Life as a reluctant householder

I need a little encouragement and advice from the Triple Gem. I’ve been struggling since last year’s realization that I had been holding on to the impossible task of striving for the standards of an ordained monk while trying to live the life as a married householder running two businesses. My wife of 23 years is not Buddhist and doesn’t understand the dhamma or my desire to awaken in this life. Last year I decided to live this life by making some compromises because to abruptly abandon the life I have built with her over the last 24 years would, in my opinion, violate the first precept by leaving a giant trail of wreckage behind. So last year I came to the conclusion that I would live this moment doing my best as a householder and let whatever happens happen. Perhaps conditions will arise that will make awakening in this life a greater possibllity. If I have to be reborn, at least I will have set up for a good rebirth and perhaps awakening will be in the next life. The trouble is, I feel somewhat dejected that I think I know what it takes to awaken, yet I’m choosing the life as a householder, choosing to pursue that which is subject to decay and death. Then I think that I’m either deluding myself that I could even live the life of a renunciant, that I would still struggle with the same latent tendencies or maybe not be able to even make it as a Buddhist monk at age 60. I’m finding it somewhat different and more difficult to practice now. Having an all-or-nothing tendency, I also have thoughts that I’m simply compromising the dhamma, doing what I know to less than to be fully committed. Whatever is happening, I’ve not been able to arouse any joy for many months. I’m now thinking that I just need to get a good vision of life as a householder as the Buddha taught and move in that direction, finding contentment and joy from that. Any advice? Any recommendations of a dharma series, particular suttas, books and / or other resources to help me navigate being a householder?


“In the Buddha’s Words” by Bikkhu Bodhi is an anthology of suttas composed of ten chapters tracing the development from the household life to seeking enlightenment. Chapters 4-6 address the former, “Happiness Visible in this Present Life,” “The Way to a Fortunate Rebirth,” and “Deepening One’s Perspective on the World.” This should help to form a more exact picture of the situation in the Buddha’s time.
It is profitable to understand that the path is conditioned while nibbana is unconditioned, and while it is good to have the goal in mind practitioners should also be aware of their present position, as the factors they deal with are largely unconditioned and living in conventional reality rather than the monastic life can be a strengthening process provided there is enough solitude available.
According to SN 55.40, joy does not arise because the lay practitioner is not exerting themselves, pushing the boundaries of their present situation. The reality is even though they have good qualities, without exertion and solitude they are classed with the run-of -the- mill. “Seclusion by night” is a reference to lay celibacy. Implementing these requirements, “phenomena will become manifest,” insight will arise.


Yes, that’s an excellent book, and well worth owning. However, here’s an Open Source version, which has the introductory material and links to Sutta Central. This is really useful as a reference.


I don’t think I would say that I’m not exerting myself or pushing boundaries, but I suppose that’s relative. Should I consider celibacy a requirement for a lay person? How does one define Exertion and Solitude? How does a lay person who is married and runs two businesses navigate those three?

Since I’ve been reading EBT’s, I’ve noticed that my wife hugs me more and that I stress her out less. She, like your wife, is not Buddhist. We’ve been married for 36 years.

If you’re running two businesses, you’re definitely busy. Very busy. Yet when I think of my pre-retirement working days, I think that all the insight I’ve gained from reading and practicing the EBTs would have been directly applicable. For example:

DN33:3.2.23: Thinking: ‘They will help someone I dislike, but what can I possibly do?’ you get rid of resentment.

As householders, we don’t need to pursue that which is subject to decay and death. Indeed, when we don’t pursue that which is subject to decay and death, we leave room for the emergence of a simple contentment of being as we go about everyday activities.

For us restless “all-or-nothing” folk there is hope, nurtured by time and patience:

AN4.170:6.1: Another mendicant’s mind is seized by restlessness to realize the teaching. But there comes a time when their mind is stilled internally; it settles, unifies, and becomes immersed in samādhi.


Maybe you need to make some time for yourself. Would it be possible to reduce your business commitments?


Actually, I work from home and have almost all day by myself. I’ve spent the last 10 years or so using that time to listen to many hundreds of dharma talks, cultivating silence and serenity and keeping my contact with the world at a relative minimum. I pretty much think and contemplate the dhamma all day and use my daily experience as my petri dish. I generally spend the first few hours of my morning alone reading a few select books (mostly Analayo, the suttas and this website) and then I meditate for 1 to 1.5 hours before beginning my day. My practice also is part of my dreams! That said, I’m also very busy and have a lot of commitments and responsibilities that are efforts towards maintaining what the suttas would describe as land, cattle, family, servants, kings, etc. I think a large part of my struggle is that it seems so contrary to devote so much of my energy to worldly pursuits.

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Thank you, karl_lew! AN4.170:6.1 is a beautiful quote! Yet it was a teaching given to mendicants, not lay people. How’s a busy lay person to make the most with that instruction?

