There are multiple question related to this already asked, but none of the response or question address as to why children are presented in Buddhist text as inessential, such as these:

… That is not a strong fetter, the wise say, which is made of iron, wood or hemp. But the infatuation and longing for jewels and ornaments, children and wives — that, they say, is a far stronger fetter, which pulls one downward and, though seemingly loose, is hard to remove…


… Ten children I bore from this physical heap. Then weak from that, aged, I went to a nun. She taught me the Dhamma

and again

…. Those with children grieve because of their children. Those with cattle grieve because of their cows. A person's grief comes from acquisitions, since a person with no acquisitions doesn't grieve…

again What the Buddha said to Visakha when she express her wish to have as many children & grandchildren.

“those who have a hundred dear ones have a hundred sufferings”

and many more can be listed.

With such representation, how do lay Buddhists reconcile have children ask skillful?

  • 1
    I apologize, I don't really understand this question. I think those Buddhist texts represent children as a "fetter" or as a cause of suffering ... which doesn't mean the same thing as "inessential" (the most common meaning of "inessential" is "unnecessary"). Are you asking why children are inessential/unnecessary? Or asking for an explanation of the Buddhist texts you quoted? Or asking something about how lay Buddhists reconcile having children?
    – ChrisW
    May 17, 2017 at 21:14
  • @ ChrisW, I’m asking all three questions you listed. Yes I agree that these texts represent children as cause of suffering, but shouldn’t that cause suffering be avoided and if it can be avoided it is inessential? Or you think the desire for children is the same as desire for food which is also a cause for suffering, but we can’t avoid and thus is essential?
    – user10552
    May 18, 2017 at 6:00
  • "Bloom where you are planted." - Saint Francis de Sales
    – user2341
    May 21, 2017 at 12:55

4 Answers 4


You're asking whether "children" are unnecessary.

And I'm still not sure what that means. There are children in the world regardless of whether you're a parent yourself, so it's not as if children are an optional phenomenon.

You may be able to avoid the responsibilities of being a parent.

In some societies maybe you cannot (or could not, in the past) avoid becoming a parent: you were expected to marry who and when your parents tell you to marry, then you have children, etc. Choosing to become a monk or nun might once have been a socially-acceptable alternative to that?

Or I think it was a tradition in some countries (India) for people (or maybe it was only for men) to choose homelessness in later life, after completing your social responsibilities including parenthood.

In various countries these days some people find that it is possible to resist having, to decide not to have, children. Your ability to make this choice may depend on availability of "birth control", and/or whether you're able to earn a living without marrying, or finding a marriage partner who agrees with you on this subject (which I think historically hasn't always been feasible, for women especially).

I think I agree with Katinka's answer, that a lot of what's in the suttas is meant by and for monks. I recommend a book Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity, which is an anthology of and commentary on the suttas which are intended for lay people (including for example the Sigalovada Sutta (DN 31)).

After reading it you may still think that you prefer to choose to live like a monk or nun. You may be right to say, as you said in a comment, that "the truth cannot be two". Nevertheless I think that the advice or definition of sila given in suttas was sometimes different for laypeople than for bikkhus.


Such texts should be read in context: written for and by the Sangha - and mostly for and by male-sangha, though you found one quote that sounds like a tired grandmother.

Buddhism is really a dual religion. The religion for lay-people is very practical: attend to your duties and avoid wrong-doing. That includes taking care of any partner and children. Traditionally things like meditation were limited to the Sangha, and a minority in there as well.

If you want to become a monk or nun, obviously children are an obstacle as long as they're young. And women do - especially when there is no good medical help - suffer physically from childbirth. Without proper medical attention women die in childbirth in alarming numbers. Women who survived that and grew to an age where they were free to become nuns (very much a minority at any time in Buddhist history) would be encouraged to meditate on topics that helped them let go of their attachment to their children and focus also on the limitations of the body that bore them. No wonder one writes:

… Ten children I bore from this physical heap. Then weak from that, aged, I went to a nun. She taught me the Dhamma

The Buddha himself walked away from his wife and son - which is hardly a good example to follow. The only mitigating circumstance was that his father was rich and quite capable of taking care of them.

As lay people we should read such texts within their context: written by monks, for monks. They're not written for lay people. Lay people did not have access to texts and most of the texts that survived don't portray even nuns very well.

  • Thank you for your response, although I don’t agree with you that these are said to the monks only; Vaisakha was a lay follower. The truth can not be two, one for the monks and another for lay followers.
    – user10552
    May 21, 2017 at 9:49

Having children is the opposite of enlightenment, as quoted in the question.

However, for those who cannot overcome sensuality & cannot find happiness in meditation, having children can be skilful because the lives of parents are (naturally & generally) devoted to family, unselfishness & virtues.

Both men & women, but particularly women, find purpose & completion in having children. This is the natural way of nature. The Pali suttas (AN 6.52) state:

...having children is the mainstay (security) of women....

Whereas enlightenment is not the way of nature but something that transcends nature, i.e., 'lokuttara' ('beyond/above the world').


More parental and social ties more the misery. Parents are more attached to their offspring than anything else in the world. This attachment is a source of misery.

This does not mean they are not necessary or you should avoid having children as implied by your question. If people do not have children of fend for them, society will break down. When you have children you should look after your children while trying to maintain composure and doing the best while parenting. I.e., if they get sick treat it but being equanimous, if they are not doing well in school do the best to make then study but be detached to the outcome, etc.

that, they say, is a far stronger fetter, which pulls one downward and, though seemingly loose, is hard to remove

This mentions attachment to them.

Those with children grieve because of their children.

Mentions they are a source of misery.

  • Are you saying, “Although children are source of misery lay Buddhist should have children to maintain society”? Why is continuing human society necessary in Buddhist context? Could this be because to be human is precious, and perhaps lay Buddhist have children for sentient beings to be born as human? Many thanks!
    – user10552
    May 22, 2017 at 8:49
  • Not everyone is ready to leave a householder's life to become a monk. Until you are ready you should be a householder. This entails raising a family and caring for your children and family members. May 22, 2017 at 9:41

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