Venerable Master Hua's Talks on Dharma, Vol. 8, pp. 67-73
Should One Practice Filiality?
by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua
If cultivators can let go of their parents and immerse themselves in cultivation, they are on the right track. But if one neither cultivates nor is filial to one's parents, one is on the wrong path.
Today, let's investigate the question: should one be filial to one's parents, and why? There are two sides to this question.
From the viewpoint of world‑transcending Dharma, we shouldn't be filial to our parents. I believe that anyone listening to this is shocked, because this idea is unheard of. You know that one should be filial to one's parents; you have never heard of a view stating that one shouldn't practice filiality. That's why you are surprised. Yet, if we speak according to true principle, this view is correct. But from the worldly point of view, of course we should be filial to our parents. The worldly point of view says that just as a tree has its roots and a stream has its source, we also have our roots and we should pay attention to them. We should always carefully attend to the funeral rites of our parents and to the worship of our ancestors. We should be filial towards our parents, and respectful towards our teachers and elders. All this is a matter of course.
However, according to world‑transcending Dharma, if we cultivate diligently, work hard at learning, and bring forth a great Bodhi mind, this is great filiality, not small filiality. How is that? When you have accomplishment in cultivation, you can rescue your parents from your past seven lives and help them to be reborn in the heavens. It is said, "When one child becomes a Buddha, Ancestors of the past nine lives Ascend to the heavens." This is great filiality.
There are four types of filiality: great, small, distant, and close. Great filiality means repaying the kindness of one's parents, teachers, and elders from all lives. Small filiality is filiality towards one's parents of this present life, making them happy, providing food and shelter for them, and giving them peace of mind. It means respecting one's parents and providing for them. Distant filiality refers to respecting and being filial to the ancient sages and worthy ones, taking them as models and emulating their words and conduct . Close filiality is, in addition to being filial to one's own parents, also being filial to other people's parents. It is to "take care of your own elders and extend the same care to others." This is how we should think and behave.
True world‑transcending Dharma surpasses filiality. That's why I say, "Don't get attached to filiality." If you're attached to filiality, you are still caught up in love and emotion. You're always thinking of your parents. How can you cultivate this way? Therefore, according to true principle one should not be filial to one's parents. Some of you may understand the principle I'm talking about, and others may not. So we need to investigate further.
At present, people's minds are getting worse day by day, and their behavior is getting daily more wicked. It is said, "People's minds are no longer like the minds of the ancients." People ought to be filial to their parents but they aren't. They think filiality is an outdated idea, and they think raising children is the parents' obligation. So then, if a person doesn't practice filiality, does that mean they are cultivating? Of course not. If a person could truly cultivate, even if he didn't provide for his parents, he would still be considered filial. This is great filial piety, helping one's parents be reborn in the heavens. If a person neither practices filiality nor cultivates, but only creates all kinds of evil karma, then he will definitely fall into the three evil paths. There is no question about it.
You can see present‑day young men and women learning despicable behavior. If it's not killing and arson, then it's robbery and promiscuity. They do every evil thing there is to do, and they call their lack of restraint, "freedom." They think that not being filial to one's parents means one should learn to be bad. This kind of thinking is absolutely wrong. Even though we cannot generalize, many people have this fault.
A cultivator, although he can't be filial to his parents, can save his parents from the sea of suffering and help them to ascend to the heavens. However, some people neither practice filiality nor do they cultivate. They only commit immoral acts, which ruin families and disrupt society, causing there to be no peace in the nation. Such behavior is a losing business: the more you lose, the less capital you have left, and your future is doomed. People who act this stupidly are inexcusable offenders.
On the other hand, if one is like the cultivator mentioned above and can let go of one's parents and immerse oneself in cultivation, then one is on the right track. But if one neither cultivates nor is filial to one's parents, one is on the wrong path. You should be clear about this. It is said,
Lust is the worst of all evils.
Filiality is the foremost of all virtues.
A talk given on July 29,1983, at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas