chapter six

Right Livelihood

Right livelihood is the third virtue factor in the path. Like right speech and right action, it is defined as abstaining from wrong livelihood, but unlike them, the standard description of this path-factor doesn’t state clearly what wrong livelihood is. There is the obvious point that right livelihood should avoid any need to engage in wrong speech and wrong action, but a survey of other passages in the suttas shows that there is more to right livelihood than that. It deals not only with the ramifications of how you acquire the requisites of life—food, clothing, shelter, and medicine—but also with the attitude you take toward consuming them. By fostering the right attitude in this area, the pursuit of right livelihood moves directly into the training of the mind, providing a connection between the virtue factors and the three concentration factors that follow them on the path.

MN 117 (§48) provides a definition of wrong livelihood that seems aimed specifically at wrong livelihood for monks: “scheming, persuading, hinting, belittling, & pursuing gain with gain.” Persuading and hinting are standard procedure in many forms of right livelihood for lay people, as when a merchant persuades a customer to buy an item, or hints that a certain purchase would be wise. The same is true of “pursuing gain with gain”—i.e., offering a gift to get a larger gift in return. For monks, however, such behavior is not in line with their station in life as recipients of requisites given in faith. DN 2 (§199) expands on this point by listing in great detail the specific types of occupations from which monks should abstain. These fall into three main groups—making predictions, offering protective charms, acting in a servile capacity for laypeople—along with a more miscellaneous group of occupations that includes accounting, counting, calculation, composing poetry, and teaching hedonistic arts and doctrines.

Only a few passages in the suttas, however, deal directly with wrong means of livelihood for lay people, and in only one passage (§189) does the Buddha state outright that his lay followers should not pursue specific occupations: “trade in weapons, trade in living beings, trade in meat, trade in intoxicants, and trade in poison.” Of these, only trade in living beings requires extra explanation. It covers not only buying and selling common animals, but also buying and selling human beings.

The reason for the Buddha’s reticence in discussing the issue of livelihood for lay people is suggested by §§190–191: If he criticized those who followed a particular occupation, he risked setting himself up as a busybody, condemning other people who had not asked for his opinion. If people were to react unfavorably when told that their occupation was inherently unskillful and conducive to a bad rebirth, they might close their minds to learning the Dhamma. As a result, the Buddha never went on a campaign to denounce occupations that he saw as unskillful. Even in §189, he did not state that all people should avoid the five types of trade, only that his lay followers should avoid them.

Similarly, the Buddha would not condemn a person’s occupation to the person’s face unless that person had shown his/her sincerity in asking for the Buddha’s opinion on the matter by repeating the question up to three times. Even then, the Buddha would not simply condemn the occupation—soldiering and acting are the examples given in the suttas—but would also explain why it was inherently unskillful.

In the case of soldiering, the Buddha focused his objection, not on the obvious fact that soldiers are hired to engage in the wrong action of killing, but on the states of mind that killing incites. When in battle, soldiers’ minds are focused on the wrong resolve of ill will: “May these beings be struck down or slaughtered or annihilated or destroyed. May they not exist.” If they themselves are struck down and killed in that moment, they are likely to go to hell.

In the case of acting, the Buddha focused his objection on the mind-states the actors foster within themselves, and on the mind-states they intend to incite in their audience. By inspiring their audience to greater passion, aversion, and delusion, they themselves are intoxicated and heedless, and they inspire their audience to be intoxicated and heedless as well. As a result, their destination after death will not be good.

From these cases, we can extrapolate a few general principles to determine what sorts of occupations a person on the path should avoid: any that are based on doing physical harm to other beings, any that are based on encouraging heedlessness and intoxication in oneself or others, and any that are based on inciting wrong resolves in one’s own mind.

However, wrong livelihood is measured not only in terms of specific occupations, but also in terms of following an otherwise acceptable occupation in a dishonest way. This point is illustrated by §192, in which Ven. Sāriputta speaks in very frank terms to one of his old students, Dhanañjānin, about the future dangers of plundering householders in the name of the king, and plundering the king in the name of householders. In other words, Dhanañjānin was collecting more revenue from the king’s subjects than he was supposed to, and paying the king less than was his due. Ven. Sāriputta’s concluding argument—that the guardians of hell will not care that Dhanañjānin did this from necessity, to take care of his wife, children, or parents—applies in any case where one pursues a livelihood in a dishonest way. As he tells Dhanañjānin at the end of their discussion, “There are other activities—reasonable, righteous—by which one can refresh & nourish one’s body, and at the same time both not do evil and practice the practice of merit.”

Right here, however, is where the issue of right livelihood bites the mind, in that many of those reasonable and righteous ways of gaining a livelihood do not pay as well as some of the other less righteous ways. This is where the mind is forced to see the truth of the Buddha’s teaching that beings are defined by their need to feed and suffer because of that need.

Contentment. The best way to weaken the mind’s felt need to feed—and to weaken its temptation to engage in wrong livelihood—is to develop an attitude of contentment with the requisites of life (§196). To develop contentment in this area is good not only for your own sake—in terms of your present state of mind and future destination—but also for the sake of others, in that you are placing less of a burden on the world. This is why the Buddha encouraged both monks and lay people to develop, as part of their practice of right livelihood, an attitude of material contentment.

• To help encourage his monks in this direction, the Buddha recommended that they engage in a constant reflection on how they use the requisites of life (§229). This reflection serves both to promote contentment—in reminding the monks of how little is actually needed in terms of the requisites necessary to support the practice—and to promote a sense of saṁvega, in forcing them to reflect on the suffering inherent both for themselves and for others simply in the fact that they have a body and mind that constantly need to feed.

