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Practising full time as a lay person

I would be interested in hearing the experience of anyone who has left their job in order to have more time to practise (for example if your ordination was not possible or perhaps not possible for the time being). Have you found that not having to work at all was helpful for your practise? (I also heard stories of people retiring and then not making good use of their time, since apparently it can be a lot easier to waste your time, so I wonder if that’s a danger).
Anyway, it would be interesting to hear about your experiences.

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I would think it depends if Dhamma is your natural interest, not merely an intellectual selected one.
If it is, you don’t need much of discipline.

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I think it is very difficult for many people to leave regular life behind; however, working 40 hours a week (plus commute, plus getting ready for work … in my opinion part of “work”) can make it difficult to find time to study and practice. Especially if one has a family or children, pets, etc. I haven’t worked 40-hours a week in some time, and it for sure gave me more time to practice, write, study, etc. But I also take a few months off here and there from everything “Buddhist” (including this forum LOL) to just be lazy, garden, focus on my business, etc.

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Just to be more precise - I am saying discipline a routine is not critical. Discipline mind, should be full timely.

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Yes, I think it’s hard long term to not waste time as a lay person when you’re retired/not working.

I think if you want to accelerate progress start with observing the uposotha and being celibate. Once you can do that, then worry about having extra time.

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Yes that’s a very nice way to put it. My happiest time was spent in a monastery where there was not much external discipline; but yes we were practising full time and in that sense we had internal discipline.
The thing is, in a monastery everything is organised during vassa to facilitate meditation. You have support and encouragement and are surrounded by like minded people. If you are alone it’s in some ways harder not to get sidetracked. Probably some advantages of living alone too though. At least I know some people who left a monastery to go and practise on their own as they preferred it.

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I spent several months doing a solo retreat in India many years ago. I stayed in a small house in a village and did 4 meditation sessions per day. The only exceptions were when I had to leave to stock up on food again. I didn’t have much difficulty sticking to the schedule I laid out at that time. I’ve also spent time as a layman at several monasteries over the years, which as you said, is usually easier than trying to practice intensively at home by oneself. How disciplined I was (in terms of how much meditation I did) varied, honestly. The way the monastery structured its time played a part in that, of course, but I found that ultimately my state of mind was the deciding factor. So there were times when I meditated a lot while at one monastery, but not so much in another (or even the same) monastery a few years later.

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I chose to go alone instead of monastics, due to my lack of interest in routines. Also monastics still have a higher social level than I would prefer.

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Yes I see what you mean, but I think the interest in routines depends a lot on the monastery.
My impression is that in monasteries with a good teacher everything is organised so that it’s in many ways easier to practise. For a start the fact of being surrounded by similarly minded people helps.
One thing that I heard could be a drawback is when there are conflicts, since it’s a close-knit community. Then probably that’s bad for your practise, even though some people would argue that it’s an occasion to develop awareness of what’s going on and so should be useful for your practise too.

Greetings Stef :slight_smile:

Yes it is absolutely possible to be 100% devoted to the Dhamma without ordination. This is how I live. I had a bit of a natural progression in this direction but in 2009 the balance or focus tipped and I started consciously living with the 8 precepts and Practice at least 8-12 hours per day, until now there is only dhamma… Every bit of life transforms into an expression of dhamma… this is what I take to be full time. (But this can also be the case while doing some types of work - because - put bluntly - one still has to live )…

Rather than leaving ‘normal life’ behind, it was more a case of the Dhamma just overtook my life :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: If there were more than 24 hours in the day - then they would be devoted to the Dhamma as well… It really helps to have a big dose of Samvega :rofl:

I don’t think that the availability of time is the determining factor though - but rather how strong is the drive for Right Effort. It is this drive that is the impetus for ordination, and there was a time when I was quite bereft that this wasn’t an option open to me in this life…

