The Line Between Renunciant and Lay Practice

Image by David Kerkhoff from Pixabay

It is a mistake to disregard the distinction between the teachings addressed to renunciants and lay followers in the Early Buddhist texts. Given their tone, the renunciant practices could potentially discourage householders from fulfilling essential family and social duties, and paint the practice as incompatible for seekers who value such duties, consequently discouraging them from looking further into Buddhism.

The Buddha himself highlights this distinction throughout the texts. In the Dhammika Sutta (Snp 2.14, Ṭhānissaro), the Buddha states that, “As for the householder protocol, I will tell you how-acting one becomes a good disciple, since the entire monk-practice can’t be managed by those wealthy in property.”

When the people of Bamboo Gate (SN 55.7) ask the Buddha for a practice suited for those who handle money, live in homes “crowded with children”, and wish for a higher rebirth, the Buddha provides a teaching on ethics and triple-gem recollections. Similar instructions are given in the Sāleyyaka Sutta (MN 41).

In the Tevijjavaccha Sutta (MN 71, Bodhi), the Buddha tells the wanderer Vaccha that, “There is no householder who, without abandoning the fetter of householdership, on the dissolution of the body has made an end of suffering.” However, the Buddha then says that, “There are not only one hundred or two or three or four or five hundred, but far more householders who, without abandoning the fetter of householdership, on the dissolution of the body have gone to heaven.”

I propose that we focus more on texts like the Siṅgāla Sutta (DN 31), which the great sage Buddhaghosa called “the Vinaya (code of discipline) of the householder”, and focus less on texts like the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (MN 10), which currently dominates the discourse on Theravada practice in English speaking countries. Even for those who choose not to believe in rebirth, understanding the societal benefits of ethical conduct, and how to cultivate meaningful relationships, could be more appealing to them than meditating on a rotting corpse.

Multimedia • Bibliophile • Herbivore • धर्म

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