SN 12:63 (§198) provides some graphic analogies to aid in this reflection, and in so doing shows how right view’s analysis of the three forms of fabrication provides guidance to right livelihood. The images of the dead baby child, the flayed cow, the pit of glowing embers, and the criminal struck with hundreds of spears help to foster the right sorts of perceptions to fabricate an attitude of contentment toward the requisites and, at the same time, to foster an attitude of discontent with skillful dhammas—i.e., the unwillingness to rest satisfied with where you are in the practice. At the very least, these perceptions help to aim your mind in the direction of finding the blameless nourishment that can be derived from the practice of concentration—the food for the mind that keeps your right mindfulness and right effort alive (§293).

However, reflection on food does not stop there. As SN 12:63 notes, comprehension of physical food can lead to the third level of awakening, non-return, and comprehension of the food for consciousness—contact, intellectual intention, and consciousness itself—can lead all the way to full awakening.

In this way, right livelihood, in gaining guidance from right view both in terms of understanding feeding as the essence of suffering, and in terms of the three types of fabrication for developing an attitude of contentment, returns the favor by making these teachings specific and personal in a way that can develop right view to the level where it issues in the goal of the path.

• For lay people, the suttas’ standards of contentment are less stringent than those for monks and nuns. The Buddha encouraged his lay followers to take initiative in earning their living righteously and in enjoying the fruits of their labor in line with their means, being neither spendthrifts nor penny-pinchers. The warning against being a spendthrift is not surprising, nor is the Buddha’s warning against getting yourself into debt (AN 6:45). His warning against being a penny-pincher, however, is a little more surprising. AN 8:54 (§193) justifies this warning by saying that, if you’re a penny-pincher your reputation will be affected. SN 3:19 (§194), however, extols the right use of wealth in more positive terms: When you provide for your own needs, those of your family, and those of contemplatives, your wealth is not wasted. The implication is that, if you can see your own well-being and pleasure in positive terms, it’s easier to feel goodwill for the happiness of others as well.

However, even lay people need to practice contentment if their desire for pleasure is not to get out of bounds. This is why AN 8:54 mentions the importance of being vigilant in taking care of your possessions, so as to save the expense of replacing them. And the principle of the middle way in the pursuit of pleasure applies as much to lay people as it does to monks: When you use your wealth to obtain pleasure, make sure that the pleasures you obtain don’t involve unskillful actions or have a negative impact on the state of your mind.

Similarly, the reflections on food given in SN 12:63 hold true for lay people as much as they do for monks. They drive home the point that the need to keep working to assuage your hunger is a constant source of suffering and stress both for yourself and for others. And although the right use of your livelihood helps to fend off one of the drawbacks of sensuality—that your wealth will be stolen or confiscated or fall to hateful heirs (§149)—it cannot prevent that drawback entirely. The only truly safe state of mind is one that has no need to feed. Reflection on this fact can lead the mind to a point where it’s ready to move beyond the mundane level of right view and right resolve—using right livelihood as a way of fostering well-being now and on into future lives—to the level of transcendent right view, looking for a way to put an end to all suffering and stress.

Transcendent right livelihood. As with right speech and right action, transcendent right livelihood is expressed as a state of being virtuous but not being defined by virtue. AN 4:28 (§196) expresses this point in its discussion of the customs of the noble ones, saying that, to follow these customs, you not only have to be content with the requisites as they come to you, but you also have to be free of any tendency to exalt yourself or disparage others over the fact that you are more content than they. In this way, you enjoy the fruits of right livelihood while at the same time avoiding the dangers that come from clinging to habits and practices and to unskillful forms of conceit.

Readings

§ 189. “Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of trade. Which five? Trade in weapons, trade in living beings, trade in meat, trade in intoxicants, and trade in poison.” — AN 5:177

§ 190. As he was sitting there, Tālapuṭa, the head of an acting troupe said to the Blessed One: “Venerable sir, I have heard that it has been passed down by the ancient teaching lineage of actors that ‘When an actor on the stage, in the midst of a festival, makes people laugh & gives them delight with his imitation of reality, then with the break-up of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of the laughing devas.’ What does the Blessed One have to say about that?”

“Enough, headman. Put that aside. Don’t ask me that.”

A second time… A third time Tālapuṭa, the head of an acting troupe, said: “Venerable sir, I have heard that it has been passed down by the ancient teaching lineage of actors that ‘When an actor on the stage, in the midst of a festival, makes people laugh & gives them delight with his imitation of reality, then with the break-up of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of the laughing devas.’ What does the Blessed One have to say about that?”

“Apparently, headman, I don’t get leave from you (to avoid the matter by saying), ‘Enough, headman. Put that aside. Don’t ask me that.’ So I will simply answer you. Any beings who are not devoid of passion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of passion, focus with even more passion on things inspiring passion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Any beings who are not devoid of aversion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of aversion, focus with even more aversion on things inspiring aversion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Any beings who are not devoid of delusion to begin with, who are bound by the bond of delusion, focus with even more delusion on things inspiring delusion presented by an actor on stage in the midst of a festival. Thus the actor—himself intoxicated & heedless, having made others intoxicated & heedless—with the break-up of the body, after death, is reborn in what is called the hell of laughter. But if he holds such a view as this: ‘When an actor on the stage, in the midst of a festival, makes people laugh & gives them delight with his imitation of reality, then with the break-up of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of the laughing devas,’ that is his wrong view. Now, there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb.”

When this was said, Tālapuṭa, the head of an acting troupe, sobbed & burst into tears. (The Blessed One said:) “That was what I didn’t get leave from you [to avoid by saying], ‘Enough, headman. Put that aside. Don’t ask me that.’”

“I’m not crying, venerable sir, because of what the Blessed One said to me, but simply because I have been deceived, cheated, & fooled for a long time by that ancient teaching lineage of actors who said: ‘When an actor on the stage, in the midst of a festival, makes people laugh & gives them delight with his imitation of reality, then with the break-up of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of the laughing devas.’” — SN 42:2

§ 191. As he was sitting there, Yodhājīva [Professional Warrior] the headman said to the Blessed One: “Venerable sir, I have heard that it has been passed down by the ancient teaching lineage of professional warriors that ‘When a professional warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down & slay him while he is striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the break-up of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas slain in battle.’ What does the Blessed One have to say about that?”