This is my circumstance. It was quite an interesting situation - and basically came to the conclusion of … ‘well what is stopping you?’ Do you need someone’s ‘permission’ to practice and follow in the footsteps of the Buddha. I thought back to the earliest Disciples of the Buddha… before the Sangha was really developed… Their practice was pure and yielded results - why couldn’t that be the case today?? So I decided that being a Disciple of the Buddha (nothing more and nothing less) was the way to go :slightly_smiling_face:
One can keep as many precepts as one wants - hundreds of them if one chooses - there are no restrictions except for what is in our own heads :slight_smile: I’ve found that when everything is peeled away, what remains is just the Dhamma without the rites and rituals - no point to these if one is alone - though that’s not true I light a candle every morning when I wake to begin practice and to signify another new day in the Dhamma.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that whether one wears a robe or not is really incidental - I mean the ‘robe’ doesn’t determine the quality of ones practice… But of course ordination and being in the Monastic system is by far the preferable way to go.

What I’m getting at here though is that one doesn’t wait to begin practicing the Dhamma until one has time - one just practices as much as possible… the stronger the drive to do so, the more work life needs to be adapted. It really is about where ones priorities and focus are… I know of people who have changed their role at work to have less responsibility and/or conflict with their practice, as well as going to lesser hours. I think this is the way to ascertain if it will really make a difference by quitting work - if one is not already using up all of ones additional time on the dhamma, ie that the dhamma is priority number 1, then I think it is more in the realm of fantasy to want to totally give up work just to make time, or that simply by having more time, one will be more inclined to practice…

There are also just purely practical considerations… it is very very - very tough to practice to this degree on ones own without support…

Anyway if you have any specific questions I’d be happy to answer them for you. There are also many practitioners here for whom Dhamma is the priority in life, and who have found ways to adapt ‘lay life’ to enable this. :slight_smile:

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Thank you for your thorough answer and for sharing your experience! You make many valuable observations.
One thing I was reflecting upon was the idea that for a lay person who stops working, their relationship with money would become quite different to that of monastics. The latter rightly do not touch it; and this is possible because of the lay support (I am reminded of Ajahn Brahm’s humorously quoting a story involving Gandhi in which someone said ‘you have no idea how much it costs us to keep you poor’).
As a lay person you would have to be quite careful with money instead, because it is what gives you freedom and independence and you would have to make sure that it lasts both for you and for people who depend on you (if there are any). I can’t remember the name of the potter from the suttas who was highly attained and who left pots for people to take and just said they could leave some offerings, but I don’t think it would be easy to survive this way today…
Don’t know if this makes sense to you and if you have any thoughts?

that’s quite interesting because I also thought that sometimes, but why is that a problem, if it fulfils the need of lay people to have something to look up to? I mean just like people have a need to give, they also have a need to respect or venerate. Does this makes sense? Anyway that’s the answer I have found because I have also been bothered by this sometimes.

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@stef There are many advantages to ordination - really I believe this offers the best practice conditions. In working through my own situation, I began analysing the impingements by the different conditions in my environment… one has to develop a heightened sense of what conditions facilitate the practice and which ones hinder it the most. It is not possible to get ‘perfect’ conditions - but full awareness of how the conditions are impacting is very important, and one can make skillful and targeted adjustments.

It is also not static, but changes over time as practice develops. So the degree of relinquishment for me increased over time. The more one relinquishes, the clearer it is to see what impact/effect the things one remains holding on to has. This is an intesresting process, as for monastics there is a huge relinquishment where everything is given up - one walks away from all possessions, roles and status, etc

I found that on my path, the relinquishement started small and kept growing. So to start with the things that were relinquished were aligned with the 8 precepts - so entertainment, indulgence in food, relationships/sex… they were just not of interest anymore. Then came the relinquishment of identity/image/status… See what attachments you have to the different roles you have :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: and cut them loose :smiley: I shave my head, and have relinquished all my clothes/shoes/jewellery etc… I wear a non-descript and modest pinafore/smock like a uniform - no need to even think about clothes or appearance.

(it is also really interesting because I feel that in this case identity has really been given up - and not transformed eg when one goes forth one becomes a monk or nun, in my case I’ve become - nothing :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: :rofl: :slightly_smiling_face:)

When listed like this, it can sound insignificant or small, but relinquishment on each level has deep practice ramifications.

