Most discourses that I've read have been given to monks or nuns (and not laypeople), so I'm wondering what the practical application is of these many discourses for a layperson like myself. Are the practices presented in these discourses something to strive for? Is it better (as laypeople) to focus our effort on deepening our understanding and practice of for example the five precepts?

Grateful for help and with kind regards, Tord


5 Answers 5


The four noble truths & dependent origination simply explain how suffering comes to be & how this suffering can be ended.

As a layperson, it is inevitable you suffer (for example, when your motor car is damaged in car accident). Therefore, you can use these teachings to understand & overcome your suffering.

For example, your motor car is damaged in an accident. You reflect:

  1. I am suffering because I am attached to the car & do not want the car to be damaged.

  2. However, this wanting & suffering is ignorant because the Buddha taught all material & conditioned things are subject to damage & impermanence. Therefore it is ignorant of me to suffer over things that are inevitably prone to damage & impermanence.

  3. Also, the motor car is not-self. It is not really 'mine'. It is only something I use temporarily.

The above is an example of how to use the four noble truths & dependent origination to understand & end the everyday suffering of a lay person.

If you do not clearly understand the four noble truths, it is:

  1. All suffering is summarised as attachment to the five aggregates.

  2. This suffering arises when there is craving that leads to new self-becoming.

  3. This suffering ends when craving ends.

  4. The noble eightfold path is the way to end suffering, which is summarised as using mindfulness to bring wisdom (right view) to sense experience.

If you do not clearly understand dependent origination, it is simply the same as the four noble truths but more detailed, in that it traces the arising of suffering back to ignorance. It states:

  1. Ignorance conditions ignorant mental formations.

  2. Ignorant mental formations condition an ignorant consciousness.

  3. Ignorant consciousness conditions an ignorant mind & body.

  4. An ignorant mind & body condition ignorant sense organs.

  5. Ignorant sense organs condition ignorant sense experience.

  6. Ignorant sense experience conditions ignorant feelings.

  7. Ignorance feelings condition craving.

  8. Craving conditions attachment.

  9. Attachment conditions self-ego-becoming.

  10. Becoming conditions the birth of self-identity. (eg. 'My motor car').

  11. Birth conditions aging-&-death (eg. 'My motor car is destroyed & dead).

  12. Aging-&-death conditions sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, despair & all sufferings.

Therefore, if ignorance is ended by reflecting: "material & conditioned things are impermanent", the craving, attachment, becoming, birth & death that cause suffering will not arise. The mind will be free from suffering about motor cars.

  • Not only the motor is non-self, also the money to fix it. It doesn't have intrinsic value - its only purpose it to... let go. ;-)
    – Eiko
    Feb 13, 2017 at 0:10

Buddhism for sure is very overwhelming for a beginner – a layperson. Even for me, just 12 years ago, it was too much information to process. “Starting out” in Buddhism is exciting for a lot of people, but learning the Dhamma is a painstakingly slow, gradual process. Sadly a great many want to jump right in and become enlightened the next day. The truth is, Buddhism is very difficult, and there are no shortcuts. It is an entire lifetime worth of study, and the practice must be incorporated into your daily life. But it must be taken at a very gradual, slow pace to really absorb and learn anything.

First study only the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. It may take you at least a full two years to make sense of the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination. If you delegently keep at it and acquire a good knowledge of dhamma while practicing the Five Precepts to the Letter, then you are ready for meditation.

There are Suttas aimed at Life of a Layman. Few of them are…. Chalabijathi Sutta, Devadaha Sutta MN 101, Gayha Sutta SN, Janussoni Sutta AN 10.177, Jara Sutta SN 48.41, Mahanama Sutta AN 11.13, Patama Nathakarana Sutta AN, Pattakamma Sutta AN 4.61, Sallekha Sutta MN 8, Sattabharya Sutta, Sigalovada sutta DN 31, Sihasenapati sutta AN 5, Vyaggapajja Sutta AN 8.54.


Being a lay beginner myself, my experience is rather limited.

Most of the texts I've read so far seem to be rather universal in their message. Developing the mind within a monastry might be a lot easier without all those distractions of a layperson's life. But always remember that practicing the dhamma is not limited to meditation. Good actions are beneficial as well - your life may offer many opportunities.

I consider the five precepts as the fundamental practicing rules. Easy enough to follow most of the time in auto-pilot mode; and teaching occurs in the other occasions.

So of you have a text that doesn't speak to you at all at the moment, I'd just skip it for now and grab another one.


Most discourses that I've read have been given to monks or nuns (and not laypeople)

Whatever addressed to monks and applicable and relevant to laypeople also.

Whether you are in robes or not you get stressed and getting out of stress you get peace.

When the Buddha addresses as Bhikkhu this includes lay people.

Are the practices presented in these discourses something to strive for?

These solve the problem of being stressed and also how to get out of it hence it is worth striving for unless you want to remain in misery.

Is it better (as laypeople) to focus our effort on deepening our understanding and practice of for example the five precepts?

This is the foundation hence it is a necessity before Mastery Over the Mind and Wisdom.


The ultimate for Buddhist Dharma is to tame the Citta (Mind/Heart), once it's done, one is free from suffering. The 5 Precepts are not just for the lay people, but for any citizen to live an ethical life. It is the basic for any Buddhist, and the righteous.

The discourses, many are addressing the monks (Bhikkus), yet the audiences, in many of the sermons, including all followers, from rulers, noblemen, citizens and different classes. (Usually it's set in certain open place, no lighting effect or stage setup necessary for the Buddha himself is illuminating, the Celestial Beings raining the flowers and jewels, filled the atmosphere with fragrance and radiance {sometimes this kind of phenomena could still be seen in some sacred mountains, the colour-tinted clouds in shape of lotus petals, rainbow-halo of the sun... etc.}, and of course no entrance fee charged ;). Apart from those human eyes can see, there are Bodhisattvas, the Nagas and their Eight Leagues of Might, the Non-human Beings... etc. And of course if you by any chance read the Sutra, the audience included you then, read as if you are in the sermon, or among the monks. While the monks are with their particular customs - the Kāṣāya, but putting on the robe doesn't necessarily make one the true monk, nor a lay people without the robe deemed unable to understand the teaching.

There are many discourses delivered to the monks in daily living together with the Buddha, most are recorded in the Agama Sutras. Those teachings about what so termed "mindfulness meditation" could be learnt as much as one is able to. However, to a certain stage, the White Skeleton Meditation is to be cautioned, not only this was recorded in the Sutra certain monks took their lives when so absorbed in getting disgusted with the body, also it would weaken the body; meditation on nourishing and right way of eating to replenish is required. Yet it would be a miracle if anyone get to the depth of the White Skeleton Meditation without the right teacher or his own right understanding, thus this is really like, it wouldn't happen or if it happened the solution is also produced. Thus the Buddha let all these be written down openly, anyone has the wisdom and merit(功德), anyone is deemed to have the Great Cause across eons of Kalpas to arrive at it.

One the other hand one could read the intellectual part of the Dharma. This part is so rich and splendid, over thousands of years, books, treatises, theses are littering and piled up like Himalaya. One is easily got lost but emptied the whole life never really get to the skin of it. Thus one should read right Sutras. Reading the Sutra is the most guaranteed way to receive authentic teachings, and of course the Sutra must be well written, able to transmit the Buddha's teachings, likewise, authentically.

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