I'm very confused about this sutta ( http://suttacentral.net/en/dn1) specially in the part "Mahāsīla"

Many of what the Buddha stated as wrong livelihood is very common in some Buddhist centres these days, things like: Astrology, selling lucky gems, offerings to deities etc... if you read the list in the sutta you will see it.

Is this sutta not part of some Buddhist cultures? Am I interpreting it in the wrong way? Or is it simply being ignored??

  • 2
    I'll go with "ignored" Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 18:38
  • 3
    I've found a very impressing article about this problem by Ven. S. Dhammika, "The broken Buddha". Although it presents personal experiences and possibly often reports like this are made sensationalistic I like this specific one because I feel that Ven Dhammika didn't lock his heart and didn't make more about it than it should be done for the strengthening of a process of improvement in the situation. It's online available and has about 90 pages Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 23:21

3 Answers 3


You are correct. The Buddha spoke out against such things because it corrupts the right livelihood of Monks because people will support Monks to get them to preform fortune telling for them or other such things instead of supporting Monks for their virtue and practice.

Most laypeople in Theravada countries don't engage in study of the canonical texts to any significant degree and they simply don't know better, and perhaps the Monks involved don't know it either. If they do and continue to do such things, I think it is very unfortunate.


If you read on the rest of sutra, you will see other "wrong means of livelihood and debased arts" such as

  • astronomy (forecasting of eclipses and meteor showers)
  • weather forecasting
  • forecasting of earthquakes
  • political analysis and forecasting
  • surgery on body, as well as on eyes and ears
  • application of medicinal roots

Siddhartha Shakya was obviously a product of his times, and his understanding of natural and social phenomena was limited to the general knowledge available back at the time. As far as offerings to deities, clearly he did not see much value in religious rituals, something modern Symbolic Anthropology would disagree with.

That said, I'm not a big fan of Digha Nikaya, as of the entire Pali Canon it seems to be the furthest from actual Buddha words, and more like a later compilation.

  • But the list in the sutra is about wrong livelihood for a brahmin, a guru, a religious leader, right? It is not for lay people, where surgery, for instance, is very acceptable
    – konrad01
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 0:09
  • Correct, the list in DN 1 is for "sramana-brahmana". This common phrase referring to a serious homeless follower of Buddha-Dharma is IMO characteristic of compilations composed after Buddha's death.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 1:14

First, the Brahmajala Sutta is one of the greatest Suttas in Pali Canon. It was the foot print of Gautama Buddha's wisdom. Any possible mis-believes covered in this sutta. It is almost impossible another living being that can articulate this kind of Suttas. The section "Mahāsīla" was intended for the Buddhist monks who are trying to attain Nirvana and the part you are referring in section is concordant with Right Livelihood in Noble Eightfold Path. So it should be part of Buddhist cultures, it should be the Buddha's teaching that monks need to follow, it should be the Buddhists need to cherish the monks who follow this path. It is clearly seen that Right Livelihood make Sanga less tasks and errands where the tasks and errands are adverse to practicing Dhamma to attain the Nirvana. Sanga with Right Livelihood is more respectable and fruitful. You are interpreting it in the right way by agreeing "Mahasila" section in Brahmajala Sutta. Currently, in most countries Buddhists and Buddhist monks are taking Vinaya (the guidances/teachings of Buddha) loosely in general. Buddha said Dhamma will be loosely followed/practiced later and there will be no one like to followed/practiced Buddha's Dhamma and Vinaya eventually. So ignorance to Buddha's Dhamma (Suttas, teachings, practices) is expected. There will be time that the sunset/end of Buddhism in future.

The perspective of Right Livelihood for normal people is quite different from the Buddhist monks who are trying to attain Nirvana. For normal people who are not trying to attain Nirvana, five percepts and not harming to other living being (does not trade in weapons, living beings, meat, alcoholic drink or poison)seems enough for that person not to rebirth as an inferior life (other than human). So it is not appropriate to apply "Mahasila" to normal people and Buddha said "Mahasila" intended to apply Sanga (and person who joins Sanga) many times in Silakkhandha Vagga. Nowadays, with the people of varieties of desires, greeds, thirsts, angers and offenses, it is impractical to apply "Mahasila" in public but instead Buddhist monks should follow since they are maintaining Buddha's teachings.

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