Now I can really feel the impact/impingement/effect of ownership of the things remaining, including money. The less one has the more clearly one can see the dukkha of ownership and possessions. It would just be wonderful to be able to relinquish these as well. Though, not being supported by anyone, one has to have certain things in order to survive… I have a place to live, a car, and household goods… But I’ve found ways to use this experience to further practice… as long as one can see the cause and effect of the different conditions - there is much material to work with. But one needs to have relinquished quite a lot - removed the clutter or ‘dirt’ to be able to even begin to see this. It is literally like the Buddhas simile of the pond covered in in plants and scum - you need to clear them away to begin to see through to the clarity of the water beneath…

This is a definite anchor… I am lucky, I have no dependents… I think that would make things very difficult re relinquishment.

There is also a difference depending on what ones aspirations are - the further one wants to take the path - the more needs to be relinquished… dissolving the Sense of Self is a very challenging task, and there are anchors/hooks and hindrances everywhere… But really I’d say not to get too caught up in planning. Nothing turns out the way one imagines it anyway… start with small steps - after a while it takes on a momentum of its own, and one just goes along for the ride :slight_smile: This is certainly how I have experienced things… Now it feels like the momentum is just happening and has almost nothing to do with me anymore :smiley:

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May I ask how you support yourself financially? Are you retired and have enough savings to live? If that’s too personal a question, I fully understand.

LOL yes that’s pretty personal :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: But I don’t mind sharing if this can be inspiration for anyone else wanting to practice full time as a Lay person…

To put it into context it has taken me over 20 years to ‘massage’ things into the current situation. It has been a gradual process, always making choices that would lead to this end. It has not been like an on/off switch, but a ‘transformation’ of how to make a living. SO to start with in 1999 I was a high flying career woman :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

Then came a crash and burn and the ignition of Samvega :fire: :fire: :fire:
I quit work, got a divorce, and moved to a rural property using savings and selling up the city house and continued to work as a consultant, and agisting cattle on the property. Over the next 20 years all choices were driven by the desire to be more and more ‘harmless’ and to devote more and more time to the Dhamma. With more and more relinquishment, my needs became more and more modest. In fact it is hard to believe the amount of money I used to spend - and what I thought was ‘required’ :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
So with savings and juggling, money was invested and now I have a small passive income stream. Note: it is our beliefs that are the brakes… At one stage I thought I’d be living on a disability pension… that too is fine. But one can find an environment that is conducive to practice. Living in a hut in the bush is not expensive :slight_smile: but most people would look at that option with horror - yet it is a pretty fantastic practice environment.

It is important to have a very realistic look at what are the real barriers to practice, and also whether the wish to take practice to a deeper level is just a bit of daydreaming/wishful thinking… to make it real - one has to give up the things one has been brought up and conditioned to value… I think it is impossible to take practice to really deep levels without leaving the ‘normal life’ behind, whether one is ordained or not - essentially the practice is the same.

Not a single step was easy, and I got a lot of flack from my family and friends for what seemed to them to be irrational choices (I actually think it is harder to not be ordained, because that gives a legitimate framework for relinquishment, and people can relate to the idea of a monk or nun more easily - otherwise you are just a ‘crazy person’ :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: :rofl:)…
But step by tiny step… just keep moving in the right direction. One thing is for sure - don’t wait for perfect conditions - because they don’t exist :slight_smile: Just start NOW in whatever conditions one finds oneself :slight_smile:

I’ve written a lot here, and shared of my journey… I do so only in the hope that others will see that there are fewer limits to deep practice as a Lay person than is often claimed. It all comes down to the strength of desire for the Dhamma. If there is the Intention and the Effort and it is driven by Right View, then it can be done :pray: :dharmawheel:

And just to conclude… most of my family and friends finally ‘get it’… they can see the results :slight_smile: and this is wonderful as it awakens new ideas and possibilities for how they view what is important in life :slight_smile: And now after 20 years I find myself in Khemavara Buddhist Sanctuary :relieved:

May there be many more, and may every Being who wishes to follow the teachings of the Buddha do so, all the way to Liberation
:thaibuddha: :dharmawheel: :relieved:

https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/buddha-beings/12509/423

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Hi @stef

It was Ghatikara! His friend Jotipala became the Buddha in a subsequent rebirth. I love that story!

