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date: 05 December 2022

Filial Piety in Chinese Buddhismlocked

Filial Piety in Chinese Buddhismlocked

  • Guang XingGuang XingUniversity of Hong Kong


Many people, even scholars like Kenneth Ch’en, thought that filial piety is a special feature of Chinese Buddhism because it has been influenced by Confucianism, which considers filial piety as the foundation of its ethics and the root of moral teaching. In fact, we find in the early Buddhist textual sources that filial piety is not only taught and practiced in Indian Buddhism but also considered an essential moral good deed although it is never taken as the foundation of Buddhist moral teaching. One of the most important sutta-s related to this issue in early Buddhist resources is the Pāli Kataññu Sutta, which teaches children to pay their debts to the parents who gave them birth and brought them up with much difficulty and hardship. When Buddhism was introduced in China during the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220), Confucianism already occupied the central position in Chinese philosophical thought, and it continued until the end of imperial rule in the beginning of the early 20th century, although its position was challenged by Buddhism and Daoism from time to time. In response to Confucian criticism of Buddhists being unfilial, the learned Chinese Buddhists retorted in theoretical argumentation in the following four ways: (1) translations of and references to Buddhist sutra-s that teach filial behavior; (2) writing scholarly refutations of the charges of unfilial practices, such as Mouzi’s Lihuolun and Qisong’s Xiaolun; (3) interpreting Buddhist precepts as equal to the Confucian concept of filial piety; and (4) teaching people to pay four debts to four groups of people: parents, all sentient beings, kings, and Buddhists. Ordinary Chinese Buddhists replied to the criticism by (1) composing apocryphal scriptures, such as the Fumu Enzhong Jing (Sūtra on the Great Kindness of Parents), to teach filial piety and (2) popularizing such stories and parables as the Śyama Jātaka and the Ullambana Sūtra by way of public lectures, painted illustrations called Banxiang or tableaus on walls and silk, and annual celebration of the Yulanpen festival, popularly known as the ghost festival. Chinese Buddhism has become a religion that emphasizes the teaching and practice of filial piety with rich resources through such exchange and interaction with Confucianism and Daoism for the last two thousand years. Even today, ordinary Chinese Buddhists still teach and read the Fumu Enzhong Jing and celebrate the Yulanpen festival every year. This influenced Daoism such that they also created a similar text teaching filial piety and celebrate the festival on the same day and perform same activities of feeding the hungry ghosts, but they call it Zhongyuan.


  • Buddhism

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