Study and Research Section

Everyman's Ethics

Four Discourses of the Buddha

Adapted from the translations of Narada Thera

The Wheel Publication No. 14

Courtesy of Dharma Net
For free distribution only, as a gift of dhamma.


The Layman's Code of Discipline
Conditions of Welfare

These translations are adapted from the translations and notes in "The Light of the Dhamma" by the Venerable Narada Thera.

The introductory notes to the last three texts have been supplied by the editor of this series.

The Layman's Code of Discipline
Sigalovada Sutta

Sigala was the son of a Buddhist family residing at Rajagaha. His parents were devout followers of the Buddha, but the son was indifferent to religion. The pious father and mother could not by any means persuade their son to accompany them to visit the Buddha or his disciples and hear the noble Doctrine. The son thought it practically useless to pay visits to the Sangha, as such visits may entail material loss. He was only concerned with material prosperity; to him spiritual progress was to no avail. Constantly he would say to his father: "I will have nothing to do with monks. Paying homage to them would make my back ache, and my knees stiff. I should have to sit on the ground and soil and wear out my clothes. And when, at the conversations with them, after so sitting, one gets to know them, one has to invite them and give them offerings, and so one only loses by it."

Finally as the father was about to die, he called his son to his deathbed, and enquired whether he would at least listen to his parting advice. "Most assuredly, dear father, I shall carry out any order you may be pleased to enjoin on me," he replied. "Well then, dear son, after your morning bath worship the six quarters." The father asked him to do so hoping that one day or other, while the son was so engaged, the Buddha or his disciples would see him, and make it an occasion to preach an appropriate discourse to him. And since deathbed wishes are to be remembered, Sigala carried out his father's wish, not, however, knowing its true significance.

Now it was the custom of the Buddha to rise from his sleep at four o'clock and after experiencing Nibbanic Bliss for an hour to pervade the whole world with his boundless thoughts of loving-kindness. It is at this hour that he surveys the world with his great compassion to find out what fellow being he could be of service on that day. One morning Sigala was caught in the net of the Buddha's compassion; and with his vision the Buddha, seeing that Sigala could be shown a better channel for his acts of worship, decided: "This day will I discourse to Sigala on the layman's Vinaya (code of discipline). That discourse will be of benefit to many folk. There must I go." The Buddha thereon came up to him on his way for alms to Rajagaha; and seeing him engaged in his worship of the six quarters, delivered this great discourse which contains in brief, the whole domestic and social duty of the layman.

Commenting on this Sutta, the Venerable Buddhaghosa says, "Nothing in the duties of a householder is left unmentioned. This Sutta is called the Vinaya of the householder. Hence in one who practices what he has been taught in it, growth is to be looked for, not decay." And Mrs. Rhys Davids adds: "The Buddha's doctrine of love and goodwill between man and man is here set forth in a domestic and social ethics with more comprehensive detail than elsewhere. And truly we may say even now of this Vinaya or code of discipline, so fundamental are the human interests involved, so sane and wide is the wisdom that envisages them, that the utterances are as fresh and practically as binding today and here as they were then at Rajagaha. 'Happy would have been the village or clan on the banks of the Ganges where the people were full of the kindly spirit of fellow-feeling, the noble spirit of justice which breathes through these naive and simple sayings.' Not less happy would be the village, or the family on the banks of the Thames today, of which this could be said."

Digha Nikaya 31: Sigalovada Sutta

Maha Mangala Sutta

This famous text, cherished highly in all Buddhist lands, is a terse but comprehensive summary of Buddhist ethics, individual and social. The thirty-eight blessings enumerated in it, are an unfailing guide on life's journey. Rightly starting with "avoidance of bad company" which is basic to all moral and spiritual progress, the Blessings culminate in the achievement of a passion-free mind, unshakable in its serenity. To follow the ideals set forth in these verses, is the sure way to harmony and progress for the individual as well as for society, nation and mankind.

"The Maha-Mangala Sutta shows that the Buddha's instructions do not always take negative forms, that they are not always a series of classifications and analysis, or concerned exclusively with monastic morality. Here in this sutta we find family morality expressed in most elegant verses. We can imagine the happy blissful state household life attained as a result of following these injunctions." (From The Ethics of Buddhism by S. Tachibana, Colombo 1943, Bauddha Sahitya Sabha).

Maha Mangala Sutta, Sutta Nipata II.4

Parabhava Sutta

While the Mangala Sutta deals with the way of life conducive to progress and happiness, the Parabhava Sutta supplements it by pointing out the causes of downfall. He who allows himself to become tarnished by these blemishes of conduct blocks his own road to worldly, moral and spiritual progress and lowers all that is truly noble and human in man. But he who is heedful of these dangers keeps open the road to all those thirty-eight blessings of which human nature is capable.

Parabhava Sutta, Sutta Nipata I.6

Conditions of Welfare
Vyagghapajja Sutta

In this sutta, the Buddha instructs rich householders how to preserve and increase their prosperity and how to avoid loss of wealth. Wealth alone, however, does not make a complete man nor a harmonious society. Possession of wealth all too often multiplies man's desires, and he is ever in the pursuit of amassing more wealth and power. This unrestrained craving, however, leaves him dissatisfied and stifles his inner growth. It creates conflict and disharmony in society through the resentment of the underprivileged who feel themselves exploited by the effects of unrestrained craving.

Therefore the Buddha follows up on his advice on material welfare with four essential conditions for spiritual welfare: confidence (in the Master's enlightenment), virtue, liberality and wisdom. These four will instill in man a sense of higher values. He will then not only pursue his own material concern, but also be aware of his duty towards society. To mention only one of the implications: a wisely and generously employed liberality will reduce tensions and conflicts in society. Thus the observing of these conditions of material and spiritual welfare will make for an ideal citizen in an ideal society.

Anguttara Nikaya VIII.54: Vyagghapajja Sutta

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