This talk was given by Sayagyi U Chit Tin on October 12, 1985, to mark the seventh anniver
This talk was given by Sayagyi U Chit Tin on October 12, 1985, to mark
the seventh anniversary of when Mother Sayamagyi and he came out of
Myanmar to teach the Buddha-Dhamma in the West.
It was printed in //The Maha Bodhi//, Vol. 94, nos. 1-3 (1986).
Also printed in //The Light of the Dhamma//, Vol. VII, no 3 (1987).
Also printed in //Buddhism As a Way of Life, and Other Essays//, 1993.
This DharmaNet edition was published 17 February 1995.
*PRACTISING THE BUDDHA-DHAMMA AS LAYMEN*
by Sayagyi U Chit Tin
In //The Essentials of the Buddha-Dhamma in Meditation Practice//,
Sayagyi U Ba Khin points out that during the Buddha's lifetime there were
around ninety million people living in Savatthi and the neighbouring
countryside. Of these, approximately fifty million were Ariyas, having
reached the first stage of Awakening. We can conclude from these figures
that the number of laymen who took to Vipassana (insight meditation) must
have been more than those who were in the Orders of Bhikkhus and
Bhikkhunis. Laymen of today should therefore be encouraged in their effort
to put into practice the Teachings of the Buddha in their everyday lives.
It can be done.
In the collection of the Suttas, there are a number of discourses
given by the Buddha to laypeople. Let us look at one given to the brahman
householders of Sala and Veranja. The circumstances of this talk are
similar to several others given to laypeople. The people of Sala and
Veranja had heard of the Buddha and of his reputation. They approached him
with a question often asked by laypeople. They wished to know why some
people were reborn in lower planes of existence and why others were reborn
in the higher planes.
The Buddha answers this question -- but he also adds that it is
possible to aspire to something far greater than heavenly worlds. The
Buddha first gave a very concise reply to their question: some people go
to lower worlds including the hells because they live unrighteously and
live unbalanced lives; some people go to heavenly worlds through living
righteously (Dhamma-cariya) and because they live balanced lives (sama-
The laymen of each town said that they did not understand the full
meaning of what the Buddha had said and they requested that he give them
a full explanation. The Buddha then explained that unrighteous living --
that is to say, not following the Dhamma -- involves wrong actions:
unbalanced physical, verbal, and mental actions. On the other hand,
righteous living, which follows the Dhamma and is balanced, means actions
which are of the opposite kind. In summarizing the Buddha's discourse, we
will emphasize the type of life which follows the Dhamma.
The Buddha mentions three kinds of actions of the body. Unrighteous
and unbalanced living means killing, stealing, and indulging in sensual
pleasures -- wrong sexual practices are mentioned in particular. Righteous
and balanced living means refraining from killing -- a person will lay
aside stick and sword, live scrupulously, and be merciful, kindly and
compassionate to all living creatures. Such a person does not take what is
not given and he restrains himself from indulging in wrong actions with
regard to sensual pleasures. Here the Buddha specifies that a man does not
have intercourse with women who are under the protection of others. We can
infer from the list that all sexual relations outside of marriage are to
There are four kinds of speech. Unrighteous and unbalanced speech
includes lies, slander, harsh speech, and frivolous chatter. A person who
follows the Dhamma will abandon lying. If he is called as a witness, he
will tell what he knows and what he has seen, but if he does not know
something, he will say so. He will not intentionally lie for his own sake,
for someone else's sake, or in order to obtain material gain.
In avoiding slander, a person will not repeat what he has heard in
order to set people against each other. He will work to reconcile those
who are disputing and to bring friends close together. He will take
pleasure in concord rather than discord. He will delight in concord. It
will be a joy to him and will motivate his speech.
In abandoning harsh speech, a person will say what is gentle,
pleasing, affectionate, going to the heart, courteous, and pleasant to
many people. This is in contrast to the wrong kind of speech which is
rough, hard, severe on others, abusive of others, bordering on wrath and
not conducive to concentration.
In contrast to indulging in frivolous chatter, a person will speak
at the right time, in accordance with fact. He will speak about the goal,
about the Dhamma, about discipline. What he says will be worth treasuring.
His similes will be timely, with a purpose, and related to the goal.
In a discourse to the bhikkhus, the Buddha distinguished between two
kinds of right speech. The first kind of right speech will lead to future
lives. It will have taints and will involve clinging to future existence
(but it will be on the side of merit). It involves abstaining from the
four kinds of wrong speech: lying, slander, harsh speech and gossiping.
