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Religion (1999) 29, 231–241 Article No. reli.1999.0163, available online at http://www.idealibrary.com on
Views of Householders and Lay Disciples in the Sutta Pit*aka: A Reconsideration of the Lay/Monastic Opposition J S Many scholars have argued that early Buddhism was primarily an ‘other-worldly’ religion focusing on ascetics and monastics. In their view, the laity does not figure prominently, it was only centuries later that the laity’s involvement became more noticeable. By examining references to householders (gahapati) and lay disciples (upa¯saka) in the Sutta Pit*aka section of the Pa¯li canon, this article challenges the view that the role of the laity primarily pertained to supporting the monastics with food, clothing, and shelter. 1999 Academic Press
The traditional scholarly view of Therava¯da Buddhism has always maintained a sharp distinction between the monastic and the lay communities. The distinction between these two communities is most often based on their religious activities and obligations. While the monastics are often identified as preservers of Buddhist doctrine and practice, the responsibilities and concerns of the laity are believed to be limited to the accumulation of merit through supporting the monastics with food, shelter, and clothing. For instance, Nalinaksha Dutt, in paraphrasing N. N. Law, excludes the laity from the religious practices associated with the monastics when he writes: ‘The principles of early Buddhism did not make any special provision for the laity . . . [and] it is evident that the new religion [i.e., Buddhism] was primarily meant for those who would retire from the household life’.1 Another scholar who excludes the laity from the various forms of Buddhist learning and practice (besides donating to the monastic community) is Max Weber. He maintains, for instance, that the laity was viewed in a manner ‘similar to the tolerated infidels in Islam, [who] existed only for the purpose of sustaining by alms the Buddhist disciple who aspires to the state of grace’.2 The laity’s support of the monks and nuns, according to Weber, ‘constituted the highest merit and honor available to the upasaka (adorer)’.3 Similarly, Etienne Lamotte, in his History of Indian Buddhism, writes that the ‘monk aims at Nirva¯n *a and, in order to attain it, wearing the yellow robe, cultivates the noble eightfold Path (a¯rya as**a t ¯ n˙gikama¯rga)’.4 While the monk strives to reach enlightenment or nirva¯*na, the lay householder, ‘involved in the troubles of his time, cannot be expected to grasp ‘‘the profound truth, which is difficult to perceive, difficult to understand, sublime, abstruse and which only the wise can grasp’’ ’.5 Many later scholars continue to embrace this traditional view of Therava¯da Buddhism. For instance, Akira Hirakawa writes that ‘The term ‘‘upa¯saka’’ [i.e., layman] refers to one who waits upon or serves (another person). Thus an upa¯saka served mendicants by supplying the items, such as food and robes, that they required for their religious lives’.6 Hirakawa then even more sharply divides the monastics from the laity when he argues that early Buddhism is ‘a monastic teaching for those who were willing to leave their homes to become monks or nuns, strictly observe the precepts, and perform religious practices’.7 He also states that, ‘Both doctrinal study and religious practice presupposed the abandonment of a person’s life as a householder. A strict line separated those who had been ordained from lay people’.8 Because of this sharp 1999 Academic Press 0048–721X/99/030231+11 r30.00/0
232 J. Samuels opposition between the monastic order and the laity, Hirakawa argues that ‘Buddhist laymen were not included in the Buddhist san˙gha’.9 Finally, this depiction of Buddhism is also maintained by George Bond, who writes that archaic Buddhism (as represented in the Pa¯li canon) is ‘a religion of individual salvation-striving for ascetic monks’.10 While Bond acknowledges that Buddhism became markedly more social as time progressed,11 he argues that the most that the laity could ever hope for and cultivate was a higher degree of morality (adhisı¯la): in order to cultivate higher wisdom (adhipan˜n˜a¯ ) and higher concentration (adhisama¯dhi), they had to abandon the household life.12 While the dominant view of early Buddhism still maintains a sharp distinction between the monastic order and the laity, some scholars have begun to challenge that perception. For instance, Gregory Schopen’s work on early donative inscriptions in India questions this view by demonstrating that a considerable proportion of people who donated to sacred sites and were involved in merit-making activity were monks and nuns, including monks and nuns who were doctrinal specialists.13 As a result of the evidence from early donative inscriptions, Schopen concludes that ‘None of this accords very well, if at all, with received views on the matter, with the views that maintain that there was a sharp distinction between the kinds of religious activities undertaken by monks and the kinds of religious activity undertaken by laymen, and with the view that cult and religious giving were essentially and overwhelmingly lay concerns in the Indian Buddhist context’.14 In this article, I also challenge the dominant view of Therava¯da Buddhism that maintains a sharp dichotomy between the monastic order and the laity and that appears to be based on a rather limited reading of the Pa¯li canon. By examining the sutta section of the Therava¯da Buddhist Pa¯li canon, I hope to show that the portrayal of the laity in these early texts is not limited to merely providing the monks and nuns with food, shelter and clothing. Alongside references in the Pa¯li canon that depict the laity’s primary role as supporters of the monastics are a plethora of references in which householders and lay disciples are portrayed as practitioners of the Buddha’s dhamma, proceeding along on the path to enlightenment. I argue that the Pa¯li canon contains a historically diverse group of viewpoints and attitudes towards religious practice and that the complexity of views contained in the canon actually undermines, to a large degree, the absoluteness of the categories of ‘monastic’ and ‘laity’.15
Views toward Lay people in the Sutta Pit*aka A close examination of the passages in the Sutta Pit*aka that refer to householders and lay people reveals a complex and multifarious depiction. These findings reflect two opposing views: 1) that the laity, as an important dimension of the Buddhist community or san˙gha, primarily functioned to serve and support the monks and nuns; and 2) that the laity were able to progress along the path to enlightenment by hearing Buddhist teachings and practicing certain forms of Buddhist mediation. Though the first view appears to coincide with the traditional reading of the Pa¯li canon, the second view challenges that reading.
