One of the main sources of bad kamma in Buddhism is doing wrong to your parents and not taking care of them. Buddha said it is very very hard to repay your parents, however how should one behave if he or she has bad parents? Maybe a parent that was an alcoholic or didn't take care of him properly, abandoned him, banned from his house or maybe stole from him? There are countless possibilities, what to do?


8 Answers 8


My father was an alcoholic, and I suffered a lot of grief from him - so I might as well try and answer this one.

The way my first teacher taught me about this (back when my father was still alive and I still encountered him a lot) the circumstances like this come from our karma, specifically from our attachment to decency and spirituality. The more we are attached to decency and to spirituality, the more we hate people who are indecent and lowly, the more we will have to face them. So the only way to stop this particular kind of painful circumstances, is to drop the attachment to decency and to spirituality, by no longer putting decency and spirituality above love and above existence itself. This was the teaching method my first teacher employed, very effective.

The way my last teacher taught me about this, long after my father passed away, is that in such cases freedom comes from forgiveness, understanding, the intent to stop the chain of suffering. We should understand that family issues are passed down the chain, although not necessarily in the same form. When father has certain issues, the child will have certain other issues - that will affect lives of their children and so on. Even my father's behavior was not his own, he inherited it from his childhood family - his father was a very violent guy, a commander of a penal military unit, a place where the criminal soldiers served. Behind a violent alcoholic there is often a hurt little boy. This is important to understand.

So these are two lessons from my Buddhism teachers, one is to let go of attachment to decency and spirituality and abandon hatred and aversion based on them, and two is to understand your parent's own background and suffering.

As to what to do, I think the best way to work with such people is as if you were working with a child. No matter how adult they look or pretend to be, if they act like that they are still immature, far from it. So working with them like you would with your own child, with tough love, compassionate but strict, seems to be the best course of action.

  • 2
    What a great answer!
    – konrad01
    Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 12:25
  • attachment to decency reminds me of a (mahayana, I believe) story with the yet to be enlightened Bodhisatta, in which Mara was trying to prevent the Bodhisatta from experimenting or playing with Maras as part of his spiritual research. as a child, I was always told that I’m not allowed to be angry, so I was never able to experientially understand anger and thus never able to grasp the uselessness and harmfulness of anger, until recently, more than 30 years later. Commented May 26, 2021 at 18:53
  • Possibly the words "expectations of" decency and spirituality are more accurate than the words "attachment to" decency and spirituality. Commented Apr 17, 2022 at 21:10
  • I'm translating a word my teacher used. Literally something like caughtupment, enhookment - hence attachment.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Apr 18, 2022 at 1:43

Even if your parents abandoned you the day you were born, you still owe them. The only way to repay them fully is to make them understand the Dhamma. If your parents are alcoholic, take them for rehab. If they steal money, don't keep money where they can find. Likewise, address each issue accordingly. Advice them with the Dhamma and show them the right path without getting angry.

  • What if this parent is perfect in every way, except that this parent is always angry and not nice to deal with? :-)
    – Anthony
    Commented Jul 19, 2014 at 1:25
  • 2
    Practice Metta towards him or her. Avoid confrontations. Use kind words. Commented Jul 19, 2014 at 4:20
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    As per AN 2.31-32: accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an02/an02.031.than.html
    – user5716
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 15:17

There is a aspect of Buddhism which actually views difficult people (including parents) as being helpful and we should be grateful to them. Forbearance (kṣānti) is one of the six perfections. To illustrate let me quote from the Bodhicaryāvatāra, Perfection of Forebearance (verse 107)

Therefore, since he helps me on the path to Awakening, I should long for an enemy like a treasure discovered in the home, acquired without effort.

So we should be grateful to difficult people even if they are, well, difficult.

But realistically we aren't all able to do this, certainly not in the initial stages of practice. Also difficult relationships with parents particularly colour our lives and are difficult to get past. When I have had difficult relationships (not with parents admittedly) then sometimes the only thing to do is take yourself out of that situation until such time as you are better able to cope positively with it - and if that time never comes well at last you are out of that situation and maybe better able to practice positively generally.

Also Buddhist teachers like Jack Kornfield actively recommend counselling to go alongside Buddhist practice and the two work side by side. This article illustrates Jack Kornfield's position which I'll quote a brief section

There are many areas of growth (grief and other unfinished business, communication and maturing of relationships, sexuality and intimacy, career and work issues, certain fears and phobias, early wounds, and more) where good Western therapy is on the whole much quicker and more successful than meditation.

