Can or should a lay follower eliminate sensual desire?

please! can you list them?


That would take awhile… :sweat_smile:

You can find them in this paper by John L. Kelly.


Man! i cant thank you enough for this. :anjal::anjal::anjal:


Glad I could help. :pray:


One is not a mendicant by the rituals they have gone through or robes that they wear. I like DN4 on this.

From MN22:

Truly, mendicants, it’s not possible to perform sensual acts without sensual pleasures, sensual perceptions, and sensual thoughts.

I take “sensual pleasures, sensual perceptions, and sensual thoughts” to mean desires here.

Yes. But for me the word ‘transcending’ still seems not quite right, but I’m probably just nit-picking.

In the SN 56.11 we find suffering (first noble truth ) is to be ‘understood’. Once we have understood suffering, desire (second noble truth) does not need to be ‘suppressed’ or ‘transcended’, but instead it is just ‘abandoned’ (or ‘given up’ in the translation by Bhante Sujato).

If one cannot see the arc of cause and effect from desire to suffering then one is destined to carry on desiring. After all, there is much immediate ‘gratification’ in desire. Once the arc is seen, desire is abandoned.


If I’m interpreting this quote correctly (via the fetters model), to achieve at minimum once-returner status, one can’t be in a sexual relationship, or partake in a line of work that taps into sensual pleasures. The best they can hope for is a higher rebirth or stream-entry.


Yep, and to see the arc one needs an alternative and the big big picture. That’s where stillness and liberating insight comes into play.

It’s once one finds the blameless pleasure of stillness that the mind finally drops the old toys and gets really hooked in the things that matter for the ennobling task to be fulfilled.

And to close the loop that’s why the Buddha established and advocated for a spiritual community as a best environment for the right sort of livelihood and effort needed for the factors of right mindfulness and stillness to flourish and yield this transformative overview.



I understand it the same way. But let’s count the blessings here, stream-entry is already a much better thing than being totally adrift in samsara as the 99.99% out there.

People totally underestimate stream-entry.

It is as ‘simple’ as trusting the Triple Gem, giving up the internal and external mambo-jambos we like to grasp on, and being truthful to the unreliability and illusion of the tragicomedy of the five khanda we have to go through every single day of our waking lives! :sweat_smile:


Not I. :smile: I don’t have any issue at all with stream-entry as a goal. I’m a big proponent of it, and it’s the attainment that I’m striving for.

Speaking of which, Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu wrote an accessible study guide on this topic titled Into the Stream: A Study Guide on the First Stage of Awakening.


:slight_smile: Life can be complicated, or not complicated; how we View our lives, also.

imo it is possible it have a spiritual relationship rise in unexpected contexts; desiring integrity and the ultimate well being of all temporarily in relation is lovely, imo leads to liberation eventually.

Why temporary? Impermanence… it reveals itself to anyone with little dust in their eyes.

imo it is possible; but it seems likely to complicate intimacy and relationships. If mindful awareness includes good speech, the elements of good speech assuredly apply in this imo! If obligations need to be resolved before entering into an ordained life, and training too, then perhaps those also might apply.

Compassion, for everyone.


This is an interesting and multi-faceted discussion, issues that I’ve encountered in my own mind for years.

I’m a lay follower, married and own and operate two businesses. I take the dhamma seriously and practice all day, every day. I used to long to be a monk, to leave this difficult life of swimming in deep waters of sensuality; sex, money, food, complicated friendships, vacations, recreational events, etcetera, etcetera. I thought that if I were a monk I could be free of temptation on every side, free to give all of my attention to practice.

One of the main reasons I haven’t left all of this life behind is the precept of not causing harm to another being. I’ve been married for over 21 years and have been through a lot of very intense issues and have made commitments in this relationship. My wife does not meditate and does not practice the dhamma but she recognizes the unmistakable impact that my practice has made on how I think, speak, and act. Honestly, if I told her I was leaving to become a monk she would not understand. She would also be in a world of financial ruin. Perhaps I’m being short sighted and things would turn out differently than I can imagine, but I know my wife well and my guess is that her view of Buddhist practice would be highly unfavorable. This would harm another or more than another being.

What I’ve found over the years of dealing with this is that leaving my present lay life for a monastic life would be running away and thinking it would be the easy way out. I have issues. Since I was a child I have been grappling with sex addiction. It was my shameful secret until my wife found out and it nearly ended our marriage. I won’t go into all of the details, but I (and we) took radical action. For me, facing that demon inside was a matter of life or death. For me, the roots of sensual desire for sex are deep, invasive and don’t yield like one might hope or expect. Fourteen years after the shit hit the fan in my life and I’m still chipping away. If it wasn’t for the beautiful path and compassionate teaching of the Buddha, I’d be in hopeless samsara.

And don’t get me started about my issues with money, security, fear and safety!

