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Wanting to procreate from a Buddhist perspective

My age is such that many of my peers are either having kids or are thinking of doing so. From what I can see as an outsider, being a parent can bring great fulfilment and meaning into one's life. Those that do it right have my complete admiration.

Now one can end up playing a parent's role in several ways: by partnering with someone who already has children, adopting an abandoned child or an orphan, by accident due to contraceptive failure and, finally, through deliberate decision to procreate.

It's that last one that I am curious about from the Buddhist perspective, as our society by and large places the expectation of passing one's genes along on pretty much everyone. There is a lot of anxiety about "biological clock" and suffering around fertility issues.

So, given that Buddhism views worldly life as fundamentally wrought with suffering, something that needs to be transcended or at least seen through...can this very common desire to make one's own children be considered compatible with Buddhism?

In my head the answer has so far been a resounding "no". I do not see myself willingly pursuing procreation even though those other ways of being a parent may very well end up being mine. Any other takes on this?

Comments

  • dhammachickdhammachick crazy Aussie BUJU Sydney, Australia Veteran

    @shadowleaver said:

    So, given that Buddhism views worldly life as fundamentally wrought with suffering, something that needs to be transcended or at least seen through...can this very common desire to make one's own children be considered compatible with Buddhism?

    In my head the answer has so far been a resounding "no". I do not see myself willingly pursuing procreation even though those other ways of being a parent may very well end up being mine. Any other takes on this?

    I made a conscious choice to procreate. I've never regretted it, even though, as any parent will tell you, it's bloody hard work. I birthed my little Bodhisattva just over 16 years ago. As it turns out, she's one of my teachers....

    Bunks
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited October 6

    Controversial, and possibly unpopular post coming up:

    Be globally responsible: Do not put a strain on already stretched resources, and bring another mouth to feed, into this world.

    The planet, currently, in both environmental and political ways, is in a mess.

    The balance of power is such that while there is an epidemic of obesity in the West, 3rd world countries are struggling to feed themselves.
    The Have-nots outnumber the Haves by such a broad margin that were it not so tragic, would be laughable.

    Every day, poorer populations are procreating to the point where the populations of those countries is becoming unsustainable. so people move, and end up crowding other places to such a degree as to the point of bursting.

    Education and reformation is needed to stop the apparently unstoppable trend of creating massive families, because this world can't cope with all the mouths needing food.

    There are parts of this planet hitherto uninhabitable, which are being transformed into habitable places - at great cost to the environment and its natural erstwhile inhabitants.

    The disadvantages of creating a new life on a whim, because it's 'the done thing', or 'you think you should' are immense, and the result, disastrous.
    The financial burden is huge, and the associated requirements unforeseen and incalculable.

    There are no guarantees of a smooth time, safe journey or positive outcome.
    Having a child is an immense risk, and the consequential rewards, while perfectly amazing, do the world itself, no favours.

    Having a child is a selfish decision.

    I have had 2.

    Given my time again, I would seriously - but SERIOUSLY - reconsider that decision.

    No more children. PLEASE.

    Ok. Throw at me what you will.

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    I don't entirely agree Fede. Although I long ago made the decision not to have children of my own for the sake of the natural world, I've come to deeply consider that standpoint and if I were to do it over again I think I might decide to have one or two.

    Raising a family adds a different dimension to life. It's a natural part of life as a human being, and it gives you an emotional life that is otherwise inaccessible. From a Buddhist standpoint that enables a new set of lessons in your life, and while monks choose to leave behind this aspect of life for us lay followers it's very normal.

    Yes, having children is expensive and not always easy, but it has many rewards as well. So I think it's a very personal decision, you can make a case for it either way, but I wouldn't dismiss the natural route out of hand, it is what we were made to do after all.

    shadowleaver
  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran

    I don't agree at all.

    If we are responsible and caring it is our duty to bring up responsible and caring children. Otherwise only idiots will have kids.

    Now if we don't give a rats ass about the world then no, it's better not to have kids.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited October 6

    I agree with @David B)

    Bring some Love/Wisdom/Buddhas into the world ...

    Also procreating is the most fun you can have without clothes, much better than wrapping yourself in a cheese cloth and shaving off your hair ... o:)

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    While I personally find that both @Kerome and @David put forward valid points, analysis of the comments illustrates the 'selfish' attitude I spoke of.
    Both comments are thinking subjectively, and of their own immediate environment, enjoyment and situations.

    "As long as I do what I want/think is necessary, I'm doing the right thing."
    The thought-process is local, not global.

    Unfortunately, as David accurately points out, the kinds of people who DO apply a logical thinking process to having children, are very few and far between. And it's not a question, necessarily, of the peoples' own social status, either.
    I happen to think that while I see that it is an expected hereditary factor for Prince William and his wife to have children, having a third is at best, unnecessary, at worst, reckless.

    Wh actually NEEDS 3 children, when you consider into what a privileged lifestyle they're being born into??

  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran

    @federica said:
    While I personally find that both @Kerome and @David put forward valid points, analysis of the comments illustrates the 'selfish' attitude I spoke of.
    Both comments are thinking subjectively, and of their own immediate environment, enjoyment and situations.

    "As long as I do what I want/think is necessary, I'm doing the right thing."
    The thought-process is local, not global.

    Here again, I have to disagree. There is much to learn here and we have just scratched the surface. Everything is information being shared and procreation is an amazing way to share information while letting another unique way to look at problems into the fold.

    The problems we are dealing with are incredibly huge and possibly devastating but they are the result of ignorance. Growing pains. We don't have to take our ball and go home, we just have to grow up.

    Unfortunately, as David accurately points out, the kinds of people who DO apply a logical thinking process to having children, are very few and far between. And it's not a question, necessarily, of the peoples' own social status, either.
    I happen to think that while I see that it is an expected hereditary factor for Prince William and his wife to have children, having a third is at best, unnecessary, at worst, reckless.

    Wh actually NEEDS 3 children, when you consider into what a privileged lifestyle they're being born into??

    That's another rich kid that may actually grow up to care about the rest of us. Yeah, I'd say we could use some more of those at the moment.

    Sorry, not trying to be contrary. Just something I feel strongly about.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    I think it is something, at this point, that has to be strongly considered. The problem I have with it is what was mentioned already, that the people who care about the environment, who care about others, who care about the planet and all of the issues wrapped up in dwindling resources and our mess of a planet are the ones who are not having children. I respect their decision, of course. I would never tell anyone they have to have kids, or are missing out on life if they don't, etc.

    Thinking just off the top of my head, about 20-25% of my friends have opted not to have children. But looking at other people - the ones who don't care, who don't believe in climate change, who are stuck in their worlds, who have sex with no thought of consequences, are the ones who continue to have kids.

    I don't know what the right answer is, but I do know that I am worried for what the world will look like in 100 years if that trend continues. If all the people who care stop having children and all those that don't continue to breed like rabbits. It's interesting, because it's often the more fundamentalist aspects of religious groups that encourage having lots of children. "Quiver" Catholics (of whom I know quite a few with 6+ children) and some groups of Muslims as well (as I understand) who specifically have kids to expand their religion as well as due to cultural beliefs and lack of proper medical care.

    Also, obviously it's mostly the more liberal mindset that considers not having children on behalf of the planet/others. Other issues aside, where does that leave a world if we end up with a majority that is conservative versus the close to 50/50 balance we have right now? We end up with a world much more worse off when we have a global majority that is conservative, doesn't believe in climate change, runs the world based on religious beliefs. That sounds like a nightmare to me.

    For me, some of it is indeed selfish. I haven't given up meat (though I have definitely reduced it and become more conscious of where it comes from and what type of meat we eat). I haven't given up air travel. We travel once a year at most and it's hard to assume that our one flight a year will make a difference when you look at the business people who travel weekly, or more. But at the same time, I think we do a better job than many of being cautious how much we purchase and where it comes from. But having 3 kids definitely increases our footprint, of course. We have 2 cars and spend $1000 a month just on groceries to start.
    Sorry for the novel, :lol:

  • shadowleavershadowleaver Veteran
    edited October 6

    Some good argumentation there from environmental/social perspective. My wife has that view as well (coming out as a "no" regarding deliberate procreation)...Let me clarify my take, though. I see the primary lesson of Buddhism as recognizing the worldly life as full of suffering and I am coming from that recognition.

    I remember my own recent experience of growing up, characterized by the burning thirst to become something in this society, to prove myself, to build my own corner but ultimately losing every battle. Starting from wild confusion of adolescence, going on to shining idealism about a better/ different way of being in the world, then falling into depression over how narrow and stifling it really is...then settling into a comfortable but potently empty life of a corporate worker and consumer. Watching my parents and older friends slowly disintegrate with nothing to stop or even significantly slow down the process, I cry out why was all the drama necessary and nobody and nothing has anything resembling an answer.

    In my mind, wanting to create new life is wanting to create those unsatisfactory cycles for someone else over again. Someone else will then deal with bucket loads of bs to ultimately become the dreaded "average person" focused on their bills and trying to hold on to their waning youth. And all along the way I would know that the young one's struggles will lead to a station in life that is very similar to my own but I will have to act, to pretend as if there is a wonderful kingdom to be had, half believing the fiction myself just to not go crazy.

    I really hope the buck stops with me. I want to help those I can as best as I can, I want to make their suffering lighter and I want to make sure I do not make the world even crazier than it already is...but when I'm outta here, I am really outta here. I am looking forward to non-existence and find its inevitability the best consolation that there can be.

    lobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Great words @shadowleaver <3
    Great aim too. Bodhisattva rules.

    Make your choice and follow YOUR way. I have great hopes for this little planet of evolved monkey minds. Hopes of peace, hopes of a society based on the pursuit of well being. Nirvana/pureland/heaven on earth.

    Buddhas required. Enquire within. All welcome.

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    If you think that suffering will be alleviated because you DO have children, think again.

    If you think that suffering will be alleviated because you DON'T have children, think again.

    Kids (full disclosure: I have three) are the closest thing I know to full-frontal meditation. Why? Assuming you like or even love them, the key ingredient is attention. And hooked onto that attention is a walloping blow to what was formerly known as "normal life," i.e. ego-tripping. None of this observation is meant either to encourage or discourage child-rearing. Leave Buddhism out of the equation. And while you're at it, cut back on any yummy-yummy observations. Kids are a blessing right up to the moment when they're a curse ... and vice-versa. In short, they're about like anything else.

    Like meditation, kids are a crap shoot -- you don't know what you're talking about until you've tried it. Or, as my sister (with two kids of her own) once said to me when I was worried about how inept I might be when the first one was going to be born: "Adam, you can either read every book that was ever written about child-rearing or you can read none at all: Either way, you won't know shit."

    If you insist on playing the "Buddhist" card, just imagine what would happen to dear old Buddhism if no one had any more babies ... a whole holiness industry down the drain. :) No one can tell anyone else what to do. It's an individual decision and the only person saying whether the move was right or wrong is you ... and don't be surprised if you waffle back and forth several times a day.

    Best wishes.

    lobstershadowleaver
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    @shadowleaver but where does the personal accountability for how your own life turned out, come in? You are talking as if that is just the natural course of life, and that anyone you would happen to bring into the world (no, I'm not trying to change your mind here) would automatically have the same life. It was still your choice to make the choices you did, it wasn't the natural course of all human life, so why make the assumption that anyone you would give life to would follow the same course? Maybe they would. Maybe they would do vastly worse, or vastly better. But that is almost just as bad, to me, as people who have children in order to give someone the life they wish they would have had and refusing to acknowlege the new person's own goals and strengths as a result. You make it sound as if you believe you were pre-destined to live this corporate, consumer, society-pleasing life. But you weren't. You made the choice to do so.

    Regardless of who chooses or doesn't choose to have kids, all these supposed streams of karma/consciousness need human bodies to be born into to continue their journey to freedom (going with a Buddhist theme). they can end up with parents who at least care and look to make the world a better place. or not. On the flip side of what you said, in trying to avoid that kind of suffering for another life, isn't denying that consciousness that needs to continue it's human journey to be freed, just as bad? Thinking we can control human suffering seems like a pretty big leap to me, looking at it that way.

    So then if you look at the Bodhisattva ideal to save all beings, are you saving them more if you give them a good life (as much as we can measure that, despite the ongoing battle of samsara no matter how good life happens to be) or refusing to allow them to be born at all? Are you saving all the beings that would have had contact with that person? Or denying them? You can look at it both ways, is my point.

  • I suspect the points about being a parent leading to a deeper and more mature life experience are all true. But this thread is not about plusses or minuses of being a parent, it is about deliberately creating one's own offspring. Like I carefully stated in the beginning, one can end up a parent in different ways and this thread is about exactly one of them.

    Given the very large numbers of unwanted children all around the world, the path to becoming a parent to one of them is open and wide. It is also clearly a compassionate action to take one or more in and thus most likely alleviate their suffering. The sole question here is, why insist on one's own?

