Sigalovada Sutta

Hi all,

Sigalovada Sutta says children shall do parents’ duties:

"In five ways, young householder, a child should minister to his parents as the East:

(i) Having supported me I shall support them,
(ii) I shall do their duties,
(iii) I shall keep the family tradition,
(iv) I shall make myself worthy of my inheritance,
(v) furthermore I shall offer alms in honor of my departed

Other translation says “I Shall do my duty to them”. I think they have different meaning.

There are many children have different job from their parents’ job e.g. the child is an engineer but the parent is a scientist or the parent has x business but the children do something else. Is this wrong? What does “I shall do their duties” mean? Thank you.

I do not know the Pali but the above translation seems to be redundant (unnecessary) since the entire teaching comprised of 5 duties is itself doing one’s duty to them or ‘ministering’ to parents.

Another less formal translation from P. A. Payutto’s Thai into English is:

Having been raised by them, one looks after them in return.
One helps them in their work.
One continues the family line and tradition.
One behaves as is proper for an heir.
When they have passed away, one performs meritorious acts and dedicates the merits to them.


I would guess (speculate) the teaching in the Sigalovada Sutta were based on the traditional Indian culture of caste, clan &/or ‘jati’ thus does not pertain to our current modern society.

Jāti (in Devanagari: जाति, Bengali: জাতি, Telugu:జాతి, Kannada:ಜಾತಿ, Malayalam: ജാതി, Tamil:ஜாதி, literally “birth”) is a group of clans, tribes, communities and sub-communities, and religions in India. Each jāti typically has an association with a traditional job function or tribe.

A person’s surname typically reflects a community (jati) association: thus Gandhi = perfume seller, Dhobi = washerman, Srivastava = military scribe, etc. In any given location in India 500 or more jatis may co-exist, although the exact composition will differ from district to district


Jati, also spelled jat , caste, in Hindu society. The term is derived from the Sanskrit jāta, “born” or “brought into existence,” and indicates a form of existence determined by birth. In Indian philosophy, jati (genus) describes any group of things that have generic characteristics in common. Sociologically, jati has come to be used universally to indicate a caste group among Hindus.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

To enrich the conversation and avoid us getting stuck on ways different translators rendered (or could have rendered) this, let’s try to make sense of what is found in the Pali original:

Pañcahi kho, gahapatiputta, ṭhānehi puttena puratthimā disā mātāpitaro paccu­paṭṭhā­tabbā—
(i) bhato ne bharissāmi,
(ii) kiccaṃ nesaṃ karissāmi,
(iii) kulavaṃsaṃ ṭhapessāmi,
(iv) dāyajjaṃ paṭipajjāmi,
(vi) atha vā pana petānaṃ kālaṅkatānaṃ dakkhiṇaṃ anuppadas­sāmīti.
– DN31

The specific sentence you are interested in is kiccaṃ nesaṃ karissāmi.

Last but not least, let’s note that this is a sutta with many parallels in Chinese - T 16 / T 17 / DA 16 / MA 135 - and hence it would be great to see if anyone with knowledge in Chinese could help us understand how original translators have rendered these duties (@llt ?).

kiccaṃ — nesaṃ — karissāmi
duty — of/for them — I will do

The Pali nesaṁ is ambiguous. Pali generally doesn’t distinguish between dative (“for them”) and genitive (“of them”). Often this makes little difference, but sometimes, as here, we have a genuine ambiguity.

Since the question can’t be resolved on grammatical grounds, we have to see whether there are any related contexts that might clear it up, or whether one reading makes more sense than the others.

Unless there is a good reason otherwise, it’s prudent to translate with least meaning. In this case, it is obviously the case that a child should do appropriate duties for their parents (whatever they may be). To say this is to say something that is not particularly meaningful; it doesn’t require interpretation or qualification, and doesn’t contradict anything found elsewhere. It’s merely restating what we already know.

On the other hand, it’s not at all clear that a child has a responsibility to do a parent’s duties for them. This might work in some cases, for example, if we think of duties like maintaining the home, etc. It would be a nice gesture for a child to help out with these. Still, even in such cases I can’t think of anywhere it is suggested that a child has an obligation to do such duties for their parents (unless they are incapacitated). In addition, there are other duties of parents that must be borne by them alone (as was pointed out in the OP). Thus the suggestion that a child should do their parent’s duties bears a greater burden of meaning.

So lacking a counter-argument, I’d suggest that “I will do my duty to them”—as translated by John Kelly et al. on SuttaCentral—is correct.