SuttaCentral

Suttas where the Buddha encourages laypeople to ordain


#1

Hi, everyone,

This question kinda piggy-backs on the “The Problem With Disregarding the Distinction Between Renunciant and Lay Practice” thread — I’m looking for suttas that A) are addressed to laypeople, b) where the Buddha encourages said lay people to ordain as monastics.

I’m asking because I can recall a number of suttas addressed to monastics where the Buddha discourages disrobing, but I cannot recall suttas where the buddha encourages laypeople to put on robes. I want to know if I’ve been missing something here.

Thanks!


#2

Direct encouragement is rare and directed to those already attending a Dhamma talk. Presumably, lay people were also in attendance, although notice that the Buddha is subtly addressing the mendicants. However the invitation is clear:

DN14:3.26.1: ‘Wander forth, mendicants, for the welfare and happiness of the people, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans.
SN4.5:2.3: Wander forth, mendicants, for the welfare and happiness of the people, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans.


#3

Yes, the Buddha made a clear distinction between laypeople and monastics based on the two divisions of right view into those whose ambition was a fortunate rebirth, and those whose objective was the unconditioned element (MN 117). There are large sections of suttas directed only at laypeople with a goal within conditioned reality, and these are listed in the anthology “In the Buddha’s Words,” Bikkhu Bodhi, ch. 4 & 5. Such suttas are thus not directed towards ordination.

Description of the chapter divisions from the introduction to the book:

“Although my particular use of this scheme may be original, it is not sheer innovation but is based upon a threefold distinction that the Pāli commentaries make among the types of benefits to which the practice of the Dhamma leads: (1) welfare and happiness visible in this present life; (2) welfare and happiness pertaining to future lives; and (3) the ultimate good, Nibbāna (Skt: nirvāṇa).”

The way the Buddha approached entering the monkhood was rather through pointing out the pitfalls of life within the conditioned realm (there are suttas where laypeople have gone forth after hearing a sermon by the Buddha), and the progression to this is illustrated in the headings of the relevant chapters:

  1. The Happiness Visible in the Present Life

  2. The Way to a Fortunate Rebirth (within the conditioned realms)

  3. Deepening One’s Perspective on the World (perils of samsara).

  4. The path to Liberation (why does one enter the path?)

Listed at the culmination of Ch. 5 as a bridge to Ch. 6, AN 9.20 is an example of how the Buddha classified lay practice as mainly distinguished by giving (dana). This sutta is relevant to western Buddhism with its accent on lay practice, because it says that the contemplation of impermanence is actually more valuable than going forth. So the fixed outlook towards lay people in the Buddha’s time and in Theravadin countries today is different to the aspirations of western lay Buddhists, who are intent upon nibbana.


#4

That’s an interesting observation. I can’t recall any suttas of the sort either. In fact, I can’t recall the Buddha or even any of the monks encouraging anybody to put on robes. The initiative to become a monk or even just to go for refuge is always taken by the other party.


#5

I think because one has to follow the path oneself, I.e. no one can do it for you, the Buddha in his wisdom left it for others to decide, that way when the going gets tough they can’t go up to the Buddha and complain that they were coerced or tricked or manipulated into going forth but they did it freely of their own accord without any external pressure.

The Shorter Discourse to Māluṅkya is sorta in a similar vain:

“So it seems that I did not say to you: ‘Come, Māluṅkyaputta, live the spiritual life under me, and I will declare these things to you.’ And you never said to me: ‘Sir, I will live the spiritual life under the Buddha, and the Buddha will declare these things to me.’ In that case, you silly man, are you really in a position to be abandoning anything?

Suppose someone were to say this: ‘I will not live the spiritual life under the Buddha until the Buddha declares to me that the world is eternal, or that the world is not eternal … or that after death a Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist.’ That would still remain undeclared by the Realized One, and meanwhile that person would die. - SuttaCentral

That being said, there are suttas that take it for granted that a person who hears the teaching of the Buddha and has sufficient faith will naturally see lay life as an obstacle and go forth:

A householder hears that teaching, or a householder’s child, or someone reborn in some clan. They gain faith in the Realized One, and reflect: ‘Living in a house is cramped and dirty, but the life of one gone forth is wide open. It’s not easy for someone living at home to lead the spiritual life utterly full and pure, like a polished shell. Why don’t I shave off my hair and beard, dress in ocher robes, and go forth from the lay life to homelessness?’ - SuttaCentral

:anjal:


#6

@paul1

the Buddha made a clear distinction between laypeople and monastics based on the two divisions of right view into those whose ambition was a fortunate rebirth, and those whose objective was the unconditioned element (MN 117).

