not reincarnate in the three evil realms of existence and suffer in transmigration.

It is therefor our duty to guide our parents away from incorrect beliefs and evil views. We should lead them into the right understanding and right thoughts so that they will take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, uphold and support Buddhism, tread on the Bodhisattva Path of Humanity Vehicle Buddhism, and be liberated from the three planes of existence to enter into the world of the supra-mundane. Only then can we be considered filial children who have fulfilled the greatest of filial piety.


Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre