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Respecting one’s elders

nakazcidnakazcid Somewhere in Dixie, y'all Veteran

Since I recently moved to a bigger city with many Buddhist options, I decided to visit a Theravada community, based on the Thai Forest tradition. I’ve always enjoyed Ajahn Brahm’s dharma talks, so I thought I’d drop by and see what it was like.

And the very first sermon I was treated to was about respecting one’s elders, in particular one’s parents. This is rather a sore point for me as one of my parents had paranoid schizophrenia, and the other bailed on us when he couldn’t take it any more. I mean, how are you supposed to respect that?

And my other experiences with authority figures are mostly dubious. In my experience most ‘leaders’ act primarily out of self interest, often to the detriment of their followers.

That said, the presentation was light hearted and some good points were made (e.g. setting aside differences so everybody can get along and actually get stuff done instead of arguing all day.) But overall it still rather rubbed me the wrong way.

Does this sound like a place I should go back to? Is this, shall we say, an opportunity to set aside some aversions and learn something? Or should I avoid this like the plague?



  • personperson Don't believe everything you think The liminal space Veteran

    Western culture is very individualistic, particularly in contrast to Asian cultures. We value going our own way and expressing our uniqueness in ways that more collectivist cultures don't. I'm not an expert, but I think there are more socially enforced norms (as well as the social structures in place to support them) to ensure wiser, more harmonious behavior from elders than our culture may have.

    The translation of individual aspects divorced from supporting elements isn't always perfect?

    So, I don't know. Take what positive you can get from it, maybe talk to someone there about it and your experience around authority. In the end though it might not be the right fit and another dharma community would work better.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    I think it is good that you saw the contrast between the teaching and your own experience and attitude. It is a good learning opportunity, and maybe a chance to identify and shed some old mental ballast.

    A background like yours can easily result in some childhood trauma, ill-feeling towards parents and authority figures. To come to a position of clarity about that, so that you can accept an authority figure without straight away tagging them as a subject of distrust and a potential source of pain, would be a valuable step.

    Perhaps it might be useful to discuss this with a live teacher? It might be a good thing to get in touch with the place were you heard the sermon, and say you want to discuss its effects on you.

  • Respect for elders is independent of like or dislike, love or hate or indifference. Specifically, respecting your parents, no matter their character or condition, arises from the fact that they are the ones who brought you into this life.
    Of course there is more involved, but it is a beginning.

  • nakazcidnakazcid Somewhere in Dixie, y'all Veteran

    @Fosdick I think the process you are describing is very valuable, but it's not what I'd call respect. It seems a lot closer to forgiveness...

    @Lionduck So are these elders worthy of respect? (Warning: some may find this disturbing)

    As @person mentioned, I do believe that Western culture can be too individualistic. That said, many parents - regardless of culture - are unfit to be such, and deserving of imprisonment, not respect. Unquestioning respect for, or obedience to, such persons is wrong.

    Despite this I think this may be an outlier and not generally indicative of an excessively authoritarian sangha. But I could well be wrong too. I hesitate to bring it up with any of the staff lest it be interpreted as challenging authority.

  • AboudAboud Space New
    edited March 2023

    Hello. It sounds like you experienced a standard Buddhist talk in a traditional Asian Buddhist centre that is family orientated. Respecting parents is about children having gratitude for the care & sacrifice the parents provided . If your parents did not provide care to you there are no strong grounds for such overt respect. Instead, you can cultivate compassion towards your parents, trying to understand why they had such personal problems.

    Having said this, there is nothing wrong or "excessively authoritarian" with the Buddhist centre you attended. What is out of the ordinary is your personal circumstances. I suggest you think about attending some social activities at this Buddhist centre where you may experience hospitable family gatherings; such as attend the days where people make food offerings to the monks. If you hang out with some nice hospitable families, you may start to respect some of those hospitable parents.

  • Cars are enormously beneficial to societal wealth.
    There are a few pretty shady car dealers though.

    Farming plays a critical role in society's food chain.
    But some farmers engage in destructive practices that deplete the soil.