“Enough, headman. Put that aside. Don’t ask me that.”

A second time… A third time Yodhājīva the headman said: “Venerable sir, I have heard that it has been passed down by the ancient teaching lineage of professional warriors that ‘When a professional warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down & slay him while he is striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the break-up of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas slain in battle.’ What does the Blessed One have to say about that?”

“Apparently, headman, I don’t get leave from you (to avoid the matter by saying), ‘Enough, headman. Put that aside. Don’t ask me that.’ So I will simply answer you. When a professional warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, his mind is already seized, debased, & misdirected by the thought: ‘May these beings be struck down or slaughtered or annihilated or destroyed. May they not exist.’ If others then strike him down & slay him while he is thus striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the break-up of the body, after death, he is reborn in the hell called the realm of those slain in battle. But if he holds such a view as this: ‘When a professional warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down & slay him while he is striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the break-up of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas slain in battle,’ that is his wrong view. Now, there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb.”

When this was said, Yodhājīva the headman sobbed & burst into tears. (The Blessed One said:) “That was what I didn’t get leave from you [to avoid by saying], ‘Enough, headman. Put that aside. Don’t ask me that.’”

“I’m not crying, venerable sir, because of what the Blessed One said to me, but simply because I have been deceived, cheated, & fooled for a long time by that ancient teaching lineage of professional warriors who said: ‘When a professional warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down & slay him while he is striving & exerting himself in battle, then with the break-up of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas slain in battle.’” — SN 42:3

§ 192. Now, on that occasion Ven. Sāriputta was wandering in the Southern Mountains with a large community of monks. Then a certain monk who had spent the Rains in Rājagaha went to the Southern Mountains, to Ven. Sāriputta. On arrival, he exchanged courteous greetings with Ven. Sāriputta and—after an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies—sat to one side. As he was sitting there, Ven. Sāriputta said to him, “I trust, friend, that the Blessed One is strong & free from illness?”

“The Blessed One, friend, is strong & free from illness.”

“I trust that the community of monks is strong & free from illness?”

“The community of monks is also strong & free from illness.”

“At the Tandulapala Gate is a brahman named Dhanañjānin. I trust that he is strong & free from illness?”

“Dhanañjānin the brahman is also strong & free from illness.”

“And I trust that Dhanañjānin the brahman is heedful?”

“From where would our Dhanañjānin the brahman get any heedfulness, friend? Relying on the king, he plunders brahmans & householders. Relying on the brahmans & householders, he plunders the king. His wife—a woman of faith, fetched from a family with faith—has died. He has fetched another wife—a woman of no faith—from a family with no faith.”

“What a bad thing to hear, my friend—when we hear that Dhanañjānin the brahman is heedless. Perhaps sooner or later we might meet with Dhanañjānin the brahman. Perhaps there might be some conversation.”

Then Ven. Sāriputta, having stayed in the Southern Mountains as long as he liked, wandered in the direction of Rājagaha. After wandering by stages, he arrived at Rājagaha. There he stayed near Rājagaha in the Squirrels’ Sanctuary.

Then early in the morning, Ven. Sāriputta adjusted his lower robe and, carrying his bowl & outer robe, went into Rājagaha for alms. And on that occasion Dhanañjānin the brahman was milking cows in a cow pen outside the city. Then Ven. Sāriputta, having gone for alms in Rājagaha, after his meal, on his way back from his alms round, went to Dhanañjānin the brahman. Dhanañjānin the brahman saw Ven. Sāriputta coming from afar. On seeing him, he went to him and said, “Drink some of this fresh milk, master Sāriputta. It must be time for your meal.”

“That’s all right, brahman. I have finished my meal for today. My day’s abiding will be under that tree over there. You may come there.”

“As you say, master,” Dhanañjānin responded to Ven. Sāriputta. Then after he had finished his morning meal, he went to Ven. Sāriputta. On arrival, he exchanged courteous greetings with Ven. Sāriputta and—after an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies—sat to one side. As he was sitting there, Ven. Sāriputta said to him, “I trust, Dhanañjānin, that you are heedful?”

“From where would we get any heedfulness, master?—when parents are to be supported, wife & children are to be supported, slaves & workers are to be supported, friend-&-companion duties are to be done for friends & companions, kinsmen-&-relative duties for kinsmen & relatives, guest duties for guests, departed-ancestor duties for departed ancestors, devatā duties for devatās, king duties for the king, and this body also has to be refreshed & nourished.”

“What do you think, Dhanañjānin? There is the case where a certain person, for the sake of his mother & father, does what is unrighteous, does what is discordant. Then, because of his unrighteous, discordant behavior, hell-wardens drag him off to hell. Would he gain anything by saying, ‘I did what is unrighteous, what is discordant, for the sake of my mother & father. Don’t [throw] me into hell, hell-wardens!’ Or would his mother & father gain anything for him by saying, ‘He did what is unrighteous, what is discordant, for our sake. Don’t [throw] him into hell, hell-wardens!’?”

“No, master Sāriputta. Even right while he was wailing, they’d cast him into hell.”

“What do you think, Dhanañjānin? There is the case where a certain person, for the sake of his wife & children… his slaves & workers… his friends & companions… his kinsmen & relatives… his guests… his departed ancestors… the devatās… the king, does what is unrighteous, does what is discordant. Then, because of his unrighteous, discordant behavior, hell-wardens drag him off to hell. Would he gain anything by saying, ‘I did what is unrighteous, what is discordant, for the sake of the king. Don’t [throw] me into hell, hell-wardens!’ Or would the king gain anything for him by saying, ‘He did what is unrighteous, what is discordant, for our sake. Don’t [throw] him into hell, hell-wardens!’?”

