The support of mother and father,
The welfare of spouse and children,
Engaging in unconflicting livelihood;
This is the greatest blessing.
Selfless giving, and living by the Dhamma,
Looking after relatives and friends,
And blameless actions;
This is the greatest blessing.
These verses regard the ability to lead a virtuous life in the world as a great blessing. In the previous post we looked at right relationship with parents. Next up is spouses/partners and children (if any); how can we assure their welfare?
Of course, we can’t guarantee anything, but we can consciously direct our actions in a way that we think will lead to the welfare and happiness of our partner and children. We’ll make mistakes (of course) and sometimes forget our good intentions, but if we keep on getting up after we fail and point ourselves in the right direction, then we are fulfilling our best selves.
What did the Buddha say about how a husband and wife should treat each other?
In five ways should a wife…be respected by a husband: by honoring, not disrespecting, being faithful, sharing authority, and by giving gifts.
And, the wife so respected reciprocates with compassion in five ways: by being well-organized, being kindly disposed to the in-laws and household workers, being faithful, looking after the household goods, and being skilful and diligent in all duties. from DN 31
I really can’t improve on this list of suggested duties (from 2500 years ago!); I just want to note that being faithful is the one item that is essential to both sides of the partnership. Without that trust, I believe everything falls apart. It’s also clear to me that the Buddha wasn’t just talking about sexual fidelity, but a remembering, at all times, in all situations, to consider the partner. It’s the kind of faithfulness, very similar to loyalty, that I feel for my husband and children. I don’t make any decisions without considering what the effects might be on my intimate family.
And how should respected parents treat their children?
…the mother and father so respected reciprocate with compassion in five ways: by restraining [the child] from wrongdoing, guiding [the child] towards good actions, training [the child] in a profession, supporting the choice of a suitable spouse, and in due time, handing over the inheritance. from DN 31
Every parent who’s paying attention will try to instil good values in her/his child. It works best if both parents agree on what those values are, so I’m going to recommend (again) generosity and the five precepts as a starting point. If a child sees her parents living by wholesome principles, she’s likely to take those principles as the norm. Helping a child become self-sustaining as an adult needs to be consciously done; the society will not fill in what the parents leave out.
Just this week I read in an advice column about a family in which cutting one or both children out of the parents’ (or step-parents’) wills had caused ongoing pain for generations. Even if the only inheritance is photographs or household goods, most people have an extraordinary sensitivity to fairness or its absence with respect to what is passed on.
I would argue that leaving our actions to chance will not produce the harmony we want. It takes a more focused effort – deciding what we think is important and monitoring ourselves so that our actions and words conform to our best intentions.