Venue: Mrs. Koay Boon Hin’s House, Taiping
Although a major portion of the Buddha’s teaching is meant for the Sangha, He did not forget the lay people who are in a rather different position. So, he also gave discourses specifically meant for the layperson. Today’s talk is based on one such discourse where the Buddha explained four kinds of happiness that a layperson can enjoy. It’s called Ananya Sutta (AN 4,62).
In this sutta, the Buddha said to Anathapindika, a well-known lay disciple of the Buddha, that there are four kinds of happiness that may be achieved, depending on time and occasion, by a layperson who enjoys sensual pleasure. So, what are the four?
1. Happiness of Possession
If a layperson possesses wealth that is earned through righteous means, when he thinks about it, he feels happy and joyful. With this wealth, he feels secure by virtue of having such wealth. This is unlike another person who has become wealthy as a result of unrighteous livelihood. Such a person may enjoy pleasures, but cannot truly be happy due to his own conscience or fear of the consequences, or both. Therefore, it is not just about having wealth. It is about having wealth that is righteously gained, which allows the owner to feel happy when he thinks of it.
So, to be happy, a layperson has to avoid wrong livelihood. There are various kinds of wrong livelihood, and they are basically those that invariably contribute to the suffering of others. In a sutta called Vanijja Sutta (AN 5.177), the Buddha spoke specifically of 5 kinds of trade that are clearly wrong livelihood.
a. Trading in weapons
In the past, the main concern about this was probably that it provides weapons for would-be robbers, plunderers, thieves and the like. These days, however, it is more about being in the military industry, providing military facilities for governments—be they overt or covert—who would go to war to fulfil the selfish goals of the few in power. The loss, the pain and the heartache are immeasurable. To say that this is a lucrative business is a gross understatement, as it can easily run into many billions of dollars. Yet no one with even an iota of spiritual sanity would knowingly engage himself in such a merciless business.
Since wars do occur all over the world—including the many that go unreported in mainstream news media—it is obvious that many people do support this business, such as the soldiers themselves. Otherwise, who would be there to fight? So it makes good sense to step back and ask why then do people do that? These words by Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg Trials held after World War 2 bear an important insight for us.
Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country. (Extracted from Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Center Disaster by David Icke)
With this knowledge, let us be level-headed enough to never fall into this kind of manipulation. This business is probably the worst of all, and perhaps that is why the Buddha mentioned it first.
b. Trading in living beings
This includes breeding animals for slaughter, trading slaves for sex or labour, etc. I have also come to learn of such a possible thing as a mind control slave, i.e., people who are programmed since young to carry out dirty jobs for the politically powerful. In any case, this is about making business out of others—humans or animals—for one’s own profit.
While pimping is wrong livelihood, prostitutes themselves however don’t count as having a wrong livelihood since their livelihood does not necessarily contribute to the harm of others.
c. Trading in meat
This should include all meat businesses: from slaughtering to selling. Why should selling meat be wrong livelihood? I suppose it has to do with ordering slaughtered animals, just as a chicken rice seller would. I know that the supplier would only slaughter as many as requested.
d. Trading in intoxicants
Intoxicants include all forms of alcohol, intoxicating drugs, and all other substances that can cause intoxication.
Are cigarettes and cigars intoxicants, so that the selling of which is wrong livelihood? What about coffee, which can also be addictive, like tobacco? While being addicted to something is unwholesome and harmful, there is a difference between an intoxicant and something that is merely addictive. If it is something that can cause intoxication, then trading in it is to be regarded as wrong livelihood.
e. Trading in poisons
Besides being directly involved in selling poison, this includes working in business organisations that sell any form of poison, like pesticides. Legal drugs are technically also poisons though they may be necessary as a last resort. Thus, selling them falls in a grey area. Care should be taken to ensure that one is not selling those that cause more harm than good.
As it can be seen, these livelihoods are just trades and they need not involve direct harming. They seem to be considered wrong simply because they invariably involve the harm of others. The lack of intention to harm is not a mitigating factor.
There are plenty of ways to make a living by righteous means; far more than unrighteous ones. You can make on honest living on a limitless variety of trades; you can be a teacher of a great variety of knowledge and skills; you can provide useful services of all kinds. There is simply no need to make a living out of unrighteous means.
The possibilities of right livelihood are virtually endless. If you choose one that you love doing, then you are likely to do a good job. If you choose one that brings benefit and happiness to others, then others will naturally want to support you, so that they can continue to enjoy the benefit and happiness that you bring them.
