Ud 6.2 (and trading in the dhamma)

Ud 6.2, Patislla Sutta, contains a teaching the Buddha gave to King Pasenadi Kosala. It’s perhaps most famous for ending with the following verse:

One should not make an effort everywhere,
should not be another’s hireling,
should not live dependent on another,
should not go about
as a trader in the Dhamma.

The last clause (should not go about as a trader in the Dhamma) is often quoted as evidence that one shouldn’t charge for dhamma teachings. However, reading the full verse, it seems like it also forbids people from accepting employment (“should not be another’s hireling”) or living off of others charity (“should not live dependent on another”). It seems like anything short of self-employment would be forbidden. Is that right, or am I missing something here?

It’s annoying because the verses don’t seem to be related to the context of the Udana, so it’s hard to learn anything from the context. Apparently SN 3.11 has a parallel passage that contains a different verse, one that fits the context better. So it seems like the Udana verse may very well have had a different origin, which makes it hard to see the original meaning. Any thoughts?

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The Buddha here uses the opportunity to convey a very important skill, that of being non-reactive and biding one’s time and observing before drawing a conclusion. That skill applies not only to judging people but to the manner of reacting to everyday occurrences, which can have hidden consequences. Reacting immediately from an unprepared mind allows actions to be influenced by hindrances and drawn into a wrong path. The five groups of ascetics, coiled hair, Jain, cloth-less, one-cloth, wanderers, represent the five hindrances.

“In the same way, when these five hindrances are not abandoned in himself, the monk regards it as a debt, a sickness, a prison, slavery, a road through desolate country”—DN 2

More difficult is watching events and only acting when the time is ripe to do so, and that necessitates self control, but is nourished by an understanding of harmony and not achieved by going with the conventional current. In behaving in a considered way one ensures the well-being of oneself and others in one’s input into external affairs. Thought influences the external through common consciousness.

MN 61, see also Note 2 regarding harmony


Note: The number seven repeated in the groups of ascetics is used for its symbolic significance. Seven is shaped like a step and signals the ascent between earth and the higher realms, so is applied to aspirants be they fake or genuine, such as the seven rebirths of the stream-enterer, and the seven periods of time to attain awakening through the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness. Seven is always used when the work remains to be done, but when the link to the higher realms has been accomplished, then the number eight is used where the shape of the bond between the higher and lower is seen (8), such as in the Noble Eightfold Path.

I am inclined to think the last verse is directed at monastics and ascetics.

The sutta is about the Buddha explaining to the Kosalan king how to know if an ascetic is worthy, after the king says,

“Among those in the world, reverend Sir, who are Worthy Ones, or have entered the path to Worthiness, these are some of them.”

So the way I understand the last verse is that it is about incentives.

If somebody teaches the dhamma to you but at the same time is “another’s hireling,” you can’t be certain that s/he is telling the truth. E.g., if your dhamma teacher works for Amazon and s/he recommends you books to buy on Amazon, you can’t be certain whether it is the book that is good or the money that his/her employer makes off of it.

Being a “trader in the dhamma” seems closely related. If Pepsi puts out a dhamma app, you can’t be sure the dhamma in the app is not watered down because what they ultimately want is to increase soda sales. The Pepsi hypothetical is an exaggeration, but there are less obvious examples of this all around.

Of course these concerns don’t apply to someone who does not claim to be teaching the dhamma (as non-monastics usually don’t).

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