The Problem With Disregarding the Distinction Between Renunciant and Lay Practice

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:slight_smile: My comment was just meant as a piece of information, that had not yet been presented in the conversation.
BTW I really like your project of compiling suttas addressed to lay people - it provides a really useful perspective :smiley::pray::dharmawheel:


I remember the sutta on the death of Anathapindika (I think, don’t have the sutta-location at hand). Sariputta has been there and gave some discourse, which “helped for the rebirth at the brahman alms” (or so). Hearing of this later, the Buddha has not been amused. “You should have give him further advice!” - so there is also discerning, which teaching is appropriate for lays where & when.

Just found this on, coming nearer to the meant sutta:

(the chapter about Sariputta)
“(…) Among laymen Sáriputta had special regard for Anáthapindika; when the latter lay ill he sent for Sáriputta, who visited him with Ananda and preached to him the Anáthapindikováda Sutta. At the end of the discourse Anáthapindika said he had never before heard such a homily. Sáriputta said they were reserved for monks only, but Anáthapindika asked that they could be given to the laity and to young men of undimmed vision. Anáthapindika died soon after and was reborn in Tusita. M.iii.258 ff.; cf. S.v.380, (…)”

After further search, the “Anáthapindikováda Sutta” seems to be MN143; but this does not contain the remark of the Buddha ad Sariputta that he should have gone forth and give advice even to avoid the brahma-realms.
Hmm - might this all have been with another person than Anathapindika? Don’t have a good idea how to search further…


Thank you for sharing. It seems like an important point. I recall hearing Ajahn Brahmali mentioning this in a sutta talk recently. I still don’t understand all the implications of the convention yet, but it certainly seems relevant to this topic.


It may have been Ajahn Brahmali - I wasn’t 100% sure. I think they probably both did in the last few months, which would not be surprising at all! How lucky we are :blush:


Thank you for this post. I am looking forward for a compilation of suttas addressed to lay practitioners. I am actually stuck for some time with this dilemma: is all available online Dhamma a blessing or a curse?
My heart is telling me that the head is overloaded. I feel that some ‘‘higher’’ teachings should be introduced on later stage of development (or maybe not at all to lay people) as they just create confusion, longing or guilt (sometime:)

Priest Senkei, a true man of the Way!
He worked in silence - no extra words for him.
For thirty years he stayed in Kokusen’s community.
He never did meditation, never read the sutras,
And never said a word about Buddhism,
Just worked for the good of all.
I saw him but did not really see him;
I met him but did not really meet him.
Ah, he is impossible to imitate.
Priest Senkei, a true man of the Way!



I.m a bit confused when the word deep or deeper is used to any of the teachings. They mostly seem straightforward when one hears or reads them, and it’s just when one puts them into practice one gets the sense of something deeper. And that depth ness is to my opinion deeper layers in my mind and not something “deep” in the suttas. Been listening for years to one specific teacher, and have heard the same things over and over again, but through the years went by, they have struck/reached other parts of the mind, or maybe “deeper” into my heart.

The teachings are simple, but I’m not :pray:

Maybe the teachings never should have been written down … As I’ve heard there is or was a rule in the Vinaya that prohibited that.


Sadu! How lucky indeed.


You might be talking about this rule.

Now at that time Yameḷu and Tekula were the names of two monks who were brothers, brahmins by birth, with lovely voices, with lovely enunciation. They approached the Lord; having approached, having greeted the Lord, they sat down at a respectful distance. As they were sitting down at a respectful distance, these monks spoke thus to the Lord: “At present, Lord, monks of various names, various clans, various social strata have gone forth from various families; these corrupt the speech of the Awakened One in (using) his own dialect. Now we, Lord, give the speech of the Awakened One in metrical form.” The Awakened One, the Lord rebuked them, saying:

“How can you, foolish men, speak thus: ‘Now we, Lord, give the speech of the Awakened One in metrical form’? It is not, foolish men, for pleasing those who are not (yet) pleased …” And having rebuked them, having given reasoned talk, he addressed the monks, saying:

“ Monks, the speech of the Awakened One should not be given in metrical form. Whoever should (so) give it, there is an offence of wrong-doing. I allow you, monks, to learn the speech of the Awakened One according to his own dialect.”

There is no rule restraining writing the dhamma down. Not even an insident about writing down. At the time there was no written form I guess.



The Dhamma doesn’t feel too dusty to me. There are plenty of discourses that don’t need polish or reinterpretation. As a random example, Snp 2.3 provides a straightforward teaching on how to recognize true friendships. Apparently, Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Social and Communal Harmony gives an overview of other such teachings. I haven’t read it yet.

I’ve struggled with this, too.

In the first half of my Buddhist life, I tried to make sense of every list, and was subsequently overwhelmed. Later I read somewhere, probably a Bhikku Bodhi book, that traditional lay practice was actually quite simple, and consisted mainly of devotional recollections, and cultivating generosity and virtue, e.g., the Paṭhamamahānāma Sutta (AN 11.11).