With wealth gained from a proper livelihood, you can feel happy and secure knowing that you own such wealth. That is called the happiness of possession.
2. Happiness of Enjoyment
Besides having wealth, happiness is also gained by enjoying the wealth that one has righteously gained. A wealthy scrooge does not experience this happiness.
There are some people who spend their life working and working, but do not enjoy their wealth because they are so caught up with being a workaholic. They may have the happiness of possession, but they do not give themselves the opportunity to be happy enjoying what they have. Usually, this means that their children would spend their money instead. Furthermore, since the parents are too busy making money, the children are left to do what they want with lots of money. This is often a bad sign.
A clever person knows how to enjoy his wealth besides making it. Following the Buddha’s advice in Pattakamma Sutta (AN 4.61), he can enjoy his wealth by spending on himself, his parents, his wife and children, his workers and his friends. He can also enjoy being generous to others. He makes his wealth meaningful. That is called the happiness of enjoyment.
3. Happiness of Freedom from Debt
In this modern day and age, it is all too easy for a person to fall into debt as a result of the easy availability of credit cards, payment for goods via instalment schemes, bank loans and so on. But how does it feeling like having and using something that you don’t really own?
I believe many of you know how it feels like when you have managed to pay up completely for your house or car. You felt happy, didn’t you? “At last, this is really mine. Phew!” You feel a heavy burden being unloaded, which means that prior to that, ever since you ‘bought’ that thing on loan, you have being suffering from carrying this burden, with or without you being aware of it. Furthermore, you end up having to pay a whole lot more than the original price of that thing—that is, if you do manage to pay up completely.
Let us ask this question, “Is being in debt really necessary?
I’ve read of a story about an American Vietnamese couple, who refused to buy anything on credit. Whatever they buy, they buy in cash. If they don’t have enough, they would just wait till they do. At first, it was a bit tough. Being quite poor when they arrived in America, with the kindness of their boss, they stayed in the storeroom where they worked. The person who wrote the story was quite amazed at how this couple could keep up with such a principle. About ten years later, she decided to pay them a visit. She was pleasantly surprised to meet them living happily in a big house—which they bought in cash.
So, back to my question, is it really necessary to be in debt? Do you need to buy that big house before you can afford to? If you don’t have that luxury car (which actually belongs to the bank) to drive around with, would you be in misery?
If you believe that you can eventually earn enough money to pay for them, what’s the hurry then? What does the desire for advance enjoyment (or perhaps ostentation too) do to you? Remember the burden? Is the enjoyment worth the suffering from that burden? That is something to think about.
You may say, “That’s what everybody does!” Well of course that’s quite true, but that’s like saying just because others are not prudent enough to avoid the misery of being in debt, you too must follow.
The idea that debt is a necessary part of life is simply not true. The risk-and-worry-free rags-to-riches story of the Vietnamese couple clearly testifies to that. It is always easy to not think outside the box and just be in the same boat as others, but that also entails having to deal with whatever that comes along with it.
Having considered the above, let us be clear nonetheless that this is not a precept that you must hold. It is entirely a personal choice. All that I am doing here is to shed light on the norm, what it entails and an alternative to that, so that you can make a better decision for yourself.
A person who is not in debt, whether big or small, is happy because there is no burden hanging over his head. To enjoy this happiness, he has to avoid borrowing money. To avoid ever being compelled to borrow, it would be helpful for him to keep a portion of the money he earns. These simple habits would do much to keep you debt free, so that whenever you think, “I’m free from debt, big or small,” you would feel happiness and joy. That is called the happiness of freedom from debt.
4. Happiness of Being Blameless
Of the four kinds of happiness, this should be the most important one. This happiness is attained by a noble disciple who conducts himself blamelessly in body, speech and mind. Such a person tries his best to be watchful of his conduct so that he does not cause harm to himself and others.
While we are still subject to our defilements, we do at times conduct ourselves in some blameworthy ways. When we think about it, how do they make us feel? Not so good, huh? Turning this around, if we conduct ourselves well and when we think about that, how then do we feel? We feel good, don’t we? That’s the happiness we’re speaking of here.
Setting aside happiness that can be enjoyed in the afterlife due to one’s good conduct, just being blameless itself can bring one an invaluable sense of happiness and joy that is experienced in this present life. That is called the happiness of blamelessness.
These are the four kinds of happiness that a layperson who enjoys sensual pleasure may achieve, depending on time and occasion. So, don’t short-change yourself. Make yourself truly happy.