However bear in mind that....

Does this mean we should trade meditation for psychotherapy? Not at all. Therapy isn't the solution either.

In my opinion, when things come up in meditation practice, why not use every facility that is available to you to come to terms with it? I appreciate might be a controversial view. People are obviously welcome to disagree with.


Bad parents cannot be repaid for whatever good they did if they cannot appreciate & accept goodness. Some parents are stubborn like this. The Pali suttas (Iti 77) say there are bad parents with good children. Not everyone can repay their parents as described in the Pali suttas. This teaching about repaying parents is only an 'ideal' rather than an 'absolute'. The 'absolute' is realising non-attachment or the four noble truths. If moral teachings of Buddhism are causing anxiety & worry, this is a mishandling of Dhamma.


This body was so malnourished at birth because my mother used pregnancy as a way of LOSING weight -- her dress size was more important than my bones and nerves -- very nearly the neuro tube did not close. This was established by scientific forensic analysis of my bone matrix. My entire life, my mother was cruel. Violent in the extreme. Lied bout my behavior to my father so I would be beaten. My father every day would stare into my eyes for a rectio. Of sorrow or hurt when I was beaten for not working hard enough to please my mother. --and beat me extra hard if there was as much as one emotion.

Then, when my mother inherited 1.1 million dollars -- I had 2,000 in the whole world, was almost the best student in nursing school, but I developed a massive disc extrusion in the base of my spine so that I was urinaring in my pants and very bad problem controlling bladder. You know what this alleged mother did when I asked her for help? The ONE time I asked her for anything -- she laughed at me and said, GEE I WONDER EHAT YOU WILL DO NOW, I had no health insurance at the time. PS in my childhood, I meditated constantly and had buddhist insight about greed, not clinging to wealth and LIVED for compassion. Any time I saw suffering, I wanted to alleviate it. THEN when my parents found this out about me is when I was not allowed to leave the house, to show compassion for anyone except my mother, no got beaten. I used to cry bitterly when a bird was injured!! When teased by children, I never once for angry. My karma to be born to this???

Hm,... No exaggeration: some family friend called me two weeks before she died. We lost touch 10 years ago. She said to me of all the people on earth she met, she never met a purer more loving soul. I cried like a child to hear this. One of the only nice words spoken of this human being by someone who saw my compassion when my parents were at work killing me. I wanted to practice buddhism but I will not accept some more blame when I already paid for my meals, flesh and life with my own flesh. My nervous system broke -- all the nerves in the lumbar spine got glued together because this person who is allegedly a mother, with 1.1 million dollars could not give 25k for surgery to me... In her words, my talent to be a nurse --I was soooo loving too my old patients-- and my nerves were NOT a good investment for her. Ok? I wish buddha were alive to hear this story.

Sorry for the typos but Ipad has a mind of it's own.

I tell myself anyway because of physical pain, I am not the body, not the mind, and I am terrified of ever encountering these people again. I am now almost allergic to violence and have no idea how to cope with living on a planet of warfare and starvation. My mother has yet to offer me help, my father passed away, and my mothers sisters are mostly sociopaths too -- they LOVE seeing others suffer. I cannot imagine that Hitler was very different-- maybe next lifetime these people will build concentration camps because the meanness to sick people, to people of color, to poor people is like a horror movie.

My karma? I don't know but i have to figure out how to NEVER see these so-called people again. Strangers have come to me and commented on my mothers violence as recently as four years ago-- so believe me, do no him means you walk away. You realizes when you are the tool of aggression in someone else's hands -- how they try to destroy all the time innocent happy people -- and you say I am sorry. Get help. I am never going back. And if I am angry, it would be maybe a good thing -- maybe there is karma for being a doormat, too. I would love dhamma advice-- poor, and trying very hard to generate new spine, bones, and nerves.

Thank you if you read this long message.

Also living on 4 dollars a day so no psychologist or medical care. Doing a lot of Samatha meditation. And I try very hard to reach the compassion I had on childhood... That pure lovingkindness... My heart was the size of the universe...so deep. So sad for the sick and dying as a child. I think karma is not real. I think the mentally ill ones get sicker with each lifetime. And the kind ones always get hurt and abused. Like Christ and so many other monks and persons of faith getting violently killed by power for power. When I was six I knew my parents were shallow and too stupid to appreciate their vast blessings of health. And I even tried to grow up extra fast so they couldn't kill me. I hope everyone understands how many parents are monsters. And that children get help by strangers before they get broken.