Laity as Supporters of Monastics: the Superiority of Monastics There are numerous passages in the Pa¯li canon lending support to the traditional interpretation of Therava¯da Buddhism. In these passages, lay life is portrayed as inferior to monastic life, which is shown to be more conductive to progressing towards
Views of Householders and Lay Disciples in the Sutta Pit*aka
enlightenment. For example, in a passage in the Sa¯man˜n˜aphalasutta (or Fruits of the Wanderer), householder life is described as full of hindrances (samba¯dho ghara¯va¯so raja¯paho), thereby making it difficult for householders to live the celibate life which is pure, complete and perfect.16 In this passage, a homeless person is portrayed as one who renounces all worldly ties, practices mindfulness and contentment, enters into and remains in the trance states, develops supernatural powers, and knows that the cycle of death and rebirth is cut off. What this passage suggests, then, is that the qualities conducive towards attaining enlightenment—for example, developing mindfulness and concentration—can only be cultivated after renouncing household life.17 The superiority of monastics over householders is also suggested in the Sutta Nipa¯ta (v. 221), where it is stated that ‘just as a blue-necked peacock, flying through the air, never attains the speed of a goose, thus the householder does not imitate the monk who is a sage meditating in the forest’. Though the Sa¯man˜n˜aphalasutta primarily focuses on the benefits of homeless life, it also contains a description of the actions and teachings appropriate for lay people. For instance, after stating that household life is full of hindrances, we read that a graduate sermon on giving, morality and heaven was given to the householder.18 Moreover, in other suttas in the Pa¯li canon, there are individual discourses on the subjects of giving and morality taught to lay people,19 and these discourses often include a description of the rewards that ensue from such practices.20
Lay Involvement While these passages from various sections of the Sutta Pit*aka lend support to the traditional reading of the Pa¯li canon, other passages challenge the view that the highest function of the laity is to support the monks and nuns, and that progress to the goal can only be accomplished through abandoning the householder state. These suttas challenge the traditional view of Therava¯da Buddhism by their portrayal of the laity as recipients of profound teachings on Buddhist doctrine and as practitioners of Buddhist training. There are even passages in which the laity are placed on an equal footing with monastics in terms of spiritual attainment.
