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First of all I will apologize because it will be hard to put that as a clear and simple question.

Once a person decides to enter the Buddhist path, it becomes clear that one should avoid engaging in romantic relationships as impermanence will definitly create suffering for this person (either by changing or ending the relationship), also a relationship can reduce time for meditation and dhamma study. We can understand why monks are not married.

Using the same logic a person should avoid having a child, as it will create strong attachments and dramaticaly reduce the time for other activities.

That said, we still find lots of Buddhists that decide to have this "normal life", marriage, sons, career, etc... even though they practice the Buddha's teachings, meditate and understand anicca and emptiness. They believe in Samsara, rebirth and Nibbana, but they still make choices that will probably keep their minds tied to this plane. It must be a very hard moment in life, to decide what to do when there is a "conflict" like this.

I'm facing such challenges in my life, because soon I will have to decide about marriage, sons etc. I will create strong bonds and attachments, anyone that passed thought the same thing could help?

  • Hi konrad01. I believe in Zen Buddhism the monks can marry as can the ordained Reverends of Shin Buddhism. Are you looking for an answer from the Theravada tradition? If so, consider adding Theravada as a tag to your question to clarify. :) – Robin111 Jul 27 '14 at 20:06
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    Thanks Robin, good point on the Zen monks, I do follow Theravada, however I appreciate answers from all different traditions – konrad01 Jul 27 '14 at 20:11
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You are mixing up the monk's life with lay life. Lay people are only expected to follow the five precepts on regular days and the eight precepts on Poya days. So they can still get married and have children. You can still attain enlightenment while being a lay person. Visaka was a Sothapanna. But she married and had many children. A monk's life is more congenial to the practice. But the choice is up to you. Buddha never said that all should become monks. Not everyone has the mental fortitude to leave the lay life.

  • I understand that point, sure we can follow the lay person's path, that is very clear, but the point is: As a lay person it is much harder to follow the path due to strong attachments we create, so what should one think about before making one's mind? If one believes in Samsara, Rebirth and Nibbana, why should one dedicate a great part of his life to wordly things, attachments and sensual pleasure? – konrad01 Jul 27 '14 at 17:13
  • You are not duty bound to get married and make kids in life. If you think you can do without those and dedicate that time to meditation, it's perfectly ok. But thinking is one thing and actually doing it is another. – Sankha Kulathantille Jul 27 '14 at 17:16
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The answer boils down to difference between Hinayana (~beginner's) and Mahayana (~advanced practitioner's) attitude.

In beginner's mind, there is a strong conflict between Samsara of day-to-day life, and the peace of Nirvana. Buddhist practice is seen as a mean of cutting the fetters that keep reengaging one in the endless cycle of Samsara with its pointless activities and endless frustration. The challenges of day-to-day life are taken as nuisances or obstacles distracting one from study and practice.

In an advanced practitioner's mind though, Samsara is seen as an inverse projection of attachments, and Nirvana is understood as a fully integrated experience free from conflict between desirable and undesirable, not a place apart of Samsara. For such practitioner, all activity becomes dharmic practice, with glimpses of Nirvana hiding in the here and now, behind the curtain of dualistic mind.

As someone who's been married for 19 years, and a practicing Buddhist for about the same time, I can say that married life provides endless possibilities for overcoming one's pathological habits, dropping one's hang-ups, surrendering one's egoistic facades, and sacrificing one's petty personal goals in the name of the higher good. As long as one operates in the right context, basically that growth requires overcoming the ego, married life becomes the best dharma school one could ask for.

To answer your question, whether romantic relationship is a form of attachment, it again depends on one's attitude. One can take romantic relationship as a candy designed to satisfy one's urge for the sweet, and cry when it is taken away. This is the egoistic perspective. Or one can take romantic relationship as a learning opportunity: to expand and enrich one's relationships with the world, to learn to improvise the dance of life beautifully, to be open and impartial, unfettered by petty desires and hangups like jealousy etc., to stay ever joyful despite the normal challenges. And when impermanence takes over, one can take that as a learning moment as well, and accept it with sobriety and detachment. This is a perspective of the warrior. Or one can take romantic relationship as a chance to enrich the other's life, help the other overcome their wounds and neuroses, and to grow. This is a perspective of Bodhisattva.

The same applies to other forms of engagement with the world. As long as we take them as exercises helping us grow, transcend our ego, and achieve harmony and enlightenment, they are dharmic tools. The moment we make any one of them as all-important in and of itself, and place above the fundamental value of universal existence, we are in for trouble and suffering.

  • Similar to Andrei Volkov, the opportunities for learning from my wife and daughter have been endless. For that i am grateful and appreciative. My motivation to understand the path is supported and we regularly have conversations. My view is that having a partner, wife, husband, children, etc often bring the balance that is needed and that's what happened to me. – Motivated Nov 12 '15 at 17:23
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Even though it's a later answer I can't resist putting in something.

I think it's fair to say that if you have children then you won't be able to meditate as much as you once did. Maybe not at all. Also you know that big shelf of Dharma books that you have, well you might not be reading many of those. That 10 day vipassana retreat you wanted to go on, well unless you have a very sympathetic partner you probably won't be going this year. Or the next.