The gift of being stuck in my lay life is that I can’t just avoid desire or fear. When it arises I must practice. What does it mean to practice? How do I do this? How can I be married and deal successfully with these hooks? It’s been a long difficult journey with a million failures. Perhaps I haven’t eradicated sensual desire but I think I’ve made WAY more progress in lay life that I ever could have if secluded away from temptation in a monastery. Lay life has forced me to confront a never ending stream of situations to deal with. I couldn’t care less about following a moral code of conduct. My practice is cultivating ethics and wholesome qualities that are the impetus behind my moral behavior. I have to be prepared to deal with sensual desire as it arises, I have to be razor sharp.

I find it interesting that Mara followed the Buddha all the way until his death. He was fully awakened and always instantly knew the tricks of the mind. Mara, the trickster, my Mara Nature if you will, is my mental gravitational pull of craving what I think I want or need. I’ve become much better at seeing Mara before I’ve been hooked too deeply but I’m not fully awakened.

I’m interested to see where this discussion goes.


I think the answer lies in the question. The Buddha didn’t instruct us to avoid pleasure, but rather not to lust after it or get attached to it.


I can’t speak for anyone else, but my issues wouldn’t simply go away if I became a monk. I think it might open up different expressions of the same roots that I would have to face with the dhamma.


I guess a question for ‘normal’ people is (not spiritual weirdos like us) ‘what’s wrong with fun?? I partly enjoy my life, so why should I brainwash myself to believe that everything is miserable suffering?’ In the past I used to give philosophical answers. Today I agree. There is no need for everyone to be a desire-eridicating buddhist. Where there is no fundamental problem a fundamental answer is not necessary.


Same. I’d still have a bit of anger to contend with. Working in Chicago for 17+ years likely hasn’t been helpful. It’s a very aggressive city, and the mood rubs off on you. I’ve been trying to be more mindful of these feelings.

Agreed. Not even the Buddha advocated this. Clearly, he saw arahantship as the utmost attainment, but he didn’t dissuade people from seeking higher rebirths, or attain stream-entry, once-returner, or non-returner status. A higher rebirth and stream-entry don’t require the total suppression of sensual desire.


I find that cravings cause me suffering, in my daily life, and so it makes sense to reduce those cravings that cause me suffering. My life is calmer, less cluttered and less driven because of it.

with metta


I must mettafully disagree with this second point as well. Monastics are some of the hardest working people I know. They spend countless hours providing instruction and personal aid, and translating and commentating the suttas so that they’re accessible to all. The typical monastic is extraordinarily diligent, patient, and empathetic.


That is great that you have such an inspiring experience. Having reflected about the matter a little bit, here are some of my thoughts:

First of all I would say that the ideal of working little is in the Suttas: for the ‘Karaniya Metta Sutta’ the ideal is to be ‘Unburdened with duties’. Most of us lay people with children unfortunately are burdened with duties whether we want it or not.

Not many professions (if any) have a 3 month vacation every year (which is what Vassa is)

There are indeed monastics who, outside Vassa, seem to work hard spreading the Dhamma and giving talks, but since those are precisely the ones you see and hear about, you might tend to generalize and think they are all like that (this is part of our psychological bias, there’s a lot of work in behavioral psychology showing we make generalization from our limited experience, and our experience is necessarily OF monks who spread the Dhamma, since we don’t get to see the others). When I visited a monastery and tried to find writings or talks by the monks I met, I realized most of them had never given any, or perhaps one. They appeared to be living a very relaxed life style.

Finally I have reflected that their type of work is done in quite a different ‘atmosphere’ than the work done by lay people. For example I saw a talk by Sujato where he said that he often forgets meetings etc, and once they called him because he was supposed to give a talk somewhere but having forgotten, he was in a completely different part of the planet. That sounded quite funny and it didn’t affect at all his reputation; perhaps it even enhanced it since a monk is not supposed to be involved in worldly things. But when listening to that, I reflected that if I or my colleagues had done the same, we would probably have been fired. So we work in a much more stressful atmosphere as lay people, we are not allowed to be forgetful and we are not forgiven for making mistakes. It’s a very different type of work.


Both ways are challenging. And complement each other. Both paths are chosen and upheld with metta.


These two endeavors are challenging in the world.

The endeavor of laypeople staying in a home to provide robes, alms-food, lodgings, and medicines and supplies for the sick. And the endeavor of those gone forth from the lay life to homelessness to let go of all attachments.


Well no one said that you couldn’t take the same road, if you were able to (or wanted to). It would seem no-one forced you to give for the monks up-keep. As there are many people willing to support people who are seeking the path in this way, and there is no tithe, going by the financial standards you’ve applied, its not of any concern to anyone who will benefit from the thousands of hours worth of text, voice and live teachings available.

Monkhood is a profession in the way an astronaut is a ‘traveller’. In ancient India, and now as well, there is a band of people seeking the Truth, and except in the West, this is a Path in life which is highly regarded by those who are unable to do so, or aren’t so inclined. They reap the benefits of this lifestyle, in terms of the wisdom they impart. I presume in West Psychologists are paid, and the same should follow through.

Regarding the rains retreat, many people often see meditation retreats as ‘holidays’, but this is the wrong mindset to approach these in. There’s mental work, to be done and it is difficult, perhaps harder than physical work as outcomes aren’t guaranteed and the material at hand is incredibly subtle.