“No, master Sāriputta. Even right while he was wailing, they’d cast him into hell.”

“What do you think, Dhanañjānin? There is the case where a certain person, for the sake of refreshing & nourishing his body, does what is unrighteous, does what is discordant. Then, because of his unrighteous, discordant behavior, hell-wardens drag him off to hell. Would he gain anything by saying, ‘I did what is unrighteous, what is discordant, for the sake of refreshing & nourishing my body. Don’t [throw] me into hell, hell-wardens!’ Or would others gain anything for him by saying, ‘He did what is unrighteous, what is discordant, for the sake of refreshing & nourishing his body. Don’t [throw] him into hell, hell-wardens!’?”

“No, master Sāriputta. Even right while he was wailing, they’d cast him into hell.”

“Now, what do you think, Dhanañjānin? Which is the better: one who, for the sake of his mother & father, would do what is unrighteous, what is discordant; or one who, for the sake of his mother & father, would do what is righteous, what is concordant?”

“Master Sāriputta, the one who, for the sake of his mother & father, would do what is unrighteous, what is discordant, is not the better one. The one who, for the sake of his mother & father, would do what is righteous, what is concordant would be the better one there. Righteous behavior, concordant behavior, is better than unrighteous behavior, discordant behavior.

“Dhanañjānin, there are other activities—reasonable, righteous—by which one can support one’s mother & father, and at the same time both not do evil and practice the practice of merit.

“What do you think, Dhanañjānin? Which is the better: one who, for the sake of his wife & children… his slaves & workers… his friends & companions… his kinsmen & relatives… his guests… his departed ancestors… the devatās… the king… refreshing & nourishing his body, would do what is unrighteous, what is discordant; or one who, for the sake of refreshing & nourishing his body, would do what is righteous, what is concordant?

“Master Sāriputta, the one who, for the sake of refreshing & nourishing his body, would do what is unrighteous, what is discordant, is not the better one. The one who, for the sake of refreshing & nourishing his body, would do what is righteous, what is concordant would be the better one there. Righteous behavior, concordant behavior, is better than unrighteous behavior, discordant behavior.

“Dhanañjānin, there are other activities—reasonable, righteous—by which one can refresh & nourish one’s body, and at the same time both not do evil and practice the practice of merit.”

Then Dhanañjānin the brahman, delighting & rejoicing in Ven. Sāriputta’s words, got up from his seat and left. — MN 97

§ 193. “There are these four dhammas, TigerPaw, that lead to a lay person’s happiness and well-being in this life. Which four? Being consummate in initiative, being consummate in vigilance, admirable friendship, and maintaining one’s livelihood in tune.

“And what is meant by being consummate in initiative? There is the case where a lay person, by whatever occupation he makes his living—whether by farming or trading or cattle tending or archery or as a king’s man or by any other craft—is clever and untiring at it, endowed with discrimination in its techniques, enough to arrange and carry it out. This is called being consummate in initiative.

“And what is meant by being consummate in vigilance? There is the case where a lay person has righteous wealth—righteously gained, coming from his initiative, his striving, his making an effort, gathered by the strength of his arm, earned by his sweat—he manages to protect it through vigilance (with the thought), ‘How shall neither kings nor thieves make off with this property of mine, nor fire burn it, nor water sweep it away, nor hateful heirs make off with it?’ This is called being consummate in vigilance.

“And what is meant by admirable friendship? There is the case where a lay person, in whatever town or village he may dwell, associates with householders or householders’ sons, young or old, who are consummate in conviction, consummate in virtue, consummate in generosity, consummate in discernment. He talks with them, engages them in discussions. He emulates consummate conviction in those who are consummate in conviction, consummate virtue in those who are consummate in virtue, consummate generosity in those who are consummate in generosity, and consummate discernment in those who are consummate in discernment. This is called admirable friendship.

“And what is meant by maintaining one’s livelihood in tune? There is the case where a lay person, knowing the income and outflow of his wealth, maintains a livelihood in tune, neither a spendthrift nor a penny-pincher, (thinking,) ‘Thus will my income exceed my outflow, and my outflow will not exceed my income.’ Just as when a weigher or his apprentice, when holding the scales, knows, ‘It has tipped down so much or has tipped up so much,’ in the same way, the lay person, knowing the income and outflow of his wealth, maintains a livelihood in tune, neither a spendthrift nor a penny-pincher, (thinking,) ‘Thus will my income exceed my outflow, and my outflow will not exceed my income.’ If a lay person has a small income but maintains a grand livelihood, it will be rumored of him, ‘This clansman devours his wealth like a fruit-tree eater [Commentary: one who shakes more fruit off a tree than he can possibly eat].’ If a lay person has a large income but maintains a miserable livelihood, it will be rumored of him, ‘This clansman will die of starvation.’ But when a lay person, knowing the income and outflow of his wealth, maintains a livelihood in tune, neither a spendthrift nor a penny-pincher, (thinking,) ‘Thus will my income exceed my outflow, and my outflow will not exceed my income,’ this is called maintaining one’s livelihood in tune.” — AN 8:54

§ 194. When a person of no integrity acquires lavish wealth, he doesn’t provide for his own pleasure & satisfaction, nor for the pleasure & satisfaction of his parents, nor for the pleasure & satisfaction of his wife & children; nor for the pleasure & satisfaction of his slaves, servants, & assistants; nor for the pleasure & satisfaction of his friends. He doesn’t institute for contemplatives & brahmans offerings of supreme aim, heavenly, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven. When his wealth isn’t properly put to use, kings make off with it, or thieves make off with it, or fire burns it, or water sweeps it away, or hateful heirs make off with it. Thus his wealth, not properly put to use, goes to waste and not to any good use.