Recipients of Teachings and Teachers of the Doctrine Though it is true that a number of passages in the Sutta Pit*aka pertaining to householders portray them as recipients of discourses solely on morality and giving, other passages portray them as receiving the same profound doctrinal discourses as monastics. In one sutta in the Pat*isam * bhida¯magga of the Khuddaka Nika¯ya, the Maha¯vagge Man**dapeyya-katha¯, we read that the best recipients of the Buddha’s best teachings (desana¯man**do) include monks, nuns, laymen, laywomen and gods. Similarly, in the Nagarasutta of the Sam * yutta Nika¯ya (II.107), the Buddha talks about his insight into conditioned arising (pat*iccasamuppa¯da) and the eightfold path, and then concludes by pointing out that having come to this knowledge, he has taught it to monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. Finally, in the An˙guttara Nika¯ya (II.132), there is a statement that A z nanda (as well as the Buddha)21 taught the dhamma to each of the four assemblies, monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. Two components of the best teachings of the Buddha given to the laity, highlighted in the Maha¯vagge Man**dapeyya-katha¯, are the four noble truths and the eightfold path.22 The fact that these teachings were given to the laity is further supported by other passages in the Sutta Pit*aka. For instance, we read in the Dı¯gha Nika¯ya (I.110) that after giving a graduated sermon to the brahmin Pokkharasa¯ti, the Buddha then explained the
234 J. Samuels dhamma in brief: suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the path. A similar phrase is also found in conjunction with the laymen Ku¯*adanta t (D I.148), Upa¯li (M I.380) and Brahma¯yu (M II.145). Moreover, in the Ra¯siyasutta of the Sam * yutta Nika¯ya, we find that the headman Ra¯siya became a lay disciple by taking refuge in the Buddha, his doctrine and the monastic community after hearing a discourse from the Buddha on the eightfold path.23 Other Buddhist doctrines that were of central importance and were sometimes taught to householders include the five aggregates and non self (anatta¯). In the Nakulapita¯sutta (S III. 1ff.), for example, the old and ailing householder Nakula visits the Buddha and Sa¯riputta and asks for some comforting teachings. Rather than discussing with the householder the importance of faith, the benefits of being moral and the rewards of giving, the Buddha and Sa¯riputta teach Nakula about the five aggregates and how each of the five aggregates is not to be construed as the self or as being possessed by a self. In another sutta of the same Nika¯ya (S III.48ff.), moreover, we find a Socratic-like dialogue ensuing between the Buddha and the householder Son *a on the subject of the five aggregates and non self. In this dialogue, which mirrors the conversation between the Buddha and his first five converts, the Buddha leads the layman Son *a to the conclusion that the five aggregates are not to be taken to be the self or the self taken as the possessor of the five aggregates. In addition, there are suttas that portray the Buddha teaching lay householders and brahmins about the abstruse doctrine of the twelve links of dependent origination (pat*iccasamuppa¯da). In the Nida¯na section of the Sam * yutta Nika¯ya (II.22f., 75f., 76f., and 77), for example, there are a number of suttas addressed to lay people pertaining to the doctrine of dependent origination. In these cases, the householders and brahmins become lay followers after hearing the discourse on the causal relationship between each of the links as well as the way to break out of this chain binding one to rebirth and suffering (S II. 76). Another manner in which the laity are portrayed in the Sutta Pit*aka is as teachers of the Buddhist doctrine. For instance, in the section of the An˙guttara Nika¯ya that recounts the achievements of certain laymen and laywomen (A I.126), we read that Citta is chief among the Buddha’s laymen in terms of teaching the dhamma and that Khujjuttara¯ is foremost among the laywomen in terms of wide knowledge. Moreover, in the same nika¯ya we find references to two laymen, Ana¯thapin *d*ika and Vajjiyama¯hita, who refuted the views of a group of wanderers by teaching them about dependent arising, impermanence, suffering, non clinging and non self. Their discourse on these subjects caused the wanderers to become speechless and led the Buddha to declare to his monks: ‘A monk who dwells in the dhamma and vinaya for even one hundred years might, in this manner, have to censure heretical wanderers with the dhamma just as the ones who were rebuked by the householder Ana¯thapin *d*ika’.24 Another passage that describes lay people as dhamma teachers is found in the Dı¯gha Nika¯ya and repeated in the An˙guttara Nika¯ya. In this passage, Ma¯ra tries to encourage the Buddha to attain final nibba¯na (parinibba¯na). The Buddha responds that he can only attain parinibba¯na after he has monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen who are learned, trained, self-possessed, who have great knowledge, who know the dhamma by heart, who have reached complete righteousness, who are upright, who walk in perfect conformity, who are their own teacher, and who, having learned [the dhamma], will describe it, teach it, declare it, give it, uncover it, dissect it, and will declare it to those who have arisen, who, having restrained and checked those who are in opposition with the teachings, will teach the marvelous dhamma.25
Views of Householders and Lay Disciples in the Sutta Pit*aka
These passages, thus pose a challenge to some of the traditional distinctions made between the monastic order and the laity. For instance, while Dutt argues that ‘householders were as far as possible kept away from the deeper teachings, lest they should be frightened away from taking interest in the religion’,26 and while Hirakawa states that ‘Nika¯ya Buddhist doctrine was a monastic teaching for those who were willing to leave their homes to become monks or nuns’,27 the passages quoted reveal that the Buddhist attitudes expressed in the Pa¯li canon are far more complex than that ‘monastic’ versus ‘lay’. In particular, the passages that refer to Citta as the foremost of the Buddha’s disciples in terms of teaching the dhamma, to Khujjuttara¯ as the foremost of the Buddha’s disciples in terms of wide knowledge, and to Ana¯thapin *d*ika and Vajjiyama¯hita as having great understanding of dependent arising, impermanence, suffering, non clinging and non self all suggest that there might have existed, in the Pa¯li canon, some ambiguity over the very nature of ‘monk’ versus ‘householder’ in regards to doctrinal instruction and understanding.
