Nekhamma in relation to the laity

Hello dear community,

I hope this message finds you well. Following one of lectures of venerable Sujato ( , there have been some spirited discussions within a community that I am part of, and we would greatly appreciate your clarification on a few points:

Could you explain what is meant by “renunciation” or “nekkhamma” in the Pali Canon texts regarding the Noble Eightfold Path? Is it specifically referring to monastic ordination? Can a layperson be considered as practicing renunciation and the Noble Eightfold Path without being ordained as a monk? Furthermore, must a layperson renounce all worldly affairs to be regarded as practicing the Noble Eightfold Path?

We look forward to your guidance on these matters. Thank you in advance for your time and insights.
I can’t hope that Sujato himself will answer, but that would be wonderful.
Warm regards.

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I suggest you have a try exploring the suttas that cover and elaborate on the the topic of the eightfold path.

It is a nice theme and subject to follow in the process of getting to know the suttas!

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I don’t know if it answers your question directly, but you might enjoy AN 9.41 Tapussagahapati [Tapussa] and MN 125 Dantabhūmi


Thanks for answers. I have read both AN 9.41 and MN 125 Dantabhūmi.
And I still cannot understand: does this mean that lay people must first completely renounce sense pleasures, and then they can practice the Noble Eightfold Path? And without renouncing sense pleasures, the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path is impossible? So basically this statement means, that Noble Eightfold Path available only for mendicants?

I’d place sense restraint in the Right Effort and Right Mindfulness buckets of the N8P. There’s plenty to practice before that point (Right View, Right Intention, …) And, of course, sense restraint isn’t all or nothing. There are plenty of steps between full-blown hedonist and monk sitting in a cave!


I haven’t watched the video of Bhante’s talk, but in the context of the Noble Eightfold Path, nekhamma comes under the second factor, Samma Sankappo, right intention, which also has non-ill will and non-cruelty as right intentions . It refers specifically to renunciation of sensory experiences, i.e. things that stimulate the senses. Being able to let go of sense objects is what allows us to get onto the meditation cushion in the first place, and once we sit down, it helps us stay there! When we practice this type of renunciation, we are turning away from the sensory world to an inner world, we move away from the grosser pleasures of the senses to the more refined pleasures of meditation.

Perhaps my favourite sutta about the importance of renunciation and right intention is the Two Types of athought sutta, MN19 where the three wrong intentions of sensuality, ill will and cruelty are introduced firstly:

Then, as I meditated—diligent, keen, and resolute—a sensual thought arose. I understood: ‘This sensual thought has arisen in me. It leads to hurting myself, hurting others, and hurting both. It blocks wisdom, it’s on the side of anguish, and it doesn’t lead to extinguishment.’ When I reflected that it leads to hurting myself, it went away. When I reflected that it leads to hurting others, it went away. When I reflected that it leads to hurting both, it went away. When I reflected that it blocks wisdom, it’s on the side of anguish, and it doesn’t lead to extinguishment, it went away. So I gave up, got rid of, and eliminated any sensual thoughts that arose.

And then the right intentions are introduced

Then, as I meditated—diligent, keen, and resolute—a thought of renunciation arose. I understood: ‘This thought of renunciation has arisen in me. It doesn’t lead to hurting myself, hurting others, or hurting both. It nourishes wisdom, it’s on the side of freedom from anguish, and it leads to extinguishment.’ If I were to keep on thinking and considering this all night … all day … all night and day, I see no danger that would come from that. Still, thinking and considering for too long would tire my body. And when the body is tired, the mind is stressed. And when the mind is stressed, it’s far from immersion. So I stilled, settled, unified, and immersed my mind internally. Why is that? So that my mind would not be stressed.

The Buddha uses a simile of a cowherd needing to keep watch of his cows in the case of the wrong intentions and being able to relax and rest in the case of the right intentions… it’s a nice image to remember.

Here’s the full sutta:

You can also read bhikkhu Bodhi’s chapter on Samma Sankappo in his excellent guide to the Noble Eightfold Path below.

I think the confusion here is that in english we also use the same word, renunciation, when referring to ordination, but that is not the same meaning here. So, yes, lay people can practice renunciation. It’s what folks do when they go on retreat, or devote time to meditation practice etc. And no, lay people don’t need to renounce all worldly affairs. There are plenty of examples of lay people practicing the path whilst having jobs, being wealthy, being queens and kings and parents and so forth, and they eventually became enlightened.


