A Layman’s Path

Venue: Hokkien Cemetery Pavilion

A Buddhist disciple can choose to benefit himself either by following the noble eightfold path, which leads to liberation, or the layman’s path of merit making, which conduces to a pleasant living.

The layman’s path is essentially having faith and following the 3 steps of Dana, Sila and Bhavana.

Dana means giving and it consists of:

  • material dana (most people can perform this i.e. the giving of physical goods)
  • service dana (contributing our time, skill and effort for the benefit of others)
  • bodily dana (a good example of this is organ donation)

Bhavana means mental development. A person’s mind can be developed if he likes to visit monks and listen to good Dhamma; retains in the mind the teachings he has heard; carefully examines the meaning of those teachings; having understood the meaning, lives in conformity with the Dhamma.

Today we shall concentrate on the conditions that are involved in order to determine whether a precept is broken. The basic tenets to Sila for the layman is the Panca Sila (Five Precepts)

Pānātipātā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

Adinnādānā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

Kāmesu-micchācārā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

Musāvādā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

Surā-meraya-majja-pamādatthānā veramani sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi

Killing (Pānātipāta)

A person is considered to have broken this precept even if he does not actually commit the killing per-se but instructs others to do it on his behalf (e.g. hiring assassins). Five conditions must be fulfilled in order for killing to have taken place:

  1. The object is a living sentient being.
  2. The doer knows that it is alive.
  3. The doer has the intention to kill it.
  4. The doer makes the effort to actualise that intention.
  5. As a result of that effort, the being dies.

Stealing (Adinnādāna)

This refers to taking things without the consent of the owner. The conditions that need to be present for the act of stealing to happen are:

  1. The object belongs to someone else.
  2. The doer knows that it is so.
  3. The doer has the intention to take it without the owner’s consent.
  4. The doer makes the effort to actualise that intention.
  5. As a result of that effort, the object is obtained by the doer.

Sexual misconduct (Kāmesu-micchācāra)

For a person observing the Eight Precepts (Atthanga Sila), there is total abstinence from sex. However, for one who observes the Five Precepts, having sex is fine, but not with an illicit partner, i.e. anyone who

  • is protected by a family member or relatives
  • is protected by Dhamma (probably meaning one who has renounced)
  • is married to another man (regardless of legality)
  • commits a sexual act which entails punishments (due to prohibition by the law of the land), or
  • is engaged or betrothed to another man.

The conditions that will result in the breaking of this precept are:

  1. The other party is an illicit partner (as described above).
  2. The doer knows that it is so.
  3. The doer has the intention to have sex with the other party.
  4. The doer makes the effort to actualise that intention.
  5. As a result of that effort, the doer has sexual intercourse with the other party.

Lying (Musāvāda)

Apart from using words, a person can also lie by using certain gestures to communicate the lie. The conditions necessary for lying to have occurred are:

  1. The doer knows something is untrue.
  2. The doer has the intention to deceive another by communicating that untruth.
  3. The doer makes the effort to actualise that intention.
  4. As a result of that effort, the intended party understands the untruth.

[When the above factors are complete, whether or not the intended party believes it, the deed is done. It is understood by some that only lies that are intended to cause loss or harm are grave enough to lead the doer to woeful states. However, in the suttas, the Buddha clearly said that one who “abstains from false speech… do not consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward.” —Editor

Intoxicants that are the Basis for Heedlessness (Surā-meraya-majja-pamādatthāna)

These include all forms of intoxicating drinks and drugs that can cause one to be heedless or negligent. To break this precept, the four conditions are:

  1. The object is an intoxicant that can cause heedlessness.
  2. Intention exists to take it.
  3. Effort is made to take it.
  4. The intoxicant is imbibed.

[Wine that is added in cooking is no longer an intoxicant as the alcohol content in it evaporates during the cooking process, and therefore does not count here. —Editor]

We who are not yet liberated from greed, hatred and delusion should try to avoid committing any unwholesome actions by observing the precepts well and hope that one day, when the karma is right we can practise the supra-mundane path that leads to liberation. May all of you be well and happy and be diligent in your practice.

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