Practicing Meditation There are also several passages in the Sutta Pit*aka where certain lay people are portrayed as engaging in Buddhist practices, especially those practices directed towards the development of mindfulness and concentration. While the cultivation of mindfulness through practicing the four foundations of mindfulness (satipat*t*ha¯na) is often associated with monastics (as it is in the Maha¯satipat*t*ha¯nasutta of the Dı¯gha and Majjhima nika¯yas),28 there are also passages in the Sutta Pit*aka that show lay people following this same practice. For instance, in the Kandarakasutta of the Majjhima Nika¯ya (I.340), the Buddha points out to a wandering ascetic and a householder that his monks dwell in the four foundations of mindfulness. After the Buddha extols the virtues of the four foundations of mindfulness, the householder accompanying the wandering ascetic remarks, ‘We householder, oh sir, dressed in white, also practice the four foundations of mindfulness from time to time’. In another sutta in the Sam * yutta Nika¯ya (V.176ff.), the venerable A z nanda visits the sick and suffering layman Sirivad *d*ha. After they exchange greetings and Sirivad *d*ha informs A z nanda about his illness, A z nanda recommends that Sirivad*d*ha should practice the four foundations of mindfulness as follows: ‘I will dwell contemplating the body, feelings, mind, and dhammas in the body, feelings, mind, and dhammas ardent, with energy and mindful’. The householder then retorts that he is already dwelling in the four foundations.29 Along with these passages in which there are several passages which lay people are shown to be proficient in entering into and remaining in the trance states. For instance, in the Acelasutta of the Sam * yutta Nika¯ya, the householder Citta who has been a disciple of the Buddha for thirty years, remarks to the naked ascetic Acela that he, Citta, is able to enter into the four trance states and is able to remain aloof from lust. In the Dı¯gha Nika¯ya (II. 186), moreover, we find reference to a king who is able to enter into the four trance states as well as cultivate the four divine abidings: compassion, friendliness, sympathetic joy and equanimity. In the An˙guttara Nika¯ya (IV.66), there is mention of how Nanda’s mother (Nandama¯ta¯) can enter into and remain in the four trance states. Finally, in the Iddhikatha¯ of the Pat*isam * bhida¯magga of the Khuddaka Nika¯ya (II.212), we find a discussion of the powers that ensue from abiding in the eight trance states. After this brief discussion, we find that the monks Sa¯riputta, San˜jiva and Kha¯nu¯kon *d*an˜n˜a, as well as the laywomen Uttara¯30 and Sa¯ma¯vatika¯, have all developed this power of pervasive concentration.
236 J. Samuels There are also references to lay people practicing other types of meditation in the Sutta Pit*aka. One example concerns a meditation focusing on the three characteristics of reality: impermanence, non self and suffering. In the Dı¯gha¯vusutta in the Sam * yutta Nika¯ya, for instance, the sick and suffering householder Dı¯gha¯vu is visited by the Buddha. After inquiring about Dı¯gha¯vu’s health, the Buddha recommends that Dı¯gha¯vu cultivate faith in the three jewels and cultivate noble virtues. Dı¯gha¯vu then responds that he has already cultivated these qualities. The Buddha then instructs Dı¯gha¯vu to practice six other practices: ‘Now, oh Dı¯gha¯vu, you should dwell observing impermanence in all constituent elements. [You should dwell] perceiving suffering in impermanence, perceiving non self in suffering, perceiving abandoning, perceiving the absence of desire, perceiving cessation. This is how you should train yourself, oh Dı¯gha¯vu’.31 In others suttas, we also find references to a king who guards his senses and mind,32 and to a group of householder brahmins who are being instructed on guarding the sense doors.33 Yet another sutta where meditative practices are taught to a layman is the Ana¯thapin**dikova¯dasutta of the Majjhima Nika¯ya, where Sa¯riputta instructs the dying Ana¯thapin *d*ika to practice non grasping in relation to the six senses (the five senses and the mind), the six forms (shape, sound, smell, tastes, touches and mental objects) and the six consciousness associated with each of the senses. In addition, Sa¯riputta remarks that Ana¯thapin *d*ika should not grasp after feelings as well as the last four trance states. After describing the various types of non grasping meditation, Sa¯riputta remarks that this kind of meditation is usually given not to householders but only to monks. In response, the householder Ana¯thapin *d*ika points out that this teaching should be given to other householders who have little dust in their eyes.34
Spiritual Attainments By highlighting these passages in the Sutta Pit*aka, I hope to have shown that the sections of the Pa¯li canon that portray household life as full of hindrances are juxtaposed by passages in which householders are depicted as progressing towards enlightenment, as hearing and understanding profound teachings (such as non self and dependent origination) and as practicing various kinds of meditation. At this point, one question may be raised: while it is true that certain householders may ‘progress’ towards enlightenment and attain the first three fruits of the path (stream-enterer, once-returner and non returner), is it possible for them to attain complete freedom from suffering—i.e., to become an arahant? Unfortunately, there is not a single answer to this question, thereby further showing the complexity of views regarding the laity in the Pa¯li canon. On the one hand there are may passages in the Sutta Pit*aka where the final stage of arahantship is shown to be unattainable by householders and where householders are depicted as having attained only the first three fruits of the path to enlightenment. In the Maha¯parinibba¯nasutta (D II.92f.), for example, the Buddha recalls those lay people who have become stream-enterers, once-returners and non returners; interestingly, there is no mention of fully enlightened lay people.35 The Nal*akapa¯nasutta of the Majjhima Nika¯ya (I.467) further supports the notion that one must become a monastic before attaining enlightenment. In this sutta the Buddha points out to Anuruddha the states attained by certain deceased people. First, the Buddha mentions the states attained by monks and nuns: having abandoned only the first three fetters (stream-enterer), having eliminated the first three fetters and reduced attachment, aversion and delusion (i.e., a once-returner), having eradicated the first five fetters (i.e., a non returner), and being