Also the lay people support the whole sangha through their renunciation … dana / caga etc

Maybe it’s also practiced every time we give up something “we want” to do something of higher beauty and value (merit)

“ Giving ice cream tastes better than ice cream ”

And then there’s like the joy of renunciation… I think Tina from metta centre mention at Ajahn Brahm event “the joy of missing out”

These are ways lay people practice renunciation


Does it mean both of these definitions are incorrect?

Also, MN 137:

Cha gehasitāni somanassāni, cha nekkhammasitāni somanassāni, cha gehasitāni domanassāni, cha nekkhammasitāni domanassāni, cha gehasitā upekkhā, cha nekkhammasitā upekkhā.

There are six kinds of lay happiness and six kinds of renunciate happiness. There are six kinds of lay sadness and six kinds of renunciate sadness. There are six kinds of lay equanimity and six kinds of renunciate equanimity.

Thank you everyone for the responses. I now have a clearer understanding. My question was primarily about whether laypeople can practice renunciation, or if it is only for monks who consider renunciation as a practice part of the Eightfold Noble Path and renounce all worldly things. Now i can see that is a gradual process available for all


No, but it’s a matter of degree and context. Obviously, the Buddha didn’t ask everyone to become a monk or nun, yet he included this as part of the Noble Eightfold Path, so the degree to which it opposed sensuality or worldly things differs.

Remember in the context of the Noble Eightfold Path (which we the OPs question) , as Samma Sankappo it is a thought or intention, it is not the act of shaving one’s head or leaving home. When looking at the many compounds in the second definition you have above, remember we are specifically talking about Samma Sankappo.

Just as the other right intentions , non-ill will (love)and non-harm (compassion), are thoughts and are developed in degrees, same with renunciation. Our practice of metta might still not perfected but we start in small ways that are possible for us.

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I think this part from the CPED definition:

the renunciation of worldly things and values;

certainly covers lay practice.

See also Iti72

Tisso imā, bhikkhave, nissaraṇiyā dhātuyo.Katamā tisso? Kāmānametaṁ nissaraṇaṁ yadidaṁ nekkhammaṁ, rūpānametaṁ nissaraṇaṁ yadidaṁ āruppaṁ, yaṁ kho pana kiñci bhūtaṁ saṅkhataṁ paṭiccasamuppannaṁ nirodho tassa nissaraṇaṁ— imā kho, bhikkhave, tisso nissaraṇiyā dhātuyo”ti.

Here nekkamma is used to refer to Jhana(four Rupa Jhanas). Alternatively one could say nekkamma comes to a head, has its peak, comes to fulfilment in Jhana.


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So what’s the basis for the existence of monkhood then? Are there any texts where Buddha is talking about some different kind of renunciation for monks specifically?

In general, I do not feel one can really say that a monk perse has given up all wordly activities and goals and a householder has not. It depends what one sees as wordly activity and goals, i feel. Also, it depends in the moment. Because an act is not wordly or noble because one is resp. a householder or monk, but it depends on the quality of mind which is the forerunner of actions.

I feel wordly activities are those that are centered around a sense of Me, mine and my self. Always investing into ones future. A future of pleasure, of comfort, of high rebirth, non-existence etc.

So, what is really the difference between a worldly life and a holy life? Suppose one has no home, does that make one a holy person? Suppose one is very identified as buddhist, does that make one a noble person?

What is holiness and what is a holy life and what exactly is a worldly life and worldly goals?

So it just comes to your head, “comes to fulfilment in jhana” and that’s it? No further consequences or relation to the actual outside world? Does it mean you can also kill living beings as long as the though of it being wrong comes to your head?

Be cool bro, it’s an English idiom, as they call it. No worries, I am also not a native English speaker. Google it first though.

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I’m pretty sure it’s obvious that I wasn’t talking about you personally, I reckon you’re just being passive aggressive? My question still stands though - does this thought exist just a thought in one’s head without it having any effect to the outside world?

The phrase used was “come to a head” not “come to one’s head”.

To come to a head.


  1. To suddenly make mature or perfected that which was inchoate or imperfectly formed.

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Oh, right, thank you for your correction, I didn’t notice that.
Well, it doesn’t really change that much though, does it. Nekkhamma has its peak, reaches climax, and that’s it? One continues to wear garlands, perfumes, and makeup, and accept gold and money?

So are there none?

When thoughts of renunciation (nekkhamma-vitakka) are developed and made much of, it’s to be expected that this will issue in a number of behavioural effects. But what these effects will be will vary from one person to another.

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