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As a Buddhist, we are called upon to honor our mother and father. However, how should this be applied in a situation where parents were abusive, neglectful, and harmful? When engaging the parents is often revictimizing? What are the obligations to parents in this situation? Is it their karma to be not honored because of their actions?

  • Welcome Sarah. I will write an answer to your question at a later time however I did answer a somewhat similar question here: buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/33531/… Kind regards – Dhammadhatu Jun 14 at 7:28
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  • Feel sorry for them, their shortcomings are not their fault. – Tol Jun 14 at 9:40
  • Perhaps another part of this question is whether Buddhists adhere to the Western concept of “Boundaries” to protect oneself? Or is the creation of boundaries an obstacle to enlightenment because of its avoidance of future suffering? – Sarah Jun 15 at 0:36
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    I could try to post a comment to answer that, but you're likely to get better answers if you post it as a new (i.e. a follow-on) question -- e.g. "Further to [this question](https://buddhism.stackexchange.com/q/33618/254), do Buddhists adhere to the Western etc.?" Most users won't notice that you posted a new comment, or re-read a topic after they answered and you already accepted an answer -- so better to start a new question. It's an interesting question, too -- I hope you might get a helpful answer. – ChrisW Jun 15 at 7:56
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I am not sure Buddhism teaches us to unconditionally "honor" our mother and father.

A sutta about mother & father is AN 2.31, which is about "gratitude" or "kataññu". The Pali word "kataññū" means: "to be mindful of former service" and is often used together with the word "katavedī, which means "thankful" or "grateful". Therefore, in relation to parents, the term "kataññū-katavedī" appears to imply the parents must have performed a former "service" to their children for their children to be grateful in return. About performing "service", AN 2.31 says:

Mother & father do much for their children. They care for them, they nourish them, they introduce them to this world.

Another sutta about mother & father is Iti 109, which says parents are “worthy of veneration" when they are:

Compassionate towards their family of children; when they are very helpful to their children, take care of them, bring them up and teach them about the world.

The Pali word translated as “worthy of veneration" is "āhuneyya", which appears to mean "deserving of offerings". In other words, to be "worthy" of honor, it appears Buddhism teaches parents must deserve or earn such honor; that such honor is not automatic or not unconditional.

Therefore, where parents were abusive, neglectful & harmful, such actions are not compassionate, not helpful and thus not deserving of honor. Parents who are abusive towards their children are obviously not "teaching them about the world" because often such children grow up confused & struggle in the world.

The Buddha himself would not praise but would disapprove of such abusive, neglectful & harmful actions.

If parents are not able to show remorse for such actions, then engaging the parents may certainly result in revictimizing.

I think a Buddhist in such a situation should practise as follows:

  1. Recognise, acknowledge & be grateful towards any good actions done by parents.

  2. Clearly recognise any harmful actions done by parents as being wrong.

  3. If possible, per AN 2.31, try to rouse an unvirtuous mother & father and settle & establish them in virtue. This may include using a professional counselling or mediation service. However, here, as mentioned, the parents must show remorse for their past actions, which generally may be difficult.

  4. In general, practise compassion meditation towards such parents who cannot show remorse; keeping in mind it was "ignorance" and even "past hurt" that made the parents act in such unloving ways. Compassion meditation is, for example: "May they be free from their suffering; may they be free from their unhappiness; may they be free from their unskillful qualities and may they develop skilful qualities; may my parents learn to truly love".

Also, on a higher level of practise, Buddhism teaches us to not blame "persons" but, to instead, blame "ignorance" for unwholesome & unskillful actions.

In addition, as mentioned, it is important to recognise that often abusive parents themselves have been subjects of abuse by their parents or by others.

Therefore, if we ourselves can break this "cycle of abuse", we ourselves move in the direction towards goodness, awakening & what Buddhism calls "the human" or "humane state".

To conclude, we must keep our mind grounded in & clear about what is good & what is bad, so we do not become confused. The Dhammapada says:

  1. Those who are ashamed of what they should not be ashamed of, and are not ashamed of what they should be ashamed of — upholding false views, they go to states of woe.

  2. Those who see something to fear where there is nothing to fear, and see nothing to fear where there is something to fear — upholding false views, they go to states of woe.

  3. Those who imagine evil where there is none, and do not see evil where it is — upholding false views, they go to states of woe.

  4. Those who discern the wrong as wrong and the right as right — upholding right views, they go to realms of happiness.

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    Excellent and well balanced answer! One thing to add: even if one does not feel that he/she has received any kindness from his/her parents, one can still be grateful for the body which the parents have built for him/her. A human body is considered to be extremely precious, because it is almost the only body which helps you to completely overcome all obscurations and suffering. – Eerik Sven Puudist Aug 30 at 18:59
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    @Dhammadhatu Thanks for writing importance of parents. One thing to be noted is above comment tells us to maintain compassion towards parents without any reason because it gives answer to problem of ," Why, while maintaining dhyan in brahma_loka , disturbance is there of parent's tears and/or problems/issues faced by them "...that's why ,It would be better to add above comment's(by Eerik Sven Puddist) info. into your answer... although bounty is yours... ÷) – user17220 Nov 15 at 3:56
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    Thank you Tempo – Dhammadhatu Nov 15 at 4:11
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My father was a selfish alcoholic who physically abused me on several occasions, my mother was loving but would often be off putting because of anxieties. I see the error in their ways and have better insight to why they are who they are by practicing mindfulness and right view. I see them both as victims, my father trapped by drugs and selfishness, my mother by worry and fear.

