Historical question: since when changed becoming lay-follower by "acceptance" to "by-self-declaration"?


Just reading along some older threads about “growing buddhism”, “being buddhist” and similar ones, the following question occured to me.

In the early sangha a lay-follower got his status after begging the Buddha for accepting him/her as lay-follower. Today, for instance by a statement of the german buddhistic union (DBU), it seems to suffice if someone self-declares him/her to be buddhist by “taking refuge to the triple gems (3 times)”.

I’ve no idea (and have never been interested in/never asked) how exactly this is, for instance in south-east asia, in Sri Lanka, and elsewhere.

So can a certain (historical) point made be explicte, on when (and possibly where) such a change has taken place? I think it might well be illusory to find such a point at all, but just for interest I ask this.


Where did you find this?

See for example in SN12.18:

SN12.18:5.3: esāhaṃ bhavantaṃ gotamaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi dhammañca bhikkhusaṅghañca.
SN12.18:5.3: I go for refuge to Master Gotama, to the teaching, and to the mendicant Saṅgha.
SN12.18:5.3: Ich suche Zuflucht beim Meister Gotama, bei der Lehre und beim Sangha der Mönche und Nonnen.
SN12.18:5.4: Upāsakaṃ maṃ bhavaṃ gotamo dhāretu ajjatagge pāṇupetaṃ saraṇaṃ gatan”ti.
SN12.18:5.4: From this day forth, may Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge for life.”
SN12.18:5.4: Von diesem Tag an soll Meister Gotama mich als Laienschüler kennen, der für sein ganzes Leben Zuflucht gesucht hat.“

This is the standard formula.

(As an aside, you can also listen to this sutta auf Deutsch.)


@sabbamitta - urrks, that seems to be a disaster. I’ve been sure I’ve read that “accepted him as lay-follower” and took it as common use. Now, because of your answer, I just peeked again into and the list of search-result gave a lot of “möge mich der Herr/Erhabene als Laienjünger ansehen” as you mention, but -having not yet scrolled to the end- none with an acceptance formula like I was sure to remember from my reading.

So you seem to be right and my question was something completely illusory. (I’ll delete the whole thread later this day if I really do not find any confirmation - just to find out whether this has not been completely illusory…)


Where is the disaster? You learn something new, that’s good! :slightly_smiling_face:


Hmm, the “disaster” is to have a scrambled memory of things I’ve read a lot of - and even didn’t sense that… (But thank you for your kind record of things :slight_smile: )

I’ve just found one of the instances from where I might have extrapolated the general procedere of becoming-lay-follower as an acceptance-driven one.
In the Mahavagga the initial story with King Bimbisara sounds this way (in german)

" Früher, als ich noch ein junger Prinz war, hatte ich fünf Wünsche; diese sind mir jetzt erfüllt. Es ist erreicht, Herr, es ist erreicht, Herr. Gleichwie, Herr, man das Umgestürzte wieder erhebt oder das Verhüllte enthüllt, wie man einem Irrenden den Weg zeigt oder in der Finsternis eine Lampe trägt, damit diejenigen, die Augen haben, die Gegenstände sehen könnten, so hast du, o Erhabener, auf mancherlei Art die Lehre klargelegt.
Ich, Herr, nehme meine Zuflucht zu dem Erhabenen und zur Lehre und zur Mönchsgemeinde; möge der Erhabene mich als Laienmitglied aufnehmen, der ich von heute bis zu meinem Lebensende zu ihm Zuflucht genommen habe. (…)"

Some words later there comes also

“Stillschweigend sagte der Erhabene zu. Darauf stand Seniya Bimbisara, der König von Magadha, als er die Zusage des Erhabenen bemerkte,(…)”

Btw., the latter “Zusage” (acceptance) was of course the invitation to the palace next day, and likely not of plea for becoming lay-follower.
Formulations like the above echoe in my memory :man_white_haired: and surely this is another case, where I’ve to make my take of the transmission more accurate by checking the texts before asking based on assumptions…

Just found the SC-position (translation by I. Horner)

“Excellent, Lord! Excellent, Lord! Even, Lord, as one might set upright what has been upset … even so is dhamma explained in many a figure by the Lord. So I, Lord, go to the Lord as refuge and to dhamma and to the Order of monks. Lord, may the Lord accept me as a lay-disciple gone for refuge from this day forth for as long as life lasts. And, Lord, may the Lord consent to a meal with me to-morrow together with the Order of monks.” The Lord consented by becoming silent.


