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Lay Buddhist Practice

The Shrine Room, Uposatha Day, Rains Residence

by Bhikkhu Khantipalo

PREFACE

In the following pages I have tried to write about those things that a lay Buddhist can do even though his home is far away from Buddhist lands, or even from Buddhist temples and societies. I have had to consider the various daily and periodic events of the Buddhist calendar and retain here only those items which can be practiced by lay Buddhists without access to bhikkhus, monasteries, temples, stupas, and so on. Out of the rich traditions found in Buddhist countries, only three subjects have been dealt with: the daily service chanted in homage of the Three Treasures with some recollections and meditation; the Uposatha days with the Eight Precepts; and the Rains-residence of three months. Most has been here about the first of these as it is very important to have some regular daily Dhamma-practice.

Even where isolated Buddhists are fortunate enough to be near some Buddhist center, they will still benefit from these Buddhist practices, all of which are based on similar methods used in the East.

Bhikkhu Khantipalo
Sydney, Australia


Introduction

These days there are many books on Buddhism, some reliable and more speculative, so that a Buddhist living in a country where his religion is quite newly introduced is likely to have some difficulty in discerning what is really the teaching of the Buddha. However, this difficulty can be overcome by the study of the original sources, the Pali Canon, and need not be a great hindrance. Of course, if the student can gain the help of some well learned and practiced Buddhist he will understand Dhamma more quickly and thoroughly.

He will also be able to practice more easily. For it is a great difficulty, even if one has a good acquaintance with the Suttas (the Discourses of the Buddha), to know how to practice their teaching. This is more a problem for Buddhists who have to acquire all their knowledge about the Dhamma from books. One hears people like this say, "I am a Buddhist but what should I practice?" It is not enough to answer this question with more or less abstract categories, saying for instance, "Well, practice the Eightfold Path!" After all, it is not so easy to practice the Dhamma in an alien environment where bhikkhus (Buddhist monks), viharas (temple-monasteries) and stupas (monuments containing relics, also called cetiyas, pagodas or dagobas) are not found. In Buddhist lands where these and other signs of the Dhamma are to be seen, the lay person has many aids to practice and is not without help when difficulties arise. But elsewhere the layman must rely upon books. Leaving aside those which are misleading (frequently written by western people who have never thoroughly trained themselves in any Buddhist tradition) and if even the most authentic sources alone are studied, still the mind tends to be selective of the materials available so that it is possible to get one-sided views. Now it can be a good corrective to stay in a Buddhist country for some time and get to know how things are done but not everyone has the opportunity to do this. Here then I should like to touch upon a few common ways of Buddhist practice. I shall try to be as general as possible in these matters so that my descriptions are not peculiar to the Buddhist country that I know best, Siam, but may be common to many Buddhist traditions.

next: Daily Practice

Dhamma Essay:
Renunciation by Ayya Khema


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