“Just as with a pond in a place haunted by non-human beings, with clear water, cool water, fresh water, clean, with good fords, delightful: No people would draw water from it or drink it or bathe in it or apply it to their needs. And so that water, not properly put to use, would go to waste and not to any good use. In the same way, when a person of no integrity acquires lavish wealth… his wealth, not properly put to use, goes to waste and not to any good use.

“But when a person of integrity acquires lavish wealth, he provides for his own pleasure & satisfaction, for the pleasure & satisfaction of his parents, the pleasure & satisfaction of his wife & children; the pleasure & satisfaction of his slaves, servants, & assistants; and the pleasure & satisfaction of his friends. He institutes for contemplatives & brahmans offerings of supreme aim, heavenly, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven. When his wealth is properly put to use, kings don’t make off with it, thieves don’t make off with it, fire doesn’t burn it, water doesn’t sweep it away, and hateful heirs don’t make off with it. Thus his wealth, properly put to use, goes to a good use and not to waste.

“Just as with a pond not far from a town or village, with clear water, cool water, fresh water, clean, with good fords, delightful. People would draw water from it or drink it or bathe in it or apply it to their needs. And so that water, properly put to use, would go to a good use and not to waste. In the same way, when a person of integrity acquires lavish wealth… his wealth, properly put to use, goes to a good use and not to waste.” — SN 3:19

§ 195. An ochre robe tied ’round their necks,

many with evil qualities

–unrestrained, evil–

rearise, because of their evil acts,

in hell.

Better to eat an iron ball

–glowing, aflame–

than that, unprincipled &

unrestrained,

you should eat the alms of the country. — Dhp 307–308

§ 196. “These four traditions of the noble ones—original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning—are not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and are unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & brahmans. Which four?

“There is the case where a monk is content with any old robe cloth at all. He speaks in praise of being content with any old robe cloth at all. He doesn’t, for the sake of robe cloth, do anything unseemly or inappropriate. Not getting cloth, he isn’t agitated. Getting cloth, he uses it unattached to it, uninfatuated, guiltless, seeing the drawbacks (of attachment to it), and discerning the escape from them. He doesn’t, on account of his contentment with any old robe cloth at all, exalt himself or disparage others. In this he is diligent, deft, alert, & mindful. This is said to be a monk standing firm in the ancient, original traditions of the noble ones.

“And further, the monk is content with any old almsfood at all. He speaks in praise of being content with any old almsfood at all. He doesn’t, for the sake of almsfood, do anything unseemly or inappropriate. Not getting almsfood, he isn’t agitated. Getting almsfood, he uses it unattached to it, uninfatuated, guiltless, seeing the drawbacks (of attachment to it), and discerning the escape from them. He doesn’t, on account of his contentment with any old almsfood at all, exalt himself or disparage others. In this he is diligent, deft, alert, & mindful. This is said to be a monk standing firm in the ancient, original traditions of the noble ones.

“And further, the monk is content with any old lodging at all. He speaks in praise of being content with any old lodging at all. He doesn’t, for the sake of lodging, do anything unseemly or inappropriate. Not getting lodging, he isn’t agitated. Getting lodging, he uses it unattached to it, uninfatuated, guiltless, seeing the drawbacks (of attachment to it), and discerning the escape from them. He doesn’t, on account of his contentment with any old lodging at all, exalt himself or disparage others. In this he is diligent, deft, alert, & mindful. This is said to be a monk standing firm in the ancient, original traditions of the noble ones.

“And further, the monk finds pleasure & delight in developing [skillful dhammas], finds pleasure & delight in abandoning [unskillful dhammas]. He doesn’t, on account of his pleasure & delight in developing & abandoning, exalt himself or disparage others. In this he is diligent, deft, alert, & mindful. This is said to be a monk standing firm in the ancient, original traditions of the noble ones.

“These are the four traditions of the noble ones—original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning—which are not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and are unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & brahmans.” — AN 4:28

§ 197. “Just as a person anoints a wound simply for its healing, or greases an axle simply for the sake of carrying a load, in the same way a monk, considering it appropriately, takes his food not playfully, nor for intoxication, nor for putting on bulk, nor for beautification, but simply for the survival & continuance of this body, for ending its afflictions, for the support of the holy life, thinking, ‘I will destroy old feelings [of hunger] & not create new feelings [from overeating]. Thus I will maintain myself, be blameless, & live in comfort.’” — SN 35:198

§ 198. “There are these four nutriments for the maintenance of beings who have come into being or for the support of those in search of a place to be born. Which four? Physical food, gross or refined; contact as the second, intellectual intention the third, and consciousness the fourth. These are the four nutriments for the maintenance of beings who have come into being or for the support of those in search of a place to be born.

“And how is physical food to be regarded? Suppose a couple, husband & wife, taking meager provisions, were to travel through a desert. With them would be their only baby son, dear & appealing. Then the meager provisions of the couple going through the desert would be used up & depleted while there was still a stretch of the desert yet to be crossed. The thought would occur to them, ‘Our meager provisions are used up & depleted while there is still a stretch of this desert yet to be crossed. What if we were to kill this only baby son of ours, dear & appealing, and make dried meat & jerky. That way—chewing on the flesh of our son—at least the two of us would make it through this desert. Otherwise, all three of us would perish.’ So they would kill their only baby son, loved & endearing, and make dried meat & jerky. Chewing on the flesh of their son, they would make it through the desert. While eating the flesh of their only son, they would beat their breasts, (crying,) ‘Where have you gone, our only baby son? Where have you gone, our only baby son?’ Now, what do you think, monks? Would that couple eat that food playfully or for intoxication, or for putting on bulk, or for beatification?”

“No, lord.”

“Wouldn’t they eat that food simply for the sake of making it through that desert?”

“Yes, lord.”

“In the same way, I tell you, is the nutriment of physical food to be regarded. When physical food is comprehended, passion for the five strings of sensuality is comprehended. When passion for the five strings of sensuality is comprehended, there is no fetter bound by which a disciple of the noble ones would come back again to this world.

