Support for One’s Parents (Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing)

revised on 2021-03-16

By Venerable Uttamo Thera(尊者 鄔達摩 長老)

The commentary explained the support for one’s parents as helping them in washing their feet, doing massage, bathing them and provide them with the four requisites. The reasons for attending upon them were: they help their children in many ways, desire for the children goodness with love and compassion, etc. therefore, the children are still not be able to repay their parents’ kindness and gratitude even they carry the parents around on the heads for 100 years. Parents raised them, nurtured and showed them the world; so consider the parents as their first teacher. Therefore, the blessing of support for one’s parents brought praise and goodness here and would bring happiness after death in future. In the Aṅguttara Nikāya, there are four suttas describing the relationship between parents and children which will maintain a harmony and well-being of a family.

The Buddha said in sutta no. 34 of the “Book of the Two”: There were two persons whom men could not easily repaid, i.e. parents (AN. 2.34); even we are attending on them in many different ways; such as massaging, bathing, rubbing their limbs, cleaning the parents’ urine and excrement; even one help them become a universal monarch (cakkavatti rāja) who was the most wealthy and powerful man on earth.

The reasons were: the parents helped the children a lot, brought them up, feed them and educated them to know the world. And then the Buddha mentioned the ways how to repay the parents' love, kindness and gratitude. These were: helping them establish in faith (Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha), in virtuous behavior, in generosity and in wisdom. Only in all these ways, one had done enough and paid our debts and gratitude, it could even be said to be more than enough. These are considered to be related to spiritual development.

Book Three; Sutta no. 31: like a Brahma. (AN. 3.31 Sabrahmaka suttaṃ)

In the sutta, the Buddha referred to the parents in three ways: Brahma, the first teachers and the gift worthy persons if they revered by their children at home. The reason was they had love and compassion for their children. Therefore, a wise person should treat the parents with respect and special attention. Give them food and drink, clothes and bedding, etc. The children should do the services of massaging, bathing and washing the parents’ feet. With all these services to parents, the person was praised in this world and it brings happiness to him in heaven after his death. (Why did the Buddha referr to parents as Brahma god? Parents had love, compassion, appreciative joy to the children. These were the qualities of Brahma)

Book Five; sutta no. 39: A son (AN. 5.39 Puttasuttaṃ )

In the sutta, the Buddha mentioned the parents wished for a son to be born in their family with the following five prospects. These were:

① They supports him; so he would support them
② The son would do work for them
③ The family lineage would be extended
④ The son would manage the inheritance
⑤ After the parents’ death, the son would make offering on their behalf.

The Buddha continued to say that wise people wished for a son with these five prospects, so good people with gratitude and appreciation supported their parents. Remembering how the parents helping them in the past, he did the same things for them.

By following the parents’ advice and suggestions, the children with faith and virtue continued the family lineage. These children were worthy of praise by others.

The Buddha’s teaching on the relationship between parents and children was very similar to the teaching of the Chinese sages. Filial obligation is the heavenly way and Dhamma and that everyone needs to do it.

For any sage and noble being, it was the same and like a truth. Without it human is not humane anymore. It can be also like a foundation for other goodness to develop. The Chinese history and civilization is a very good evidence.

The Indian history and civilization may be the same reason lasting for thousands of year. Human beings are on the way to disaster and destruction if lacking of this important blessing. How can human beings be survived lacking of compassion love, gratitude, consideration, respect, peace and harmony starting from the family life?

Surely it is the way to down fall, from human world into the Wok.

Everyone’s life has duties. We have filial obligations to support and look after our parents. Nowadays human beings are very weak in this duty and even neglect about it. This is not a good sign for society. It is the sign for selfishness, ingratitude, disrespect, no empathy, no love, etc. Someone neglects this duty and obligation; it is sure that he cannot be good to others also.

The Buddha and the ancient sages emphasized this duty strongly. In the whole Chinese history and culture, there were highly developed philosophy and practices in this virtue as filial piety. A man who does not have this virtue will never have progress and no future. Why must we support for one's parents? There are many good reasons for it.

Someone has this virtue can be called a humane person, and without it, a beastly person. If anyone has a common sense, this is not difficult to understand. Our beginning of life totally depends on parents. Our survivals in life are starting from our mothers’ wombs until to grow up can take our own responsibilities. The most fundamental importance is the basic education which our parents, especially the mothers, taught and trained us when we were young. This basic education is on morality and virtues.

Nowadays, most people neglect and overlook its importance. Mothers are our first teachers, and our progress in the right and wholesome directions are in their hands. It is also true that our failure in the wrong and unwholesome direction is in their hands. Good emperors, leaders, sages, and great people came from the care of good, intelligent, and wise parents. We even can say filial obligations are the foundation of all goodness to arise. It represents gratitude, respect, love, sympathy, and concern for others.

There is a saying: “The hand swings the cradle conquers the world.” A woman has the most important role within the society, even those people in the society of today maybe not aware of it. In ancient time Chinese sages and wise people knew this point very clear and profoundly. Therefore, they created and handed it down a lot of written records in texts and books from generation to generation.

In ancient China even before the Buddha, there were teaching by sages to pregnant women how to look after the baby inside the womb for the baby's physical and mental well-being. As far as I know the first record about it was the Chou Dynasty related to Emperor Chou Wun Wang. This great emperor was quite well known in Chinese history and an intelligent, wise and a noble. The record mentioned how his mother (the Queen) looked after the embryo during the pregnancy.

This ancient Chinese education for mother is called Thaī Gyauk (Thaī Gyauk, prenatal education) in Mandarin. So any woman who wants a physically and mentally well-being child should look after one's mind and action during the pregnancy and after gave birth until some years while teaching and training one's child.

This kind of teaching was not related to Chinese tradition alone. It was also mentioned in some Buddhist texts ancient or modern. It’s even mentioned how the bodhisatta's mother Mayadevi looked after the pregnancy in the Buddha's story. It was mentioned the following episode on the life of the Buddha in some Burmese Buddhist texts. Queen Mayadevi observed the eight precepts (uposatha sila) even sometime before the bodhisatta took rebirth from Tusita Heaven. Some famous Burmese monks' biographies also mentioned about it. But the Chinese tradition had text books on this subject. The other traditions seemed to be oral. The Buddha and Chinese sages knew the power of the mind and its effect on the physical phenomena.

Nowadays with the advanced of science and technology, some scientists also knew it by research and experiment. Some years ago, a Burmese woman in a remote area of upper Burma gave birth to two children, and their physical appearances looked like European. The cause of the appearance was nothing to do with human genetics. Two French medical staffs went there and gave the people injections for health reason. But this woman was afraid of westerner and hid in her house. So the village headman and others pulled her out and gave her an injection. She was so afraid that this incident had a very strong impression in her mind. As a result she gave birth to two children like Europeans.

There was a Burmese monk whose head had many scars. When other monks asked him how he got these scars, he said it was with him from birth. In his past life (before this present life) he was beaten by a bandit on the head. He died with the serious injuries on the head which related to his present scars. His mind was focusing on the pain which had strong impression on the mind.

Sometimes ago there was a documentary film on this subject by westerners. There was a scene of two pregnant western women dancing with their big bare bellies with music playing near them. It was too ugly to see and not a pleasant music. They did it in the wrong way. Woman folks who want good children should research the ancient Chinese text or book in this subject. But there is a very important factor we should not forget. This is moral standard or moral foundation within oneself.

Unwholesome mental states or mind with verbal and physical actions also in the same way. Smelly and putrid fish will never attract bees to come near it but dirty flies are rushing. This is natural law.

She can teach and train her children to become a noble person, a sage and a great man for the society, and also can produce a wicked, evil, dangerous, and criminal for the society. A good, intelligent, and wise daughter is born to good parents. And then later in life will become a good wife and mother. So, a happy, peaceful, and harmonious society is a lot of dependence on women. Therefore, it is not surprising that filial obligations or filial piety are the fundamental quality or virtue in Chinese culture, philosophy, education, and practice in Chinese history.

Supporting for one's parents is a noble action and must have to be done. With its obligation and action brings a lot of merit, satisfaction, and happiness. It is important to understand the gratitude of parents and should always remember it. To forget the duty and obligation is very bad indeed. We should not feel remorse or remember whatever bad things have been done before. We determine not to repeat it is enough. These things can appear near the time of death and bring more sufferings.

But for good things and on Dhamma, it is good to remember and reflect them very often, e.g., one’s own dāna and sīla, reflection on death, etc. There was a remarkable Jātaka story on a parent's love (Jāt. 540, Sāma-Jātaka). This was the story of the Bodhisatta in one of his past lives as a hermit Suvaṇṇasāma. He and both of his parents were living in a forest as ascetics. His parents were blind, and he had to look after them. One day the king of Benares came for hunting in the forest and shot Suvaṇṇasāma with a poison arrow because he mistook him as a deer.

To save his life, both parents and the female deity who was also the mother of the Bodhisatta for seven past lives in the past, each one of them made the asseveration of Truth. Both parents said that they loved him more than their lives. The deity said that her love of Suvaṇṇasāma was more than anyone she had before. With the power of their truthful asseveration made the arrow poison disappeared.

Someone can ask this question; “Of the parent's love who love is stronger?” In Dhammapada, on the Chapter of Mind (Chapter 3 Cittavagga), the story of Soreyya gave a clear-cut answer (Dhp. 043). The love of a mother is more than the father. This story was strange and interesting. It expressed the power of the mind, and we should not neglect its functioning. Soreyya, the son of a rich man and some attendants went for a bath. On the way, he met the Ven. Māha-kaccāyana, who was adjusting his robes outside the city for alms-round.

