More on families

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of AN4.258, “Families”:

Bhikkhus, whatever families do not last long after attaining abundance of wealth, all do not last long for four reasons, or a particular one among them. What four? (1) They do not seek what has been lost; (2) they do not repair what has become decrepit; (3) they overindulge in eating and drinking; or (4) they appoint an immoral woman or man to be their chief. Whatever families do not last long after attaining abundance of wealth, all do not last long for these four reasons, or a particular one among them.

Bhikkhus, whatever families last long after attaining abundance of wealth, all last long for four reasons, or a particular one among them. What four? (1) They seek what has been lost; (2) they repair what has become decrepit; (3) they are moderate in eating and drinking; and (4) they appoint a virtuous woman or man to be their chief. Whatever families last long after attaining abundance of wealth, all last long for these four reasons, or a particular one among them.

This sutta describes a particular form of family function and dysfunction, having to do with our priorities after the necessities of food, lodging, and safety are in place.

I’m unsure what the Buddha meant when he said “They seek what has been lost”. He may have been talking about lost sheep or goats, representing a careful husbanding of resources, perhaps pointing to the fact that wealth, once acquired, can easily be frittered away through neglect or inattention.

“They repair what has become decrepit” – Not keeping our homes and other property in good repair may reflect a careless attitude. What do our immediate surroundings say about us?

“They are moderate in eating and drinking” – It is easy for us to be seduced into building our social lives around increasingly exotic food and drink, but does this really serve our purposes? Do we indulge in overconsumption? Do we seek emotional comfort in alcohol, drugs or overeating? The Buddha is warning us to examine these activities with a discerning eye.

“They appoint an immoral woman or man to be their chief”  – Many families have a sort of “chief” who is an exemplar and a source of guidance. Who is the chief in the extended family? Who is the moral compass? Is it us? A parent or grandparent? A wise aunt or uncle? This role can be shared. It is important, though, not to allow a person who causes harm to become the emotional hub of the family wheel. In some families a matriarch or patriarch who has already passed away still serves as the guiding light.

These are just a few of the qualities that can make a family not only last, but provide stability and joy to a network of others. Such families are welcome and appreciated wherever they’re found. We’re invited to reflect on the particulars of the places and people that make up our homes, and on how well we care for them.

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Filed under Causes and results, General, Livelihood, Relationships

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