Exactly, and this is hiding behind the “(…)”. :wink:

What also can be misleading is the word “möge” which can of course be understood as a request, but it is rather a statement, or a declaration. It is a soft way of imperative; the person doesn’t want to tell the Buddha: “Accept me as a lay follower!” with exclamation mark, so they put it into this softer form.


Thank you, @sabbamitta, again. Even if I should find one or two examples more which would explain the source of my wrong assumption/generalization it seems now obvious for me that such a formal acceptance has not been intended, following the texts.

It remains now, whether to retract the whole thread, or to keep it for the sake of later readers?


Ah, I think I’ve now found the basic source of my understanding. In my very early contact with the (early) buddhist texts I liked the story of the general Siha so much that I even added it to a small “nano-index of suttas I like” (AN VIII.12, Siha ) . Here the inspired general Siha even goes three times through that formula “Als Anhänger möge mich der Erhabene betrachten” because each time the Buddha reminded him of some duties he should resolve before.

Then there was the beautiful closing of this sutta:

Und der Erhabene gab dem Feldherrn Síha eine stufenweise Belehrung über die Freigebigkeit, die Sittlichkeit, die Himmelswelten, und er beleuchtete das Elend, die Hinfälligkeit und Unreinheit der Sinnenlüste und den Segen der Entsagung.
Als nun aber der Erhabene merkte, daß der Geist des Feldherrn Síha reif war, geschmeidig, ohne innere Hemmungen, in gehobener Stimmung und voller Zutrauen, da wies er die den Erleuchteten eigene Lehrverkündung: vom Leiden, von der Entstehung des Leidens, von der Aufhebung des Leidens und vom Pfad.
Und gleichwie ein sauberes, fleckenloses Gewand sofort Farbe annimmt, ebenso ging Síha, dem Feldherrn, während er noch auf seinem Platze saß, das ungetrübte, fleckenlose Auge für die Lehre auf: ‘Was immer entsteht, muß vergehen.’

On one hand I think this much-impressing and lovely sutta has been one of the main sources of my subsequent continuous understanding which led to this question at all, and on the other hand it has this “möge mich(…)” about which Ven. @sabbamitta explained the characteristic.

Thanks for this conversation again, and I’ll take this to my memory as well as possible…


Ah yes, this is one of only two cases in the canon where the Buddha urges someone to be careful in becoming his follower. The other one is the householder Upali, a former Jain who like Siha also has a prominent position in society. Since he has been closely familiar with Nigantha Nataputta, the leader of the Jains (and he had actually been sent to the Buddha in order to defeat him in debate), this is even more delicate.

And the consequences couldn’t be greater! When hearing about Upali’s conversion Nigantha Nataputta gets so upset that he dies in an attack of anger and despair. But what can Upali do? He has reached stream entry during his conversation with the Buddha, so he cannot not be his follower.

I understand that going from the Siha story as the first encounter with the “taking refuge and becoming lay follower” procedure it can seem as if a consent of the Buddha is necessary. But these cases are exceptions, not the standard case.

Good you could figure that out!


Added: The topic is already closed, but I can still edit my post.

When hearing about Upali’s conversion Nigantha Nataputta gets so upset that he dies in an attack of anger and despair.

Looking into the sutta again, I notice that my memory wasn’t quite correct. Nigantha Nataputta doesn’t die at the end of the sutta, but is vomiting hot blood. He later dies in Pava, not in Nalanda where this sutta plays.

It’s interesting how many similarities the the two suttas about Siha (SN 12.8) and Upali (MN 56) have!

closed #10