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Buddhism and Children: Scholars Struggle With the Story of the Buddha's Son

NCJ Number
Child Abuse and Neglect Volume: 38 Issue: 4 Dated: April 2014 Pages: 593-599
Vanessa R. Sasson
Date Published
April 2014
7 pages
One of six articles on the beliefs and values of religion regarding the nurture and protection of children, this article focuses on Buddhism's teachings on this issue.
Until recently, Buddhist scholarship has not given much attention to children; however, this is changing, as a few books and articles have discussed Buddhism's views on the treatment of children. This article's main discussion pertains to the most prominent of Buddhist institutions, the monastery. The way Buddha related to his son is a critical aspect of Buddhists' behavior toward children. Buddha's father, a king, decreed that his son be shielded from the painful realities of life and lavished him with sensual pleasures instead; the future Buddha eventually married and subsequently renounced his lavish lifestyle, leaving his wife and child for a monastic life of spiritual separation from the sensual stimuli of his former life. Western Buddhist communities have often read into this story that Buddhism is not interested in the protection and nurturing of children. In fact, Buddhism encourages parents to involve their children in the life of a Buddhist monastery. The age at which children are permitted to join the monastic order is approximately 7 or 8 years old, but under special circumstances, orphan infants may be accepted into monasteries. Under a variety of circumstances, the monastery maintains relationships with biological families of the children who live at the monastery. There are many different monastic codes in the Buddhist world, but all of them share the basic principle of Buddhism, i.e., to avoid harming living beings. This assumes that children who are involved in the life of a monastery will be schooled not only in the values of Buddhism, but will also be nurtured and protected according to such values. 5