He saw the golden complexion of the Thera and thought, “How I wish the Thera were my wife, or else the complexion of my wife was like him.” As the unwholesome thought aroused in him and his sex changed into a woman. She ran away and arrived at Texila and met a rich man. She married him, and two sons were born to her. Also, there were two sons from the previous marriage as a man. Later she had the chance to meet and offer foods to the Ven. Mahākaccāyana.

She respectfully asked forgiveness to the Thera for her wrong thought on him some years before. Then the Thera said to her: “I forgive you.” As soon as these words were spoken, she changed back to a man as before. With reflection, he was feeling very weary and repulsive of all these things and left the household life and became a monk. After that, he was often asked; “Whom do you love more, the two sons you had as a father or the other two you had as a mother?” To them, he would answer that his love for those born of the womb was greater.

The important lesson we gain from here is we cannot think about things foolishly out of control. We should not neglect the mind and become its slaves and have to control and train it for one's benefit and others. Any sexual fantasy and misconduct, including homosexuality, could bring problems, dangers, and sufferings.

The Buddha compared parents with the deity of the Brahma god because they treated their children with love, sympathy, and appreciative joy and for success. We could appreciate the mother's love, if think about carefully her periods of pregnancy (9 months) and during the delivery (It must be very painful indeed, even sometimes have to risk their lives). After the delivery, she had to look after you carefully in all possible ways.

She had to feed you with her breast milk until we could take foods by ourselves. Therefore, a mother's love is enriching with courage, patience, unselfishness, care, noble, and has the healing power. When I am contemplating these things, it makes me cry. Mothers are very noble, and their love is touching to the heart. Where is breast milk coming from? It is changing from her blood.

Once a Chinese movie director kept his wife breast milk in a small bottle for some years. One day he took out and checked it. It changed back into blood. There was a story, a cow was feeding her calf, and at that time a hunter came and hit her with a spear. Instead of harming her, the spear was bent at the tip. Unselfish love is very powerful, and it has healing power.

Parents are our first teachers, especially mothers. Our progress in life depends on their education and training to us. Good and moral people, great men and sages are the outcomes of proper education and training. It has to be started from family life. Therefore, the proper duties of a mother are very important for the growth and progress of the good qualities of the child. Without a good and skillful mother, the child's future is hopeless. We cannot easily repay for the kindness and gratitude of our parents.

According to the Buddha, the best way to pay it back was helping them grow in conviction (saddhā), virtue (sīla), learning (suta), generosity (cāga) and discernment (paññā). It is very important to treat our parents very well, and cannot treat them like others, e.g., the anger you have on your parents is more harmful. Insulting the parents is like burning oneself with fire.

The Buddha mentioned seven kinds of fire in the Aggi Sutta – the Fire Discourse Aṅguttara Nikāya (AN.7.47 Dutiya-aggisuttaṃ). The fire of greed, hatred, and delusion have to be removed. The fire of parents, husband, and sages (samaṇa) have to be worshipped (showing respect and making supports). The last fire has to be taken care; that is fuel fire. A husband gives security to the family. Therefore, he has to be respected.

If someone very badly treating his or her parents and will get the same outcome from his or her children. Both of them cannot get good children of their own. This we can see in the life of King Ajātasattu. He killed his father King Bimbisāra for power. Later in life, he was also killed by his son. Again his son was killed by his grandson.

Three generations had committed patricides. Nowadays if we observe our present societies, there are more and more cases of insulting, beating, and killing parents than before. We can see more and older homeless people on the streets. These and other things are the signs of decadence in human societies. Human beings are creating their hells on Earth. These are also predictions for their future to come.

In the Dhammapada text relating to the death of Ven. Mahā Moggallāna, the Buddha mentioned to the audience the evil consequences of killing one's parents.

X Punishment (Da avagga): 7. ṇḍ Mahā Moggallāna’s story

In one of his past lives, he killed both of his blind parents because of his wicked wife. Before married this woman he was a dutiful son (shao-gi).

The Buddha taught four verses on this occasion – verse 137 to verse 140.

Verse 137 is the kammic action (cause) of killing parents (can include noble beings) and verses 138 to 140 are the results.

Verse 137 – Harm with weapons to those who are harmless and should not be harmed will soon come any of these 10 evil results.

Verse 138 to 140 are 10 evil consequences:

  1. subject to severe pain
  2. impoverishment
  3. injury to the body (e.g. loss of limbs)
  4. serious illness (e.g. leprosy)
  5. lunacy
  6. follow with misfortunes
  7. wrongful and serious accusations
  8. loss of relatives
  9. destruction of wealth with burning down houses by fire and lightening
  10. after death fall into great Hell as birth.

revised on 2021-03-16; cited from (posted on 2019-09-27)

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