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Greetings Adutiya :slight_smile:

It is so great that you feel such a pull to practice the Dhamma :slight_smile:

I do need to remind you however, that this site is not for the discussion of personal practice issues, and would encourage such discussions to take place via the PM facility. So anyone with whom you wish to discuss this individually or a group can do so privately. Also anyone who feels they can be of assistance can contact you via PM :pray:

Secondly, bringing it back to general Dhamma discussion, it is important to remember that it is a gradual path of all 8 factors of the Noble 8 fold path. Each of these factors need to be developed, and can be done so in a variety of ways. As such, teachings on the details of the 8 factors would be recommended :slight_smile: This alone can take a life-time and can be undertaken in all kinds of circumstances :slight_smile:

So it becomes a more targetted practice, looking at which factors can be more highly developed in daily life. Attention is directed more carefully at what aspects are worked on, what you focus on for contemplation and action, and how to develop the less developed aspects of practice. Remember you need all 8.

Take for example if you focus on the development of the 3 factors of virtue, Right Speech, Right intention and Right Thought. These are immense! They may not look like much on paper and can be easily dismissed, but to truly develop them to their full extent is a huge undertaking. There is nothing stopping you from doing this within your current lifestyle. Or if you find that there is something that precludes it - this becomes the area of focus :slight_smile: There are many talks and teachings that cover this. Even search the forum topics, as these have been covered quite a bit in the discussions :slight_smile:

Attending occasional retreats may be of assistance to help you make contact with a sangha and teacher who can give you more specific and targetted encouragement.



Sorry, I didn’t pay close enough attention to the boundaries of this site. Thank you!


Being busy!

The operations do not stop, no end to the operations (Work) is to be seen. When will the operations stop? When will an end to the operations be seen? When will we, possessed of and provided with the fivefold strand of sense pleasures, amuse ourselves unconcernedly?”

“But, dear Anuruddha, the operations do not stop, no end to the operations is to be seen. Even when our fathers and grandfathers passed away the operations were not stopped.”

“Well now, you understand just what belongs to the household life. I will go forth from home into homelessness.” (The story of the going forth of a number of the Buddha’s relatives)


My reading of AN4.170:6.1 (“seized by restlessness”) is that we should conduct our restless lives vigilant in every moment aware of that thin gossamer drop of internal stillness that is always there, and that our practice is to nurture that stillness, settling it, unifying it until that drop becomes a gentle rain, then a heavier rain…

SN55.38:1.1: “Mendicants, suppose it rains heavily on a mountain top, and the water flows downhill to fill the hollows, crevices, and creeks. As they become full, they fill up the pools. The pools fill up the lakes, the lakes fill up the streams, and the streams fill up the rivers. And as the rivers become full, they fill up the ocean.

Regarding the audience of a discourse, know that Buddha Kassapa’s chief attendant was a potter and not a mendicant. His name was Ghaṭīkāra and he is an inspiration for all lay people (he also attended Dhamma talks).

MN81:11.2: ‘Dear Ghaṭīkāra, you have heard this teaching, so why don’t you go forth from the lay life to homelessness?’
MN81:11.3: ‘Don’t you know, dear Jotipāla, that I look after my blind old parents?’

May your practice and study bring you and yours peace, joy and happiness.


To think you can’t practice as a layman is to lose track of the path completely. Why is it people can find the incentive to do other things? If they feel they are lacking something they make an effort to obtain it. If there is sufficient desire people can do anything. Some say, ‘‘I haven’t got time to practice the Dhamma.’’ I say, ‘‘Then how come you’ve got time to breathe?’’ Breathing is vital to people’s lives. If they saw Dhamma practice as vital to their lives they would see it as important as their breathing.

The practice of Dhamma isn’t something you have to go running around for or exhaust yourself over. Just look at the feelings which arise in your mind. When the eye sees form, ear hears sounds, nose smells odors and so on, they all come to this one mind, ‘‘the one who knows.’’ Now when the mind perceives these things what happens? If we like that object we experience pleasure, if we dislike it we experience displeasure. That’s all there is to it.

So where are you going to find happiness in this world? Do you expect everybody to say only pleasant things to you all your life? Is that possible? No, it’s not. If it’s not possible then where are you going to go? The world is simply like this, we must know the world - lokavidū - know the truth of this world. The world is something we should clearly understand. The Buddha lived in this world, he didn’t live anywhere else. He experienced family life, but he saw its limitations and detached himself from them. Now how are you as lay people going to practice? If you want to practice you must make an effort to follow the path. If you persevere with the practice you too will see the limitations of this world and be able to let go.
~Ajahn Chah


Dear @Adutiya I can certainly understand the tendency to be somewhat of a “black and white” thinker in these matters. But, we do know that the Buddha praised householders, and offered instructions to householders on how to live a good life, and how to treat our partners and families well. The Buddha himself, as you recall, was a spouse and a parent.

When feeling stressed about the practice, and feeling a disconnect between the practice and higher precepts, and that of the commitments of work and family life, maybe come back to a central teaching of the strings of the lute. Like Sona, do not tighten your views too strongly either way. Find a balance, a Middle Way, so that your family life and your Practice support, reflect, and resonate with each other. Such a life is a very good life, a life well lived. You can celebrate a life lived this way.


Thank you for that Ajahn Chah quote @lankaputra, it helps. :smiley:


Thank you @UpasakaMichael, your words are an encouragement to me today.