    We living humans literally owe our very existence to parents.
    Not everyone is good at parenting, though.

    The teaching is valid.
    That doesn't mean that bad examples can't be found.

    Given your experience, the teaching might actually be MORE valuable to you than to others.

    If it doesn't show you something outside your existing knowledge, it isn't really teaching, is it?

  • Some great answers from our elders (a type of tree)

    An elder can be an experienced exemplar, friend, source of understanding. With humility everyone becomes a learning from = elder …

  • FosdickFosdick in its eye are mirrored far off mountains Alaska, USA Veteran

    I think the process you are describing is very valuable, but it's not what I'd call respect.>

    Definitions from Oxford Languages
    a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
    "the director had a lot of respect for Douglas as an actor"

    due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.
    "young people's lack of respect for their parents"

  • 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

    Many, many years ago, a neighbour, who had been carer to her mother for a good 15 years, finally faced her mother's last days at home, where she died. Not knowing what to say or do (I was a wet-behind-the-ears teenager) I bought her a little rose bush, in memory of her mum - which I actually watched her carry to the dustbin, and hurl it in with an angry flourish.
    Naturally, I was shocked, but in those days, (we're talking 50 years ago!) I was definitely not one to challenge or argue with someone adult, so although hurt and upset, I tried to let it go.
    A few days later, we met in the street, and she thanked me for my gift, and must have realised from my reaction, that I knew she'd thrown it away, so after a short Q & A, she went on to explain that her relationship with her mother had been one of almost a slave to a mistress. Her mother had always treated her abominably, and had instead favoured her older brothers shamelessly. In spite of everything she had done for her mother, there was absolutely no provision made for her in the Will, and her house, goods & chattels and considerable sum of money was left divided between her two boys. She had been left homeless, and penniless.
    It was an absolute blessing that her two brothers subsequently drew up an agreement to allow her to live in the house indefinitely, rent free, and they would deal with all household finances 50/50.
    So while she had absolutely NO respect for her mother, and a deep and abiding resentment, her two older brothers proved to be eminently respectful - and respectable gentlemen.
    So, "respecting your elders" is very much a universal recommendation. But it's occasionally hard to implement.
    What we have to remember is that Respect your elders, and, as we are encouraged in the 10 Commandments, to "Honour thy father and mother", nowhere is the word 'Love' mentioned.
    Respect and honour are a recognition that these people have had to put in hard graft to get you to where you are today. Consciously, or unconsciously, by accident or by design, our parents make us who we are, and we make choices through experience. So honouring and respecting is good for us too.

  • howhow Veteran Veteran

    I try to respect everyone regardless of their age.
    To respect that everyone has some teachings to offer about what to do and what not to do, whether it's their intention to share them or not, when I am open enough to receive those teachings.
    Pretty much what has already been said about it, above.

  • There is a generality to "Respect our Elders"
    as with all such generalities, there are exceptions.
    Respect for one's parents for having brought you into this world does not mean you must respect acts of cruelty, meanness or disregard for others.
    In this regard, those who torture their children would not be looked upon as elders and certainly not elders worthy of respect.
    the concept is, however, that we respect others (and ourselves) as beings capable of great good while we must accept that we also have the potential of great evil. it is the endevor to be and do good, embodies in the concepts of right thoughts, deeds, words, etc., from which rises the concept and ideal of respect for our elder, our neighbores, our fellow beings. it is the concept of respecting the begger on the street, as a human being, regardless of circumstance.

    Peace to all

  • Does this sound like a place I should go back to? Is this, shall we say, an opportunity to set aside some aversions and learn something? Or should I avoid this like the plague?

    The plague can be thought of as an elder. Any idea, place or crazy parent or other influence allows us to practice discernment and apply a level of 'elder discernment'. We do not have to agree and often it is better not to with immature authority, spiritual dogma, political dogma, non applicable advice, metacognition, statistical 'evidence', misinformation etc.

    I hardly believe or trust anything I think, it is not my elder … :mrgreen:

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