The second kind of right speech is Noble (ariyan), free of taints,
supramundane and part of the Path to Nibbana. In addition to abstaining
from, refraining from, avoidance of and restraint from the four kinds of
wrong speech, one should develop the Noble Path through Noble thoughts,
thoughts free of the taints, and one should know the Path.
The right actions of body and speech that the Buddha taught to the
laymen of Sala and Veranja are included in the precepts for virtuous
living followed by all true Buddhists. The minimum number of precepts,
which must be respected at all times, are the five precepts. These include
four righteous actions of the body: not killing, not stealing, and
abstaining from indulging in sensual pleasures, including adultery and
taking intoxicants. The fifth precept is to abstain from lying. So we can
see that here, the Buddha gives a more detailed explanation of the control
over verbal actions. A group of eight precepts (ajivatthamaka-sila) for
laypeople includes these four types of right speech.In addition, there
are the three types of right kindly actions the Buddha gave the people of
Sala and Veranja and the eighth precept is right livelihood.
Of particular interest in this discourse of the Buddha's is the fact
that he speaks of mental actions as well as actions of body and speech.
The three kinds of unrighteous and unbalanced thoughts include coveting
other people's property, being malevolent and corrupt in thought and
purpose, and being of wrong view. (These kinds of thoughts have the three
roots of wrong action at their source: greed, hatred and delusion [lobha,
dosa, moha].) The absence of these three roots will lead to the three
kinds of righteous and balanced thoughts.
A person should not covet other people's property. He should not be
malevolent in mind or corrupt in his thoughts and purpose. He should think
to himself, "May others be friendly, peaceful, secure, happy, and protect
themselves." He should have right view, which includes thinking correctly
concerning worldly affairs. He should believe that for a person who gives
there will be a future result, that sacrifice will give future results,
that actions that are well done or badly done will give appropriate
results. He should believe that this world exists, as does a world beyond,
that fulfilling one's duty to one's mother and father gives good results,
that there are beings who are spontaneously reborn, and that there are
those in the world who live correctly and who teach about this world and
the world beyond, having understood them with their own higher knowledge.
This development of right thoughts will prove to be useful in doing
right actions. A person who is free of desire for other people's property
will not steal. Those who are free of hatred will not kill, they will not
wish to lie or slander or use harsh words. Those who correctly understand
the results of actions will not indulge in these kinds of wrong actions,
and they will realize that frivolous talk can only lead to suffering in
The Buddha then told the laymen that through the righteous, balanced
living he has just described, a person may be reborn as a rich man or in
the Deva and Bramha worlds. Finally, he adds that it can also lead to the
highest goal of all, Nibbana. In this way, a person can destroy the taints
and enjoy the freedom of mind and freedom through wisdom by his own higher
knowledge. So the Buddha, in addition to answering the laymen's question
about what leads to future suffering and future happiness, also gave them
a hint that they should strive for freedom from any future world.
Anyone who has tried to control his thoughts, as recommended by the
Buddha, will realize that it is very difficult. The most difficult thing
in the world, in fact. This is why it is so important that we learn how to
concentrate our thoughts. Through mindfulness of breathing (anapana-sati),
laypeople today can bring their minds under their own control. The better
the control the better they will be able to think the three types of
thoughts given by the Buddha and perform good bodily and verbal actions.
Control of thoughts is especially important with regard to speech.
At first, we may find that even though we do not exercise complete control
we are able to recognize immediately afterwards when we use wrong speech.
If we see ourselves more clearly and if we make progress in being honest
with ourselves as well as others, we will not try to excuse ourselves and
justify our wrong speech. We will face up to our lies. We will admit to
ourselves when we are looking for some benefit for ourselves or others. We
will also be able to see the effect of our words, and we will see the pain
caused if we try to set people against each other. We will soon prefer to
look for a way to use gentle speech rather than say something harsh. We
will not have the mistaken view that shouting at others is for their own
There may be an occasion when a person will speak to another even
though the other person will become angry, but such occasions will be very
rare. This will only be when one is sure that through speaking to him the
person will be easily convinced of what is said and will be persuaded o
give up unskilful actions and do what is skilful. The Buddha compared
this with the compassion of a parent who will be rough with a baby to get
a stick or stone out of its mouth. The important thing in this connection
is that one truly knows it is the right time to speak.
