SuttaCentral

Was Buddha an irresponsible husband and a father?


#1

It is important that you evaluate this question in light of other criticism of the Buddha.
Many unfaithful criticise Buddha saying that he was a not a responsible father and a husband as he left them behind. Perhaps this is an important matter to discuss rather than whether the Buddha had a wife and son because it is a fact according to Sutta.
So how do you face this criticism as a Buddhist?


#2

Is this question specially asked for me?


#3

I would say that a saint of world-historical importance, who contained within his mind the potential to discover the path to the end of suffering, should not be judged by the conventions of ordinary social morality.


#4

No.
You are welcome to express your opinion.
:grinning:


#5

If anything the question can be asked about Gotama, not the Buddha. If Gotama was a husband and father at all (and I am still not convinced ‘tradition’ got it right) there was still the established institution of samanas, i.e. renouncers of worldly life. The responsibilities back then were a little bit different than today - one of the first duties was to produce offspring.

The spiritual upbringing of the child was not fixed on the father, there were famous brahmins who could do the upanayana (initiation into brahmacariya) for a little prince. Financially the samana forfeits his rights to the family wealth, so Gotama’s family had as much wealth as they had before. The question is only if his wife was capable to run the estate herself or if fell back to Gotama’s father. Even then society was organized in clans, Gotama’s family would not have been ‘alone’ but somehow connected to the wider Sakya clan.

In general women could be educated back then, both spiritually and worldly, but of course not everyone was, and with so little information on her, we don’t know at all.

Remains the moral and emotional responsibility Gotama had for his family, and that of course must have felt like abandonment. A samana was originally legally a dead person, so with Gotama leaving it must have been like the father and husband dying, which is emotionally quite heavy. At the Buddha’s time it was already possible again to return to lay life - there are examples of it in the suttas - but it was surely not a small thing and lay people who became samanas and then returned to lay life must have paid a heavy social price, so we have to assume that most samanas did not return to lay life back then.


#6

According our modern standard, sneaking out in the middle of night without his parents and wife’s consent is regarded as an irresponsible act. Nevertheless, there is a rule in Vinaya for who will be going forth, it has to be with one’s parents consent.


#7

This rule was not when Gotama left home. Vinaya came in a latter time.


#8

Yes, it is, but why Gotama set up a rule that forbid ordination without parents consent while he himself had been left his parents without consent?


#9

I seriously doubt that one could ‘sneak out’ and become a samana, many legal things had to be taken care of like inheritance, property rights, the wife’s status of being a ‘widow’, the responsibility for the daily rituals - all this had to be organized, either with the administration or at least with witnesses on the clan level.

Everything we know about human societies tells us that people always were organized, certainly the Indians were 2500 years ago. Clan, family and property must have been administered - what else would have prevented people to come up and say ‘hey, this is MY son, property, etc’? All I have learned so far about Indian society at that time makes me strongly convinced that the ‘sneaking out’ of Gotama is a gross simplification and simply wrong.

I guess after a strong conviction one could take care of things quite quickly, but one needed to take care of it nonetheless. Family bonds were incredibly strong back then, you didn’t just get a pack of cigarettes without coming back.


#10

I don’t know very much about how Indian society was organised back then, but what if Gotama had just died? Presumably everything would’ve been taken care of without him actually having to participate? Presumably, the legal and other mechanisms were in place for people dying unexpectedly, just as they are these days?


#11

Interesting Dhamma talk and a discussion.
Female is asking tough questions from a monk including about his sex life.


#12

The task he set out to do must be set in the correct context. If a scientist sets out to cure cancer would we blame him for coming home late? In retrospect it might actually be possible to nit-pick after the cancer cure is widely available and people have come to take it for granted somewhat. It might be case of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it, too.

Also it’s possible that King Suddhodana was quite young and he may have been a father figure when Rāhula was growing up. It’s also possible the king had other wives so Yasodhara would not have felt alone and without support or money. Having one’s own home is probably a modern fashion and younger generations looked after the older generations in the same house in many cultures. So Yasodhara would have had that support and Mahapajapati who initiated Bhikkhuni ordination later, would have been a mother figure to her. Slaves (servants? house hold staff) were common, so the young mother and son wouldn’t have been in need of anything.

