EBTs and lay people not being able to keep the precepts to the same level as mendicants

Buddha acknowledges that lay people can not keep the precepts to the same level as a monk!
The first time I read the following Sutta thanks to Bhante Sujato’s translation.

“Of the five things that the brahmins prescribe for making merit and succeeding in the skillful, where do you usually find them: among laypeople or renunciates?” “Mostly among renunciates, and less so among lay people. For a lay person has many requirements, duties, issues, and undertakings, and they can’t always tell the truth, practice austerities, be celibate, do lots of recitation, or be very generous. But a renunciate has few requirements, duties, issues, and undertakings, and they can always tell the truth, practice austerities, be celibate, do lots of recitation, and be very generous. Of the five things that the brahmins prescribe for making merit and succeeding in the skillful, I usually find them among renunciates, and less so among laypeople.”


It’s not a surprise, as they have agreed voluntarily to a great number of precepts, and they are more likely to be motivated to keep it as well!


I confess to shaving my armpits. :pray:
I confess to cutting plants for their fruit so that I might eat. :pray:
I confess to digging in the ground to plant new life. :pray:
I confess to sleeping on a high and luxurious bed shared with one who cares. :pray:
I confess that these offenses will not end soon. :turtle:


Serious question: Where does an inexpensive bed from IKEA fall in regard to this? My own bed happens to be “low” in the literal sense, but only when compared to most current American beds. It’s not made from fancy materials, and its appearance is quite plain indeed. No one would call it ostentatious.

Yet even such a “low” bed may have been a “high” bed in the old days. Back then it would have been more comfortable, probably, than the beds of kings.


Gus, you are definitely observing the precept from my perspective! :rofl:

When we were first married, we both slept on a futon on the floor, even after our first child. That served just fine until older age when joints cause pain. I think the middle way here might be called for. Neither indulgence nor self-mortification.


First let me admit I use a mattress and soft pillows.

Learn what has been well explained, associate only with Śramanas, (live) in seclusion and with only a single mat, and thy mind will be at rest.

He who has but a single mat, one resting-place (the earth?), who is without indolence, who dwells alone in a forest, he will learn to control himself. - SuttaCentral

As long as they live, the perfected ones give up high and luxurious beds. They sleep in a low place, either a small bed or a straw mat. I, too, for this day and night will give up high and luxurious beds. I’ll sleep in a low place, either a small bed or a straw mat. I will observe the sabbath by doing as the perfected ones do in this respect.’ This is its eighth factor. - SuttaCentral

So I have heard. At one time the Buddha was staying near Vesālī, at the Great Wood, in the hall with the peaked roof. There the Buddha addressed the mendicants: “Mendicants!” “Venerable sir,” they replied. The Buddha said this:

“Mendicants, these days the Licchavis live using wood blocks as pillows, and they exercise diligently and keenly. King Ajātasattu Vedehiputta of Magadha finds no vulnerability, he’s got no foothold. But in the future the Licchavis will become delicate, with soft and tender hands and feet. They’ll sleep on soft beds with down pillows until the sun comes up. King Ajātasattu Vedehiputta of Magadha will find a vulnerability, he’ll get his foothold.

These days the mendicants live using wood blocks as pillows, and they meditate diligently and keenly. Māra the Wicked finds no vulnerability, he’s got no foothold. But in the future the mendicants will become delicate, with soft and tender hands and feet. They’ll sleep on soft beds with down pillows until the sun comes up. Māra the Wicked will find a vulnerability and will get a foothold. So you should train like this: ‘We will live using wood blocks as pillows, and we will meditate diligently and keenly.’ That’s how you should train.” - SN20.8

The history of pillows is interesting:

Pillows are synonymous with comfort and relaxation. They are a cushion for the head and neck, providing support and a good night’s sleep. However, in the past, pillows weren’t exactly the soft headrest they are today.

The history of the pillow dates back to around 7,000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq. These pillows were made of stone and obviously weren’t comfortable, although comfort wasn’t really their purpose.

The function of the stone pillow was to prevent insects from crawling into mouths, noses, and ears. With the high price of stone, they were used only by the wealthy citizens…

The ancient Chinese civilization used different materials such as stone, wood, bamboo, bronze, porcelain, and jade decorated with pictures of humans, animals, and plants. They believed that the materials of which the pillow was made could have health benefits for the person using it.

It was generally agreed that the jade pillow increased one’s intelligence. While the Chinese had the ability to make soft pillows, they believed they stole energy from the body while sleeping. The Chinese supported the idea that hard pillows bring health and intellect.

The ancient Greeks and Romans left behind the idea of the traditional hard pillow and used cloth filled with materials such as cotton, reeds, or straw, while the wealthy used soft down feathers. These pillows were the antecedents of the type of pillows used today.

In the European Middle Ages, pillows were not particularly popular. The soft pillow was a status symbol and many people could not afford to use them. King Henry VIII banned the use of soft pillows for anyone except pregnant women.



The kammic benefits of celibacy and other austerities apply irrespective of whether the practitioner is a monk or a layperson:

"Then the thought occurred to Gavesin the lay follower: ‘I am the benefactor of these 500 lay followers, their leader, the one who has inspired them. I practice in full in terms of my virtue, just as they practice in full in terms of their virtue. In that we’re exactly even; there’s nothing extra [for me]. How about something extra!’ So he went to the 500 lay followers and on arrival said to them, ‘From today onward I want you to know me as someone who practices the chaste life, the life apart, abstaining from intercourse, the act of villagers.’—AN 5.180

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What I like to discuss here that observing even the five precepts is not an easy task for the lay people. But monks can observe it to the fullest.

Given that you are a lay person and not a renounciate, I don’t get why you refer to these as offences. :smirk_cat:


When reading this Sutta I cannot tell who is saying

But it does seem like it is Subha and not the Buddha. It looks as though Buddha asks the below and Subha replies the above.


Because I hold myself accountable.

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The Buddha doesn’t say this. Subha the brahmin student does.


Even if it’s true that lay people cannot develop virtue or keep the five precepts as well as a monk can, that doesn’t diminish the karmic consequences of the breaking the precepts. All it would mean is that lay people are more likely to be reborn in the realms of downfall. So even if some samana says it’s hard for a lay person to be pure in their virtue, it isn’t much consolation in the samsaric scheme of things.


Accountable as a renounciate or as a lay person?

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I frequently encounter the “armchair ascetic”, people who mistake themselves for pseudo-monastic renunciants just because they practice a few extra precepts here and there. This is troubling to me as a monk, because there are things one can only understand about monastic renunciation when one actually has done it; such as having no money, relying on almsfood, giving away your possessions etc. It’s easy to do this for a few days on retreat and feel a bit spiritually smug, but doing it for real is quite different! I recommend people try it out for themselves :star_struck:

I feel that armchair ascetics often diminish what it means to actually renounce and follow the monastic precepts by underestimating the substantial complexity involved, and they also overestimate their own (untested) views of what’s it like to be a renunciant or monastic; or what it should be like as they see it. There is a touch of the conceit of superiority, because they feel they follow more precepts than the ordinary Buddhist, and think more is better. But this of course it not the point.

It’s important to understand that the precepts are not commandments, but training rules, guides to skillful behaviour. When people talk of “breaking” or “transgressing” or “violating” the 5/8 precepts as if it will send them straight to hell, or use it to divide people into good and bad categories, I fear it is a big misunderstanding of the purpose of observing these trainings. It is not only the precept that matters but what the mind is being trained in and towards. Things are more complicated…

It’s actually quite easy to keep negatively formulated rules, (don’t do this, don’t do that) but it’s much harder to consciously cultivate the positive counterparts to those rules. For example not killing is fairly easy, but having a mind full of loving kindness, and non-harm, giving the gift of fearlessness to all beings, that is more difficult. Everytime we don’t kill a mosquito we shouldn’t feel satisfied for merely following a rule, but understand and consciously reflect on how the precept is transforming our mind towards these beautiful states of non hatred and non harm. Similarly, the negative formulations of the other precepts also have their counterparts in positive qualities that we can practice and it is this conscious cultivation that leads to the development of the mind, not the mere observation of the rule itself. Even a baby can unintentionally practice the 5 precepts! The true perfection of these qualities, however, is no mean feat, which is why even 5 precepts are difficult to practice properly.