“And how is the nutriment of contact to be regarded? Suppose a flayed cow were to stand leaning against a wall. The creatures living in the wall would chew on it. If it were to stand leaning against a tree, the creatures living in the tree would chew on it. If it were to stand exposed to water, the creatures living in the water would chew on it. If it were to stand exposed to the air, the creatures living in the air would chew on it. For wherever the flayed cow were to stand exposed, the creatures living there would chew on it. In the same way, I tell you, is the nutriment of contact to be regarded. When the nutriment of contact is comprehended, the three feelings [pleasure, pain, neither pleasure nor pain] are comprehended. When the three feelings are comprehended, I tell you, there is nothing further for a disciple of the noble ones to do.

“And how is the nutriment of intellectual intention to be regarded? Suppose there were a pit of glowing embers, deeper than a man’s height, full of embers that were neither flaming nor smoking, and a man were to come along—loving life, hating death, loving pleasure, abhorring pain—and two strong men, having grabbed him by the arms, were to drag him to the pit of embers. To get far away would be that man’s intention, far away would be his wish, far away would be his aspiration. Why is that? Because he would realize, ‘If I fall into this pit of glowing embers, I will meet with death from that cause, or with death-like pain.’ In the same way, I tell you, is the nutriment of intellectual intention to be regarded. When the nutriment of intellectual intention is comprehended, the three forms of craving [for sensuality, for becoming, and for non-becoming] are comprehended. When the three forms of craving are comprehended, I tell you, there is nothing further for a disciple of the noble ones to do.

“And how is the nutriment of consciousness to be regarded? Suppose that, having arrested a thief, a criminal, they were to show him to the king: ‘This is a thief, a criminal for you, your majesty. Impose on him whatever punishment you like.’ So the king would say, ‘Go, men, and stab him in the morning with a hundred spears.’ So they would stab him in the morning with a hundred spears. Then the king would say at noon, ‘Men, how is that man?’ ‘Still alive, your majesty.’ So the king would say, ‘Go, men, and stab him at noon with a hundred spears.’ So they would stab him at noon with a hundred spears. Then the king would say in the late afternoon, ‘Men, how is that man?’ ‘Still alive, your majesty.’ So the king would say, ‘Go, men, and stab him in the late afternoon with a hundred spears.’ So they would stab him in the late afternoon with a hundred spears. Now, what do you think, monks? Would that man, being stabbed with three hundred spears a day, experience pain & distress from that cause?”

“Even if he were to be stabbed with only one spear, lord, he would experience pain & distress from that cause, to say nothing of three hundred spears.”

“In the same way, I tell you, monks, is the nutriment of consciousness to be regarded. When the nutriment of consciousness is comprehended, name-&-form is comprehended. When name-&-form is comprehended, I tell you, there is nothing further for a disciple of the noble ones to do.” — SN 12:63

§ 199. “[The ideal monk] abstains from conveying messages and running errands… from buying and selling… from dealing with false scales, false metals, and false measures… from bribery, deception, fraud, and crooked practices in general. He abstains from mutilating, executing, imprisoning, highway robbery, plunder, and violence. This, too, is part of his virtue.…

“Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, are intent on conveying messages and running errands for people such as these—kings, ministers of state, noble warriors, brahmans, householders, or youths (who say), ‘Go here,’ ‘Go there,’ ‘Take this there,’ ‘Fetch that here’—he abstains from conveying messages and running errands for people such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.

“Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, engage in scheming, persuading, hinting, belittling, and pursuing gain with gain, he abstains from forms of scheming and persuading such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.

“Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such ‘animal’ arts as:

reading marks on the limbs [e.g., palmistry];

reading omens and signs;

interpreting celestial events [falling stars, comets];

interpreting dreams;

reading features of the body [e.g., phrenology];

reading marks on cloth gnawed by mice;

offering fire oblations, oblations from a ladle, oblations of husks, rice powder, rice grains, ghee, and oil;

offering oblations from the mouth;

offering blood-sacrifices;

making predictions based on the fingertips;

geomancy;

making predictions for state officials;

laying demons in a cemetery;

placing spells on spirits;

earth-skills [divining water and gems?];

snake-skills, poison-skills, scorpion-skills, rat-skills, bird-skills, crow-skills;

predicting life spans;

giving protective charms;

casting horoscopes—

he abstains from wrong livelihood, from ‘animal’ arts such as these.

“Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such ‘animal’ arts as: determining lucky and unlucky gems, staffs, garments, swords, arrows, bows, and other weapons; women, men, boys, girls, male slaves, female slaves; elephants, horses, buffaloes, bulls, cows, goats, rams, fowl, quails, lizards, rabbits, tortoises, and other animals—he abstains from wrong livelihood, from ‘animal’ arts such as these.

“Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such ‘animal’ arts as (forecasting):

the rulers will march forth;

the rulers will not march forth;

our rulers will attack, and their rulers will retreat;

their rulers will attack, and our rulers will retreat;

there will be triumph for our rulers and defeat for their rulers;

there will be triumph for their rulers and defeat for our rulers;

thus there will be triumph this one, defeat for that one—

he abstains from wrong livelihood, from ‘animal’ arts such as these.

“Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such ‘animal’ arts as (forecasting):

there will be a lunar eclipse;

there will be a solar eclipse;

there will be an occultation of [a conjunction of the moon or a planet with] an asterism;

the sun and moon will be favorable;

the sun and moon will be unfavorable;

the asterisms will be favorable;

the asterisms will be unfavorable;

there will be a meteor shower;

there will be a flickering light on the horizon [an aurora?];

there will be an earthquake;

there will be thunder coming from dry clouds;

there will be a rising, a setting, a darkening, a brightening of the sun, moon, and asterisms;

such will be the result of the lunar eclipse… the rising, setting, darkening, brightening of the sun, moon, and asterisms—

he abstains from wrong livelihood, from ‘animal’ arts such as these.

“Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such ‘animal’ arts as (forecasting):

there will be abundant rain; there will be a drought;

there will be plenty; there will be famine;

there will be safety & security; there will be danger;

there will be disease; there will be freedom from disease;

or they earn their living by accounting, counting, calculation, composing poetry, or teaching hedonistic arts and doctrines [lokāyata]—

he abstains from wrong livelihood, from ‘animal’ arts such as these.

“Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such ‘animal’ arts as:

calculating auspicious dates for marriages—both those in which the bride is brought home and those in which she is sent out; calculating auspicious dates for betrothals and divorces; for collecting debts or making investments and loans; reciting charms to make people attractive or unattractive; curing women who have undergone miscarriages or abortions;

reciting spells to bind a man’s tongue, to paralyze his jaws, to make him lose control over his hands, or to bring on deafness;

getting oracular answers to questions addressed to a spirit in a mirror, in a young girl, or to a spirit medium;

worshipping the sun, worshipping the Great Brahma, bringing forth flames from the mouth, invoking the goddess of luck—

he abstains from wrong livelihood, from ‘animal’ arts such as these.

“Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such ‘animal’ arts as:

promising gifts to deities in return for favors; fulfilling such promises;

demonology;

reciting spells in earth houses [see earth skills, above];

inducing virility and impotence;

preparing sites for construction;

consecrating sites for construction;

giving ceremonial mouthwashes and ceremonial baths;

offering sacrificial fires;

administering emetics, purges, purges from above, purges from below, head-purges; ear-oil, eye-drops, treatments through the nose, ointments, and counter-ointments; practicing eye-surgery [or: extractive surgery], general surgery, pediatrics; administering root-medicines and binding medicinal herbs—

he abstains from wrong livelihood, from ‘animal’ arts such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.” — DN 2

§ 200. At that time the monks of Āḷavī were having huts built from their own begging—having no sponsors, destined for themselves, not to any standard measurement—that did not come to completion. They were continually begging, continually hinting: “Give a man, give labor, give an ox, give a wagon, give a machete, give an ax, give an adz, give a spade, give a chisel, give rushes, give reeds, give grass, give clay.” People, harassed with the begging, harassed with the hinting, on seeing monks would feel apprehensive, alarmed, would run away; would take another route, face another direction, close the door. Even on seeing cows, they would run away, imagining them to be monks.

Then Ven. Mahā Kassapa, having come out of his Rains retreat at Rājagaha, set out for Āḷavī. After wandering by stages he arrived at Āḷavī, where he stayed at the Chief Shrine. Then in the early morning, having adjusted his lower robe and carrying his bowl & outer robe, he went into Āḷavī for alms. The people, on seeing Ven. Mahā Kassapa, were apprehensive, alarmed, ran away, took another route, faced another direction, closed the door. Then Ven. Mahā Kassapa, having gone for alms, after his meal, returning from his alms round, addressed the monks: “Before, friends, Āḷavī was a good place for alms. Alms food was easy to come by, it was easy to maintain oneself by gleanings & patronage. But now Āḷavī is a bad place for alms. Alms food is hard to come by, it isn’t easy to maintain oneself by gleanings or patronage. What is the cause, what is the reason why Āḷavī is now a bad place for alms? …”

Then the monks told Ven. Mahā Kassapa about that matter.

Then the Blessed One, having stayed at Rājagaha as long as he like, left for Āḷavī. After wandering by stages he arrived at Āḷavī, where he stayed at the Chief Shrine. Then Ven. Mahā Kassapa went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he told the Blessed One about that matter. Then the Blessed One, because of that issue, because of that affair, had the community of monks convened and asked the Āḷavī monks, “They say that you are having huts built from your own begging—having no sponsors, destined for yourselves, not to any standard measurement—that do not come to completion; that you are continually begging, continually hinting: ‘Give a man, give labor, give an ox, give a wagon, give a machete, give an ax, give an adz, give a spade, give a chisel, give rushes, give reeds, give grass, give clay’; that people, harassed with the begging, harassed with the hinting, on seeing monks feel apprehensive, alarmed, run away; take another route, face another direction, close the door; that even on seeing cows, they run away, imagining them to be monks: is this true?”

“Yes, lord. It is true.”

So the Blessed One rebuked them: “Worthless men, it’s unseemly, unbecoming, unsuitable, and unworthy of a contemplative; improper and not to be done.… Haven’t I taught the Dhamma in many ways for the sake of dispassion and not for passion; for unfettering and not for fettering; for letting go and not for clinging? Yet here, while I have taught the Dhamma for dispassion, you set your heart on passion; while I have taught the Dhamma for unfettering, you set your heart on being fettered; while I have taught the Dhamma for letting go, you set your heart on clinging. Haven’t I taught the Dhamma in various ways for the dispassioning of passion, the sobering of pride, the subduing of thirst, the destruction of attachment, the severing of the round, the depletion of craving, dispassion, cessation, unbinding? Haven’t I advocated abandoning sensual pleasures, understanding sensual perceptions, subduing sensual thirst, destroying sensual preoccupations, calming sensual fevers?… Worthless men, this neither inspires faith in the faithless nor increases the faithful. Rather, it inspires lack of faith in the faithless and wavering in some of the faithful.”

Then, having given a Dhamma talk on what is seemly & becoming for monks, he addressed the monks:

“Once, monks, there were two brothers who were hermits living on the banks of the Ganges. Then Maṇikaṇṭha, the nāga-king, coming up out of the river Ganges, went to the younger hermit and, on arrival, having encircled him seven times with his coils, stood spreading his great hood above his head. Then the younger hermit, through fear of the nāga, became thin, wretched, unattractive, & jaundiced, his body covered with veins. The elder brother, seeing his younger brother thin… his body covered with veins, asked him, ‘Why are you thin… your body covered with veins?’

