When bhiksus and bhiksunis embark upon a life of spiritual cultivation, not only do they leave home and sever ties to their families, but it is generally assumed that they live without any further contact with their families. Evidence for this can be found in the stories of Gotama Buddha's own renunciation and the stock phrases found in early Buddhist canonical sources describing family life as an obstacle to spiritual cultivation. Recent developments in Vinaya Studies, however, are beginning to reveal that there may have been continued close contact between bhiksus and bhiksunis and their families subsequent to renunciation.
The present paper deals with a passage in Buddhaghosa's commentary on the Pali Vinaya, the Samantapasadika, that sheds light on this topic. In his commentary on the case-law section of the third parajika rule (against taking human life), there is a detailed discussion of the various circumstances in which, and persons to whom, a bhiksu may give medicines. The passage contains a recommendation to prescribe medicines for mothers, fathers, patients nursed by parents, veyyavaccakaras, and pandupalasas. It also contains a rule allowing the prescription of medicines for brothers, sisters, and other relatives, those to whom a bhiksu or bhiksuni is related by blood. These materials provide us with a rich source of data for the study of relationships between renunciants and their families, and would seem to provide concrete evidence for actual relationships between bhiksus and their relatives in the Buddhist Sangha around the fifth century C. E.