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I was listening to a discussion with David Benatar, and the point that Buddhism seems to be antinatalist was raised. It seems that people argue this both ways. Can Buddhism be said to be antinatalist? Or some strands but not others? If it is, what consequences does this have?

I have always kind of dismissed Benatar's ideas as being a kind of Larkin-esque pose, and making a mistake in hierarchy that puts pleasure above meaning, like utilitarians. But if the charge of antinatalism sticks, it seems I am going to have look more carefully at which of his points also apply to Buddhism.

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    This is nearly a duplicate of various previous questions about having children.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 12 '18 at 16:58
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    Can you provide any link for the context....as far as the Canon and scriptures are concerned Buddhism has no attitude , for or against making babies.
    – user13135
    Jul 12 '18 at 18:33
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    I understand "Larkin-esque pose" as a reference to the poem, This Be The Verse.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 12 '18 at 20:24
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Wikipedia defines antinatalism as follows:

Antinatalism, or anti-natalism, is a philosophical position and social movement that assigns a negative value to birth. Antinatalists argue that humans should abstain from procreation because it is morally bad (some also recognize the procreation of other sentient beings as morally bad).

In respect to Noble People, Buddhism may possibly appear antinatalist, when it says:

Monks, there are these two searches: ignoble search & noble search. And what is ignoble search? There is the case where a person, being subject himself to birth, seeks [happiness in] what is likewise subject to birth. Being subject himself to aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement, he seeks [happiness in] what is likewise subject to illness... death... sorrow... defilement.

And what may be said to be subject to birth? Spouses & children are subject to birth. Men & women slaves... goats & sheep... fowl & pigs... elephants, cattle, horses, & mares... gold & silver are subject to birth. Subject to birth are these acquisitions, and one who is tied to them, infatuated with them, who has totally fallen for them, being subject to birth, seeks what is likewise subject to birth

MN 26

However, for laypeople, Buddhism appears not antinatalist. It says:

To support one's father and mother; to cherish one's wife and children, and to be engaged in peaceful occupations — this is the highest blessing.

Maha-mangala Sutta

Buddhism says the pleasant feelings from renunciation, meditation & enlightenment are superior to the pleasant feelings from the household family life. Refer to the Sukhavagga in AN 2.

There are, mendicants, these two kinds of happiness. What two? The happiness of laypeople and the happiness of renunciates. These are the two kinds of happiness. The better of these two kinds of happiness is the happiness of renunciates.

There are, mendicants, these two kinds of happiness. What two? Sensual happiness and the happiness of renunciation. These are the two kinds of happiness. The better of these two kinds of happiness is the happiness of renunciation.

There are, mendicants, these two kinds of happiness. What two? The happiness of attachments, and the happiness of no attachments. These are the two kinds of happiness. The better of these two kinds of happiness is the happiness of no attachments.

It follows it appears Buddhism is not 'antinatalist' because it appears to never say having children is "morally bad". Buddhism appears to merely say (for those capable of entering the Noble Path) not having children brings more happiness when compared to having children.

In conclusion, my personal view is Buddhism is not antinatalist.

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Antinatalists argue that people should refrain from procreation because it is morally bad

According to the third precept, it's not procreation that is morally bad, it's sexual misconduct. So it's perfectly fine for a Buddhist layman to have a family and make kids. Buddhism doesn't really care if you have kids or not. Although the Buddha once said "Putta wattu manussanam"- son is an asset to man. But that's about it.

For monks, it's out of the question as they are not allowed to have any kind of sexual activity with anyone. But it's not because of women getting pregnant. It's because the lust that is involved is detrimental to their spiritual progress.

Birth is indeed part of suffering, but Buddhism never says that the solution to it is to stop people from making children. Even if you ban women from getting pregnant by law, beings will still be born elsewhere. The only way to end it is to cut off craving. So to call Buddhism antinatalist shows a weak understanding of the teachings of the Buddha.

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No. Buddhism is not anti-natalist when it comes to lay followers, as you can see in the following sutta.

From AN 5.39:

“Mendicants, parents see five reasons to wish for the birth of a child in the family. What five? Since we looked after them, they’ll look after us. They’ll do their duty for us. The family traditions will last. They’ll take care of the inheritance. Or else when we have passed away they’ll give an offering on our behalf. Parents see these five reasons to wish for the birth of a child in the family.

Seeing five reasons,
astute people wish for a child.
Since we looked after them, they’ll look after us.
They’ll do their duty for us.

The family traditions will last.
They’ll take care of the inheritance.
Or else when we have passed away
they’ll give an offering on our behalf.

Seeing these five reasons
astute people wish for a child.
And so good people,
grateful and thankful,

look after their parents,
remembering what was done for them in the past.
They do for their parents,
as their parents did for them in the past.

Following their advice, looking after those who raised them,
the family traditions are not lost.
Faithful, accomplished in ethics,
such a child is praiseworthy.”

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On the contrary, I think Bodhisattvas might view providing sentient beings with the opportunity for perfect human rebirths as a profound way of helping them. Indeed, this could be one way in which a Bodhisattva might give his/her body away for the benefit of others!

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  • Please provide references for points argued here
    – CriglCragl
    Jan 1 '21 at 10:51

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