If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Buddhist ethical conduct including the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by DNS » Fri Dec 08, 2017 5:12 am

Here is one of the previous threads on this topic:
viewtopic.php?f=16&t=23194

binocular
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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by binocular » Fri Dec 08, 2017 12:01 pm

retrofuturist wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 3:43 am
It isn't just suffering, or else we wouldn't be here, because we'd have all committed suicide.
It's not clear how this holds. Don't underestimate the power of cynicism.
The fact we're having this conversation now suggests we've decided life is worth living, and by virtue of that, it renders your premise moot.
With this, too, it's not clear how it holds. There's a decisive scene in the film "The Shawshank Redemption" where the main character states, "/I/t comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'." But I doubt many people are at this juncture on a daily basis, or any kind of regular basis at all. If anything, it seems to me that many people stay alive by a kind of inertia, doing their best to altogether avoid the question of whether life is worth living or not.
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by seeker242 » Fri Dec 08, 2017 12:23 pm

mddrill wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 3:36 am
Wouldn't that be bringing a child into an existence which is suffering?
I would argue that a Buddhist having a child is more ethical than not. :smile: One could say it's ethical because bringing a child into a Buddhist family and raising them with Buddhist ethics and values, and teaching them Buddhist practices, this will be very beneficial for that being.
That being will be reborn regardless. Much better to be reborn as a Buddhist. The rebirth process for a being will not stop simply because another decides to not have children.

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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by mal4mac » Fri Dec 08, 2017 12:25 pm

retrofuturist wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 3:43 am

It isn't just suffering, or else we wouldn't be here, because we'd have all committed suicide.
Mild, chronic depression is quite common, but most dysthymics don't kill themselves:

https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/ ... ysthymia#1

As this can go on all day, every day, then (waking) life can be *just* suffering.

Even if you aren't depressed, if you stop to reflect for a moment, then you realise (again) how unsatisfactory life is! So, if you are an upbeat sort of person, you might be feeling good, but a few moments reflection will put a stop to that :twisted:.
- Mal

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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by mal4mac » Fri Dec 08, 2017 12:33 pm

DNS wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 3:53 am
Continuing with what retro said, it's the unenlightened life that is suffering. We can greatly reduce the suffering or even eliminate it, as we progress on the Path.
But there are chronic depressives out there, and people in permanent physical pain, who don't think their suffering can be eliminated or reduced, but they don't kill themselves. They might have something to live for, maybe something as simple as knitting clothes for poor babies (just read an article on an old folks home where one "long suffering" lady kept going by doing this...) Then again, they might just stare at the wall in a state of never-ending boredom and depression (that old folks home again...) but they don't kill themselves!
- Mal

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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by DooDoot » Fri Dec 08, 2017 12:35 pm

mddrill wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 3:36 am
Wouldn't that be bringing a child into an existence which is suffering?
In my opinion, this does not fall under the category of ethics (sila) in Buddhism because having children can give unenlightened people the opportunity to do good & live unselfishly. However, enlightened people who actually realise in their heart that conditioned life is unsatisfactory I imagine are generally repulsed at the idea of having children. This probably includes the personal knowledge that the struggle to reach enlightenment was so difficult thus they would not endure another through such uncertainty & difficultly given the Pali suttas teach enlightenment is rare.
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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by ieee23 » Fri Dec 08, 2017 4:16 pm

mddrill wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 3:36 am
If life is suffering,

The Buddha never taught "Life Is Suffering"

7 Things The Buddha Never Said
Whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. - MN 19

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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by dharmacorps » Fri Dec 08, 2017 6:23 pm

I look at it this way. Having kids is essentially in and of itself a neutral action. You don't need any special qualities to do it. Your intentions could be good, bad, or neutral. You could have kids because you love your spouse and want to raise a child together in a positive, loving environment. That would be good. You could have kids because thats what people do (neutral) or an accidental pregnancy. Or you could have kids to download all of your neuroses and inadequacies into the child and work out your own issues through them (bad).

But to the question about not having kids to not create more suffering, I don't see it as a valid observation because the suffering will be there in the universe in some permutation of being regardless of how many people there are. There just may be one less number in the human realm. They'll be somewhere else though.

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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by Stephen18 » Fri Dec 08, 2017 6:52 pm

I've thought about this, too. Siddhattha Gotama (before he became a Buddha) had a son. But maybe that was an unenlightened decision of his.

If you give someone birth, you are also thereby giving them old age, sickness, and death, and a whole lot of other forms of suffering that are part of life, including psychological sufferings and physical pains. That's what your kid(s) will have to endure. And you gave them birth. On the other hand, it's their vipāka (fruit of kamma from past lives), so you are not wholly to blame.

And on the other hand, as Sarath said, you are giving them a precious and fortunate human birth - more fortunate than the heavens since it is here that you can escape the whole cycle. And you as a Buddhist, if you raise Buddhist children and they become monastics, you've basically given them a chance to escape the whole cycle of saṃsāra! Parents also do much for their children: they raise them up, care for them, teach them. So if you're a good parent, you are doing much good for your children and they can become decent human beings that would be of benefit to society. Even though life will be sometimes painful for them, you can help them out in various ways in their struggles, and since we all have had struggles in our lives, we all have to learn from them in order to become better people, and you can also help them in that regard from your own experience. So, overall parents can be of great benefit to their children (well, there are those parents who abuse their children or just don't care for them, too) and that in itself is a great selfless act.