It’s not clear whether marriage was a lifetime commitment and it seemed based on ones choice too. Polygamy was an option at the time too as was celibate lifestyle. I wonder if the prince Siddhartha felt like a extra wheel destined to consume his life away, until he died on the throne, when what he really wanted to do was to discover a way out of suffering for him, his family and the entire world with devas etc.

The suttas say that when he left his mother and father were aware, and I would be very surprised if Yasodhara hadn’t already given her blessing to him. If their kingdom was captured by another king they would have had to change houses with little choice. We know that there were no rules for the monks to begin with and the Buddha only laid down rules only if it became essential to do that. He would have applied those same standards to himself- and his conclusion would have been that he had to leave. It was only because he left home that anyone could even say that he could bend his own rule, and that after thousands of people became enlightened due his act.

We can’t forget that it must have been difficult for him too. He had lived in those palaces with probably the same people for all of his life. He had to leave his family and son. He had to go from being a king to a beggar. So it couldn’t have been a decision he took lightly.

He was also prophesied to become a Buddha if he left lay life. His entire family would have been primed for this event, all their lives. It would have also given him some hope of the likelihood of his project succeeding!

So IMO Prince Siddhartha took a considered decision, which involved much sacrifice and hardship. It wasn’t an impulsive act - he was probably thinking about it for months if not years.

With metta


#14

Yes. Why can’t all of these questions be answered by a note that says, “Dear family, I am leaving to follow the holy life, and hereby renounce all of my possessions and inheritance. Do as you think best.”


#15

Some lines from MN 26 come to mind:

Later, while still young, a black-haired young man endowed with the blessing of youth, in the prime of life, though my mother and father wished otherwise and wept with tearful faces, I shaved off my hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and went forth from the home life into homelessness.

So evidently not “sneaking out”, but his parents weren’t happy at his decision (and no mention at all of a wife and child here either).


#16

Yes, indeed, the “sneaking out” is not supported by EBTs, perhaps his parents do allowed him to go forth although they were not happy with his decision. If this is the case, then this is not an irresponsible act…


#17

Does the canon acutally say he knew there was a kid? I saw a youtube video once claiming Rahula was 1 year old when he left. I’ve seen a youbtube video claimed Rahula was just born the day he left. But I’ve not seen a sutta as of yet saying either. My impression from the suttas was more like there was no kid when he left. And then years later the ex-wife comes bringing a kid saying “This is your kid” who probably was not really even Buddha’s kid in reality but by another man.


#18

You’ll find different learned opinions on this, but the fact remains that neither wife nor son(s) are mentioned in the EBT (i.e. SN, AN, MN, DN)


#19

The idea that the Buddha snuck out in the middle of the night and simply left his wife and child behind is a later legend not found in the suttas. This is what the suttas have to say:

… akāmakānaṃ mātāpitūnaṃ assumukhānaṃ rudantānaṃ, kesamassuṃ ohāretvā …

… although my parents wished otherwise and were crying, I cut off my hair and beard … (MN 36)

It is clear from this that he consulted his parents. Although they were not happy with his decision, it seems reasonable to me to assume that the Buddha-to-be would have ensured his wife and son would be properly looked after. The old idea that the Buddha was irresponsible does not come up if we rely on the earliest sources.


#20

Not in his recounting of his going forth, but…I’m wandering where I got this story now. The story was like many years later the wife hears the Blessed One is at such and such a town and goes there, finds him in so and so’s park and says basically “this is your son” and just leaves the kid with him. If it wasn’t a sutta, what was I reading?


#21

I guess if you were not reading a ‘biography’ of the Buddha it should have been the Vinaya. The following is from an article by Bareau “… The Wife of Buddha” (in a poor translation)

The Vinaya of the Theravadin in Pali, of the Mahisaka [probably Mahasamgika?] and of the Dharmagupta (in Chinese translation) contain one Short scene only where “Rahula’s mother” appears (Rahulamata) in Kapila. This woman shows Buddha to her son and (only) says “It’s your father.” That is the hamagupta; the Theravadin and the Mahisaka add, “go ask for your heritage.”