An illustration of how difficult it is to know when to speak or not
is illustrated in the case of the novice Aricavata. This novice was
approached by Prince Jayasena who is described as always pacing up and
down and always roaming about. He asked Aricavata if a bhikkhu who was
diligent, ardent and self-resolute could attain one-pointedness of mind.
Aricavata answered that this was possible. So Prince Jayasena requested
that the novice teach him the Dhamma. But the novice hesitated. "If I were
to teach you the Dhamma as I have heard it, as I have mastered it," he
said, "and if you could not understand the meaning of what I said, that
would be wearisome to me, that would be vexing for me." The prince
insisted, however, so Aciravata taught him. Then the prince declared that
he did not think it was possible for a bhikkhu to attain one-pointedness
Aciravata went to the Buddha and explained what had happened. The
Buddha told him that Prince Jayasena lived surrounded by sensual
pleasures. He enjoyed them and was consumed by thoughts of sensual
pleasures. He burned with the fever of sensual pleasures and eagerly
sought sensual pleasures. Therefore, it was impossible for him to know,
see, attain or realize what can be known, seen, attained or realized by
The Buddha then pointed out to Aciravata that if he had used
appropriate similes, Prince Jayasena would have been able to understand.
He should have pointed out that while animals who receive no training will
never be tamed, animals who do receive training will be tamed, or he could
have used the illustration of two friends who go up to a mountain. One of
them then climbs the mountain and describes the parks, woods, level ground
and ponds that he can see. His companion does not believe him. So he has
the companion climb up to see for himself. As long as the companion was
hemmed in by the mountain slope, he could not see what was to be seen.
The novice Aciravata pointed out that since these two similes had
only just then been given by the Buddha, he could not have known them and
used them in his discussion with Prince Jayasena.
This incident can be a lesson to people who wish to tell others
about the Buddha's Teachings. They should not over-estimate their ability
to understand how best to explain the Dhamma to others. No one has the
ability of the Buddha to know how best to teach others. We can also see
the importance of being familiar with the Teachings. The more we
understand, the better the chance we will be able to use an appropriate
The most important lesson to be learned from this discourse,
however, is the importance of control over the senses. The restless prince
was such a slave to the pleasures of the material world that he could not
believe it is possible to control the mind.
The Buddha pointed out in a discourse to a group of bhikkhus the
benefits to be derived from mindfulness of the body. Mindfulness of the
body, the Buddha explains, leads to a mind which is utterly pure and
clean, inwardly settled, calmed, focused and concentrated. On the other
hand, he warns, if mindfulness of the body is not developed, the leader of
negative forces, Mara, will gain access.
It is therefore very important that laypeople be able to control
their senses. This will make it possible to follow the precepts and work
for happiness in this life and future lives. But more important, it is
essential if we are to work for the true happiness of Nibbana.
The Buddha used very telling images to illustrate the sort of
control we need in a discourse addressed to Venerable Ananda. He tells
Ananda that in the development of control over the senses in the
discipline for the Noble, the six senses of the eye, ear, nose, tongue,
body and mind will be stimulated by shapes, sounds, smells, tastes,
touches and mental states which will be either liked, disliked or both
liked and disliked. A person should be able to be aware that such
sensations are present very quickly. For sights, it should be as quick as
opening or closing the eyes. For sounds, it should be as quick as a finger
snap; for smells, as quick as raindrops sliding off a lotus leaf that is
slightly slanted; for tastes, as quick as spitting; for touches, as quick
as a strong man bending or stretching out his arm; for mental states, as
quick as a few drops of water drying up when they fall in a red-hot iron
vessel. Whether the sensations arising are liked, disliked or both liked
and disliked, it should be all the same to a person. In this way, they
will be stopped and equanimity will be established.
This refers to those who are fully Awakened, Arahats. It is useful
to know the goal to be reached, however, and to appreciate how much
control over the mind is possible. For those who are still learners, the
Buddha points out, sensations will cause them to be troubled and ashamed
and the sensations will be loathed.
So we can see how important it is for laypeople to lead righteous
and balanced lives, and how essential it is to develop control over the
mind and the senses if this is to be done. We can all aspire to the
perfect equanimity of the Arahats.
