Happiness for the Lay Person

Venue: TIMS

The Buddha once described (in AN 4:62) 4 different kinds of happiness that can be attained by a lay person. These are based on:

  1. Wealth obtained by righteous means
  2. Enjoyment of such wealth
  3. Freedom from debt
  4. Blamelessness

“Wealth obtained by righteous means” refers to wealth that is obtained without breaking any of the Five Precepts. There are also 5 types of livelihood that should be avoided:

  1. The slaughtering of animals
  2. The selling of products which intoxicate e.g. alcohol, cigarettes
  3. The selling of weapons
  4. The selling of poisons
  5. Dealing in the slave trade.

This brings to mind stories of unscrupulous agents who dupe young and innocent girls into prostitution by promising them high salaried jobs. They prey on the naivety of these girls, usually from the smaller towns and villages with promises of money and wealth in the big cities.

The value of the merits obtained when dana is performed using money obtained from such sources is not high. Happiness of possession is derived from the personal satisfaction of knowing that you have attained your wealth through righteous means and hard work, where what you have done has not harmed yourself or anyone else.

A person must know how to enjoy his wealth. He should not be a miser for he cannot take his riches with him to his grave. However, that does not mean that he should spend every single cent either. The Buddha advocates setting aside a quarter of your income for enjoyment (in righteous ways), a half to generate further income and the last quarter as savings for a rainy day.

When a person is free from debt, he is happy and carefree. On a personal note, when I was a layman, I bought my first two second-hand cars by cash. I felt so carefree and was not unduly upset even when the cars were damaged. Subsequently, I bought an expensive brand new car using a bank loan but was left feeling miserable and on edge all the time for fear that the car would be stolen or damaged even before I had finished servicing the loan. I quickly sold it off and bought a cheaper one. Such relief!

Blamelessness means the conscious and vigilant abstention from the Tenfold Blameworthy Conduct (duccarita). This gives the highest form of happiness for a layman as he gets to cultivate good virtue through right action, speech and thought. Let me elaborate.


  1. He abstains from killing and strives to cultivate metta.
  2. He does not steal or take what is not his. On the contrary, he performs dana whenever there is opportunity
  3. He abstains from sexual misconduct. Instead he remains faithful to his spouse. Abstinence from sexual misconduct refers not only to other people’s spouse but also to those still legally under parental care, e.g. the under aged.


  1. Instead of telling lies, he speaks the truth.
  2. Instead of carrying tales to divide people, he speaks harmonious words that unite people.
  3. Instead of using harsh language, including foul speech and angry words, he speaks politely and considerately.
  4. Instead of indulging in idle, frivolous talk, he speaks of matters that are beneficial in the worldly or spiritual senses.

He cultivates good thoughts by avoiding

  1. Covetousness or greed for what belongs to others
  2. Ill-will
  3. Wrong view (micchaditthi).

Certain religious groups have wrong views (that do not correspond to reality) in their teachings, e.g. Samurai Zen which teaches that it is all right to kill because when you do that, you are actually destroying the elements and not killing the person. Another example is when one does not believe in parental ties, that is, one who regards parents as of no consequence to oneself after one’s birth. A person is also deluded by wrong view if he does not believe in kamma-vipaka or rebirth.

We must try our best to at least keep the Five Precepts as pure as we can so as to ensure better future rebirths. And whenever possible, especially on Uposatha days, it will be even better if we can keep the Eight Precepts.

I hope that you will go back and reflect on what has been said today and as a consequence of this Dhamma talk, may all of you continue to develop pañña or wisdom.

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