World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts
Editor, Andrew Wilson
Separation From Family
While the family which is imbued with God's love can realize one of the great purposes of life, and it is indeed a joy to be a member of such a family, oftentimes the person who is called to follow a spiritual calling finds attachment to family and relations a hindrance on the path. The members of his family may not understand his passion for the spiritual life. They may not respect his lack of concern for material wealth and worldly success--which they take as the all-important values--as he pursues what he regards as a higher purpose. Hence they may come to oppose him and seek to tempt him away from the religious life.
The passages given below describe this most painful struggle between the aspirant and the possessive and ignorant members of his family. He is commanded to love God and his religious teacher more than his father and mother and brothers and sisters. He is warned to beware of other family members who would betray his trust and tempt him into sin. Entry into the religious life may even require the aspirant to leave his family, divorce his wife, and abandon his children and property. Some scriptures describe family ties as attachments, which partake of illusion and which are to be overcome in order to achieve tranquillity, enlightenment, and union with God.
To reject one's family is an extreme position, and several more moderate courses are suggested in the last group of texts. Believers may constitute new families which are devoted to God. Or they may find a way to live within families yet maintain a detached perspective, "in the world yet not of the world." This latter position will be treated further in the next section.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have come not to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Christianity. Matthew 10.34-37
O believers, take not your fathers and brothers to be your friends, if they prefer unbelief to belief; whosoever of you takes them for friends, those--they are the evildoers.
Say, "If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your clan, your possessions that you have gained, commerce you fear may slacken, dwellings you love--if these are dearer to you than God and His Messenger, and to struggle in His way, then wait till God brings His command: God guides not the people of the ungodly."
Islam. Qur'an 9.23-24
You who believe! Among your wives and your children there are enemies for you; therefore beware of them.... Your wealth and your children are only a temptation, whereas God, with Him is an immense reward.
Islam. Qur'an 64.14-15
Put no trust in a neighbor, have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man's enemies are the men of his own house. But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.
Judaism and Christianity. Micah 7.5-7
The thin skin that covers the stomach Does not allow us to see the interior of a treacherous person. Keep your secret to yourself; never share it with any man. There's no honest man nowadays, All people are now deceitful. The person we asked to help us rub our back with a sponge, Added thorns to the sponge in his hand. The person we asked to help us blow dust from our eyes, First put some pepper in his mouth. The man on whose generosity we rested assured To obtain and enjoy sweet oranges, Gave us sour oranges to suck. The man we wished to confide in,
Turned out to be a garrulous person. When people make themselves your close associates, Be cautious; confide only in yourself. Only in yourself.
African Traditional Religions. Yoruba Song (Nigeria)
Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you..."
Judaism and Christianity. Genesis 12.1
Every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.
Christianity. Matthew 19.29
He who forsakes his home in the cause of God, finds in the earth many a refuge, wide and spacious; should he die as a refugee from home for God and His Apostle, his reward becomes due and sure with God: and God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
Islam. Qur'an 4.100
In awe of my lord's command, I skirt the coastal borders and Traverse the plain of the sea, --Leaving father and mother behind.
Shinto. Man'yoshu XX
One day she who was formerly the mate of the venerable Sangamaji came towards him, drew near and said, "Recluse, support me with our little child." At these words the venerable Sangamaji was silent. So a second time and yet a third time his former wife repeated her words, and still the venerable Sangamaji was silent. Thereupon she set down the child in front of him and went away, saying, "Here is your child, recluse! Support him!" But the venerable Sangamaji neither looked at the child nor spoke to him. When from a distance she saw this, she thought to herself, "This recluse needs not even his own child." So she turned back, took up the child and went away.
Buddhism. Udana 5-6
Qur'an 4.100: The Companions of Muhammad had to leave their homes and families in the face of persecution, particularly in the emigration (hejrat) from Mecca to Medina. Udana 5-6: Cf. Vinaya Pitaka i.43, p. 605.
How could I be diligent, good Shariputta, when there are my parents to support, my wife and children to support, my slaves, servants and work- people to support, when there are services to perform for friends and acquaintances, services to perform for kith and kin, services to perform for guests, rites to perform for the ancestors, rites to perform for the gods, duties to perform for the king--and this body too must be satisfied and looked after!
What do you think, Dhananjani? Suppose someone failed to live the holy life because of his parents [and so on]; because of this failure... the guardians of Niraya hell might drag him off to their hell. Would he gain anything by saying, "I failed to live the holy life because of my parents [and so forth]?"
Buddhism. Majjhima Nikaya ii.186-87
We have instructed man to treat his parents kindly. Yet if they should strive to make you associate anything with Me which you have no knowledge of, do not obey them.