The Buddha in his discourse to the people of Sala and Veranja
answers their question about what leads to good or bad results in future
lives. We do not need to wait until then to reap the benefits of leading
righteous, balanced lives. Venerable Buddhaghosa in the Visuddhimagga
quotes several texts from the Suttas in which the Buddha describes present
The first quotation is from the Buddha's answer to Venerable
Ananda's question, "What is the object of, what profit is there, in good
conduct?" The Buddha answers that being free of remorse is the object
of and profit in good conduct. In other words, if we live moral lives, we
will have a clear conscience. Ananda continued to question the Buddha and
through his answers the Buddha showed that freedom from remorse leads to
joy, which leads to rapture and so on -- through calm, happiness,
concentration, seeing things as they really are, turning away, and fading
of interest, one reaches the release through knowing and seeing. "So you
see, Ananda," the Buddha concluded, "good conduct leads gradually up to
Shortly before his death, the Buddha taught the laymen of Pataligama
that there are five bad results for the immoral person and five good
results for the moral person. If a person is immoral: (1) he is poor
through indolence, (2) he has a bad reputation, (3) he is confused and
lacks confidence whenever he goes to a meeting, (4) he has anxiety when he
dies, and (5) he is reborn in the lower worlds of suffering, including the
lowest of the hells.
On the other hand, if a person is moral: (1) he becomes wealthy
through being industrious, (2) he has a good reputation, (3) he is
confident and self-possessed whenever he goes to a meeting, (4) he dies
without anxiety, and (5) he is reborn in a heavenly world.
Even if a person does not feel ready to try for the final goal of
Awakening, Nibbana, these benefits of leading moral lives are well worth
the effort. If a person has wealth, a good reputation, self-confidence,
and no fear of death and what comes after, he will certainly be much
happier than the average person in this world.
If development of the mind and of insight into the true reality of
existence is added to moral living, the benefits can be far greater. This
is pointed out in Ashin Buddhaghosa's last quotation which is from a
discourse given by the Buddha to a group of bhikkhus. Certain aspects
of what the Buddha says apply particularly to bhikkhus, but we can apply
the basic ideas to the lives of laypeople.
First of all, the Buddha points out that the bhikkhus should respect
the moral code, seeing the danger there is in the slightest fault. With
this strong basis, they will be able to be intent on internal mental
tranquillity with uninterrupted meditation, intent on attaining insight,
and intent on seeking seclusion in order to work properly. Laypeople today
can also work for mental calm through developing their concentration, even
if they do not reach the highest stages of uninterrupted mindfulness that
are possible for those who retire from everyday life or who make
significant progress along the Path to Nibbana. They can acquire
sufficient concentration to began developing insight. Even if laypeople of
today do not retire from everyday life permanently, it is possible to do
so for certain periods during the day, for a day or more during the month,
and for longer periods from time to time to undergo training in developing
their concentration and insight through following a meditation course.
The range of benefits that can be expected, as the Buddha explains,
go from relatively minor advantages all the way to the highest goal. First
of all, a person will be dear to his companions in the life of purity,
loved by them, and held in respect and honoured by them. Bhikkhus will
receive the four necessities of life, which correspond to the wealth to be
expected for laypeople which we mentioned already. If we wish that others
who give to us should acquire great merit, then this will be the case, for
we will be of great merit ourselves. The more highly developed a person
is, the greater the merit there is in giving to him. When others make in
giving to us they can share that merit. We will also be able to overcome
aversion and craving, as well as fear and dread. The Buddha then
enumerates the various stages of concentration, Awakening, and higher
mental powers which the bhikkhus could strive to attain. All of these will
not be appropriate for laypeople to aspire to, but the first three stages
of Awakening are certainly within the grasp of all who have the necessary
merits and who make the right kind of effort in this life.
Let us conclude with the Buddha's advice to Ananda: "Whatever,
Ananda, is to be done out of compassion by a teacher seeking the welfare
of his disciples and compassionate for them, that has been done by me for
you. ... Meditate, Ananda, do not be slothful, do not be remorseful later.
This is our instruction to you."
Sayagyi U Chit Tin,
October 12, 1985
Campus "De Blokken"
Baarle-Nassau, The Netherlands
 In Sn-a I 371, 18 crores (180 million) people are mentioned (see DPPN
II 1127). Savatthi was the capital of Kosala and one of the six great
cities of India during the lifetime of the Buddha (D II 147). Ashin
Buddhaghosa says that Savatthi was the capital of two countries: Kasi-
Kosala (Sp III 614), so the number of inhabitants mentioned in Sn-a may
refer to both countries, and the number in Savatthi itself might have been
half that number.
