What is the line between Gratitude and Favoritism, Cronyism, and Nepotism?

The Buddha clearly advocated equality of opportunity not based on birth, or caste or anything external. Yet there are some instances of him casually hinting about Nepotism. For example in the DN 31, parents should give their child inheritance at the right time. Another example in SN 8.7 where he said “A wheel-turning monarch’s oldest son rightly keeps wielding the power set in motion by his father.”. Why Nepotism is “rightly”?

And what is the line between “helping” someone who once helped us and favoritism?

For the context, here is a definition of those terms:

What do you mean by anything external?

I would question if our modern concept of nepotism as being something bad could be imposed on the world view at the time of the Buddha.

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Because it’s not immoral to leave your wealth, however large or small, to one’s family. Monarchy also isn’t nepotism, since literally no one else is applying for the job.


Nepotism means giving someone a job due to a familial relationship, instead of their qualifications/merit. I’ve never heard inheritance defined as nepotism.




the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.

I also don’t see the relation between gratitude and favouritism, they’re not antonyms so I don’t understand that scale/spectrum. I would say the opposite of gratitude is entitlement (greed).


Just as two suttas were cited for the premise of nepotism, possibly some suttas could be cited to support the original premise above.

A child should serve their parents as the eastern quarter in five ways, thinking: ‘I will support those who supported me. I’ll do my duty for them. I’ll maintain the family traditions. I’ll take care of the inheritance. When they have passed away, I’ll make an offering on their behalf.’

DN 31


This is the key. There is a time when cause and effect determines a reply to a previous act of generosity by someone else. Included in that is an idea of an appropriate gesture. If acted upon it is unmistakeable by the receiving party. So it’s about skill in handling conditioned events, not to be confused with politeness, and the danger is to act too quickly, which attracts suspicion of the three negatives mentioned.

I think there’s a big difference between merely describing what is just within a particular lay system and advocating for a system. The Buddha didn’t actually write the rules of lay society: he is just telling people how to do it in a good way (infinitely better than doing it in a bad way). Most people living at home will have property and families, etc, which they are naturally going to want to manage in a proper way according to good custom (which is better than the alternative).

The sangha (the Buddha’s own association, where he set up the rules) has a different inheritance model which isn’t about blood or family. For example, if a monk or nun dies, their personal requisites might go to the sangha members who were looking after them (not that I’ve ever seen this happen IRL due to not having been around when a sangha member passed away). The Buddha never envisioned inherited power as being part of leadership in his sangha community.

So there it is possible to conceive of a type of hierarchy of values around this…things like giving a material inheritance are only a relative good. But the fact that passing on a material inheritance isn’t necessarily the highest thing we can possibly aim for doesn’t make it bad or “nepotism” either.

To be very clear: as a nun, I’m personally intending to leave vast amounts of nothing to everyone, equally.


I think this is a very important point. The Buddha simply wasn’t in the business of changing the structure of lay society. Just because he gave advice on how to work with the current structures in a fair and compassionate way, or on how to assure their stability, doesn’t (to me) imply approval of those structures over other possibilities.


I can vouch for this. After the monk who I was caring for passed, as nurse, I had first dibs on his possessions, of which he had very few, so it was mostly a choice of cloth requisites such as handkerchiefs and a few toiletries. Something to aspire to.

It’s a bit off topic but I always felt the “inheritance right” of the nurse was a bit of a conflict of interest for the patient’s care!