Since such practices likely wouldn’t appeal to seekers who see Buddhism as an anti-religion, I suspect this is why Anapanasati and Satipatthana became the focus. This is understandable. However, there are other seekers and long-time practitioners who aren’t bothered by traditional practices, and may even prefer them.

This year marks my third attempt over the course of thirteen years to find a way to make the Theravada tradition work in my life. My plan is to study the Dhammapada (trans. Ananda Maitreya), the Siṅgāla Sutta, and the Jataka Tales, try to restart Buddhanussati practice, maybe find a teacher interested in these, and see how far this takes me.


I know that it’s clear elsewhere that Bhikkhunis can be arahants….that’s not my point. My point is that focusing on the addressees of teachings is misleading, because it could lead to the conclusion that only male monks are intended as recipients (since it’s VERY rare for suttas to include Bhikkhunis as addressees, rarer even than laypeople). In other words, if you are going to point to the fact that the buddha primarily addressed “Bhikkhus” as evidence that laypeople shouldn’t practice those teachings, then one could also argue that Bhikkhunis also shouldn’t practice those teachings (which we know is silly). I’m making a reductio ad absurdum argument.

Now, I do think there are other stronger arguments for arguing for some sort of gender blind lay/monastic distinction in practice …I just don’t think the addressees is one of them.

I’d also add that we should be careful about how we define “Bhikkhu.” In modern times it means someone officially ordained according to the vinaya, regardless of whether or not they truly life a “homeless” life free of worldly attachments. But that’s not how the term is necessarily used in the suttas…the vinaya didn’t even exist until 20 years or so into the Buddha’s teaching career. The significance of the official protocol of vinaya/ordination can be muddled in modern times….it’s worth pointing out that Ajahn Maha Boowa, who was a Bhikkhu known for being VERY strict about the vinaya, considered his sister as enlightened as he was, and she wasn’t ordained as anything, not even a maechee. Was she a “laywoman”?


I was listening to this talk:

If you listen from 24 min onward

Lord Buddha was firm that the teachings not to be written down because there were so few who could read and write. In these times, 2000 years later the teachings are being filtered through skilled monks’ minds, and the rest of us are held in confusion. I believe some of what’s been written down is formed in a way that is made to keep us bound to religion and doctrines.


Not necessarily. John L. Kelly’s paper covers this. There is an overall tonal difference in the teachings for monastics, lay followers, and even between social classes and age groups. An obvious example of this is when the Buddha addresses a large group of monastics (MN 118) and a large group of lay followers (SN 55.53). He doesn’t prescribe the same practices to every group. While there’s certainly overlap between the discourses, they’re not entirely interchangeable.


I listened to it. The ajahn makes this claim between 25:10 and 25:30, but I’ve no idea what his source is for it. There is no such prohibition in the Pali Tipiṭaka. Indeed the question of whether to write the teaching down doesn’t even come up for discussion.


I dont know myself, but trust this monk.


Conditions change.
At some times, written materials were luxury items; at other times, written materials were not so much luxury items.
In some ways, virtual media has been a luxury item, with access depending on material wealth; in other ways, virtual media can be lowest cost way to access.
Perhaps same with retreats and gatherings.

As a principle, I think the Buddha wanted the Dhamma to be given without dependency on caste, whether ethnic or nationalistic or socioeconomic or technological or any other caste-making thing.


Perhaps other religious schools at that time may have required literacy for initiation, thereby ensuring the establishment of a literate elite by barring illiterates.

Since the Buddha’s teachings are not secret, there might have been some concern about their becoming secret inadvertently by writing them down? Indeed, I can imagine a monastic quoting the following to allay any concern voiced by a scribe:

SN47.9:4.2: I’ve taught the Dhamma without making any distinction between secret and public teachings.


Unlikely, given that there is hardly any evidence of writing in the Buddha’s day in India. The Vedas were still be transmitted orally. Ven. @brahmali and Ven. @sujato talk about this in their book on early buddhist traditions.


Well, that is more or less Ajahn Amaro’s theory. He presents it, however, as if it were some well-established fact:

If he’s right, then we should expect to find a Vinaya rule to this effect.

As it is, however, there are in the Pali Vinaya only two rules that have anything to do with writing. One is the third pārājika, where one of the ways you can break it is by writing someone a letter praising suicide. The other is the rule forbidding nuns to learn “low arts”. In its elaboration the rule contains an exception clause making it no offence for nuns to learn to write.


There is no EBT evidences to suggest that there was a written type of teachings or restrain of writing down.
I would like to see if there is.
Ajahn Amaro’s point is kind of a confusion. Actually there is no mention about writting or reading in EBTs but the point is definitely based on the part that I qouted above. There are some contradictions about this part among scholars. However, it is not about the writing down. Some says chandasa means sanskrit (rejected by most scholars) while others say this is some sort of poetry ( metrical form) used by brahmins.


Do you have a source for this? Interested if it was a recorded speech or a story making the rounds.