Views of Householders and Lay Disciples in the Sutta Pit*aka
established in profound knowledge (i.e., arahant). This statement is followed by a discussion of the states attained by laymen and laywomen. However, there is only mention of the first three stages: stream-enterer, once-returner and non returner.36 What is implied is that while monastics are able to reach all of the four fruits of the path, lay people are able to attain only the first three stages. Even though householders are able to progress along the path through hearing profound teachings and practicing meditation, the ultimate goal of cessation from suffering can be attained only by a monastic. While these passages may lend support to the claim that the householder’s life is ‘ultimately’ not conducive to spiritual progress and that lay people must abandon household life in order to cultivate higher wisdom and enlightenment, other passages suggest the contrary: that lay people can achieve the fourth fruit—arahantship. For example, in two suttas in the Sam * yutta Nika¯ya, the ‘prospect’ of lay people attaining complete release from suffering (dukkha) and from the mental intoxicants (a¯savas) is acknowledged. In the Maha¯na¯masutta, for example, the layman Maha¯na¯ma asks the Buddha the difference between those lay people who are possessed with morality (sı¯lasampanno), those lay people who are possessed with faith (saddhosampanno), those lay people who are possessed with generosity (ca¯gasampanno) and finally, those lay people who are possessed with wisdom (pan˜n˜a¯sampanno). This last group of lay people, the Buddha responds, are those who are possessed with insight into rising and falling (i.e., impermanence), who are possessed with wisdom which in noble, who are discriminating, and who are moving towards the complete destruction of suffering (i.e., enlightenment).37 In this passage, there is neither a portrayal of a layperson’s life as being replete with hindrances nor an assertion that a lay follower (upa¯saka) must become a monastic. Of even greater interest is the Gila¯yanasutta of the Sam * yutta Nika¯ya. In this sutta, the Buddha points out to the householder Maha¯na¯ma that lay people may be admonished to develop faith in the three jewels,38 to develop noble virtues, and to eradicate all attachment to their parents, to their children, to the five senses, to the four godly realms and so on. Once the lay person eradicates all attachments, then the person should be instructed to direct the mind on the state of cessation (nirodha). The Buddha then points out that if the lay person is able to accomplish this feat, then there is no difference between the lay person and the monk who is freed from the a¯savas (i.e., mental intoxicants preventing one from reaching enlightenment) and that there is no difference between the release of one and the release of the other.39 Another passage pertaining to the issue of whether lay people can become enlightened is in the An˙guttara Nika¯ya, where Ma¯ra asks the Buddha to attain parinibba¯na. Though this passage repeats the passage found in the Maha¯parinibba¯nasutta of the Dı¯gha Nika¯ya, there is one addition: not only should there be monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen who are accomplished in the Buddhist teachings and can teach it to others, but there must also be monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen who have attained perfect peace (pattayogakkhema¯ )—a word that Rhys Davids and Stede refer to as a ‘frequent epithet of nibba¯na’.40 There are other passages in the Majjhima, Sam * yutta and An˙guttara Nika¯yas that correlate the attainment of nibba¯na to lay people. In these passages another epithet for nibba¯na is used: n˜a¯yam * , or truth. In the Sam * yutta Nika¯ya, for instance, the Buddha purports to have said to his monks that when ‘a householder or a wanderer is rightly disposed, because of [his] correct mental disposition he is accomplished in the truth (n˜a¯yam * ), the teachings (or the norm (dhamma)), and the wholesome’.41 Though the word n˜a¯yam * , or truth, may appear to be ambiguous in this phrase, certain post-canonical
238 J. Samuels texts gloss this word as a synonym for nibba¯na. For example, in his Visuddhimagga, Buddhaghosa succinctly writes, ‘Ña¯yo vuccati nibba¯nam * ’ or ‘Truth is called nibba¯na’.42 Moreover, in the Questions to King Milinda, King Milinda questions the monk Nagasena on this exact passage: ‘if householders and monastics can realize the truth (n˜a¯yam * ), then why should one give up the householder’s life?’ Though Nagasena skirts Milinda’s question at first by pointing out that the recluse is nonetheless superior because he attains the goal of nibba¯na without delay,43 he later remarks that the householder who is able to attain the highest peace of nibba¯na is able to do so only because he has laid the groundwork in previous lives, when he followed the thirteen ascetic practices (dhutagun*as).44 In addition to this sutta, we find other passages that even refer to lay people who are enlightened. For example, near the end of the third book of the An˙guttara Nika¯ya, we find the following: Endowed with these six things, oh monks, the householder Tapussa who has attained perfection and who has seen nibba¯na because of the Tatha¯gata, is one who has gone to the state of perfection having seen nibba¯na with his own eyes; with which six: with perfect faith in the Buddha, with perfect faith in the dhamma, with perfect faith in the san˙gha, with noble morality, with noble knowledge, and with noble release. Because of these six things, oh monks, the householder Tapussa who has attained perfection and who has seen nibba¯na because of the Tatha¯gata, is one who has gone to the state of perfection having seen nibba¯na with his own eyes. (A III.450f.)