On the other hand, you are giving them life, and life does contain a lot of suffering, so it might be said that it's better not to bring someone into such a painful existence, but the fact is that those beings are already part of saṃsāra - they just haven't been born from you. Whether you give them life or someone else does, they are bound to be born unless they have already attained Nibbāna. So you're not really giving them life - they already have it.

I have personally decided not to ever have children - even if I didn't plan to be a monk, although that would also depend on my partner, so it's not 100% sure. It's not an easy thing to be a parent, and there can be a lot of suffering not just for the children but for the parents themselves, too - if something were to happen to the children, or if they were to be born with a disability. I personally wouldn't want my children to experience any suffering, since I know from first hand what it is and I've seen it in countless other people, and although it can make you a better person overall, it depends on your ability to overcome it - I've had that ability but not everyone does. Overall, I am too compassionate to put another being through this, so that's why I've decided not to have kids. On the other hand, there is the possibility of a happy family life and lots of joy and interesting experiences, but when I weigh them up, I recognize the inevitable pains and problems, the sicknesses and then the old age and finally death and grief involved. I think it's not worth it - for me. Ultimately, my dream is to become a monk within a few years, so I think it's fair to say I'll remain childless.
Last edited by Stephen18 on Fri Dec 08, 2017 6:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by bodom » Fri Dec 08, 2017 6:54 pm

mddrill wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 3:36 am
Wouldn't that be bringing a child into an existence which is suffering?
Life is not suffering. Life contains suffering. It also contains much joy and happiness as well.

:namaste:
The heart of the path is so simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice.

Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing.

Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this-just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle.

- Ajahn Chah

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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by Stephen18 » Fri Dec 08, 2017 7:03 pm

bodom wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 6:54 pm
mddrill wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 3:36 am
Wouldn't that be bringing a child into an existence which is suffering?
Life is not suffering. Life contains suffering. It also contains much joy and happiness as well.

:namaste:
Yes, that is better put. But you can say that life is unsatisfactory (for us putthujanas). Sabbe saṅkhārā dukkha - all conditioned things are dukkha, dukkha having three levels: (1) dukkha-dukkhata: ordinary suffering and pain; (2) viparinama-dukkhata: suffering due to change, meaning that even pleasant experience are dukkha because they are bound to pass away, and (3) saṅkhāra-dukkhata: basic unsatisfactoriness or dissatisfaction of all conditioned formations. So, it's just a linguistic problem because the term dukkha is so all-inclusive - it includes all three feelings: happiness or pleasure, suffering or pain, and neutral feeling. No English word can really do it justice, but I like 'suffering' as the best translation, because I've seen quite a lot of it in saṃsāra, but since there's also joy and happiness and other positive emotions, you can't say "life is just suffering", but it's best to put is "life contains suffering", indeed. Overall, though, since we're not Enlightened, we are still dwelling in dukkha, and our lives, no matter how pleasant they might be, are still unsatisfactory. To an Enlightened One, however, who is so much happier and at peace than us, our 'unsatisfactoriness' to him or her might seem to be actual suffering!

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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by DNS » Fri Dec 08, 2017 9:18 pm

dharmacorps wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 6:23 pm
I look at it this way. Having kids is essentially in and of itself a neutral action. You don't need any special qualities to do it. Your intentions could be good, bad, or neutral. You could have kids because you love your spouse and want to raise a child together in a positive, loving environment. That would be good. You could have kids because thats what people do (neutral) or an accidental pregnancy. Or you could have kids to download all of your neuroses and inadequacies into the child and work out your own issues through them (bad).

But to the question about not having kids to not create more suffering, I don't see it as a valid observation because the suffering will be there in the universe in some permutation of being regardless of how many people there are. There just may be one less number in the human realm. They'll be somewhere else though.
I agree with dharmacorps, that having kids is itself a neutral action, however, depending upon intentions could be either good, bad, or neutral.

I think not having children by itself is also a neutral action. The only way it might be a negative action, possibly, is if one gets married and one's spouse wants to have children, but you don't want to believing it will be too much work or too much cost (assuming one really does have the means to support them).

But otherwise and in most cases having or not having children is a neutral action, no requirement and no extra points either way in Buddhism.

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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by dharmacorps » Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:02 pm

I didn't think of it, but of course not having kids could be a negative thing if you do it because you hate them or have ill-will towards them. But I suppose if you hate kids it is probably better to not have them rather than have them!

I don't have kids, by choice. Me and the wife when we got togethr just couldn't come up with any reason TO have them-- we realized if we did it it would just be because "that's what people do", which isn't good reason. I think you should have good reasons to have kids-- that's just me though. I realize it isn't always a choice though. I've never regretted our choice, and in fact many times been grateful we made that choice.

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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by pilgrim » Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:11 pm

Suffering exists in every life in samsara. Being born as a human is extremely rare and of immense benefit. Only a human can attain to an Ariya. Just consider how much more precious is attaining a birth as a human to a parent who is practising the Dhamma. Denying a being that opportunity when you could give it cannot be a skillful act.

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Re: If life is suffering, then wouldn't it be unethical to have children?

Post by Stephen18 » Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:18 pm

pilgrim wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:11 pm
Suffering exists in every life in samsara. Being born as a human is extremely rare and of immense benefit. Only a human can attain to an Ariya. Just consider how much more precious is attaining a birth as a human to a parent who is practising the Dhamma. Denying a being that opportunity when you could give it cannot be a skillful act.
Dear Pilgrim, I agree with everything except the last sentence. I hope you are not saying that it's unskilful not to procreate children if one is a Buddhist. Otherwise, I would be in trouble... :smile:

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