However (in my experience) when you look at your children you know what it means to felt compassion, to feel metta, to feel sympathetic joy and to feel a profound connection with something that isn't you. When you meet other people with children you will feel that again. People generally open up. What seemed like a cold hard world might start to seem more soft and open. You might realise that you have been very wrapped up in yourself and this is an opportunity (a necessity) to leave yourself behind a little.

I guess what my point is that on the face of it having children might seem the absolutely last thing a serious spiritual practitioner would want to do. The foundational story (myth??) of Buddhism has the Buddha to be upping sticks and leaving his wife and son. But the actual experience might be very different and your experience of it surprising. It might not be and you might regret doing it but practice in the midst of the everyday is a powerful thing. If you want a lesson in lack of attachment - just wait to see the things that you are giving up and your response to that.

As an aside - I was just talking to an order member in my tradition and he said that he could only commit properly to the Dharma (and then subsequently become ordained) after he got married. Before that he couldn't commit - to anything, a relationship, children, the Dharma, nothing. He needed the experience of commitment before he could commit to Buddhist practice in a real way.

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I'd like to add to the answers you've received by addressing your comment that having a child will dramatically reduce your time for other activities; presumably Buddhist practice. I answer this from the perspective of having raised four sons. :)

When I was younger and had far fewer responsibilities, I had lots of time but there was no urgency to use that time wisely. I chatted with friends for hours, watched tv, went shopping just for the fun of it, and had a purist attitude about lots of mundane things that they should only be done this way or that way regardless of how much time was wasted in the process. The books about serious subjects that I always meant to read sat there, unread.

Fast forward to my years raising four sons and working a full time job (40+ hours per week in this part of the world). This was when I learned that in order to do anything worthwhile you must narrow your focus to what is truly important and discard anything that doesn't bring you closer to your truly important goals. So it's an interesting practice in humility and allowing your own ego to begin to melt to realize you cannot keep up. You cannot keep up with anything trendy, music, politics, the news, what the experts are saying, or any sense of purist ideals that mundane things should be done this way or that way regardless of how much time is wasted. You can make sticky rice by soaking it for 24 hours and steaming it to perfection or by soaking it for 30 minutes and putting in the microwave for 10 minutes. Either way, it's good. :)

My priorities changed a lot too as I realized the better job I had previously wanted would leave me with even less time; the bigger house, the nicer clothes, and all the rest of the material "wants" would also only serve to take time away from important things and I gave up that way of thinking.

To be accurate, I was not Buddhist during this time. Buddhism simply hadn't entered my life yet. But I found time for everything that was important to me at that time and if I had known enough to have had a meditation practice during that time; I would have meditated probably after everyone was asleep or before everyone was awake. (Which is actually what I do these days anyway so I can have more time.)

So the point is, not to get married or have a child because you think you are supposed to or because your family or society expects it of you. But if you have good reasons for wanting to get married or have a child or adopt a child (I'm both a biological and adoptive mom and it's been a very enriching experience both ways.) don't be concerned that the fact that you have less time will mean that you won't have time for meditation or Buddhist study. You will if you make the time; especially if you are willing to give up some sleep. :)

Good luck with your decision.

  • Thanks for that!! Could you also try to describe your experience in terms of creating attachments with children? It must be the biggest attachment ever, therefore a potential source of great Dukkha, how did you manage that? Do you have a sort of dettached approach? – konrad01 Jul 31 '14 at 13:46
  • @Konrad: hmm... having children without wanting and loving them should put muchmuchmuch dukkha in someones life. Buddhism is never a "must"; even the Buddha had told some young people that it were not (yet?) the best time for them to follow him to the forests. And look at the story about the general Siha, to whom the Buddha said: be careful! Are you really ready to follow me in mind and in practice? If someone wants to become a master in marathon - then he must take care to have enough time for training. If he cannot - then... well, then he still can do sports as is appropriate :-) – Gottfried Helms Jul 31 '14 at 15:10
  • ...(cont) For me, I really looked into myself to know whether I wanted a child: and then I found I wanted. So only after it has been grown up now I'm only bounded with one other human being and have to share decisions between only us two. – Gottfried Helms Jul 31 '14 at 15:13
  • @konrad01, I found attachment to my children was very strong and all encompassing when they were very young and dependent upon me. But as they grow, it's entirely possible to step back a bit, step by step and let them be more independent. By the time kids are in their teens, you welcome time away from them sometimes! It's not a detachment in an uncaring way. I actually like Sankha's answer to this question a lot. It mirrors my feelings well. buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/2170/… – Robin111 Jul 31 '14 at 15:23
  • My point with Dukkha is that many Buddhists avoid clinging to anything because as everything is impermanent, so for instance, a child can get seriously sick, die, suffer a terrible accident etc... we cannot avoid those things, we can only avoid the clinging (not have children for instance), it is a risk all parents are subject to, so I was wondering how it affects one's mind? How can someone meditate or focus on Dhamna with such adversities, it must be very hard. I agree with you Robin, it can be a wonderful experience, no questions about it. – konrad01 Jul 31 '14 at 16:02

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