When I search for the word "debt" on this site -- https://buddhism.stackexchange.com/search?q=debt -- many of the posts are from the same author -- including two recent ones:

The answer to the latter question puzzled me -- because I'm not sure what the difference is between a state welfare recipient thinking "I have a right", compared with an employed wage-earner's having the same kind of thought.

What is Buddhist doctrine on that subject?

The only reference that come immediately to my mind is the debt towards parents, which is so immense that it cannot be repaid, and which is acknowledged by the fact that monks are allowed to help care for their own parents in person.

There are few references on Access to Insight:

  • Ina Sutta: Debt (AN 6.45) sounds like it might be a parable or analogy -- i.e. that a monk who behaves badly suffers consequences like a layman who goes into debt
  • The Lessons of Gratitude by Thanissaro Bhikkhu seems to say to repay your benefactors by becoming a better person
  • Anana Sutta: Debtless (AN 4.62) says that "debtless" is one of the states that a house-holder can enjoy -- along with "having" and "using" wealth, and being "blameless" -- the debtless isn't the import bit in this sutta, which says it's next to nothing compared with being blameless
  • Vasala Sutta: Discourse on Outcasts (Sn 1.7) says that denying a debt is one of many examples of misbehaviour that would cause someone to be considered an outcaste

Can you summarise Buddhist doctrine about debt?

Should you try to be more conscious of debts? If not what should you try to be more conscious of?

Part of this question is exemplified by this from Thanissaro Bhikkhu's essay:

In other words, as the first passage shows, it's perfectly fine to appreciate the benefits you've received from rafts and other conveniences without feeling any need to repay them. You take care of them simply because that enables you to benefit from them more. The same holds true for difficult people and situations that have forced you to develop strength of character. You can appreciate that you've learned persistence from dealing with crabgrass in your lawn, or equanimity from dealing with unreasonable neighbors, without owing the crabgrass or neighbors any debt of gratitude. After all, they didn't kindly go out of their way to help you. And if you were to take them as models, you'd learn all the wrong lessons about kindness: that simply following your natural impulses — or, even worse, behaving unreasonably — is the way to be kind.

Debts of gratitude apply only to parents, teachers, and other benefactors who have acted with your wellbeing in mind. They've gone out of their way to help you, and have taught you valuable lessons about kindness and empathy in the process.

As a corollary, if the "raft" there might be an analogy of the Dhamma, what do you think of that? If people publish the Dhamma, after which find and use it, you may appreciate that -- is it something to feel "indebted" about, and if you don't feel properly indebted then are you like stealing it from its rightful owner (e.g. the Sangha), and/or is the person who published it some kind of thief?

3 Answers 3


Debt means not free and bound. Duty is the obligation to stay either in a certain relation, or to gain rightly release. Debtlessness means to be no more bond, completed the task.

This works in regard of certain worlds, as well in relation with the path beyond.

One not doing his duty (sacrifices for maintaining a relay-tion) is an indebter (slave). One not following the rules, a thief.

And one comparing the Dhamma with grass is not only a deep red marxist, but a total hopless hell-bond idiot.


Dhamma-reader and enjoyer, not doing their duties toward the owner (the Sangha), but supplying thieves, Robin-hoods, companies, ... co-work in depriving it from the owner, or co-thieves in robes, are not only, by denying obligation, incapable to ever grasp it, since pulling it in their house of wrong view "I have a right", but "ever-bond" to remain as hungry ghost in the left behind ruins of the royalty. Occasionally there will be some doing sacrifices toward former ancestors, and will try to feed them, but because their mouth of intellect is tiny formed as a needle, they are only feed-able with rotten left over, previous eaten, fermented, yet only for very short satisfied.

"Simple" an Ancestor-duty, then either well placed at the Sangha, if really wishing them being able to meet them in later existence.


The hindrance of sensual desire, such as delighting in or defending prostitutes or pornography, was called a "debt" by the Blesssed One:

In the same way, when these five hindrances are not abandoned in himself, the monk regards it as a debt, a sickness, a prison, slavery, a road through desolate country. But when these five hindrances are abandoned in himself, he regards it as unindebtedness, good health, release from prison, freedom, a place of security. Seeing that they have been abandoned within him, he becomes glad. Glad, he becomes enraptured. Enraptured, his body grows tranquil. His body tranquil, he is sensitive to pleasure. Feeling pleasure, his mind becomes concentrated.

DN 2

Similarly, being beholden to Karl Marx & anyone else worldly, was considered a "debt" by the Blessed One:

I’ve done many of the sort of deeds, that lead to a bad destination. The result of my deeds has already struck me,, so I enjoy my food free of debt.

MN 86

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