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The Duty of the Bhikkhus and Laymen

by Anagarika Dharmapala (1919)

THE Bhikkhu who does not observe the precepts and leads an unworthy immoral life is called a `Samana preta' which means a dead ghost and he is also called a 'mahacora ' great thief. The bad upasaka is called 'upasaka chandala '. The duty of a good Bhikkhu is to study the Dhamma, to attend to the daily duties in connection with the worship of the Buddha, to keep the arama ‘temple premises’ clean, to get his food by begging, to practise kammatthana for the development of his psychic faculties and for the attention of passions. He has to observe the disciplinary rules of perfect conduct : has to control his sense organs in walking, standing, sitting, lying down, moving from place to place, and to cultivate attentiveness coupled with wisdom in every act he does. He has to observe the rules of perfect livelihood in order to get his food (ajiva parisuddhasila) : and make strenuous effort to prevent sinful thoughts arising, to create good thoughts and to fertilise them, he has to resolve that either he shall die in the battle field of psychical progress or conquer and avoid all passionate and sensual longings : cast off all angry thoughts and hatred : not let the mind become indolent and slothful, and his perceptions weak : nor let restlessness and scepticism have control over him. (The five nivaranas are kamachanda, vyapada, thinamiddha, udhacca kukucca and vicikissha). His mind must not dwell on any other subject outside his special psychical field of activity. He should practise wakefulness by sleeping only four hours during night, that is from ten o'clock to two o'clock in the morning, and from two o'clock in the morning to use the cloister. Cleanliness is absolutely necessary for the psychical student. The Lord Buddha emphasising cleanliness declared that the observance of cleanliness is the fulfilment of the law of the Buddha. Physical cleanliness is a corollary to mental purity. If the oil is impure, and the wick not trimmed and lamp full of dirt the light could not be bright. Dirty nails, unkempt hair, ill-smelling clothes, unclean seat are hindrances to psychical progress. The object of the Bhikkhu life is to preserve the perfect life of Brahmacariyam. Renunciation is the law of the Bhikkhu's life. He must not touch gold or silver, nor be attached to his residence, his patrons, his clan, and he must not hesitate to impart knowledge to others. Concealment of knowledge a condemned. He must be always contented with whatever food he gets and be ready to share it with other Bhikkhus. He must not covet anything. He must be ready to leave his residence just as the bird readily leaves one tree to another. He should love solitude, and not be fond of society. Gossip he has to avoid, and where he could not be engaged in spiritual talk, he should observe the principles of jhana. He must keep the mind in a state of perfectual activity with perceptions of light and cultivate serenity of mind. His gestures should not show that he is restless.

These are the essential of the perfect life of a Bhikkhu. Now the duties of a layman are to take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, the Buddha as the supreme one above all gods and lords and the Dhamma as the supreme one above all gods and lords and the Dhamma as verifiable Truth, and the Sangha as the brotherhood of holy Bhikkhus without evil and sin. Upasaka has to observe most scrupulously, the five observances of non-destruction, non-stealing, non-sensuality, non-lying and non-intoxication. He must get rid of superstitions, avoid worship of false gods : take care of holy Bhikkhus by helping them with robes, food, residences and medicines. He should visit the Bhikkhus and listen to the Dhamma. He must not engage in unrighteous occupations, viz. trading in flesh, intoxicants, living beings, murderous weapons and poisons. He has to contribute to the welfare of his relations, show hospitality to strangers, give thank to the guardian angels, and departed spirits and pay taxes to the king. He should visit the temple and pay worship to the Bodhi tree and the Relic Stupa, and on sabbath days observe the eight precepts.

The Blessed One made no distinction of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis, upasakas and upasikas. They were all to learn the Pali Dhamma and study it and proclaim it for the welfare of others. The consummation of the Brahmachariya life was not only for the Bhikkhu and the Bhikkhunis, but also for upasakas and upasikas. The door to Nibbana is open to all. The highest Arhatship was not the monopoly of the male species of human beings. It was the appanage of both men and women. Both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis were allowed to preach the Dhamma to laymen and laywomen.

Unfortunately in Buddhist countries the study of the Dhamma is greatly neglected by lay people, and the Bhikkhus themselves have forgotten the duty of preaching the Dhamma to lay people who feed them. The Blessed One in loving solicitude visited the poorest laymen and lay women and preached to them the comforting Gospel. He showed his solicitude in advising His supporters in domestic matters. When Anathapindika asked the Blessed One about giving his youngest daughter in marriage to a family who were followers of the Nirgranthas, the Blessed One advised the householder in the affirmative saying that after the marriage He would convert the whole family to follow the Dhamma.

Brahmanas and Kshattriyas, it is said in the commentary, called the Sumangalavilasini, are proud, the former of their mantras , and the latter of their high birth. Consequently they do not care to go through the self-sacrificing efforts demanded at the hands of the Bhikkhus. But the householder who is following the profession of trade or agriculture is best fitted for the holy calling. The menial engaged in servitude is also unfit for the high calling.

The Brahmans had their Vedas, the Kshatriyas had their military duties and they were not eager for the attainment of holiness. But the independent householder, engaged in either trade or agriculture, after he has heard the Dhamma from either the Blessed One or one of His disciples, begins to think of the encumbrances of the family life, and wishing to realize the holy life joins the holy Order of Bhikkhus, and strives for Arhatship. The Dhamma therefore is best fitted for the householder, and it is to the kulaputta (son of the clan) that the Blessed One proclaimed the Dhamma.

To the Bhikkhus the Blessed One gave the Higher Doctrine, the uttari manussa dhamma, for the realization of Nibbana and fruits of holiness. To them He taught the doctrine of perfection. He enunciated the Four Noble Truths, the Five Balas, Indriyas, the four Padhanas, the four iddhipadas, the seven bojjhangas, the eightfold path. To the lay people He taught the ordinary Doctrine of Domestic Ethics ending in the happiness of heaven. The lay follower has to observe the five precepts, the ten kusalas, and avoid the five professions and abstain from the ten evils : take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. The duty of the lay follower is to provide robes, food, residence, and medicine to the Bhikkhu, and the duty of the Bhikkhu is to preach the Dhamma to the lay follower.

(Maha Bodhi Journal, Vol. 27, October - December 1919)

Dhamma Essay:
Vision and Routine by Bhikkhu Bodhi


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