This same formula is then repeated for seventeen other householders (Bhallika, Sudatta Ana¯thapin *d*ika,45 Citta Macchika¯san *d*ika, Hatthaka A z*avaka, l Maha¯na¯ma Sakka, Ugga Vesa¯lika, Uggata, Su¯ra Ambat*t*ha, Jı¯vaka Koma¯rabhacca, Nakulpita¯, Tavakan *n *ika, Pu¯ran *a, Isidatta, Sandha¯na, Vijaya, Vajjiyama¯hita and Men *d*aka) and three other lay disciples (Va¯set*t*ha, Arit*t*ha and Sa¯ragga). If we take these passages seriously, then it appears that Gananath Obeyesekere (1968:28) might have had a rather limited reading of the Pa¯li canon when he asserted that ‘Since de facto a layman is incapable of entering the true path, the nirvana quest is exclusively a phenomenon of elite religiosity’.46 Though there are canonical passages that imply that lay people cannot become enlightened, these passages must be interpreted as applying only to particular situations. Certain lay people are shown, in the Pa¯li canon, to have attained the same degree of perfection as enlightened monks and nuns. In highlighting the various passages pertaining to the laity in this paper, I am not arguing that the function of the laity did not include supporting monastics. I am arguing only that the Pa¯li canon contains a complex view of lay people and that the traditional limited reading of the Pa¯li canon misses this complexity. Moreover, the multifarious views of the lay community in the Pa¯li canon actually challenge the rigid categories of ‘monastic’ and ‘laity’. While these two categories appear distinct and separate to us today, these two categories might have been more indistinct and less meaningful during the period represented in the Pa¯li canon. For instance, in some of the passages highlighted, the lay community, like the monastic community, is shown to be given profound teachings, to have practiced various forms of Buddhist meditation and to have reached the highest goal of the tradition—enlightenment. If the two communities are less distinct in the period of the Pa¯li canon, then it might be fruitful to question when and under what circumstances did the sharp distinction first arise. Is it possible that the early centuries of Maha¯ya¯na Buddhism, with its posturing about the superiority of its own path because it includes the laity, may have prompted
Views of Householders and Lay Disciples in the Sutta Pit*aka
the Therava¯da tradition to define itself against the Maha¯ya¯na school by posturing a distinct opposition between the lay and monastic communities? While such a question lies beyond the scope of this article, it is worth further consideration.
