Right Conduct For Lay Buddhists

Lay Buddhists Worshipping the Buddha

by Jayaram V

Inasmuch, young householder, as the noble disciple (1) has eradicated the four vices in conduct, (2) inasmuch as he commits no evil action in four ways, (3) inasmuch as he pursues not the six channels for dissipating wealth, he thus, avoiding these fourteen evil things, covers the six quarters, and enters the path leading to victory in both worlds: he is favored in this world and in the world beyond. Upon the dissolution of the body, after death, he is born in a happy heavenly realm. - Digha Nikaya


Morals For The Lay Followers Of Buddhis

The Mahanama Sutta defines a lay Buddhist follower as the one who has taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha and declares him to be virtuous to the extent he abstains from destroying living beings, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxicants. According to the Anguttara Nikaya (5.175) a lay follower (upasaka) has the following five qualities: "He has faith; he is virtuous; he is not superstitious; he believes in action (kamma) and not in luck or omen; he does not seek outside (of the Order) for those worthy of support and does not attend there first."

Although not yet fully committed to the teachings of the Buddha, a lay follower is expected to build his life on the foundation of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Cultivating virtue and avoiding vice, constitute the core principle of his life. Right understanding, right effort and right mindfulness are the means by which he is expected to mould himself in order to make progress on the path and live up to the ideals suggested by the Buddha, namely avoiding evil, doing good and purifying the mind.

The Digga Nikaya stipulates the lay followers to guard themselves against the following evils. These rules of restraint are meant for the lay followers of Buddhism and the householders, who have committed themselves to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, but not yet ready for the full fledged monkhood. They are essentially part of the right living under the Eightfold Path. They also help the lay followers to cultivate detachment and other virtues. A disciple is advised to avoid the fourteen evils which consist of the four vices of action, the four evil motives and the six ways of squandering his wealth. He who leads a virtuous life in this manner is said to be ready to conquer both the worlds and on death will reborn in heaven. Even for those who are not interested in the teachings of the Buddha, these rules are useful in cultivating virtues and avoiding vices.

I. The four vices of action

1. Injury to life.

2. Taking what is not given.

3. Base conduct in sexual matters.

4. False speech.

II. The four motives of evil deeds

1. Evil deeds committed because of partiality

2. Evil deeds committed because of enmity

3. Evil deeds committed because of stupidity.

4. Evil deeds committed out of fear.

III. The six ways of squandering wealth

1. Addiction to drink, the cause of carelessness. Addiction to drinks results in (i) loss of wealth, (ii) increase of quarrels, (iii) susceptibility to disease, (iv) earning an evil reputation, (v) shameless exposure of body, (vi) weakening of intellect.

2. Roaming the streets at improper times. It leads to  (i) he who roams himself is unprotected and unguarded, (ii) his wife and children are unprotected and unguarded, (iii) his property is unprotected and unguarded, (iv) he is suspected of evil deeds,3 (v) he is subject to false rumors, (vi) he meets with many troubles.

3. Frequenting fairs,  theatrical performances and other entertainment avenues. It makes a person think obsessively about (i) where is the dancing? (ii) where is the singing? (iii) where is the music? (iv) where is the recitation? (v) where is the playing with cymbals? and (vi) where is the pot-blowing? 

4. Indulging in gambling, which results in such unhappy consequences as (i) the winner begets hate, (ii) the loser grieves for lost wealth, (iii) loss of wealth, (iv) his word is not relied upon in a court of law, (v) he is despised by his friends and associates, (vi) he is not sought after for matrimony; for people would say he is a gambler and is not fit to look after a wife.

5. Keeping bad company or associating with evil companions results in friendship with evil people such as any gambler, any libertine, any drunkard, any swindler, any cheat and any rowdy.

6. The habit of idleness makes a person come out with such excuses as (i) that it is extremely cold, (ii) that it is extremely hot, (iii) that it is too late in the evening, (iv) that it is too early in the morning, (v) that he is extremely hungry, (vi) that he is too full.

The ten virtues of lay followers

The Milindapatha lists the following ten virtues of  the lay followers.

1. He shares the joys and sorrows of the Order;

2. He places the Dhamma first;

3. He enjoys giving according to his ability;

4. If he sees a decline in the Dispensation of the Teaching of the Buddha, he strives for its strong growth;

5. He has right views, disregarding belief in superstitions and omens; he will not accept any other teacher, not even for the sake of his life;

6. He guards his deeds and words;

7. He loves and cherishes peace and concord;

8. He is not envious or jealous;

9. He does not live a Buddhist life by way of deception or hypocrisy;

10. He has gone for refuge to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.

Suggestions for Further Reading

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