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 Post subject: 'Property of humans is their children'- the Buddha
 Post Posted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 12:13 pm 
Buddhist mirror by A.G.S.Kariyawasam

'Property of humans is their children'- the Buddha

(Putta vatthu manussanam)

Once a deity visited the Buddha at Jetavana and questioned him as to what constitutes the real property for humans in general. In other words, he wanted to know what is the thing that people in general regard on their true property, prime wealth: kimsu vatthu manussanam? (Samyutta, I, P37, PTS). In answering this question the Buddha said that it is their children that people regard as their true wealth at the basic level: (putta vatthu manussaanam).

The close relationship that exists between man and his progeny as implied by the Buddha here is a condition created by mother Nature herself as her strategy for the perpetuation of the human species and accordingly, it is a biological mechanism innate to man. In this sense one's offspring is an extension of oneself into the future. This biological connection, which is a blood-relationship constituting an inalienable relationship from father to son, continues ad infinitum in an unbroken relationship in the human species.

This terminates only with one party realizing the ultimate freedom of Nirvana when further life-death continuity ceases. Therefore, in the mundane sphere, this blood relationship is a significant condition based on which humans have built up many social relationships in their day-to-day lives.

Accordingly, when a man marries a woman and begets children these latter become the property of their parents of whom they are an extension. It is this unbroken continuity of one's progeny that is expressed by the term genealogy or the commonplace term generation in human existence. When considered against this background a person's children become his or her 'property' not only in the biological sense but in the sociological sense as well because a particular genealogy identifies itself as belonging to that group personal to themselves. Hence an elder in such a group considering the progeny as his or her "property" becomes justified in that sense.

Once this "property concept" becomes established it follows that the progenitor of this progeny becomes bound with certain duties and obligations towards his or her future issues. It is this personal responsibility for one's progeny that provides the civilizing agency in this geneological continuity.

Thus the parents at all times, barring rare exceptional cases, wish to do their best for the welfare of their children, which fact necessitates bringing them up with care, educating them and doing whatever else is necessary in making them useful citizens of the country. Performing this duty towards their children is a natural duty of the parents and when it is successfully discharged such a parent can satisfy himself or herself that he or she has performed her duty by society.

Thus the personal responsibility of family lie makes this world move forward in some organized manner. In this manner, as an integral element in human civilization, this communal responsibility for one's children's welfare gradually acquired extended horizons both in the orient and the occident.

And quite significantly, this development invariably has had a major civilizing effect on man's forward march down the ages.

The sense of achievement a parent earns by fulfilling one's bounden duties in such a manner is a worthy reward without which man can hardly justify his existence on this earth unless one can boast of sufficient achievements in other fields.

A parent who neglects or illtreats his or her own children has to be treated as an anti-social and anti-religious individual, who fails in his duty by his religion as well as by society, both at individual and communal levels. The value of the family in such a set-up cannot be overemphasized because it is the ultimate natural as well as fundamental group unit of society and is therefore entitled to protection by the society at large as well as by the State.

At the basic level the family unit has to function properly for the rest to follow correctly along the prescribed path. Thus in the ultimate sense, it is the unsullied unity of man and woman as the family unit that prepares the groundwork for the successful progress of society.

Once this requirement is fulfilled the parental duo are in the correct position to make their valuable contribution to society by bringing up their children as worthy human beings useful to themselves as well as to society. This is what is expected from parents for whom children become their priceless property along with this onerous responsibility.

Successful performance of this obligation becomes a noble sense of achievement any parent can have in this world. It is in this pregnant sense that the Buddha has made the statement putta vatthu manussanam.

It is the bounden duty of parents that they should neither ill-treat nor neglect their children. When prince Rahula, the Buddhas only lay-time son was ordained by the Buddha without prior permission from the child's grandfather king Suddhodana, who was the former's guardian the latter gave vent to his feelings which words clearly illustrate the strong bond that the parents have towards their offspring.

Said he to the Buddha, "When you renounced the world it was no small pain to me: So was when Nanda did so: and now specially so in the case of Rahula: the love of a son cuts through the skin, having cut through the skin it cuts through the hide, the flesh, the sinew, the bone, the marrow:" (Tr. E. J. Thomas, The Life of the Buddha, p. 102).

This love for one's offspring, as a biological urge leading to emotional, sentimental and social dimensions, as one of the strongest of bonds in this world, is also expressed in Buddhist literature by the simile of the female cuckoo (kikee). Which lies on her eggs with her legs towards the sky with the intention of kicking off the sky if it were to fall on her eggs. This simile is cited to convey the degree of care people should observe in safeguarding the precepts they have promised to observe.

When the Buddha laid down the rule that no child should be admitted into the order without the prior consent of the parents on the request of king Suddhodana, it is the same theme that becomes highlighted. Hence there is no wonder that for humans children remain their main property as a general rule promulgated by Mother Nature herself!

This property-right can at times become mishandled in the hands of bad parents who are liable to commit the grave error of "taking possession" of their children as a personal property with which they can have their own way by controlling and utilizing them thereby violating all norms of correct parenthood. This ownership right should not be one of rigid possessiveness permitting the parents to have their own way in handling their children. This can happen in two ways.

First, if the parents were to overdo their love for children by over-fondling them such children will get spoilt in the sense that they would be far removed from the harsh realities of life and hence unable to face life's adverse situations correctly. On the other hand a parent can also spoil a child by harsh treatment. Either way it would result in a mal-adjusted personality somewhat bewildered in the battlefield of life.

These facts would show that child-rearing is a highly complex responsibility which need be carefully navigated by the dutiful parent as a mandatory requirement of social living. This is well-explained in the off-quoted Sigala Sutta wherein the parental duties towards the children are summarily enumerated, as restraining them from evil, encouraging them to do good, training them for a profession as a means of livelihood, arranging suitable marriages and handing over the family property when the time comes for it.

These human relationships as taught in Buddhism really follow the natural way in which humans generally behave. However, with the advance of materialistic sciences and modern technology such values gradually become relegated to the background along with the corresponding dehumanization process that follows these new trends. As a result man is learning to live only with the head sans his heart.

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