“‘Maṇikaṇṭha, the nāga-king, coming up out of the river Ganges, comes to me and, on arrival, having encircled me seven times with his coils, stands spreading his great hood above my head. Through fear of the nāga I have become thin… my body covered with veins.’

“‘But do you want that nāga not to return?’

“‘I want the nāga not to return.’

“‘Do you see that this nāga has anything?’

“‘I see that he is ornamented with a jewel on his throat.’

“‘Then beg the nāga for the jewel, saying, “Good sir, give me your jewel. I want your jewel.”’

“Then Maṇikaṇṭha, the nāga-king, coming up out of the river Ganges, went to the younger hermit and, on arrival, stood to one side. As he was standing there, the younger hermit said to him, ‘Good sir, give me your jewel. I want your jewel.’ Then Maṇikaṇṭha, the nāga-king, thinking, ‘The monk is begging for my jewel. The monk wants my jewel,’ hurried off. Then a second time, the nāga-king, coming up out of the river Ganges, went toward the younger hermit. Seeing him from afar, the younger hermit said to him, ‘Good sir, give me your jewel. I want your jewel.’ Then Maṇikaṇṭha, the nāga-king, thinking, ‘The monk is begging for my jewel. The monk wants my jewel,’ hurried off. Then a third time, the nāga-king came up out of the river Ganges. Seeing him come up out of the river Ganges, the younger hermit said to him, ‘Good sir, give me your jewel. I want your jewel.’

“Then Maṇikaṇṭha, the nāga-king, addressed the younger hermit with this verse:

My food & drink

are produced grandly, abundantly,

by means of this jewel.

I won’t give it to you.

You’re one who asks

too much.

Nor will I come to your hermitage.

Like a youth with a sharp sword in his hand,

you scare me, begging for my stone.

I won’t give it to you.

You’re one who asks

too much.

Nor will I come to your hermitage.

“Then Maṇikaṇṭha, the nāga-king, thinking, ‘The monk is begging for my jewel. The monk wants my jewel,’ went away. And having gone away, he never again returned. Then the younger hermit, from not seeing that lovely nāga, became even thinner, more wretched, unattractive, & jaundiced, his body cover with veins. His older brother saw that he was even thinner… his body covered with veins, and on seeing him, he asked him, ‘Why are you even thinner… your body covered with veins?’

“‘It’s from not seeing that lovely nāga that I am even thinner… my body covered with veins.’

“Then the elder hermit addressed the younger hermit with this verse:

‘Don’t beg for what you covet

from one who is dear.

Begging too much

is detested.

The nāga, begged by a brahman for his jewel,

went away from there,

never again to be seen.’

“Monks, begging is unpleasant, hinting is unpleasant even to those who are common animals—how much more so to human beings?”

“Once, monks, a monk lived on the slopes of the Himalayas in a forest grove. Not far from the grove was a broad, low-lying marsh. A great flock of birds, after feeding all day in the marsh, went to roost in the grove at nightfall. The monk was annoyed by the noise of that flock of birds.

“So he came to me and, on arrival, having bowed down, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, I said to him, ‘I hope, monk, that you are well, that you are getting along, that you have completed your journey with little fatigue. Where have you come from?”

“I am well, lord, am getting along, and have completed my journey with little fatigue. Lord, there is a large forest grove on the slopes of the Himalayas, and not far from it is a broad, low-lying marsh. A great flock of birds, after feeding all day in the marsh, goes to roost in the grove at nightfall. That is why I have come to see the Blessed One—because I am annoyed by the noise of that flock of birds.’

“‘Monk, you want those birds to go away for good?’

“‘Yes, lord, I want them to go away for good.’

“‘Then go back there, enter the forest, and in the first watch of the night make this announcement three times: “Listen to me, good birds. I want a feather from everyone roosting in this forest. Each of you, give me one feather.” In the second watch… In the third watch of the night make this announcement three times: “Listen to me, good birds. I want a feather from everyone roosting in this forest. Each of you, give me one feather.”… [The monk did as he was told.] Then the flock of birds, thinking, ‘The monk begs for a feather, the monk wants a feather,’ left the forest. And after they were gone, they never again returned. Monks, begging is unpleasant, hinting is unpleasant even to these common animals—how much more so to human beings?”

“Once, monks, the father of Raṭṭhapāla the clansman addressed Raṭṭhapāla with this verse:

‘Although I don’t know them, Raṭṭhapāla,

many people,

on meeting me,

beg from me.

Why don’t you beg from me?’

Ven. Raṭṭhapāla:

‘A beggar isn’t liked.

One who,

on being begged,

doesn’t give

isn’t liked.

That’s why I don’t beg from you:

so that you won’t detest me.’

“Monks, if Raṭṭhapāla the clansman can speak this way to his father, why not a stranger to a stranger?” — Sg 6

Beyond Skillful Habits

§ 201. “And what are skillful habits? Skillful bodily actions, skillful verbal actions, purity of livelihood. These are called skillful habits. What is the cause of skillful habits? Their cause, too, has been stated, and they are said to be mind-caused. Which mind?—for the mind has many modes & permutations. Any mind without passion, without aversion, without delusion: That is the cause of skillful habits. Now, where do skillful habits cease without trace? Their cessation, too, has been stated: There is the case where a monk is virtuous, but not fashioned of virtue. He discerns, as it has come to be, the awareness-release & discernment-release where his skillful habits cease without trace. And what sort of practice is the practice leading to the cessation of skillful habits? There is the case where a monk generates desire… for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful dhammas that have not yet arisen… for the sake of the abandoning of evil, unskillful dhammas that have arisen… for the sake of the arising of skillful dhammas that have not yet arisen… (and) for the… development & culmination of skillful dhammas that have arisen. This sort of practice is the practice leading to the cessation of skillful habits.” — MN 78