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The significance of parents and ancestors in Lao Buddhism


The Buddhist teachings of the Theravāda, as they are recorded in the Pāli canon (Tipiṭaka), demonstrate little concern for filial piety or ancestor cults. This is hardly surprising for a religion that rests on the ethic of kamma (according to which the fate of a being remains strictly individual, resulting only from his actions in this or previous existences) and recommends, at least in its founding texts, the renunciation of filial and familial ties, often regarded as an obstacle on the path to liberation. In contrast, Lao Buddhists consider that devotion towards parents, forebears and ancestors is at the core of religious life and undoubtedly belongs within the teaching of the Buddha. Giving alms, building a monastery, casting an image of the Master or a saint, commissioning a copy of a manuscript, receiving ordination, practising meditation, participating in annual festivals—more broadly, all kinds of pious deeds—are opportunities to pay homage or provide assistance to parents and lineage spirits, with whom the fruits of these actions will be shared. The purpose of this study is to consider the place occupied by parents and ancestors in Lao Buddhism and to understand how, and to what extent, the Lao have been able to harmonise their own social and familial accounts with the doctrine of the Theravāda, on which their spirituality is understood to rest.

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