This helps me have strong love and compassion for both, because I can see their suffering and know its part of the human condition. I don't take it personal, remember attributes are not permanent, there are roots to why people act like they do and it can change.

Recognizing someone suffers, is human, can be a great honor.

  • That's a wise approach so far, householder Eli. It just may forget that behind there have been a lot of things given they would not have need to to at all. So it's important to do not dwell in the "brahmaviharas" supported by self-complacence. – Samana Johann Jun 15 at 3:09
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No matter how hard the parents abused you, don't try to do anything against. Only thing you can do is wishing them good(maithree).

Specially if you pay them the aarya (noble) maithree it will do the best for you and them. And I've seen many people have get the successful results out of this.

. How you do it

Daily 20-30 mins (if you can do more then do) think this to your self (close your eyes as it helps to concentrate more). You and your parents may attain Nivana (enlightment). Wish this so deeply. Add what ever the necessary facts like things they do good for you and in return you are wishing them Nivana. As Nivana is the only place anyone can get the ultimate happiness. So basically you are wishing them happiness, no matter the way you get treated.

And as mentioned by Buddha if anyone kill a parent its going to be very bad karma (anantarya papa) that can't get escape. When someone eat poison with or without knowing that it is poison he is going to suffer. Like that the nature is dangerous no matter we know it or not it behaves the way as it supposed to be. So only thing we can be happy about is Nivana. That's why wishing that (the best thing in this universe) to someone who treat you bad will return you good things.

With Metta!

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    Such would be the mindset of a real son, daughter, of the Buddha, Sakyan putta, after hearing the true Dhamma. Sadhu! – Samana Johann Jun 15 at 7:14
  • Upasaka could add also the The Simile of the Saw to his answer, if wishing so. – Samana Johann Jun 15 at 8:26
  • The simile of the saw could be misunderstood -- I don't think it's the duty of an adult child, to e.g. put themselves in danger if the parents are violent. Rather it's a duty or ideal of a Buddhist to "say no evil words (and) remain sympathetic to that person’s welfare, with a mind of goodwill, and with no inner hate". The simile of the saw tells monks to "not let his heart get angered" even if "bandits were to carve you up savagely", but I think the vinaya also tells monks to e.g. avoid bandits. – ChrisW Jun 15 at 9:39
  • And the Jataka tale about the tigress says it's wrong for a parent to kill their child -- and that the Bodhisattva (presumably the child, also) should want to protect the parent's sila (perhaps by averting the circumstance for such a misdeed). – ChrisW Jun 15 at 9:58
  • Sometimes it's possible to avoid and sure, seeking after such is not smart, sometimes it is not possible to avoid, caught in ones conditions layed out. But even when not: metta to stay a real Buddhist, son or daughter of the Buddha. – Samana Johann Jun 16 at 3:17
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Householder Sarah, interested,

a giver (of possibilities, space, birth, material things...) has no obligations toward a receiver. One who has received, how ever has obligations toward the giver.

If someone gives or likes to give something one does not like, actually would harm, there is no need to accept such and to take on it. Once one personal takes on such harmfull, one usually tries to give it back. So best simply not taking (personal) if been given something that is harmful.

So both, giver and receiver, have choices, choices to give, take and reject.

As parents have given a lot, not easy ever to repay, it's proper for ones release to look after the bodily and material needs. How ever, it's not possible to pay all back in this way and sometimes one also does not have the means. So if acting great, and skilled, having certain access to the parents in humble ways, the greatest gift a child can give their parents is to patiently turn not so good parents toward good, without being "parently" and know the position one is into.

"Monks, I will teach you the level of a person of no integrity and the level of a person of integrity. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak."

"As you say, lord," the monks responded.

The Blessed One said, "Now what is the level of a person of no integrity? A person of no integrity is ungrateful & unthankful. This ingratitude, this lack of thankfulness, is advocated by rude people. It is entirely on the level of people of no integrity. A person of integrity is grateful & thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity."

{II,iv,2} "I tell you, monks, there are two people who are not easy to repay. Which two? Your mother & father. Even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder & your father on the other shoulder for 100 years, and were to look after them by anointing, massaging, bathing, & rubbing their limbs, and they were to defecate & urinate right there [on your shoulders], you would not in that way pay or repay your parents. If you were to establish your mother & father in absolute sovereignty over this great earth, abounding in the seven treasures, you would not in that way pay or repay your parents. Why is that? Mother & father do much for their children. They care for them, they nourish them, they introduce them to this world. 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." Kataññu Suttas: Gratitude

Aside: it's better to look at ones own duties, ones own actions, then to judge others and it's very unwise to develop ideas to justify not doing ones duties because of other ones former actions (kamma). Once duties are done there is release, release that is not violating and reached by skillful (kusala) means, meaning "right release".

