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Volume 7 no 2

The Voice of Bliss

Children usually are a source of love, strength and happiness. However, we may be driven by our love for them or simply because we have the means, to such an extent that we forget to exercise restraint. Wisdom in parenting is important, there is a potential danger of them turning into a source of pain for us. On the other hand, our children see us as their model, which attests to sayings like 'like father like son', or 'chip of the old block'. We have to be good if we want them to be good. We have to be filial to our parents if we wish for them to be filial to us. Last but not least, we have to better ourselves if we want them to better themselves.
Of parenting and filial piety

Being a good model for our children

Often we see children who do not show respect for their parents. They talked back and argued with them. Are these the result of karma committed in the past lives? How can these be corrected?

It is stated in the Buddhist sutras that when a child is born, he is here either to seek redress of what was due to him, to make up for what he owed, to seek revenge or to reciprocate his gratitude. It is also possible that he is making use of the mother's womb as a convenience for birth, as in the case of those who renounced to become members of the Sangha or the Bodhisattvas.

Regardless of the reason for their birth, there is always a cause or causes between the children and the family into which they are born. Whatever the causes might be, parents have the responsibility to bring up their flesh and bone. Some children like to argue with their parents, but it is more important to educate them rather than to ignore them. Arguments are indeed undesirable, but it is also a simple matter to educate them. The most effective way is for parents to set good examples for their children. If parents were to quarrel or argue between themselves in front of their children, then that certainly is a poor role model. Children can also pick up undesirable habits from other members of the family or from the people whom they mix with.

In ancient China, the mother of Mencius (Meng-Zi) shifted her house three times in order to provide a conducive environment for her growing up son. She did so because she knew that a child could be influenced very quickly by his surroundings. We often see two-year-olds imitating their mother by putting on their mother's high heel shoes. Other youngsters on seeing adults smoking cigarettes may do the same, thinking that they have already grown up. Thus, parents should not exhort their children not to do the things that they themselves are doing day in and day out, such as arguing with each other whenever they talk! A good role model is one who is joyful and pure in his conduct. Subconsciously, children will be influenced to be joyful and pure too.

On the other hand, parents often over indulge in their compassion and love for their children. They take children as their possession because they gave birth to them. For example, when babies cry, the parents would quickly pick them up and rock them in their arms. The more they cry, the more they would rock them. Gradually it becomes an undesirable habit: they cry in order to attract the adults' attention. When they grow a little older, they use their crying to blackmail their parents. If parents change their approach such that if the baby cries (for no reasons than to seek attention), and they leave him alone or carry him only when he stops crying. In this way, the child will learn about the futility of crying in order to get attention. This is the best method to educate children. However, few parents are bold enough to give this a try.

Filial piety is the first in the "hundreds of charities"

What is the Jen Chen Buddhism's view on filial piety and what is the correct way of practising filial piety?

The "Jen" in Jen Chen Buddhism is phonetically translated from mandarin - human being, which means the human realm. And, filial piety is the basis of human ethics. Hence, when we promote the teachings of the Buddha, we have to first emphasize on the teaching of filial piety. A Chinese saying goes like this, "Lust is the primary cause of evil deeds, filial piety is the first of the hundreds of charities". The teachings of Buddhism include filial piety to our parents.

Everyone knows that when a child is conceived, the mother has to bear with the hardship for 10 months. When the child is finally born, the responsibilities of parents are vast and heavy. These include feeding, cleaning, caring and the weaning tasks that take the child to adolescence. Then come the problem of teaching the child proper conduct and behaviour as he prepares to enter adulthood. Issues relating to education and all other aspects of his welfare are added to the worries of the parents. When he is not at home, his parents would worry and stay awake until he returns. Hence, the love of our parents is indeed very great. This needs to be reciprocated.

In the Filial Piety Sutra, the Buddha speaks of the immense benevolence of parents and the difficulty in its full repayment. The Buddha said that, if you are a son or a daughter, even if you were to carry your father on the right shoulder and your mother on the left, and for thousands of years you bathe, wash, feed and care for your parents without complaints, you have only returned a small fraction of their benevolence. If one does not even know about filial piety, then he is worse than a beast!

There are people who think that giving their parents a monthly monetary allowance is filial piety. This is not totally correct because filial piety is not just about fulfilling their material needs. It is more important to provide for their spiritual needs as well, so that they have peace of mind.

The teachings of Jen Chen Buddhism also advocate that we share with our parents the importance of Buddhism to our lives. We should also encourage them to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, observe the Five Precepts, perform the Ten Virtuous Deeds, and to diligently practise the Buddha's teachings. In this way, they can be liberated from the transmigration in the six realms and attain eternal bliss and brightness. Only then can we be considered as having performed the greatest act of filial piety. This is real gratitude.

Of filial piety and filial obedience

As children, we should respect our elders and be obedient to our parents. If, however, our parents behave inappropriately or unreasonably, yet we, as children, remain obedient and abide by their wilful ways, is that not being foolish? Isn't it bad to foolishly or blindly stay faithful and obedient to one's parents?

Buddhism advocates filial piety, not filial obedience as is misunderstood by many people. Filial piety refers to the teaching of fulfilling our moral obligation to our parents; such as to take care of their daily needs as they grow old with age. For example, providing for them a comfortable home, warm clothing and good food are all part of filial piety.

Why doesn't Buddhism advocate filial obedience? If your parents are Bodhisattvas and wish you to practise the Bodhisattva Path, then of course, you have to be obedient and follow their wish. However, if your parents are involved in illegal activities or are immoral in their conduct, and if you obey their wish for you to emulate them, then you are helping them to descend to hell. Therefore, Buddhism advocates filial piety and not filial obedience.

Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre