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Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Religion of Compassion

Buddhism is the religion of compassion, and the parents should never forget to present it to the children as such. The Buddha taught the Dhamma out of compassion for the world. Parents should practice the "Four Sublime States of Mind" taught by the Buddha in raising their children. They are:

  • Metta — loving kindness or goodwill
  • Karuna — compassion
  • Mudita — sympathetic joy
  • Upekkha — equanimity or "even-mindedness"

These four states, well practiced will help parents remain calm throughout the difficult period of child-rearing.

This is the right or ideal way of conduct towards living beings. These four attitudes of mind provide the framework for all situations arising from social contact. They are the great removers of tension, the great peacemakers in social conflict, the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle for existence; levelers of social barriers, builders of harmonious communities, awakeners of slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revivers of joy and hope long abandoned, promoters of human brotherhood against the forces of egotism.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that a married couple has to face is the proper upbringing of a child. This is another aspect which distinguishes us from animals. While an animal does care for its offspring with great devotion, a human parent has a greater responsibility, which is the nurturing of the mind. The Buddha has said that the greatest challenge a man faces is to tame the mind. Ever since a child is born, from infancy through adolescence to maturity, a parent is primarily responsible for the development of a child's mind. Whether a person becomes a useful citizen or not depends mainly on the extent to which its mind has been developed. In Buddhism, a good parent can practice four great virtues to sustain him or her and to overcome the great frustrations which are so closely related with parenthood.

When a child is yet a toddler, unable to express its needs, it is quite prone to indulge in tantrums and crying. A parent who practices the first virtue of loving kindness can maintain peace within herself or himself to continue to love the child while it is being so difficult. A child who enjoys the effects of this loving kindness will himself learn to radiate it spontaneously.

As the child becomes more mature as an adolescent, parents should practice karuna or Compassion towards him. Adolescence is a very difficult time for children. They are coming to terms with adulthood and therefore are rebellious, with a great deal of their anger and frustrations directed at their parents. With the practice of Compassion, parents will understand that this rebelliousness is a natural part of growing up and that children do not mean to hurt their parents willfully. A child who has enjoyed loving kindness and compassion will himself become a better person. Having not had hate directed at him, he will only radiate love and compassion towards others.

Just before he becomes an adult, a child will probably meet with some success in examinations and other activities outside the home. This is the time for parents to practice sympathetic joy. Too many parents in modern society use their children to compete with their associates. They want their children to do well for selfish reasons; it is all because they want others to think well of them. By practicing sympathetic joy, a parent will rejoice in the success and happiness of his or her child with no ulterior motive. He is happy simply because his child is happy! A child who has been exposed to the effects of sympathetic joy will himself become a person who does not envy others and who is not overly competitive. Such a person will have no room in his heart for selfishness, greed or hatred.

When a child has reached adulthood and has a career and family of his own, his parents should practice the last great virtue of equanimity (upekkha). This is one of the most difficult things for Asian parents to practice. It is hard for them to allow their children to become independent in their own right. When parents practice equanimity, they will not interfere with the affairs of their children and not be selfish in demanding more time and attention than the children can give. Young adults in the modern society have many problems. An understanding parent of a young couple should not impose extra burdens by making unnecessary demands on them. Most importantly, elderly parents should try not to make their married children feel guilty by making them feel that they have neglected their filial obligations. If parents practice equanimity they will remain serene in their old age and thereby earn the respect of the younger generation.

When parents practice these four virtues towards their children, the children will respond favorably and a pleasant atmosphere will prevail at home. A home where there is loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity will be a happy home. Children who grow up under such an environment will grow up to be understanding, compassionate, willing workers and considerate employers. This is the greatest legacy any parent can give to his child.

Parents in Modern Society

One of the saddest things about modern society is the lack of parental love which children in highly industrialized countries suffer from. When a couple gets married, they usually plan to have a number of children. And once the child is born, parents are morally obliged to care for him to the best of their ability. Parents are responsible to see that a child is not only satisfied materially; the spiritual and psychological aspects are very important too.

The provision of material comfort is of secondary importance when compared to the provision of parental love and attention. We know of many parents from the not-so-well-to-do families who have brought up their children well and with plenty of love. On the other hand, many rich families have provided every material comfort for their children but have deprived them of parental love. Such children will just grow up devoid of any psychological and moral development.

A mother should consider carefully whether she should continue to be a working mother of a housewife giving all the affection and care for the well-being of her child. (Strangely, some modern mothers are also being trained to handle guns and other deadly equipments when they should be cuddling their children and training them to be good and law-abiding citizens.)

The modern trend and attitude of working mothers towards their children also tends to erode the time-honored filial piety which children are expected to shower on their parents. The replacement of breast-feeding by bottle feeding could also be another factor which has contributed to the erosion of the affection between mother and child. When mothers breast-feed and cuddle babies in their arms, the tender affection between mother and child is much greater and the influence the mother had on the child for its well-being, is much more pronounced. Under such circumstances, filial piety, family cohesion and obedience are invariably present. These traditional traits are for the good and well-being of the child. It is up to the parents, especially the mother, to provide them. The mother is responsible for the child's being good or wayward. Mothers can reduce delinquency!

Parental Control

Many parents try to keep their married children under their control. They do not give due freedom to them and tend to interfere with a young married couple's life. When parents try to control their married son or married daughter and want them to follow their way of life strictly, this will create a lot of misunderstanding between the two generations as well as unhappiness between the couple. Parents may be doing it in good faith due to love and attachment towards the children, but in so doing, they are inviting more problems to themselves and to the children.

Parents must allow their children to shoulder the responsibilities of their own lives and families. For example: if some seeds are dropped under a tree, plants might grow after sometime. But if you want those plants to grow healthy and independent you must transplant them to open ground somewhere else to grow separately, so that they are not hampered by the shade of the parent tree.

Parents should not neglect the ancient wisdom based on advice given by religious teachers, wise people and elders who have developed a knowledge of the world through their own trial and errors.


Divorce is a controversial issue among the followers of different religions. Some people believe that marriage is already recorded in heaven, thus it is not right to grant a divorce. But, if a husband and wife really cannot live together, instead of leading a miserable life and harboring more jealousy, anger and hatred, they should have the liberty to separate and live peacefully.

Responsibility Towards the Children

However, the separation of the couple must be done in an atmosphere of understanding by adopting reasonable solutions and not by creating more hatred. If a couple has children, they should try to make the divorce less traumatic for the children and help them to adjust to the new situation. And it is most important to ensure that their future and welfare will be taken. care of. It is an inhuman attitude if the couple desert their children and allow them to lead a miserable life.

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