Sorry, but this does not seem entirely correct. In MN 117, the Buddha does not appear to use the terms “laypeople” and “monastics” (or bhikkhus’, mendicants or strickly equivalent terms). In speaking of

what is noble right immersion with its vital conditions and its prerequisites? They are: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, and right mindfulness.

He described in detail two fold expressions of each ( without attaching the terms or concepts of ordained or lay):

And what is right view? Right view is twofold, I say. There is right view that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment. And there is right view that is noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path.

And what is right view that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment? ‘There is meaning in giving, sacrifice, and offerings. There are fruits and results of good and bad deeds. There is an afterlife. There are duties to mother and father. There are beings reborn spontaneously. And there are ascetics and brahmins who are well attained and practiced, and who describe the afterlife after realizing it with their own insight.’ This is right view that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment.

And what is right view that is noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path? It’s the wisdom—the faculty of wisdom, the power of wisdom, the awakening factor of investigation of principles, and right view as a factor of the path—in one of noble mind and undefiled mind, who possesses the noble path and develops the noble path. This is called right view that is noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path.

They make an effort to give up wrong view and embrace right view: that’s their right effort. Mindfully they give up wrong view and take up right view: that’s their right mindfulness. So these three things keep running and circling around right view, namely: right view, right effort, and right mindfulness.

In this context, right view comes first. And how does right view come first? When you understand wrong thought as wrong thought and right thought as right thought, that’s your right view.

It is a mistake, I think, to introduce this as a distinction of ordained and lay, because (first) the Buddha does not appear to say that here; (second) because we know, from other suttas and observation), that there can be worldlings among the monastics, and those practicing for stream entry and its fruits among the lay; perhaps the latter will naturally aspire for the holy life in robes, but it might not be immediately possible.

The distinction the Buddha makes in MN 117 is with or without defilements.

Any bhikkhu, bhikkhuni, upāsaka, or upāsikā can (I think) benefit from reading this Sutta, and reflecting on it as the Buddha presented it.


#7

I think it is part of hearing and seriously reflecting on the gradual teaching that one eventually makes the resolution to abandon the householder life for the life of a contemplative disciple (bhikkhu/bhikkhuni). Can we quantify how many times the gradual teaching is presented and the one receiving it first hand ends up taking up the robes?


#8

Perhaps such reflection might also naturally lead to resolution to ensure all human lives have opportunity, encouragement, support, and requisites provided to abandon the householder life for the life of a contemplative disciple (bhikkhu/bhikkhuni)? Or to resolve to make effort in what is

noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path

right now?

MN 117 is a lovely Sutta.


#9

Sure, the non-violence and love aspects of right thought-speech-action-livelihood have to do with that.
In traditionally Buddhist countries like Thailand, especially in the countryside and around “forest” monasteries and hermitages, you can witness that in real life: although people don’t yet have the faculty of renunciation strong enough for taking on the robes they do their best to support those who do.
A similar thing happens outside such countries but in a much smaller scale.
:anjal:


#10

I found two such suttas (see above). But they are indeed rare.

Ahhh! Thanks. Here is the quote. It certainly does crack the whip to get us roused and moving along:

AN9.20:9.1: It would be more fruitful develop the perception of impermanence—even for as long as a finger snap—than to do all of these things, including developing a heart of love for as long as it takes to pull a cow’s udder.”

At least seven times: MN82, SN12.17, MN75, MN73, MN57, DN8, DN16…


#11

Thank you, everyone, for your responses.

Are you talking about DN 14 and SN 4.5? Because neither of the suttas are addressed to laypeople. Also, it seems to me that they are less about taking up the robes and more about encouraging those already in robes to wander and teach. SN 4.5 in particular seems to suggest that the mendicants are already enlightened (“freed from all snares”).

Yes, it’s a good observation. TBH I don’t think this point is emphasized enough, either by Asian Buddhists (who talk a lot about sila when addressing lay ppl) or western ones (who emphasize meditation, and maybe brahma-viharas). At least from my experience.

