It appears to me that this is incompatible with Buddhist teachings. Life will bring suffering, and it'll not be a kind and easy journey. So why be thankful?

On the other hand, if you weren't an arhat then you were going to be reborn in some way. If you were born in some type of affluent family with good values etc., then I guess you could be thankful.

  • Are you saying that "be thankful" is Buddhist teaching, and wondering why? Or are you saying that you don't know whether "be thankful" is Buddhist teaching? You enclosed the phrase in "quotation marks": if it is quote, can you say where you're quoting it from?
    – ChrisW
    Dec 16, 2014 at 20:21
  • 1
    The phrase is in quotations because this is what I have heard often when children are angry with their mom or whatever... I think it's a common thing to say, at least in my part of the world. I'm wondering if it is congruent/compatible with the buddhist point of view.
    – DLV
    Dec 16, 2014 at 21:06

4 Answers 4


From the Anguttara Nikaya 2.32

"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."

Gratitude is a Buddhist concept. Below is an essay on Gratitude in Buddhism by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Anguttara Nikaya The Further-factored Discourses


As a Western Buddhist, I'd say the advice is incongruent on the grounds of the First Noble Truth, and incongruent because child neglect and child abandonment exist in the world; but on the other hand the advice is congruent because mother and farther generally teach a lot of virtue and useful skills.

Ultimately though it's a worldly matter where morality (sīla) is called for. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

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    The Buddhist version of the 'Golden Rule' might be very slightly different: i.e. the examples given in Wikipedia are all, "Don't treat others as you would not like to be treated", especially as a reason for non-violence.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 17, 2014 at 12:12

One reason why it is congruent with Buddhist thought is that it's better than some alternatives: for example, thinking, "I hate my stupid parents, they wronged me, they never gave me enough, I wish I'd never been born" is unhappy.

Gratitude can help be an antidote for those feelings: in the same way that compassion is recommended.

There are some limits to this gratitude, or minor limits to the obligation that might be implied by gratitude. For example there are stories of people (starting with Gautama himself) who went against their parent's wishes, by choosing "the holy life" instead of becoming a householder as their parents wanted them to.

There's something about this story for example, which makes me think that she's able to feel "debt free" partially because she is willing to 'give her gratitude' to the supporter who gave her the robe. Perhaps "gift" and "gratitude" are supposed to arise together (co-originate), that's the natural (free) way of things.


I have to part company here and say that expressing gratitude for being brought into the world (or for breeding) contradicts the 1st Noble Truth.

Sutras should be taken with a grain of salt. Test them, apply what works, and dispense with the rest. Don't hold anything as being worthy of veneration just because it's a Sutra. While many Sutras are profound, many are contradictory, incoherent or just plain nonsense.

So work it out for yourself. If life is Dukkha, then why be happy (and express gratitude) that you were brought into it? If (as some Buddhists claim) it's because it's an opportunity to practice, then ask if you'd feel similarly grateful to someone who broke your legs and thus gave you an opportunity to heal.

This isn't to say that we should harbor ill will because of this; it is what it is, and our energy is best spent making the most of where we are. But acting like we were done a favor by being thrown face first into Dukkha strikes me as disingenuous.

I believe this is the result of politics. At some point Buddhism needed to appeal to laypeople who had families, or to the politico/social order, and the result are teachings like this.

None of this is to say that laypeople can't benefit greatly from Buddhism.

Conclusion: Don't take anything seriously just because it's a Sutra.

  • I recently had my finger broken by someone. I had to have surgery because the break was so bad. I am very grateful for that person. I am grateful for the experience as well. I have been able to look into my own impermanence. My finger did not heal properly and I can no longer make a fist. When I look at my deformed finger it reminds me of impermanence and that brings me great joy and happiness. I am very thankful for this experience.
    – Thien
    Dec 17, 2014 at 20:30
  • My parents could have easily (but didn't) hold a grudge against me for being born and interfering with their lives/plans. I think I'm supposed to believe that I wanted to be born (whether that was a sensible desire to have is another matter, but it was my desire). And I'm grateful not for their conceiving me (they didn't do that on purpose) but for the so-many things which they did do deliberately to help me afterwards: feed me, clothe me, talk with me, listen to me, help me when I'm sick, etc. Nice parents, I was lucky.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 17, 2014 at 22:00
  • Also, Life Isn't Just Suffering
    – ChrisW
    Dec 18, 2014 at 2:19
  • @ChrisW Well, it isn't how we're treated, but being born itself that I was challenging with regards to gratitude. I agree that life isn't just suffering, nor will I claim (or not claim) that the pleasure/pain balance even falls on the side of pain. However, my response was with regards to a particular reading of the 1st Noble Truth which puts a priority on suffering. Perhaps another approach to the original poster's question is to analyze/challenge the assumptions behind that particular interpretation of the 1st Noble Truth?
    – R. Barzell
    Dec 18, 2014 at 13:19
  • I suppose I agree with you (about being born: I'm not sure whether that is of itself a kindness). The reason given in the Kataññu Suttas is about how we're treated, "Why is that? Mother & father do much for their children. They care for them, they nourish them, they introduce them to this world."
    – ChrisW
    Dec 18, 2014 at 22:45

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