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    In part, because at least in the US, adopting is financially prohibitive for a whole lot of people who would love to do it. I have friends who have adopted kids as drug addicted toddlers, as abused young children, as unwanted teenagers..and it is extraordinarly invasive and expensive, heartbreaking and time consuming. A friend of mine adopted a baby from a drug-addicted mother just 2 years ago. It cost them $38,000. A professor of mine in college adopted an ill baby from overseas. It cost $80,000, and that was 15 years ago. It's not quite the same as just taking out a car loan. Most places don't do adoption loans, so your only options are home equity loans or high interest personal loans.

  • techietechie India Veteran

    To me it is not just about overpopulation. Even if the population is low, I would still wonder why people want to bring children into his sad, violent world. As buddhists, we accept dukkha. And yet we want children to go through this dukkha?

    Traveller
  • @karasti you bring up some good points there, as always.

    regarding there being alternatives to Consumerist lifestyle

    Not really, as far as I can see. There are four possibilities as far as I can tell: be poor, rely on someone else, work a lot and, finally, be a rare self actualized person such as a great writer, actor etc. Of course we all want to be the latter but the chances are so slim that it's almost not worth talking about. Tremendous amount of suffering comes when that dream evaporates with age.

    Relying on someone else is not an option for everyone. I, for example, have no one else to rely on but myself and that is not going to change. So we are left with the choice between being poor and working a lot. I still don't know what the right choice is for me, and sometimes fantasize about switching to social work that barely pays or joining a spiritual community. But I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind encouraging their children to take the route of voluntary poverty. So hustle and bustle it is, for all intents and purposes.

    regarding adoption difficulties:
    Here as someone who is ignorant about the specifics of the matter, I can only believe you. All I can say is it is sad that our society does not better accommodate the potential match between the number of unwanted children and the number of mature adults who are either past reproductive age or have environmental objections to creating new life.

    regarding not giving streams of consciousness a chance to be born

    I think there is an implicit religious belief there. I tend to take the accepted scientific view that an individual is completely a function of their body. There is nothing whatsoever preceding that body nor succeeding it. There aren't any consciousnesses floating around there waiting to be born. But that is a whole different discussion :)

    Anyways, I have followed your posts over the years and think you are a wonderful person and a great parent. Every one has their opinions and that is totally cool. So cheers and best wishes to you :)

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    I was just trying to poorly put words to the Buddhist concept of rebirth, which of course not everyone believes in, which is fine :) best wishes to you of course as well, I enjoy the debate with people here because it is mostly a civil discussion with people who like to think through things. I appreciate your input and making me think about it from another angle!

    I think there are still a lot of choices that can be made to avoid the rat race of consumer life, but a person would have to know the options exist. I know quite a few people who worked for enough year (most of them less than 15 years) to accumulate the money needed to outright buy property, and they now live self-sufficiently. So yes, in a sense they participated in that consumerist culture, but with the knowledge it was short term and not with a sense of selling their souls, so to speak.

    For us, we could live elsewhere and make a lot more money. But we chose to move from the city to a rural place, where out cost of living is mostly low (expect groceries) which has allowed us to make other choices. It has allowed us to live on one income, instead of 2. It has allowed me to be home to raise our children so they weren't in daycare their entire growing up years. We keep older cars that have no payments instead of buying a new one every 4-5 years. We focus on making sure what we do spend is less harmful to the world-at-large. We could have stayed in the city and made twice what we do but we wouldn't have the life we do as a result. For us, quality time with our kids while they were/are growing up was our top priority. So we found ways to make it happen. It boggles my mind that people choose to live in a city and pay $1000+ on rent or home payments when so much of the work we do these days can be done remotely and your money goes much further. Our mortgage is $450 a month, and that's with a 4 bedroom house and a yard. That's what I meant in terms of choices. We can't always control what we have to do to make the money we need to live. But we definitely have some choices to make in the matter to get closer to our ideal life instead of spending an entire life living in misery under the guise that we have no control over any of it. There is a big difference between can't, and won't.

  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran

    Perhaps just to make himself more clear Buddha should have hung from that tree instead of walking away with a smile to teach others the dharma.

    Yes, that's sarcasm.

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited October 6

    Wanting to procreate from a Buddhist perspective

    Karma it would seem has a lot to do with having this 'desire/wanting ....


    After all..."Life is nothing but a stream of consciousness, kept flowing by the inherent force of "Karma"

    And I have four bundles of karmic energy flux/joy.... :)

    And this "I" was just one of the "pair rents"

    Traveller
  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    @shadowleaver regarding the choice between voluntary poverty and corporate hustle and bustle, I wouldn’t knock the poverty angle. I’ve recently had some of the most rewarding moments of my working life training for a job which pays very little... not all wealth is monetary.

    Travellerlobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited October 6

    @Kerome, trust me - I have known abject poverty. Money can't buy happiness, but it has its own unique type of affluent misery.

    There's a difference between working at a job that pays very little.... and having to survive from day to day through not working at all.

    lobsterTravellerDavid
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran
    edited October 6

    I think the difference to me would be that those who consider themselves living in poverty didn't choose poverty. There are quite a few people who are homeless by choice, who are nomads. Who live on and with very very little and often get by solely on the generosity of others. But they don't consider themselves to be living in poverty, because it is a conscious choice. It's interesting, I speak to quite a few nomads in my job, and their lives are rich and fascinating. But not poverty-stricken despite the very minimal amount of things they own and often being completely homeless. Making choices means they are capable of ensuring they have what they need for survival, even if that is vastly less than most people need (or claim to need). They are capable of climbing up Maslow's pyramid. People living in choiceless poverty are not.

    A few months ago I was discussing poverty with my mom. She grew up in poverty like most Americans don't know (no running water, no electricity, they used a hole cut in the floor for the bathroom) and she insists her life is so much better because she made better choices. and she did. But she knew she HAD choices and had support from an older siblings and a very helpful teacher, and then my dad and his family. She had people extend their hands to her. People who don't have that often don't know they have options.

    lobsterKerome
  • nakazcidnakazcid Somewhere in Dixie, y'all Veteran

    I consciously chose to remain childless not to prevent world hunger, but because I had a hereditary disease. I couldn't stand to think of inflicting the misery I've suffered onto my own progeny. Statistically speaking, there's only a 10% - 15% percent chance of passing it on, but I reckoned even that to be too high.

  • Perhaps having children is not compatible with being an actual Buddha.
    But until we have become fully enlightened, we are not Buddhas and we will do unenlightened things.
    The important thing is to become openly aware of what is going on inside of us, and to attempt to do whatever actions we take in such a way as to do as little harm (preferable no-harm) as possible. And to strive to develop compassion.
    Having children - not having children. Will not make us enlightened. As such, then, it is irrelevant whether or not you choose to have children.
    In fact, one could argue either way. Children offer far-greater opportunity to learn to be unselfishly compassionate than any other type of interaction/relationship with other beings ... and therefore, one could argue that the potential for growth as a Buddhist is much greater IF we become a parent.
    After all, Buddhism is not about seeking our own happiness and pleasures .. it is learning to relax into whatever comes to us, coupled with caring about others more than about ourselves.

    nakazcidshadowleaver
  • techietechie India Veteran

    Another point that I suspect many are missing.

    For many people - by no means all - having children is just instinctive. Not surprising because it originally started out as a biological imperative. Survive and reproduce, that was all the species ever did. So despite progress in arts, culture, and science later on, this primary instinct will still be there. A few centuries of civilization cannot remove millions of years of instinct.

    Shoshinkarastilobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @techie, You'll need to explain 'instinctive', because every human I know has an absolute choice as to whether to have a child or not.
    Instinct doesn't come into it at all, IMV.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    I think the drive to have sex is a pretty big one which is linked to the biological drive to procreate even if we don't consciously think of it that way. We can make the choice, but understanding and education help a lot here, and in the US we largely fail miserably at that. I didn't know what on earth was going on with my body when I was 15 and had my first boyfriend, I just knew it felt good so I went with it. I knew sex could get me pregnant, and I wasn't going to ask my mom for birth control so I relied on him to manage the birth control end. Thankfully, got lucky, as I was sexually active for 3 years before I was on birth control (not until I left home and didn't have to tell my parents).

    We regularly hear from our male members (not exclusively but mostly) how difficult it is to break out of that because it is such a strong drive. Watching my 15 year old go through puberty, his hormones have much more control over him than he feels he has over them. A topic we discuss and work on, but that instinctual drive is definitely there. I think that is part of the reason that some people seem to breed like rabbits, because they are having sex based on instinctual desire on the male half (again, generally speaking) and emotional connection desire on the female half without much thought at all consciously going into actually creating a life. Much due to lack of education and falling back to religion.

    In the US, 45% of pregnancies are not planned. Yes, most should know they have birth control options, but as is often the case here, there is a lack of education (especially in red states) and a lack of availabililty (again, especially in red states). Trump just rolled back Obama's birth control gains the other day, I believe.

    My state is one of the best in the nation, and it is largely because education is decent, birth control options are widely available and without teens having to consult their parents.

    lobster
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