I do know a couple of Sri Lankan ‘laywomen’ who wear white robes but keep the ten precepts. They rely on family to deal with the money stuff and book onto as many retreats as they can get into. They also stay at the monasteries from time to time. One of them practically lives full-time at various monasteries, only going home when she has ‘maxed out’ the allowable time there and/or they have other bookings and no space. I’ve heard monks jokingly refer to her as a ‘permanent resident’ at Bodhinyana though she is currently helping out at Santi for a while.

I’ve also met many others who basically live a life where they ‘monastery hop.’ Staying at monasteries and retreat centres as much as possible is a good booster or refresher to your practice.

Given the nature of the lifestyle, you don’t tend to see or hear about people practising like this for yourself very often, but it is inspiring to meet people who actually do this. Hanging out on this forum is also quite beneficial in that respect - thank you @Viveka for sharing your story!

The only extra advice I would give is throw out your TV and don’t hang out at shopping centres or read the news etc. It’s amazing how overstimulating those things can be.

As to monasteries being more ‘social.’ My limited exposure living in one and visiting a few others is that this just isn’t so. If you only visit during the daytime, it may appear that way because monastics are required to come out to take their food and ‘be visible’ for the laypeople and to offer the anumodana. You will find that the vast majority of them, while they are seen, don’t actually engage with the laypeople all that often. Yes, some do, but usually, it is only an odd occasion where they do. They are very good at disappearing by 12pm!!

Having lived as a monastic (too personal to talk about why I disrobed, sorry), and now doing the layperson thing until I can get back to a monastery, I would highly recommend the monastic path. Just dealing with the necessities of life adds so much burden to your life and so much engagement with the world. It is not at all ideal. If you can’t do the monastic path, then living as simply as you possibly can - including giving up work if that is possible - is certainly the way to go.

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@Viveka thank you so much. :orange_heart:

As someone who wishes to practice in lay-life as seriously as possible, your example is such a strong and continual inspiration to me.

Having thoroughly considered ordination which would involve for me, as a woman over 50, moving to the other side of the world to live in a country I have no wish to live in, far from my mother and most valued friendships, I’ve come to see that in my case, lay-life provides the best possible practice opportunity.

I was able to create a work pattern more supportive to my practice by reducing my hours so that more frequent meditation is possible. I also see my actual paid work as service which provides for the ongoing development of generosity, compassion and kindness.

For me, meditation is the centre and foundation of practice, so creating more time for this was essential. Also, as the Buddha encouraged, good and strong spiritual friendships are incredibly important… yet not always so easy to find.

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I’d just like to add one final thing

There are many ways to practice as a Lay person. My story is just one example and should only be viewed like that. I know of many people who are devoted to the Dhamma and for whom it is the central pillar of their life. To all intents and purposes they may look like ordinary people from the outside, living quietly, practicing and not making a fuss or drawing attention to themselves, but their life is spent in service, with ethical conduct, and actively furthering the dhamma. This includes all the Lay supporters of monastics and Buddhist societies. Indeed there are so many here on the forum, including so many who volunteer to support their dhamma communities, who teach, who translate and those who help disseminate the teachings, and those who volunteer a whole range of skills.

There are so many ways to Practice and to further the Dhamma - with so many possibilities - something to suit everyone at every stage.

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Ghatikara the potter, from MN 81

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Wow, I’ve really enjoyed reading this particular thread! Thanks @stef for creating it and thanks to all who shared and special thanks to @Viveka for sharing your story, it’s super inspiring :pray:

I think a lot of the times when you are a practicing lay person, it can feel as though you are the ‘only one’ that’s doing ‘this’ (‘this’ being your spiritual practice) and I must admit it can feel lonely sometimes. It’s nice to know and hear of others practice, thank you :slight_smile:

Sadhu X 3, anumodhana :pray:

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