I would quibble a bit with this by pointing out that laypeople in the Buddha’s day weren’t merely aiming for heavenly rebirth, but also the first three stages of enlightenment (and maybe even full enlightenment at death…there does appear to be one sutta at least about this being possible, though this seems rare). Striving for nibbana involves multiple stages, with varying degrees of renunciation.

It’s a nice Sutta. In this Sutta, the king himself volunteers the question, “What are the fruits of the contemplative life?” So the Buddha isn’t using this analogy unprovoked. It’s also worth pointing out how the Buddha says the Jhanas/higher knowledges are more important than the vinaya-related stuff.


#12

“…[F]or a householder who has attained arahantship: either, that very day, he goes forth into homelessness or he attains final Nibbāna. That day is not able to pass without one or other of these events taking place.” (Miln. VII, 2)

In the Tevijjavacchagotta Sutta (MN 71 / M I.483) the Buddha is asked by the ascetic Vacchagotta “is there any householder who, without abandoning the fetter of householdship, on the dissolution of the body has made an end to suffering?” The Buddha replied “there is no householder who, without abandoning the fetter of householdship, on the dissolution of the body has made an end to suffering”

"One of the evolving features of Buddhism in the West is the increasing dissolution of the traditional distinction between monastics and laity.

" For all the diversity of Buddhist practices in the West, general trends in the recent transformations of Buddhist practice … can be identified. These include an erosion of the distinction between professional and lay Buddhists; a decentralization of doctrinal authority; a diminished role for Buddhist monastics; an increasing spirit of egalitarianism; greater leadership roles for women; greater social activism; and, in many cases, an increasing emphasis on the psychological, as opposed to the purely religious, nature of practice."—Wikipedia


#13

What does it mean, to see and to live having realized the Deathless?

“Mendicants, having six qualities the householders Bhallika … Sudatta Anāthapiṇḍika … Citta of Macchikāsaṇḍa … Hatthaka of Āḷavī … Mahānāma the Sakyan … Ugga of Vesālī … Uggata … Sūra of Ambaṭṭha … Jīvaka Komārabhacca … Nakula’s father … Tavakaṇṇika … Pūraṇa … Isidatta … Sandhāna … Vijaya … Vijayamāhita … Meṇḍaka … the lay followers Vāseṭṭha … Ariṭṭha … and Sāragga are certain about the Realized One, see the deathless, and live having realized the deathless. What six? Experiential confidence in the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha, and noble ethics, knowledge, and freedom. Having these six qualities the lay follower Sāragga is certain about the Realized One, sees the deathless, and lives having realized the deathless.”
SuttaCentral


#14

:open_mouth: Oh. You’re quite right! I’ve been so used to “forth” that I misread “wander forth” as “wander away from lay life and go forth”. :see_no_evil:

Thanks for the catch. I therefore found zero (0) suttas where the Buddha directly encourages laypeople to ordain.

Here is a concrete definition:

AN1.626:1.2: Those who have completely understood mindfulness of the body have completely understood the deathless.”

Here is the broadest definition:

SN45.7:3.3: What is the deathless? And what is the path that leads to the deathless?” “The ending of greed, hate, and delusion. This is called the deathless.

Aka. Nibbana.


#15

Sila is the basis of the process in terms of the dynamics between sila, samadhi, panna, and this is explained in more detail in AN 11.1. Perception of impermanence is a support for sila in that it is ‘recognition of things as they are’:

“Concentration has knowledge & vision of things as they actually are as its purpose, knowledge & vision of things as they actually are as its reward.”

“And what is the purpose of knowledge & vision of things as they actually are? What is its reward?”

"Knowledge & vision of things as they actually are has disenchantment as its purpose, disenchantment as its reward.”

See also AN 11.2, where ‘an act of will’ refers to the effort necessary to implement sila.


#16

I do agree that the EBTs make full renunciation a prerequisite for full-blown Arahatship. They do not, however, make it a prerequisite for the first three stages of enlightenment. This is why I think it’s misleading to say that laypeople in the Buddha’s day were “only” striving for a heavenly rebirth.

I agree — perception of impermanence is more meritorious because it’s the foundation for the other things (precepts, generosity, etc.), not because it replaces those other things. Everyone could do well by hamming this point home.