Notes 1 Nalinaksha Dutt, ‘Place of Laity in Early Buddhism’, Indian Historical Quarterly 21, p. 163. 2 Max Weber, The Religions of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism, trans. H. H. Gerth and D. Martindale, Glencoe, IL, Free Press 1958, p. 214. In a similar manner, Edward Conze denigrates the role of the laity in archaic Buddhism by referring to their beliefs and practices as ‘bhaktic’ (i.e., devotional) and ‘magical’ (Buddhist Thought in India: Three Phases of Buddhist Philosophy, London, Allen and Unwin 1962, p. 32). 3 Weber, p. 214. 4 Etienne Lamotte, History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the S uaka Era, trans. Sara Webb-Boin, Louvain-Paris, Peeters Press 1988, p. 67. 5 Ibid., p. 74. 6 Akira Hirakawa, A History of Indian Buddhism: From S ua¯kyamuni to Early Maha¯ya¯na, trans. Paul Groner, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press 1990, p. 61. 7 Ibid., p. 106. 8 Ibid., p. 105. 9 Ibid. 10 George Bond, The Buddhism Revival in Sri Lanka: Religious Traditions, Reinterpretation and Response, Columbia, University of South Carolina Press 1988, p. 23. 11 Ibid., p. 25. 12 Ibid., p. 27. 13 Gregory Schopen, Bones, Stones, and Buddhist Monks: Collected Papers on the Archaeology, Epigraphy, and Texts of Monastic Buddhism in India, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press 1997, p. 30. 14 Ibid., 31. 15 In this article, I am not arguing that the Pa¯li canon ‘represents’ early Buddhism. Rather, I am arguing that the Pa¯li canon contains all kinds of different ideas about the kinds of religious practices undertaken by the monastic order and the laity, and that this complexity undermines the common assumptions made regarding a strict monastic/lay opposition. I am not so concerned about the issue of the chronological layering of the texts. Instead, I am interested in looking at a body of texts (that Therava¯da tradition has said belong together in some way) and examining what the texts themselves have to say on the issue of religious practitioners. 16 This phrase occurs numerous times in the Sutta Pit*aka. See, for instance, Dı¯gha Nika¯ya (hereafter D) 1.63, 100, 124, 147, 157, 171, 181, 206, 214, 232, 250; Majjhima Nika¯ya (hereafter M) 1.179, 267, 344, 412, 521; II.38, 162, 226; III.134; and An˙guttara Nika¯ya (hereafter A) II. 208. All translations of passages from the Pa¯li canon are mine unless otherwise noted. All references to the canon are based on the Pa¯li Text Society’s Pa¯li edition. 17 This point is also made in the Rat*t*hapa¯lasutta of the Majjhima Nika¯ya (II.56), where the householder Rat*t*hapa¯la, while listening to a Buddhist discourse, comes to realise that the only way to practice the Buddha’s teachings is to go forth into the state of homelessness. In a number of other suttas, the same point is made. For example, in the Maha¯vacchagottasutta we find that only after Vacchagotta becomes a monk that he is taught by the Buddha about the two types of the meditative techniques that lead to enlightenment—vipassana¯ and samatha. While he was still a layman, however, the Buddha taught him only the importance of cultivating the 10 wholesome actions. Other suttas in which a discussion of the meditative and trance practices is limited only to monastics are the Vesa¯li and Ka¯mabhu¯ suttas of the Sam * yutta Nika¯ya and the Cu¯*avedalla l and At*t*hakana¯gara suttas of the Majjhima Nika¯ya. 18 This idea of a gradual discourse is also found in D.I.148; II.41, 43, 44; A IV. 186, 209; M.I.379; and M.II.145; see, especially, A III.184, where the Buddha tells A z nanda that the gradual discourse on morality, giving and heaven should be given to lay people. 19 Suttas in which the importance of giving is established are the Udayo, Devahito, Aputtaka and Puggala suttas of the Sam * yutta Nika¯ya (hereafter S), the Apan**nakasutta of the Majjhima Nika¯ya, as well as numerous passages in the An˙guttara Nika¯ya (see, for example, A II.65, 391; III.39, 49,
240 J. Samuels
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
28 29 30 31 32 33 34
35 36 37 38
336; and IV.62, 239). Suttas in which the Buddha teaches lay people about morality include the Son*adan**da and Maha¯parinibba¯na suttas of the Dı¯gha Nika¯ya, the Pacca¯bhu¯mako, Vel*udva¯reyya¯, Puggala and Pan˜caverabhaya¯ suttas of the Sam * yutta Nika¯ya, Apan**nakasutta of the Majjhima Nika¯ya, as well as several passages in the An˙guttara Nika¯ya (see, for instance, A I.56, 57, 62; III.203ff., 247). In addition to discussing the fivefold moral code with lay people, the Buddha also points out to certain lay people that they should cultivate the ten wholesome actions (see for instance, the Maha¯vacchagotta and Esuka¯ri suttas in the Majjhima Nika¯ya). The rewards correlated to giving and morality not only include attaining a favourable rebirth in heaven, but also becoming a stream-enterer, once-returner, and even a non returner. This idea becomes the central focus of the Vima¯navatthu of the Khuddaka Nika¯ya. A III.122 and A III.150. Pat*isam * bhida¯magga, II.86ff. The other components of the ‘best teachings’ refer to the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four special powers, the five faculties, the five powers, and the seven factors of enlightenment. This often occurring phrase of refuge is as follows: ‘I go to refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the