There are maybe 80 questions about 'parents' already but perhaps this one hasn't been asked.

What are a Buddhist's responsibilities or duties towards their parents?

  • Listen to advice? Do what they advise?
  • About whether (and whom) they marry?
  • About whether (and at what) they work?
  • About where (and how far away from the parents) they live?
  • How much duty of care? Does that include e.g. helping with parents' plans and ambitions?

If you're generally inclined to be obedient, and considerate of parents' expressed desires, is it possible to go too far and maybe be insufficiently autonomous, too passive, too indecisive?

If there's any minor conflict ("I want to do something and they want me to do something else", or, "They want me to do something and I don't know what to want") then on what firm basis might you decide, what are the important criteria?

In this answer, Andrei wrote,

Now, regarding your parents, in this case you're not violating any ethics, except their expectations of your life, which is the domain that you own 100%.

... so maybe there are some definite ("100%") answers to this question, and/or maybe some guidelines.

All I know is this from the Sigalovada Sutta:

  1. "In five ways should a mother and father as the eastern direction be respected by a child: 'I will support them who supported me; I will do my duty to them; I will maintain the family lineage and tradition; I will be worthy of my inheritance; and I will make donations on behalf of dead ancestors.'

    "And, the mother and father so respected reciprocate with compassion in five ways: by restraining you from wrongdoing, guiding you towards good actions, training you in a profession, supporting the choice of a suitable spouse, and in due time, handing over the inheritance.

That doesn't explain exactly what "my duty" is, however.

And there's probably something somewhere about repaying parents by teaching them dhamma.

I'm, personally, especially curious to know about deciding how far away to live (e.g. whether to move very far away from the parents, in pursuit of a career).

I guess this may be a culture-specific and personal question, but maybe some good Buddhist advice on the subject is possible.

  • Good if asking. Currently your realm here does not give space to teach Dhamma. You know where you could, away from gambler ... and so on. Jan 23, 2018 at 4:43

3 Answers 3


The advice in the Sigalovada Sutta is from a different time & society, where the prescribed obligations & thus expectations were mutual. In other words, at the present time, if your parents do not have these expectations towards you then you do not have any obligations in return. For example, did your parents arrange for you to get married when you were a teenager & did you comply?

For example, when my father reached a certain phase in his life, I stayed with him, for a time, to keep an eye on things. But my parents can be so arrogant, I left when my father asked me to leave, due to a conflict with my mother. My mother was not willing to stay at home for most of the day & lost face when I told a health professional she was not at home all day but I was. As I envisaged, my father was alone at home one day, he had to call an ambulance himself, & died a few days later in hospital. This is an example of parents, like mine, who spent their life giving to their children like martyrs but are unable to receive in return. In other words, sometimes you try to do your duty but cannot.

In Dhamma, Dhamma always has priority. If your Dhamma is higher than your parents (such as you wish to ordain or wish to live a more moral life than your parents wish), your Dhamma takes priority.

This is was said by the Lord… Bhikkhus, these three kinds of sons are found existing in the world. What three? The superior kind, the similar kind, and the inferior kind. Iti 74

But anyone who rouses his unbelieving mother & father, settles & establishes them in conviction; rouses his unvirtuous mother & father, settles & establishes them in virtue; rouses his stingy mother & father, settles & establishes them in generosity; rouses his foolish mother & father, settles & establishes them in discernment: To this extent one pays & repays one’s mother & father. AN 2.32

  • 1
    Thank you for your explanation. I thought of answering the question in your first paragraph: but I suppose you meant it as a rhetorical question, not a personal question.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 1, 2018 at 18:16

i think one should convert them as a way to pay back but i dont remember the source for this.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user2424
    Jan 23, 2018 at 15:15

In everything in life you must find the middle.

Too much or too little of something will always result in suffering. Exact amount of something will result in peace. With peace, the mind is calm. With calm mind, insight is possible. With insight, ignorance is eradicated.

Your parents must be neither too controlling nor too gentle. They must find the middle.

You must be neither too obedient nor too disobedient. You must find the middle.

Whenever there is ignorance, there is deviation from the middle and potential for suffering can arise.

Due to this very same ignorance, attachment to views, concepts and ideas can be present. A person intoxicated with ignorance, rather than abandoning his views, concepts and ideas, causes suffering by actions stemming from these views, concepts and ideas. Due to this very same ignorance he can't stay in the middle. He's intoxicated with it. He can't stop. He can't help himself but go to one or the other extreme: too much of something or too little of something.

Like an alcoholic who is obsessed with drinking or a bulimic obsessed with food, in the same way a person can be obsessed with views, concepts, ideas. Like an alcoholic drinking his drink over and over again or a bulimic eating in a disorderly fashion, in the same way a person may harm himself and others by instilling his views, concepts and ideas onto others.

The more ignorance, the more potential for suffering can arise.

The duty of your parents is to find the middle. Once found, their duty is to guide their children and adult children towards the middle.

Your duty is to find the middle. Once found, your duty is to guide your parents and your children and adult children towards the middle.

Neither too harsh, nor too gentle. Neither too painful, nor too pleasurable.

Your duty is to listen to them and also not to listen to them. You must find the middle.

Their duty is to listen to you and also not to listen to you. They must find the middle.

Whenever you or your parents go out of the middle, there can arise the potential for you or them to become insufficiently autonomous, too passive, too indecisive. Whenever you and your parents stay in the middle, you both become completely independent. Just like an addict who abandons his drug and becomes independent from the drug, in the same way the one who stays in the middle becomes completely independent.

If there is any minor conflict or decision to be taken, you decide what to do by answering this question: "Would my decision/action guide my parents, me and others towards the middle?" If yes, do the action. If no, do not do the action.

And what is the middle?

It is where suffering does not arise or where any left suffering comes to an end.

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