The Aims of People

Venue: TIMS

Khattiya Sutta (AN 6:52) is one of the suttas where the Buddha did not talk about the Four Noble Truths or the Noble Eightfold Path. Instead, it is a sermon that touches on general knowledge about the aims of people.

There was a brahmin religious advisor of a king in the Buddha’s time named Janussoni who approached him and asked, “What is the aim, quest, mainstay, desire and ideal of a khattiya (aristocrat, or member of the warrior caste)?” After the Buddha answered this question, he continued to ask about other people as well. We can see in the Buddha’s replies that for different people, there were different forces and ideals that drive them. It was not the same for each group of people. For the sake of clarity and comparison, the Buddha’s answers can be tabulated as shown below.







Khattiya (aristocrat)




To rule the earth


Brahmin (priest)



Mantra (sacred texts)








To culminate work


A man



Without a rival (in matrimony)



To steal

A hiding place



Not to be found out

Samana (ascetic)

Patience and purity



To have nothing (no possessions)


Let me now elaborate on this analysis.

Although we may not have a caste system here in Malaysia, khattiyas can, in some ways, be identified with the politicians of today. Their purpose in life is to accumulate wealth. This is applicable even in modern times where the people in power will often make use of their positions to increase and accumulate their wealth. They have a thirst for the sort of knowledge that can help to fulfil their aim. In the old days, the khattiyas’ pillar of support was the power of their armies. This is not different today in countries with military governments. In democratic countries, the politicians’ power is supposed to lie in the electorate, but we are very familiar with the term “money-politics”, right? Politicians, like khattiyas, desire to rule their domain and their ideal is to win the elections or gain a dominating position.

Brahmins too want to become rich. There is also a parallel in our modern society. Don’t you see all those priests charging exorbitant fees for funeral services like chanting? Brahmins quest for knowledge as they are the religious backbone of the caste system, but present-day priests also quest for knowledge to make more money out of their services. As religious personalities, they are the guardians of their mantras (repetitive words or sounds such as OM) and the scriptures. So that is their mainstay. We can see that also these days. Who would want to pay for the services of a priest who doesn’t know how to chant or perform funeral rites? As Hindus, they desire for sacrifices to their Gods. Their ideal is to be reborn in the Brahma-world or to achieve union with Mahabrahma.

Householders, like the others, also wish to accumulate wealth. They have a quest for knowledge to earn a living. Nowadays, this is taken to the extreme when parents even push their pre-school children to attend tuition classes in order to have that ‘edge’ over others. In my younger days, childhood was real fun—after school, we would play kites, marbles, tops, etc. I really pity the children nowadays. They have to go for all sorts of tuition after school—where is the time to play? With the knowledge thus acquired they have to learn up a skill to earn a living. This is their mainstay, their basis of support for the household. Even with a skill one can still be unemployed. So the householders’ desire is work and their ideal is to be able to bring their work to an end. However, in reality, our work never ends.

There is a story about Anuruddha of the Sakyan clan who wanted to decide whether he should become a monk or remain a householder. He asked his brother, Mahanama, who told him that as a householder, his duty in life was to care for their land, plough it, plant the seeds, fertilise, weed and finally harvest and process the produce. Subsequently, the next cycle repeats itself. On hearing that there is actually no ‘END’ to this monotonous cycle of life, he decided that it was better to renounce the worldly life and strive instead to end the cycle of Samsara.

woman’s aim is to get a man. She seeks adornments to beautify herself. I think the majority of women are still like that today. Her mainstay is her sons. This is especially true in the old days when sons were considered a boon and daughters a misfortune. But nowadays things have changed. Look out and you will see that girls are the hardworking ones in schools and other institutions of learning, while the boys prefer to play and laze around. Some months ago, one of our devotees had a second child. When I asked the father whether he preferred a daughter or son, he said, “Well, I’ve already got a daughter. So naturally I’d prefer a son.” I consoled him by saying that nowadays things have changed: it is better to have a daughter than a son. “Yeah,” he said, “people have been telling me that too. When a daughter grows up and is working, she says ‘Ma, is this (money) enough? Let me know if you need more.’ But a son would say ‘Pa, can I borrow some money?’”

A woman desires to be without a rival, i.e. the only wife. Although polygamy was practised even during the Buddha’s time, a woman still preferred monogamy. And I suppose that is true till this day. Perhaps that is a survival instinct because she has to take care of the children. So it’s no wonder that her ideal is the domination of the household.

thief’s aim is to steal, his quest is for a place to hide from the authorities, his mainstay is the weapons he uses to coerce others, his desire is for darkness and stealth and his ideal is not to be found out. This is quite obvious.

An ascetic’s aim is to develop patience and purity from greed, hatred and delusion. He seeks knowledge to attain enlightenment. His mainstay is his moral virtue, for with good precepts he is well protected from harm. He desires to have nothing, to be unencumbered with worldly matters that tie him down. Yet nowadays we monks are showered with abundant gifts offered piously by enthusiastic merit-makers. If we do not accept (because it is such a bother to decide what to do with the excess), people say we are uncompassionate and selfish. We also have a lot of social responsibilities, e.g. teaching and counselling the laity, chanting for blessings, funeral services and so forth. I suppose that is where patience comes into the picture. His ideal is to attain Nibbana.

On hearing this sermon, Janussoni became very inspired and took refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

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