Stories and teachings that glorify adult children and speak against toxic parenting

I was wondering if the kind people of this forum are aware of some stories (e.g., from Jataka tales) about bad parents? More context below.

[Also posted in Stackexchange]

I have seen that in Buddhist as well as Hindu traditions, parents are considered as benevolent beings who should be venerated and put in a pedestal. Stories, verses, and myths about praises for parents are plenty.

However, toxic parenting must have been present in the past and surely there could be something about evil parents in some Buddhist teaching? Consider parents who are narcissist, control-freaks, irresponsible, or just plain unqualified to raise kids in a healthy manner. Parents who treat their children as their possessions and not independent beings should not receive the same praises, should they? There are enough parents who constantly put down and actively try to harm their own children. How could one say that such parents are saintly beings? How does the act of being a parent by simply giving birth and doing the bare minimum that everyone does makes someone a noble person? Almost everybody in the world would be noble by that definition.

Don’t children who had bad parenting deserve more compassion and respect? Could someone point me to Buddhist stories and teachings, and mantras/verses talking about the evils of megalomaniac and narcissist individuals who are terrible parents?


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The Buddha repeatedly says that we should avoid bad influences “like a dangerous road.”

We can still be grateful to our parents for what they have done for us while also recognizing that too close a proximity may not be healthy. Those things are not mutually exclusive!


Iti74 comes to mind.

There is also the story of Mattakundali found in the Dhammapada commentary (and paritally in Vv 83 Maṭṭhakuṇḍalīvimānavatthu). It’s more of an example of toxic parenting, rather than a teaching against it. I mean, it’s kind of obvious if you are negligent in your son’s death that’s a bad thing.

There is also the Jataka (can’t remember the name) where the king cuts off all his son’s limbs out of jealousy. Again, that’s not exactly toxic parenting.


That is to ensure the material support of aged parents. As children mature there is an evolution in belief systems:

“Dear sir, my father on his deathbed urged me, ‘My son, you must worship the directions’. So, dear sir, realizing, honoring, respecting, and holding sacred my father’s request, I have risen in the early morning and set out from Rajagaha to worship in this way.”

“But, young man, that is not how the six directions should be worshipped according to the discipline of the noble ones.”

—Digha Nikaya 31

This is an example of how right view arises either through self investigation or in this case the voice of another (Anguttara Nikaya 2, 125-6).

That sounds a little like the the jataka (Ja 313) about the rsi Ksantivadin who had his limbs cut off by the King of Kalinga. But I think in that jataka, the king is not the father of the rsi. Maybe you’re thinking of another jataka?


I hope this isn’t seen as a “non-answer” but, all adults are ‘adult-children’ as you term it. Everyone is someones daughter/son/child. And ethical conduct is ethical conduct.

These are two points that might deserve recollection, because I do agree that parenting seems to serve as some exception in society*. The common example is a parent shouting harshly at a child running into traffic. Looking closer, whether the person shouting is a parent (or even an adult) or the person in danger has any relation to the shouter isn’t actually relevant. Right Speech and Right Action apply to parent-child interactions as much as any other.

Again, since all people are someone’s child, any sutta that emphasizes that a person deserves metta and compassion apply. And since the exact form parental-authority takes is subject to change/dependent on cultural conditions, perhaps it would be helpful to look at suttas where advice is given to other forms of authority (kings, employers, etc.).

I would suspect that you won’t find much specific to your search: although in most centuries and throughout the word, some people lived to ages comparable to people today, the average life expectancy generally has been significantly less. Simply put, not only did fewer children life into adulthood, but fewer parents saw their children into adulthood. I’m not a historian/sociologist, but the “nuclear family” as the dominant social-formation is supposedly much more common today. Extended families and kin groups were supposedly more the norm; the notion of “it takes a village to raise a child” apparently applied. In such situations, the parent’s relationship with the child was counter-balanced by other adult-authorities, (and likely directly moderated by them as well).

While cultural-exchange existed even in the time of the Buddha, it’s also worth dwelling on how multiculturalism today seems to strengthen the notion of “don’t tell me how to raise my child.” I hope such a concept is limited to the USA, where I live, but it’s easy to see how such a claim keeps other adults from moderating the way parents treat their children.

I should be clear that saying that ethics apply equally to parent-child relationships isn’t saying that there isn’t anything special about the parent-child relationship, or any familial relationship. I’ll briefly mention that concepts of conceit obviously apply to parenting as well - much ill treatment is justified on the basis that the child is “mine” or “created by me” or “a reflection of me.”

Hope this is of some use.

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This can constitute the parent’s entry into practice. The second factor of the noble eightfold eightfold path encompasses both, plus renunciation. Right view and right intentions form the mental basis for the three sila factors as action (Majjhima Nikaya 19).

This is a conventional wrong view, animals are capable of competent parenting. These ‘conventional truths’ are used to cover up the pain of conditioned existence. In the Buddhist view parents are “ordinary untrained persons” until they take up the noble eightfold path.

There are two levels of right view:

"“And what is right view? Right view, I tell you, is of two sorts: There is right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions [of becoming]; there is right view that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.”

—Majjhima Nikaya 117

Care of parents by laypeople falls under mundane right view. When the Buddha achieved transcendent right view, he showed little attention to his parents.