Does the Filial Piety Sutta exist?


I came across The Filial Piety Sutta in Buddhanet.

Does it really exist? Why is there mention that most women have less wisdom and also their bones will turn black if they breastfeed? I wonder if there is any scientific evidence on women’s bones turning black?

Any input is greatly appreciated.


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The sutta description reads

This is one of the most popular Chinese Mahayana Sutras.

and indeed filial piety is a Chinese traditional Confucian concept and virtue

so apparently it’s an apocryphal heterodox sutta, an example of the process of adaptation of the Dhamma to Chinese culture


I don’t know of any examples of filial piety in the Pali Canon. Although, concerning the depiction/roles of women there are the duties of married couples to each other as listed in the Digha Nikaya:

In five ways should a wife as the western direction 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 skillful and diligent in all duties. [DN 31][1]

I think that this sutta is fascinating because though it may seem traditional in terms of our Western conceptions of patriarchal values, it is in fact utterly liberal for the time period.

I also think it’s interesting to contrast this passage with one from your source, Ben.

Most women in the world have little wisdom and are saturated with emotion. They give birth to and raise children, feeling that this is their duty. Each child relies on its mother’s milk for life and nourishment, and that milk is a transformation of the mother’s blood. Each child can drink up to one thousand two hundred gallons of its mother’s milk. Because of this drain on the mother’s body whereby the child takes milk for its nourishment, the mother becomes worn and haggard and so her bones turn black in colour and are light in weight.

Though the sutra goes on to praise the compassion of mothers, it ultimately depicts childbirth as a physical and spiritual misgiving or hindrance. I’d be interested to know if this is also found in the Pali Canon.

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Here are a couple of suttas from the Pali Canon.

On respect for parents: AN 4:63 “With Brahma”

On repaying one’s parents: AN 2:33

"Bhikkhus, there are two persons that cannot easily be repaid. What two? One’s mother and father.

"Even if one should carry about one’s mother on one shoulder and one’s father on the other, and [while doing so] should have a life span of a hundred years, live for a hundred years; and if one should attend to them by anointing them with balms, by massaging, bathing, and rubbing their limbs, and they even void their urine and excrement there, one still would not have done enough for one’s parents, nor would one repaid them. Even if one were to establish one’s parents as the supreme lords and rulers over this great earth abounding in the seven treasures, one still would not have done enough for one’s parents, nor would one repaid them. For what reason? Parents are of great help to their children; they bring them up, feed them, and show them the world.

“But, bhikkhus, if, when one’s parents lack faith, one encourages, settles, and establishes them in faith; if, when one’s parents are immoral, one encourages, settles, and establishes them in virtuous behavior; when one’s parents are miserly, one encourages, settles, and establishes them in generosity; when one’s parents are unwise, one encourages, settles, and establishes them in wisdom: in such a way, one has done enough for one’s parents, repaid them, and done more than enough for them.” (Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation)

With metta,



Dear Ben,

A sutta for filial piety:

with Anjali and metta,


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The Pali canon at SN 5.2 does indeed contain a statement to the effect that women have little wisdom.

That state so hard to achieve
Which is to be attained by the seers,
Can’t be attained by a woman
With her two-fingered wisdom.

The thing is, it’s Māra who says this! The smackdown is delivered by the bhikkhuni Somā:

“What does womanhood matter at all
When the mind is concentrated well,
When knowledge flows on steadily
As one sees correctly into Dhamma.

“One to whom it might occur,
‘I’m a woman’ or ‘I’m a man’
Or ‘I’m anything at all’—
Is fit for Mara to address.”


Pali Buddhist scriptures do not remember the name of.
But according to Buddhist scriptures to guide the parents in the teaching of the Buddha,
Remember that it would be rewarded in favor of the parents.

The Love of Parents EA 20.11 = AN 2.33

EA 19.7, EA 20.10

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Bit late at this point, but in case you’re still interested - when I was a dietitian I was taught that the mother’s body will always default to providing optimum nutrition to the foetus during gestation, and to the infant during nursing - at it’s own expense.

‘Black and light bones’ could refer to osteoporosis - condition where bones become light and porous - which can be worsened by breastfeeding and pregnancy in cases of malnutrition. Calcium is leeched from the mothers bones to provide for the child. Bones would have been observed to be lighter in weight, and have more empty spaces and holes within them.

Actually this is nothing mysterious - for many women, osteoporosis is simply a reality they face with aging which would have been (and is) very common among all women in societies with low calcium consumption - ancient China, for example.

In short, the ‘bones turning black’ is not a mystical phenomenon that proves women’s folly or weakness, merely an unfortunately common biological occurrence - if that helps!


In MN 38 it is said:

The mother then carries the embryo in her womb for nine or ten months with much anxiety, as a heavy burden. Then, at the end of nine or ten months, the mother gives birth with much anxiety, as a heavy burden. Then, when the child is born, she nourishes it with her own blood; for the mother’s breast-milk is called blood in the Noble One’s Discipline.

I think this was influenced the late fillial piety sutra too…

I found the Kataññu Suttas on Gratitude to be relevant to filial piety. It also has reference to other suttas, especially to one of the verses of the Itivuttaka on With Brahma