Buddhism’s Take on Being Childfree

            In a recurring series we have been looking at specific religions’ views on a childfree lifestyle. This time around we look at Buddhism, although there is much debate about whether Buddhism is a religion and/or a philosophy.  Suffice it to say, it is on the list of major world religions, with about 360 million followers, mostly in the Far East, and is becoming more popular in the West. (More on this here.)

            Buddhism has elements of both a religion and a philosophy, and much depends upon how one defines “religion,” for which there is no standard. Like most religions, Buddhism has precepts about what constitutes moral behavior, and a system of thought that points to the highest

The Dharma wheel symbolizes the path to enlightenment
The Dharma wheel symbolizes Buddhism’s eight-fold path to enlightenment

truth. Unlike religion, it is not deity-oriented. An individual’s transformation is an internal process that involves meditating to attain wisdom about the issues of existence.  For our purposes, we will treat Buddhism as a religion with defined beliefs about procreation.

            Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera (1919-2006) was a Buddhist monk and author. Dr. Dhammananda explained that Buddhists accept birth control provided that it prevents contraception, as opposed to killing that which has already been conceived. So, “the pill” is an acceptable form of birth control, whereas an intrauterine device (IUD) or an abortion is not.

            The Buddhist views on procreation and marriage are liberal (perhaps more so than in any other world religion). “Marriage is regarded entirely as a personal and individual concern and not as a religious duty . . . It is not laid down anywhere that Buddhists must produce children or regulate the number of children they produce.” (More)

            Although Buddhism does not direct people to give birth, or suggest to them how many children, if any, they should create, Buddhist leaders are acutely aware of issues related to overpopulation.  The Dalai Lama states in a YouTube video that if the population grows beyond 6 billion, this will cause great difficulty. Therefore, he says, family planning is necessary.  In an attempt at humor regarding such a serious subject, the well-regarded leader quips that if more people become nuns and monks (therefore practice celibacy) this will help control population growth.

            Thich Nhat Hanh, teacher, author of books about contemporary Buddhism, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, stated in his U.N. World Conference speech, “For a Future to be Possible”:

            “Our world is becoming smaller, and even more interdependent with the rapid growth in population . . . It is important to reassess the responsibilities of individuals in relation to each other and to the planet as a whole. . . .We are finding that the world is becoming one community. We are being drawn together by the problems of overpopulation, dwindling natural resources, and an environmental crisis that threatens the very foundation of our existence on this planet.”

– James H. Hitchcock, The Value of Buddhist Responses to Issues of Overpopulation, Overconsumption, and Environmental Degradation, July 10, 2008.

            The Buddhist religious philosophy allows for the freedom of the individual to decide whether to procreate or not.  Educating oneself about the consequences seems to be its imperative.  Said another way, it would help the world community if prospective parents would be mindful of the impact even one child has on the planet.  Thinking twice before making children could well be the way to save Mother Earth.  


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