Islam. Qur'an 29.8
If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Christianity. Luke 14.26
From concern with family, all the concerns of life, arise attachment. Discard attachment from which arises doings that are totally evil. Brother! discard your detachment and illusion-- Then will the holy Name in your heart and body disport.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Asa M.1, p. 356
Free from selfish attachment, they do not get compulsively entangled even in home and family. They are even-minded through good fortune and bad. Their devotion to me is undivided. Enjoying solitude and not following the crowd, they seek only me. This is true knowledge, to seek the Self as the true end of wisdom always. To seek anything else is ignorance.
Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 13.9-11
If a man does anything for the sake of his happiness in another world, to the detriment of those whom he is bound to maintain, that produces evil results for him, both while he lives and when he is dead.
Hinduism. Laws of Manu 11.10
Majjhima Nikaya ii.186-87: Cf. 1 Corinthians 7.32-35, p. 948. Luke 14.26: In this hard saying, the injunction to hate one's parents is understood in the same way as to hate one's own life: it is a matter of hating any ties and attachments which have become fetters to the disciple's devotion to God and Christ and his will. Cf. Sun Myung Moon, 4-3-83, p. 898. Bhagavad Gita 13.9-11: Cf. Kularnava Tantra 2, p. 879. Laws of Manu 11.10: This is a typical expression of ambivalence about the path of the shramana. Cf. Mahabharata 1.220, p. 950.
I have always been solitary; I belong to none else; I behold no one whom I can say I belong to nor do I behold one whom I can designate as mine. The path of worldliness is nothing but disaster. Who, whose, and where are one's kith and kin? Who, whose, and where are strangers, all going round in cycles of birth and death? At times, the kith and kin become strangers, and vice versa. Ponder thus, "I am all alone. Nobody was mine in the past, nor will ever be in the future. It is because of my karmas that I delude myself and consider others as mine. The truth is that I was alone in the past and will ever be all alone."
Jainism. Acarangasutra 4.32
He who is kind toward much-beloved friends loses his own good from his mind, becoming partial; observing such danger in friendship, let one walk alone like a rhinoceros.
As a spreading bush of bamboo is entangled in various ways, so is the longing for children and wives: not clinging to these, even like a bamboo just sprouting forth, let one walk alone like a rhinoceros....
If one lives in the midst of company, love of amusement and desire arises; strong attachment for children arises; let therefore one who dislikes separation, which must happen sooner or later from these beloved, walk alone like a rhinoceros....
Having abandoned the different kinds of desire, founded on child, wife, father, mother, wealth, corn, relations, let one walk alone like a rhinoceros.
Let a wise man, having discovered that such is attachment, that there is in it but little happiness, that it is but insipid, that there is more affliction in it than comfort, that it is a fishhook, walk alone like a rhinoceros.
Having cast off the bonds, like a fish which breaks the net in the water, like a fire that returns not to the spot already burned up, let one walk alone like a rhinoceros.
Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 37-62: Rhinoceros Discourse
Acarangasutra 4.32: This is the declaration of the Jain who leaves home for the life of a solitary monk. It is also an ontological statement about human existence which is held in some form by all the religions of India; cf. Laws of Manu 4.238-39, p. 338; Gauri, M.5, p. 330. Sutta Nipata 37-62: Vv.37-38, 41, 60-62. The rhinoceros-like aloofness recommended by this discourse is meant for monks still in training, for whom the attachments of family and friends might be distractions and obstacles to Nibbana. For those firmly established in enlightenment, family and friends should be no obstacles at all--see the excerpt from the Garland Sutra, below, and Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 2, p. 965. Cf. Parable of the Mustard Seed, pp. 381f.
And [Jesus'] mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother."
Christianity. Mark 3.31-35
It is not for the sake of the husband, my beloved, that the husband is dear, but for the sake of the Self.
It is not for the sake of the wife, my beloved, that the wife is dear, but for the sake of the Self.
It is not for the sake of the children, my beloved, that the children are dear, but for the sake of the Self.
Hinduism. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.4-5
Enlightening beings at home Should wish that all beings Realize the nature of "home" is empty And escape its pressures.
While serving their parents, They should wish that all beings Serve the Buddha, Protecting and nourishing everyone.
While with their spouses and children, They should wish that all beings Be impartial toward everyone And forever give up attachment.
When attaining desires, They should wish that all beings Pull out the arrow of lust And realize ultimate peace.
Buddhism. Garland Sutra 11
Mark 3.31-35: Jesus spent long hours teaching his disciples, to the dismay of his family. When they tried to call him out, Jesus rebuked them thus. The Gospels reveal that Jesus was misunderstood and alienated from his family. At the marriage at Cana (John 2.3-4), when Jesus' mother asked him to perform a miracle and provide wine for the wedding, he said to her, "Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come," suggesting that she had but a shallow understanding of his mission. See also Mark 6.1-4, p. 601. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.4-5: The Self refers to Ultimate Reality immanent in the heart, and certainly not to the egoistic self. Garland Sutra 11: Cf. Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 2, p. 965.
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