San˙gha; let the Blessed One take me who is going for refuge as a lay disciple from this day onward while still alive’. A V. 189; this same story is repeated for Vajjiyama¯hita in A V.192. D II. 104ff. Dutt, p. 178. Even though Dutt acknowledges certain householders who ‘took greater and greater interest in Buddhist religion and philosophy’, he is still drawn to the conclusion that the deeper and more profound Buddhist teachings were kept away from the householders. This same tendency to acknowledge lay adepts but then to under emphasize their place in the early Buddhist community is also present in the writings of Gananath Obeyesekere (see, for instance, ‘Theodicy, Sin and Salvation in a Sociology of Buddhism’, in E. R. Leach (ed.) Dialectic in Practical Religion, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1968). Hirakawa, p. 107. These passages also belie Hirakawa’s (p. 62) view that when the term ‘san˙gha’ was ‘used in early Buddhist texts, it usually indicated only the two orders of mendicants . . . The four groups of Buddhists were not referred to collectively as a single order (san˙gha)’. In the one section of the An˙guttara Nika¯ya (1.23ff.), for example, laymen and laywomen are shown to make up 25 percent of the Buddha’s community of 80 great Disciples (sa¯vaka-san˙gha). In both nika¯yas, for example, the audience to which the teaching of the four foundations of mindfulness is addressed is portrayed as consisting solely of monks. In addition to these passages, there are also several reference in the Sutta Pit*aka which refer to lay people cultivating the quality of concentration (see, for instance, the San˙kha (S IV 317ff.), and the Bra¯hman*a (S V.217ff.) suttas. In the An˙guttara Nika¯ya, Uttara¯ is described as being the foremost laywoman in terms of meditative powers (A 1.26). S V.345. S IV.110ff. S IV.116ff. M III.258. Furthermore, in the An˙guttara Nika¯ya (III.207) the Buddha suggests to Ana¯thapin *d*ika (who is shown to be surrounded by five hundred lay disciples), that he should abide, from time to time, in the joy of seclusion where he will not experience lust, pain and pleasure, and grief. Similar passages may be found in the Janavasabhasutta (D II.218), the Gin˜jaka¯vasathasutta (S V.356 and 358) and the Maha¯vacchagottasutta (M 1.490). In one section of the An˙guttara Nika¯ya (V.83), there is also a passage in which only the first three fruits are described as being attainable by laymen and laywomen. S V.395. Though it is beyond the scope of this article, it is worth mentioning that even though the importance of cultivating faith is usually ascribed to laymen and laywomen, this is not supported by the textual data. For instance, we read that faith in the Buddha should be cultivated by monks, nuns and lay disciples (S V.161) and that monks, nuns and lay people should talk about the Buddha’s qualities to increase faith (D III.116). S V.410. T. W. Rhys Davids and William Stede, Pa¯li-English Dictionary, New Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal 1989, p. 558. The complete canonical passage is as follows: ‘I will not reach nibba¯na
Views of Householders and Lay Disciples in the Sutta Pit*aka
41 42 43 44 45 46
as long as there will be no laymen disciples of mine who are learned, trained, self-possessed, who have attained perfect peace, who have great knowledge, who know the dhamma by heart, who have reached complete righteousness, who are upright, who walk in perfect conformity, who are their own teacher, and who, having learned [the dhamma], will describe it, teach it, declare it, give it, uncover it, dissect it, and will declare it to those who have arisen, who having restrained and checked those who are in opposition with the teachings, will teach the marvelous dhamma’. S V.19; see also M II.197 and A 1.69. Vism., p. 219. Miln., p. 342f. Miln., p. 352. This appears to be the same person mentioned in S V.380ff. Obeyesekere, p. 28. This point is similarly made by Louis de La Valle´e Poussin. ‘Laymen, however faithful, generous and virtuous they may be, even if they practice the fortnightly abstinence and continence of the Upava¯sa, cannot reach Nirva¯n *a. The only Buddhist, in the proper meaning of the word, is the monk who has broken all the ties of society’ (The Way to Nirva¯*na: Six Lectures on Ancient Buddhism as a Discipline of Salvation, India, Sri Satguru Publications 1917, pp. 150f.). Dutt attempts to straddle the fence on this issue by first acknowledging ‘that there were exceptional cases of householders who became so spiritually advanced that they deserved arhathood’ (p. 183, emphasis added), but by later, in agreement with Louis de La Valle´e Poussin, arguing that ‘the fourth fruit arhatta is not attained by any householder’ as well as that ‘Upa¯sakas like Citta and Hatthaka, and Upa¯sika¯s like Khajjuttara¯ and Nandama¯ta¯ were more spiritually advanced than many monks and nuns, but still they were sekhas and not asekhas (=arhats)’ (p. 182f.).
JEFFREY SAMUELS is a doctoral candidate in History of Religions at the University of Virginia. His area of interest is Indian Buddhism, particularly the Therava¯din tradition. He is currently completing research on the roles and functions of upa¯sakas and upa¯sika¯s in Sri Lankan Buddhism. Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia, Coche Hall, Charlottesville, VA 22903, U.S.A. E-mail: [email protected]