Kamma (action) and vipaka (effect of it) is also not something that works linear, so situations present do not necessary have connection to near actions, not even related to particular people and their actions, but can be long time back, even lifetimes. So one will meet good parents with good children, good parents with bad children, bad parents with good children and bad parents with bad children, but where ever one is, child or parent, good or bad, good to go toward light out of the darkness: AN 4.85: Tamonata Sutta — Darkness (wealth here counts also in regard of ones merits, goodness)

The general duties of a child toward it parents are:

"In five ways, young householder, a child should minister to his parents as the East:

(i) Having supported me I shall support them, (ii) I shall do their duties, (iii) I shall keep the family tradition, (iv) I shall make myself worthy of my inheritance, (v) furthermore I shall offer alms in honor of my departed relatives. The Layperson's Code of Discipline

In regard of duties general: one has never any real duty to act for harm of other beings or for ones own harm (violating the precepts with ones actions). If such is claimed, one can without violating the Dhamma step back form ones contract in this regard.

Some good encouraging talks on gratitude and parents here also attached for ones food in growing:

May you all ever dwell with Brahma and don't fall into low states rejecting the bases of right view.

"Mother and father are said to be Brahma and an earlier god, Children should revere them, for the compassion of the populace The wise should revere and care for them, giving eatables, drinks Clothes, beds, massaging, bathing and washing their feet The wise enjoy attending on their mother and father And later enjoy heavenly bliss." Brahma Sutta: With Brahma

A possible extended answer as well as given space for discussion and approaches can be found here: [Q&A] How should a Buddhist approach honoring parents who abused them?

(Note that this is not given for trade, exchange, stacks and entertainment but as a means toward escape from this wheel here)

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One of the Abrahamic 10 commands is about "Honor thy parents" which includes of obedience -- I'm not sure there's something quite like that in Buddhism.

There is occasionally a sutta which mentions "honoring" your parents' wishes (i.e. doing something because they ask you to) -- see the start of DN 31 for example -- note that's not a Buddhist who is doing that, and the Buddha takes that opportunity to explain how to do it better.

The suttas certainly talk about gratitude, and about its not being possible to repay parents, but I guess that's another matter than obedience.

There's a monastic rule that if you want to ordain (as a monk) you must get your parent's permission -- and a sutta where someone doesn't get permission (the parents have other plans for him), and so he refuses to eat until the parents relent and give permission. That's a bit of an unusual example of "honoring wishes" and "obedience", isn't it.

I'd like to add though that I've seen (heard from) people, who remain unhappy because of their past relationship (or ex relationship) with their parents, or children -- and that seems to me less than ideal.

More ideal (or inline with Buddhist ideals) might be something like this from the start of the Dhammapada:

  1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
  2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.
  3. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.
  4. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred
  5. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.
  6. There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.

I think I remember another story, of someone who'd been abused by her father. When she became an adult she told the authorities, and the father spent time in prison as a result. When she was dying he came to see her -- and she let him see her and talk to her, and was glad that she had forgiven him.

Anyway I don't want to encourage you to return to face more abuse -- and maybe "no relationship" is better than a "bad relationship" -- but maybe there is always "a relationship"?

I'm not sure what you mean by "revictimising" either. It's easy for a dependent child to be victimised, for example -- I'm not so sure about an adult (perhaps they have learned helplessness).

There's a (in my opinion) magnificent sutta, SN 7.2, where the Buddha doesn't allow himself to be insulted -- doesn't accept, doesn't share in the insult.

I guess what I learned is that no matter how a child misbehaves, the adult should always be more-or-less well-behaved -- it isn't or shouldn't be a tit-for-tat, where if the child behaves badly then the adult does too. I guess that (i.e. good behaviour) is what I see as ideal now, for an adult -- i.e. that we should behave well.

Apparently one of the problems people have, with dysfunctional parents, is that they may not have learned good coping/behavioural/relationship/communication skills and responses -- because after all, you're supposed to learn those from your parents to some extent -- and I say that without meaning to disparage survivors


Is it their karma to be not honored because of their actions?

I think Buddhists tend to honor actions as being skilful or unskilful ...

  • "That was well said."
  • "That was well given."

... and so on.

I'm not sure about honoring the person -- or at least I guess I'd honor my parents for their kindness (and maybe wisdom), and not for any misdeeds (which if any are hopefully bygones).

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There are many ways of approaching challenging situations. One way is to view karma as like a coin. One side is the return of your previous actions, but the other side is the opportunity to practice the dharma, letting the opportunity to create more bad karma pass you by, learning in the process how to let go of some of the 3 poisons, and take a positive step towards your liberation and enlightenment.

Another way to view this situation is to practice Guru Yoga (if you practice Tibetan Buddhism). You see this (and every) situation as a teaching by your Holy Guru and this place (and this land) as the Pure Land of your Holy Guru where every moment is a teaching of your Holy Guru. What you are learning about is not "out there". It is all about watching your mind, letting your conceptual thoughts and feelings go on their merry way without you, as they rise and subside and go away. One moment at a time.

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