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Adhering to the ultimate kindness
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The Sutra about the Deep Kindness of Parents and the Difficulty of Repaying It

This sacred text and eye-opener is also called Filial Piety Sutra. A retelling follows, and references to the whole sutra is below.


Buddha once led his assembly of wandering monks on a walk toward the south. Suddenly they came upon a pile of bones beside the road. The Bhagavan (Blessed One) faced them and bowed respectfully.

Buddha's personal servant Ananda asked him, "Why?"

Buddha told Ananda, "This pile of bones could have belonged to my ancestors. That is the reason I now bow to them."

Ananda said to the Buddha, "Blessed One, when men are alive in the world they adorn their bodies with robes, belts, shoes, hats and other fine attire to appear OK. When women are alive, they put on cosmetics, perfumes, powders, and elegant fragrances in order to appear better."

Buddha commented further, "Most women also give birth to and raise children, quite as an inborn duty. Each child relies on its mother's milk for life and nourishment. Each child drinks a lot of its mother's milk. It may deplete the mother unless she gets good nourishment."

When Ananda heard these words, he felt a pain inside and said to the Blessed One, "How can one repay one's mother's kindness and virtue?"

Buddha answered, "By the ninth month the foetus is ready to assimilate the different nutrients of the foods - child's food. There is more into it too. And during the tenth month the foetus is ready to be born.

Now, to explain more clearly, there are ten types of kindness bestowed by the mother on the child:

  1. The kindness of providing protection and care while the child is in the womb.
  2. The kindness of bearing suffering during the birth.
  3. The kindness of forgetting all the pain once the child has been born.
  4. The kindness of eating the bitter herself and saving the sweet for the child.
  5. The kindness of moving the child to a dry place and lying in the wet herself.
  6. The kindness of suckling the child at her breast and nourishing and bringing up the child.
  7. The kindness of washing away the unclean.
  8. The kindness of always thinking of the child when it has travelled far.
  9. The kindness of deep care and devotion.
  10. The kindness of ultimate pity and sympathy.

To elaborate on each:

1. As the months pass, the mother's fine clothes no longer hang properly, and so her mirror gathers dust.

2. Each morning the mother may be seriously nauseated, and also drowsy and sluggish.

3. Upon hearing that the child is healthy, the exhausted mother is overcome with joy.

4. Her love is weighty and her kindness is deep and so is her compassion. A compassionate mother doesn't speak of her own hunger while feeding her dear child.

5. Covering the child with her sleeve, she protects it from the wind and cold. She does this happily so long as the child is comfortable.

6. The kindness of parents is such that they know no hatred or anger toward their offspring. The parents care for and protect it together until their dying days.

7. She will even forego having a beautiful face; the kind mother acts solely for the sake of her sons and daughters, and willingly allows her beauty to fade.

8. Separation is painful: When the child travels afar, the mother worries in the village. Her heart is with her child.

9. The kindness of parents is deep and difficult to repay. Some undergo suffering on their child's behalf.

10. If a mother lives for a hundred years, she will worry about her eighty-year-old child!

Buddha said to Ananda, "Human beings do not consider their parents' great kindness and virtue. They are found lacking in respect for those who brought them into the world and nourished them and made them fit for living.

Parents ought to instruct and guide their children in the ways of propriety and morality as the youngsters mature into adults. They may take this responsibility and trouble upon themselves with great zeal and toil, and never speak much about their care and kindness. How sad that all too often the children are unfilial in return! When they ought to be polite, they have no decent manners, or no sense of propriety.

Children may be well taught, but if they are unfilial, they will not heed the instructions or obey the rules. Instead they are contrary and rebellious when interacting with their brothers. Their speech and actions get arrogant and they act on impulse without consulting others. Such children are immature and need to be looked after and protected by their elders.

As such children grow up, they become entirely ungrateful and contrary, rejecting both family and friends. Under the influence of evil people they soon adopt bad habits. They come to take what is false to be true.

Such children may be enticed to denounce their parents and reject their native place. They may languish in comfort and luxury. They may marry in haste and that new bond provides yet another obstruction.

In going to live in foreign places, these children may find themselves plotted against, wrongly accused and locked up in prison. Yet no one there will really care for them. When their lives come to an end, these children will never again have a happy reunion with their relatives and kin. Even when they become ghosts, their souls still cling to a lot and are unable to let go.

Others of these unfilial children may not aspire to learning, but instead become interested in strange and bizarre doctrines and delighting in practices that are utterly devoid of benefit. They may also drag their brothers into it.

If such children do live at home, they may not return home at night until late. Never do they ask about the welfare of their parents. They do not inquire after their parents' well being in the morning or the evening, every fortnight, and so on. In fact, it never occurs to these unfilial children to ever ask whether their parents have slept comfortably or rested peacefully. Such children are simply not concerned about their parents' well being. When the parents of such children grow old and their appearance becomes more and more withered and emaciated, they are made to feel ashamed to be seen in public and are subjected to abuse and oppression.

The widower parents of ungrateful children may be left alone in empty houses, may endure cold and hunger, but no one takes heed of their plight. They may sigh from morning to night. It is only right that children should provide for ageing parents with food and drink of delicious flavours, but irresponsible children are sure to overlook such deep duties.

The parents' kind thoughts for their offspring is extensive. How difficult it is to repay being unfilial!"

On hearing Buddha speak about the depth of one's parents' kindness, all the monks that followed him lamented loudly, "We are all offenders who have never awakened, like those who travel in a dark night. We have just now understood our offenses. Please tell us how we can repay the deep kindness of our parents!"

Buddha said, "It is hard to repay the deep kindness and efforts of one's parents."

The weeping monks asked again, "Oh, how can we repay the deep kindness of our parents?"

Buddha answered, "Recite this Sutra on their behalf. Repent of transgressions and offenses on their behalf. For the sake of your parents, hold the precept of pure eating, and cultivate blessings. If you are able to do these things, you are being a filial child."

Buddha told Ananda, "If a person is not filial, when his life ends he will fall into suffering that is difficult to take, difficult to bear."

To the assembly: "If you wish to repay the kindness of your parents, then print this Sutra. This is truly repaying their kindness, for as a result Buddhas can at once cause the parents of such people to be reborn in the heavens and to leave behind the sufferings of the hells."

At that time, Ananda and the rest of the Great Assembly wept and declared, "We will never go against the Tathagata's sagely teachings."


Buddha on Filial Piety, kindness of parents, and difficulty of repaying it, Filial Piety Sutra, Literature  

The Sutra about the Deep Kindness of Parents and the Difficulty of Repaying It. (Filial Piety Sutra). Abstracted from the translation by Upasika Terri Nicholson, as reviewed by Bhikshuni Heng Tao, edited by Bhikshuni Heng Ch'ih and Upasika Susuan Rounds, and certified by Abbot Hua and Bhikshuni Heng Tao.
    Buddhism Study and Practice Group

Pali Canon collections:

AN - Anguttara Nikaya (Collection of Discourses arranged according to numbers)

DN - Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses)

MN - Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Middle-Length Discourses)

SN - Samyutta Nikaya (Collection of Kindred Sayings)


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