In this age, getting enlightened is not sought after by many as in Buddhas era. So I assume it must be harder for parents to accept such a decision. But monks who decide to ordain also have responsibility towards parents. How does that fit into ethics of Buddhas teachings?

I understand giving Dhamma to parents is one of the greatest gift one can give to a parent. Can it not be done by living with them and still maintaining lay practice (like the potter who was an anagami and looked after his parents) Why ordain?

NB: this is asked with due respect and do not wish to condone monks or people who desire to ordain. As Buddha would not have been a Buddha if he did not step out. I just want to understand ordaining in today's day and age.

3 Answers 3


Responsibility in Theravada Buddhism falls into two categories - practical and absolute. In an absolute sense, we only have two responsibilities:

“bhante, imasmiṃ sāsane kati dhurānī”ti?

"Bhante, in this religion, how many duties are there?"

“ganthadhuraṃ, vipassanādhuranti dveyeva dhurāni bhikkhū”ti.

"The duty of study and the duty of insight. These are the only two duties, bhikkhu."

-- Dhp-A 1

In a practical sense, a lay person has duties towards six groups of people:

"And how, young householder, does a noble disciple cover the six quarters?

"The following should be looked upon as the six quarters. The parents should be looked upon as the East, teachers as the South, wife and children as the West, friends and associates as the North, servants and employees as the Nadir, ascetics and brahmans as the Zenith.

-- DN 31 (Narada, trans)

These are considered practical responsibilities, because obvious practical problems arise when a lay person fails to fulfil them.

Generally speaking, a monk need concern him or herself with practical responsibilities towards fellow monastics (including teachers and preceptors) and lay disciples.

That being said, a monk may at times find him or herself in a position of needing to fulfil practical responsibilities to one's parents; if they are sick, destitute, etc. To this end, there are disciplinary exceptions across the board for taking care of one's parents, including in regards to giving medical treatment and food, visiting during the rains retreat, etc.

This would seem to suggest an obviously practical encouragement for monks to care for their parents as appropriate / necessary.

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    Thanks for your answer rev sir. But if parents are living a non Dhammic life isn't it the responsibility of the son/daughter to live amongst them and still maintain practice? I am not sure which outweighs which, the need for self liberation or the debt owed to parents for having given birth in this realm? Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 14:40
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    @user3743672, that debt can only be paid if one make one's parents realize the Dhamma. In other words, lead them to enlightenment. You don't have to be a lay person to do that. Take the example of the chief disciple most venerable Sariputta Thera. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 14:56
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    @user3743672 no, I don't think it is. It is the responsibility of every individual to seek out their own enlightenment. Sometimes that involves helping others, sometimes not. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 15:14
  • @user3743672 I don't think that giving one's parents the Dhamma necessarily means converting them into becoming practical buddhists, although that would be a good thing. The Dhamma contains many things which lead a person to goodness, and if one's parents aren't willing to convert, I think we can encourage our parents as best we can in whatever part of the Dhamma that they can accept. For example, helping your parents improve in virtue is a part of the Dhamma.
    – Bakmoon
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 15:01
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    @bakmoon my intention was never to convert but only to help them gain more merits by gaining and sharing my own. Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 17:21

You stated the following as an unquestioned fact:

But monks who decide to ordain also have responsibility towards parents.

You tagged this so I'd like to add this to other answers: there's a modern view which says,

  • Parents have a responsibility towards their children
  • Children do not have a similar (parental) responsibility towards their parents.

This attitude (the question of what if anything are children's responsibility towards their parents) varies from country to country and from one society to the next, and one family to the next.

This (that children aren't responsible) is an lesson which is taught to children, especially when the parents are or have a problem:

  • If a parent is alcoholic
  • If the parents divorce
  • If there's child abuse, spousal abuse
  • If a parent tries to be too controlling or selfish

People are responsible for their own lives. You can choose to help, perhaps want to help but, even if you want to, your ability to help might be limited.

Children might feel guilty for their parents' problems. There are people in modern society who would tell those children that they should not feel themselves responsible for their parents' problems.

Some say you have a debt to your parents: "I bore you, I fed you, I changed your diapers, I educated you, etc."

Some say you have no debt to your parents: e.g. because your relationship with them is not a contract or because it's a contract which you couldn't choose.

This isn't a good answer because it's not specifically about monks or Buddhism, but perhaps it's worth mentioning.


As far as I know, only the first five years new monks are advised to stay away from the family as to not disturb their formative practice.

Becoming a monk does not stop one from meeting and taking care of your parents. I've heard mentioned quite a few times that Ajahn Brahm used to visit his mother. I'd listened to a talk by Ajahn Viradhammo where he mentioned how he had taken care of his sick mother for almost a decade in Canada until she passed away, which was a very touching and inspiring example. Ajahn Suchart Abhijatto who is a student of Ajahn Maha Boowa mentioned moving to Wat Yansangwaram to be closer to his family.

Sure, you can practice and inspire your parents as a layperson. But, there are obvious advantages in being a monastic. If the right community is chosen, one is surrounded by a sangha of like minded and inspiring people whose aim is Nibanna and a more laid back, natural and peaceful environment compared to urban lifestyle. Also, in your later years you can be a source of happiness for several people by giving Dhamma.

If this is not the case, it would be counter productive to join a Sangha and you are better off with lay practice. Nothing worse than a temple where people's energies are diverted in gaining power and fame rather than practicing towards the ultimate goal. So, it is very important to do your homework before ordaining.

Ultimately, this is a very personal decision to ordain or not. The most important things is to practice until Stream Winning at least. For example, Anathapindika had the same dilemma of whether to ordain or take care of his business. The Buddha was able to understand his Kamma and answered to him (paraphrase) that it is perfectly fine to be a layperson and continue to make Punna (merit).

  • Welcome . Glad it helped.
    – Luv
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 11:41

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