 M n 41, n 42 (MLS I 343-350).
 M III 73f. (MLS III 116f.).
 For more details about //ajivatthamaka-sila//, see Ledi Sayadaw,
//The Requisites of Enlightenment// (Wheel 171/174).
 See M n 103 (MLS III 27).
 See M n 58 (MLS II 62f.).
 See M n 125 (MLS III 175-183).
 See M n 119 (MLS III 129-138); for references to Mara, see MLS III
 See M n 152 (MLS III 346-350).
 See Path, Chapter I para23.
 See A V 1ff. (GS V 1-3).
 M n 1 (MLS I 41-45).
 MLS III 350.
Worldwide Contact Addresses
in the Tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin
*AUSTRIA*: International Meditation Centre, A-9064 St. Michael/Gurk 6,
Austria;Tel: +43 4224 2820, Fax: +43 4224 28204
Email: CIS, IMC-Austria, 100425,3423
*EASTERN AUSTRALIA*: International Meditation Centre, Lot 2 Cessnock Road,
Sunshine NSW 2264, Australia;
Tel: +61 49 705 433, Fax: +61 49 705 749
*UNITED KINGDOM*: International Meditation Centre, Splatts House,
Heddington, Calne, Wiltshire SN11 OPE, England;
Tel: +44 380 850 238, Fax: +44 380 850 833,
Email: CIS, IMC-UK,100330,3304
*USA (East Coast)*: International Meditation Centre, 438 Bankard Road,
Westminster MD 21158, USA;
Tel: +1 410 346 7889, Fax: +1 410 346 7133;
Email: CIS, IMC-USA, 74163,2452
*WESTERN AUSTRALIA*: International Meditation Centre, Lot 78 Jacoby Street,
Mahogany Creek WA 6072, Australia;
Tel: +61 9 295 2644, Fax: +61 9 295 3435
*CANADA*: IMC-Canada, 336 Sandowne Drive, Waterloo, Ontario, N2K 1V8,
Canada; Tel: +1 519 747 4762, Fax: +1 519 725 2781
*GERMANY*: Sayagyi U Ba Khin Gesellschaft, Christaweg 16, 79114 Freiburg,
Germany, Tel: +49 761 465 42, Fax: +49 761 465 92
*JAPAN*: Sayagyi U Ba Khin Memorial Trust, Komatsuri-Cho 923,
Kishiwada-Shi, Osaka-Fu, 596 Japan, Tel: +81 724 45 0057
*THE NETHERLANDS*: Sayagyi U Ba Khin Stichting, Oudegracht 124, 3511 AW
Utrecht, The Netherlands,
Tel: +31 30 311 445, Fax: +31 30 340 612
*SINGAPORE*: Sayagyi U Ba Khin Memorial Association, 9 Penang Road #07-12,
Park Mall, Singapore 0923
Tel: +65 338 6911, Fax: +65 336 7211
*SWITZERLAND*: Sayagyi U Ba Khin Gesellschaft, Greyerzstrasse 35, 3013
Bern, Switzerland;Tel: +41 31 415 233, Fax: +41 61 271 4184;
Email: CIS, 100256,3576
*USA (West Coast)*: Contact Address: IMC-USA c/o Joe McCormack,
77 Kensington Rd., San Anselmo, CA 94960,U.S.A.
Tel: +1 415 459 3117, Fax: +1 415 459 4837
*BELGIUM*: Address as for the Netherlands, Tel: +32 2 414 1756
*DENMARK*: Contact Address: Mr. Peter Drost-Nissen, Strandboulevarden
117, 3th, 2100 Kopenhagen, Denmark. Tel: 031 425 636
*ITALY*: Contact address: Mr. Renzo Fedele, Via Euganea 94, 35033
Bresseo PD, Italy. Tel: +39 49 9900 752
Published by the Sayagyi U Ba Khin Memorial Trust, United Kingdom
Address as above, registered charity no. 280134
TITLE OF WORK: Practising the Buddha-Dhamma as Laymen
AUTHOR: Sayagyi U Chit Tin
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: n/a
PUBLISHER'S ADDRESS: International Meditation Centre, Splatts House,
Heddington, Calne, Wiltshire SN11 OPE, England
COPYRIGHT HOLDER: The Sayagyi U Ba Khin Memorial Trust, U.K.
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1985
RIGHTS & RESTRICTIONS: See paragraph below.
DATE OF DHARMANET DISTRIBUTION: 17 February 1995
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