Whilst aligning ones own lay practice with that of monastics might make sense in some ways, I feel it is an unnessecary and misguided approach. As a monk, I see how the whole of our rules and our monastic environment support us, protect us, and guide us.
I’ve noticed that some people have rather idiosyncratic interpretations of the Vinaya rules and misunderstand their origin and purpose, so this is a bit of a problem too. Rather than taking something from the Vinaya in a hotchpotch, piecemeal way, thinking that following more rules will necessarily improve your virtue or deepen your practice, it’s probably better to focus on the 5/8 precepts and perfect those first. At the same time, cultivate other beautiful qualities that the Buddha recommend for laypeople, like generosity and see how these mindstates benefit your meditation.

The story of Visākhā in the Mahavagga shows us that a layperson practicing generosity can lead to very high states of mental development. As Visākhā says about recollecting her generosity:

When I recall that, I will feel glad. The gladness will give rise to joy, and the mental joy will make my body tranquil. When my body is tranquil, I will feel bliss. And when I feel bliss, my mind will be stilled. In this way I will develop the spiritual faculties, the spiritual powers, and the factors of awakening.

Visākhā saw clear reasons for her practice and understood the far reaching consequences of her actions. These types of practice, like cāgānussati (recollecting generosity), sīlānussati (recollecting virtue), are more in line with understanding the practices and precepts as trainings that give results, rather than mere proscriptions… And far more beneficial than taking on random precepts from the Vinaya!



I’m afraid I don’t understand the question. I haven’t ordained, but I do believe in honoring vows undertaken. I’m still vegetarian after vowing such on 1/1/2000. As I study the suttas and the Vinaya, it only makes sense to “try on the vows” and adopt the ones that fit. For example, the non-matchmaking vow didn’t make sense initially, but now I understand it and am keeping it. I used to love introducing people, but now I see it as just encouraging attachment and craving.

I happen to be with myself all the time, so it just makes sense that I hold myself accountable no matter what I am wearing.


Ah @karl_lew, Accountable to yourself for vows you have made personally. I totally get you now. :pray:

My apology for interpreting what I read against the title of the thread, “EBTs and lay people not being being able to keep the precepts to the same level as mendicants” and the OP

Mainly lay people try to live by the five precepts and only take eight at special times (there are of course wonderful exceptions who live by more than five precepts all the time :pray:). I assumed incorrectly that you were addressing a difference between lay and monastic practice.


It can be really difficult to imagine how life would be if the basic shelter of home and family is removed unexpectedly. Sadhu to those who are able to relinquish everything and follow the monastic path. :pray:

Generosity, kindness and compassion are so needed in the lay world. It can be a real struggle to develop these. Sadhu to those who walk this path. :pray:


No offense taken. I think we’re both curious about this topic!

And it’s interesting learning about the traditional roles of laity. For example, lay practitioners traditionally take five precepts formally from monks. And they do observe eight precepts regularly. The formalities don’t matter to me, but i do find the deep understanding captured by the Vinaya to be very interesting. For any Vinaya rule, the lay/monk perspectives are quite fascinating.

For example, I hug people. And monks don’t hug the opposite sex. They are allowed to hug without lust by the Vinaya, but they refrain from doing so to prevent any possible misunderstanding. Because of this, if I became a monk, I probably wouldn’t hug anybody because I would feel that only hugging monks is hypocritical. What a mess! :see_no_evil: :hugs: :scream:

Therefore I hug people according to the Vinaya, but my observance will never be as strict as a monk’s no matter how many rules I observe.


Also says in MN 71:

"When he said this, the wanderer Vacchagotta said to the Buddha: “Master Gotama, are there any laypeople who, without giving up the fetter of lay life, make an end of suffering when the body breaks up?”

“No, Vaccha.” (MN 71)

So according to MN 71 no lay person can ever achieve nibbana without giving up the fetters of lay life.

I would expect that lay people would have a very difficult time achieving arahantship which was still difficult for many monks who were not lay people even during Gautama’s time when The Buddha was alive and teaching.

Nearly this same subject also came up a few thousand years ago when Nagasena was debating with the Greek King Menander see SuttaCentral , The Questions of King Milinda, Part II: Book VI: The Dhutangas

Nagasena seems to claim that the laymen who make advancements easily even while enjoy sensual pleasures all had in former existences practiced strict vows and training.