Embracing Family

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Honoring the hearth

Commitments to one's family and commitments beyond family must be adjusted and balanced all the time. Concern for the world's far-flung conflagrations does not justify neglect of the hearth close at hand. Nhat Hanh offers a useful self-check: "If you cannot serve your wife or husband or child or parent, how are you going to serve society?" Engaged Buddhism's insistence on systemic change does not overlook the vital role of a homemaker: a parent striving to raise children to be nonviolent and free of prejudice is thereby working to change society.

In premodern Asian cultures, to withdraw from family and society was often the most radical course available, proof of the ultimate urgency of one's spiritual search. Now, in a period of familial disintegration and social fragmentation, the most radical course may not be to abandon a family but to embrace one.