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During his lifetime, did the Buddha teach meditation to lay people, or did he teach meditation only to monks?

Are there any references to this in the Pali Canon or commentaries?

It's clear that all Buddhists, including lay people, should gain the Right View by learning the Dhamma, for that is the first step on the Noble Eightfold Path. There are also references in the Pali Canon for lay people to live a virtuous life, for example in the Sigalovada Sutta.

However, most of the meditation teachings appear to target monks.

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The Buddha taught people according to what interest them. Maybe, there were few lay people interested in meditation while still enjoying lay lifestyle then.

Though there is no record of such meditation suttas teaching to lay people, I believe a few excellent lay disciples received meditation guidance from the Buddha. For example, there is Uttarā Nandamātā who is described as "the best of women disciples in meditative power (jhāyīnam)". There is also Citta the Householder who is well-versed in meditation. There is a whole fascinating Samyutta about him.

  • Thanks for the interesting info on Citta the Householder, who explained meditation points to monks. – ruben2020 Apr 1 '18 at 4:51
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I accidentally came across a sutta with recommendation for householders to allocate periods for meditation. The Buddha gave this advice to Anathapindika the householder, in the presence of 500 lay followers.

From Piti Sutta (AN 5.176):

Then Anathapindika the householder, surrounded by about 500 lay followers, went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there the Blessed One said to him, "Householder, you have provided the community of monks with robes, alms food, lodgings, & medicinal requisites for the sick, but you shouldn't rest content with the thought, 'We have provided the community of monks with robes, alms food, lodgings, & medicinal requisites for the sick.' So you should train yourself, 'Let's periodically enter & remain in seclusion & rapture.' That's how you should train yourself."

Piya Tan wrote in his commentary on Piti Sutta that:

Until recently (even up to the late 20th century), there is a common wrong view that spiritual training, especially mental cultivation or meditation, is only the domain of the monastic. The laity merely makes merit by serving and supporting the monastics. However, it is clear from the Pīti Sutta here that spiritual development by way of mental cultivation is just as important for the laity.

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    Anathapindika of course was not a regular householder... He was a very rich businessman (a banker?), one of the biggest sponsors of Buddha, and almost close friend. He went as far as to buy a piece of land just outside the capital and turn it into a permanent camp for Buddha and his followers... Here again we can see that Buddhist meditation is different from all other meditations with its unique focus on generating joy and peace through self-congratulation on one's ethical behavior. – Andrei Volkov Apr 15 '18 at 13:03
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It is said that there is no sermon without meditation. There were no buddhist monks when the Buddha attained enlightenment. The usual pattern is that the Buddha would preach the Dhamma to non-Buddhists and their minds would focus to a certain Dhamma teaching. In other words, they would meditate on the Dhamma, attain enlightenment or gain sufficient confidence and subsequently enter the order.

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In the most well-known teachings to laypeople, there is no mention of meditation (satipatthana); such as in DN 31; SN 55.7; ; MN 60 (in which meditation is only mentioned after going forth as a monk); AN 10.176; AN 3.65.

In SN 56.11 (the first sermon), it is explicitly said the Noble Eightfold Path was for those gone forth from the household life, as follows:

Bhikkhus, these two extremes ought not to be cultivated by one gone forth from the house-life. What are the two? There is devotion to indulgence of pleasure in the objects of sensual desire, which is inferior, low, vulgar, ignoble, and leads to no good; and there is devotion to self-torment, which is painful, ignoble and leads to no good.

The middle way discovered by a Perfect One avoids both these extremes; it gives vision, it gives knowledge, and it leads to peace, to direct acquaintance, to discovery, to nibbana. And what is that middle way? It is simply the noble eightfold path, that is to say, right view, right intention; right speech, right action, right livelihood; right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. That is the middle way discovered by a Perfect One, which gives vision, which gives knowledge, and which leads to peace, to direct acquaintance, to discovery, to nibbana.

In the modern West, most so-called Buddhist meditation for lay people is about accepting defilements rather than rejecting defilements.

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    Could you quote the passage that states this?: "it is explicitly said the Noble Eightfold Path was for those gone forth from the household life" – ruben2020 Feb 26 '18 at 0:02
  • So are you suggesting that lay people shouldn't meditate? – m2015 Feb 26 '18 at 2:42
  • No. I am merely speaking the reality that the vast majority of Buddhist laypeople are not practising the noble eightfold path that culminates in the four jhanas but are, instead, engaged in a self-psychotherapy exercise of attempting to watch their emotions, which is not what the Buddha taught. – Dhammadhatu Feb 26 '18 at 3:19
  • It's difficult to prove a negative i.e. to prove that there is no sutta which satisfies the 'reference-request' (conversely, to "prove a positive" you just need to show an example). On Skeptics the convention they use to "prove a negative" is to cite an expert's stating it in a (peer-reviewed) publications -- e.g. if a venerable wrote, "there's no sutta in which the Buddha taught meditation to lay people", then one might assume that author had carefully researched the literature before writing that, and quoting them would be a satisfactory answer to the OP's reference-request. – ChrisW Feb 26 '18 at 10:06
  • Not really sure what you are saying Chris. My post said: "most suttas to laypeople" rather than "all suttas to laypeople". There are obviously suttas where meditation is taught to laypeople but these are obviously the minority. – Dhammadhatu Feb 26 '18 at 10:19

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