Thank you for any comments on dharma I might follow. No sangha nearby, but I do read the sutta daily! And I have version to violence... Does that make problems for me as a matter of practice?? Should we all love violence? Getting tired of this sick world. Often I can't wait to die. I hope it is with a bird chirping nearby. I am nearly done with humanity.

  • Hello Christine. I tried to clean up typos and added some line-spacing to increase readability. I'm sorry to hear what happened to you. I don't know what to do with your answer as it does not answer the question and at the same time it asks new questions. So I will let it stay here. You might want to ask a question on the main page about your practice and what teachings can be of help to you. May you be well and happy and free from suffering.
    – user2424
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 22:21

Repaying the kindness of parents applies when acts of kindness has been done.

When the Buddha spoke about this, he was speaking in a general case, i.e. most parents have been very kind, which means they have done acts of kindness, like take care of children, bear them, love them unconditionally. However, nothing has inherent existence, this means that parents are not, by their nature of being parents, people who have done such acts of kindness - some parents are cruel, and may do very few or no acts of kindness towards their children.

In this case, we should take the Buddha's advice on similar "friends": "The friend who is all take, The friend of empty words, The friend full of flattery, And the reckless friend;

These four are not friends, but enemies; The wise understand this And keep them at a distance As they would a dangerous path." (DN31)

Likewise, we can show compassion to a parent, and try to guide them to the Dharma, but if their karma is clearly not ripe, they may not be worth the effort, "A fool can attend on a wise man even for whole his life, he will not understand the Dharma, like a spoon does not know the taste of the soup." (Dhp. 64).

Anyone who has experience with, for instance, a "reckless" parent, who may be an alcoholic, knows that you cannot just "take them to rehab" and take care of them - they can only help themselves. The best thing you can do is keep a distance. If this isn't possible, and you are still staying at home, ideally you take the advice of Crab Bucket, and practice patience, but try to avoid them when they are drunk and try to stay pleasant, but distant, unless they become more agreeable.

There is a tendency for some people to want to be super heroes, but we also have to be realistic. The Buddha was realistic too, that's why he simply recognised that sometimes we just have to stay away from such people.


When you are living together, in harmony and without contention, a certain person might do something wrong or transgress. Concerning this, you should not hasten to reproof. The person should be examined. In correcting him you might think: ‘I won’t get annoyed, nor will he, for he is without irritation and anger, he is quick to see and easy to convince.

I have the power to raise this person from the unskillful and establish him in the skillful.’ If you think this then it is right to speak. If you think: ‘I won’t get annoyed but he will, for he is irritable, angry, slow to see but easy to convince. I have the power to raise this person from the unskillful and establish him in the skillful. His annoyance is but a small thing, the great thing is that I will be able to establish him in the skilled.’ If you think this then it is right to speak.

If you think: ‘I will get annoyed but he won’t, for he is not prone to irritability or anger, he is quick to see but difficult to convince. But I have the power to raise this person from the unskillful and establish him in the skillful. My annoyance is but a small thing, the great thing is that I will be able to establish him in the skilled.’ If you think this then it is right to speak. If you think: ‘I will get annoyed and so will he, for he is irritable, angry, slow to see and hard to convince. But still, I have the power to raise this person from the unskillful and establish him in the skillful.

My annoyance is but a small thing, the great thing is that I will be able to establish him in the skilled.’ If you think this then it is right to speak. However, if you think: ‘I will get annoyed and so will he, for he is irritable, angry, slow to see and difficult to convince, and I don’t think I have the power to raise him from the unskillful and establish him in the skillful.’ Then in this case have equanimity towards that person.

-- M.II,241


You can refer site on net "pure dhamma" where there are post related to suttas of buddha about gandhaba and rebirth . I also knew from it that .at death the mental body(gandhabba ) leaves the physical body and just waits for another womb of human,deva,animal,or hell etc may be for years or centuries. He enters the womb of that mother whose gathi matches to that of you. So thanks to the mother who possessed the gati matching to you. you have not mentioned your age, but still there is enough time to practice buddhism. choose right path and be on journey. no need to fear for violence.

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