While a lesson can undoubtedly be derived from every sutta, there are certain suttas that I often refer back to because they specifically address an issue pertaining to lay life. One such sutta is SN 55.7 (tr. Sujato), where the Buddha, among other things, outlines the golden rule in the framework of four of the training rules.
I want to live and don’t want to die; I want to be happy and recoil from pain. Since this is so, if someone were to take my life, I wouldn’t like that. But others also want to live and don’t want to die; they want to be happy and recoil from pain. So if I were to take the life of someone else, they wouldn’t like that either. The thing that is disliked by me is also disliked by others. Since I dislike this thing, how can I inflict it on someone else?
Another is Snp 2.4 (tr. Brahmali/Ṭhānissaro), which succinctly enumerates thirty-eight fortunes or blessings to lead one to a higher spiritual attainment. I love this one.
To be educated and to have a vocation,
To be well-trained in one’s chosen field,
And to speak words that are well-spoken:
This is the greatest good fortune.
What are some non-monastic suttas that stand out or inspire you?
In the Anāthapiṇḍikovāda Sutta (MN 143), Sāriputta gives a dying Anāthapiṇḍika a deeply moving teaching on essentially letting go of everything. If possible, I’d like for this teaching to be read to me near the end of my life.
You should train like this: ‘I shall not grasp this world, and there shall be no consciousness of mine dependent on this world.’ That’s how you should train. You should train like this: ‘I shall not grasp the other world, and there shall be no consciousness of mine dependent on the other world.’ That’s how you should train. You should train like this: ‘I shall not grasp whatever is seen, heard, thought, cognized, searched, and explored by my mind, and there shall be no consciousness of mine dependent on that.’ That’s how you should train.
Apparently, Snp 1:8, the Metta Sutta (tr. Ṭhānissaro / Mills), was directed to lay followers. Regardless, it’s naturally applicable to all sentient beings.
I’m contemplating this passage at the moment:
Be capable, upright, & straightforward,
easy to instruct, gentle, & not conceited,
content & easy to support,
with few duties, living lightly,
with peaceful faculties, astute,
modest, & no greed for supporters.
I believe the last line about “no greed for supporters” shows that it is actually directed to monastics, who depend on the (lay) supporters and run the risk of becoming attached to the more generous ones.
Good point. I was skeptical about whether or not the Metta Sutta was directed to lay people, hence the “apparently.” I included it here because it was listed in John L Kelly’s research paper on the Buddha’s teachings to lay people. Personally, I could relate with that passage because in our modern social media driven world we’re often made to be greedy for supporters, followers, or clicks.
I think in the very earliest suttas in the canon, there isn’t really yet a distinction between monastics and lay people. There is a distinction between people who are the Buddha’s followers and those who are not. Followers are all people who have gone forth in some way as seekers. But this is before there was a formalized order with a code of discipline, and into which people had to be formally admitted. Once there was such an order, “going forth” became a metaphor for joining the order.
https://suttacentral.net/dn31/en/sujatoI really like “Advice to Sigalaka (Sigalaka Sutta DN 31). Here the Buddha gives a young householder man various instructions on topics such as the drawbacks of laziness, how to distinguish between a fake friend and a real friend, and how to properly honor all of the “directions”- parents, wife and children, teachers, friends, servants and subordinates, ascetics. I’ve reread it several times.
I may be wrong, but I have always interpreted that portion of the Metta sutta as a description of the characteristics one should have before pursuing intense practice in metta. I have read/heard various places (sorry, I don’t have references at this point, and they are probably not EBT anyway) that (too much?) metta practice is not appropriate for those with high levels of the hindrance of sense craving, or lust.
That said, I also practice this sutta as a lay person. Your interpretation of “no greed for supporters” could be extended into the context of right livelihood. That is, one should favor “work that causes no confusion”, as I have seen it translated, even if the financial rewards are less.
On the other hand, “with few duties” is problematic for some householders. Duties for householders may include caring for parents, children, spouse, relatives, or governmental duties, such as required military service. In general, monastics were (and are) expected to be free of such duties, or have permission to abandon such duties before going forth. Householders may not have control over these obligations, and the Buddha did encourage householders to fulfill such obligations. Yet metta practice is very appropriate for people in such a situation - when caring for others, it is much better to do it with a heart full of metta than with a feeling of forced servitude.
Here’s an example of such a statement. It’s from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Abhidhammattha Sangaha, in the chapter on suitability of meditation subjects that I believe arises from Visuddhimagga:
“With respect to temperaments, … the four illimitables … are suitable for those of a hateful temperament.”
The “four illimitables” are the brahmaviharas, including metta.
I have heard this justified as follows: selecting metta as the object of meditation while one is in a greedy/lustful state can increase that hindrance.
I agree that the quality of metta would probably be helpful in preventing greed/lust from arising, but, according to such references, when greed/lust has arisen is not the best time to try to learn how to strengthen that quality.
If I’m not mistaken (I don’t have the text in front of me right now), Buddhaghosa in the Visuddhimagga talks about someone who did metta practice for his wife and ended up climbing the walls all night long. So he suggests we not do metta for those with whom we might be or might have been romantically involved. YMMV.
An elder supported by a family was asked, it seems, by a friend’s son, ‘Venerable sir, towards whom should lovingkindness be developed?’ The elder told him, ‘Towards a person one loves’. He loved his own wife. Through developing lovingkindness towards her he was fighting against the wall all the night. That is why it should not be developed specifically towards the opposite sex. (IX, 6).
The section on the drawbacks of laziness makes me laugh because it rings true for a lot of people—including myself. I’ll look for any excuse to procrastinate sometimes. Especially if I’m too hot or hungry. However, as the text reminds us, perfect comfort at all times is an unrealistic expectation.
"There are these six drawbacks of habitual laziness. You don’t get your work done because you think: ‘It’s too cold! It’s too hot. It’s too late! It’s too early! I’m too hungry! I’m too full!’ By dwelling on so many excuses for not working, you don’t make any more money, and the money you already have runs out. These are the six drawbacks of habitual laziness.”
Few duties isn’t the same as no duties. The line could be interpreted as only taking on the duties that are necessary.