In this title, as the Buddhists, the must-need-to-know facts about qualities and duties of lay disciples will be dealt with. We must strive to be well-qualified lay disciples by understanding this title. I believe you all are already well-qualified lay disciples.
This title will cover the following sub-titles:
(#1)- The Role of Lay Disciples
(#2)- The Morality of Lay Disciples,
(#3)- The Livelihood of A Lay Disciple,
(#4)- Noble and Ignoble Lay Disciples,
(#5)- The Seven Causes of Decline for A Lay Disciple, and
(#6)- The Ten Qualities of A Lay Disciple.
(#1)- The Role of Lay Disciples
The word Upasaka means lay disciples who take refuge in the Three Gems, Everyone, old or young, who takes refuge in the Triple Gems is called “Upasaka”, and if one is a female, she is called “Upasika”.
The role of lay disciples in promoting and propagating the Sasana is very important. The duty of the Samgha is to promote and propagate the Sasana by teaching and preaching the Dhamma (Dhammanuggaha) and the duty of the lay disciple is to support the Samgha with the four requisites__Alms-food, Samgha-wears, Accommodation, Medicine (Paccayanuggaha). So the Samgha and the lay disciples are mutually dependent. The disciples should be able to go through thick and thin along with the Samgha (Samana-sukha-dukkha). They should be able to share their properties equally with the Samgha without any discrimination (Appativibhattabhogi). They should be always ready to support the Samgha, they should be like well supplying fresh water all the time so that the Samgha could promote and propagate the Sasana conveniently to be as bright as “the Moon and the Sun”.
When the causes for the decline of Sasana appear, a lay disciple should not remain unconcerned; he should join hands with the Sasana to uplift the Sasana. When disunity among the Samgha arises, he should render his service to bring about the reconciliation among the Samgha. At the time of the Buddha, in Kosambhi, lay disciples forcibly brought about the unity among the Samgha by withholding their support to the Samgha.
At the time of the Buddha, there were ideal male lay disciples such as the rich man Citta, Hatthaka Alavaka, Uggata, and the female lay disciples such as Visakha, Khujjuttara, Nandamata. Even when parents admonished their children, they used to say, “My son, if you live in human society, you must strive to be one just like the the rich man Citta; if you live as a bhikkhu, you must strive to be one just like the Venerable Sariputta; “My dear daughter, if you live in human society, you must strive to be one just like Khujjuttara; and if you live as a bhikkhuni, you must strive to be one just like Khematheri”.
The Buddha relied on lay disciples equally as he relied on bhikkhus and bhikkhunis for His future Sasana. The Buddha assigned appropriate responsibility to them. The bhikkhu, the bhikkhuni, the Upasaka and the Upasika are called the four persons who support and promote the Sasana. We should not forget that lay disciples like us have responsibilities just as bhikkhus and bhikkhunis do.
In performing the affairs of the Sasana, there are some tasks which are not proper to be performed by bhikkhus due to the rules of discipline for bhikkhus (Vinayas) laid down by the Buddha. Those tasks should be performed by lay disciples.
(#2)- The Morality of Lay Disciples
A novice must abide by the discipline of a novice, a monk must abide by the discipline of a bhikkhu and a lay disciple must abide by the morality of a lay disciple.
During the time of the Buddha, the Sakkyan prince Mahanama asked the Buddha to describe the morality of lay disciples. The Buddha replied to him thus: “A lay disciple must observe the five precepts, i.e. abstaining from killing any sentient being, abstaining from stealing, abstaining from committing sexual misconduct, abstaining from lying and abstaining from taking intoxicating drinks and drugs.”
According to this discourse, the five precepts represent the morality of lay disciples. One cannot be a lay disciple if one cannot observe the above five precepts. To be a well-qualified lay disciple, one should observe the five precepts steadfastly just as one keeps his lower garment tightly on the body.
(#3)- The Livelihood of A Lay Disciple
A lay disciple should be endowed not only with morality but also have faultless means of earning his living. The Buddha has advised the lay disciples to abstain from the following five immoral means of livelihood:
(1) Selling and buying weapons,
(2) Selling and buying human beings;
(3) Selling and buying meat;
(4) Selling and buying intoxicating drinks and drugs,
(5) Selling and buying poisons.
The above five means of livelihood are designated as immoral for they harm oneself as well as others. A lay disciple should make the right livelihood such as farming, and trading in commodities which do not harm oneself and others.
(#4)- Noble and Ignoble Lay Disciples
The following five basic factors will make a lay disciple ignoble:
(1) Having no faith and conviction in the Triple Gems.
(2) Having corrupted morality.
(3) Believing that unusual exciting things and news portend good luck (if they see, hear, smell, taste or touch pleasant things, they believe that these are blessings).
(4) Believing only in unusual things which they take as mundane blessings and not believing in Kamma and Its Results.
(5) Giving alms and paying homage to persons outside the Buddha’s Sasana prior to giving alms and paying homage to persons worthy of respect within the Buddha’s Sasana.
In addition, the person who cannot keep the five moral precepts and who leads an impure livelihood is called an ignoble lay disciple. He is also known as medicant lay disciple (Upasaka Candala), defiled lay disciple (Upasaka Mala), inferior lay disciple (Upasaka Patikitha).
By considering the above five causes in reverse, the person who can keep the five moral precepts and who leads a pure livelihood is called a noble lay disciple. He is also known as a precious lay disciple (Upasaka Ratana), Paduma-Lotus-liked lay disciple (Upasaka Paduma), Pundarika-Lotus-liked lay disciple (Upasaka Pundarika).
(#5)- The Seven Causes of Decline for A Lay Disciple
The seven causes which debase a lay disciple are described in “Anguttara Nikaya Pali” as follows:
(1) Failing to see bhikkhus and pay homage to them,
(2) Forgetting to listen to the discourse,
(3) Failing to observe the moral precepts,
(4) Showing less respect to bhikkhus,
(5) Listening to the discourse with the intention of criticizing and finding fault,
(6) Looking for noble persons worthy of receiving alms outside the Buddha’s Sasana.
(7) Performing meritorious deeds outside the Sasana prior to the Samgha within the Sasana.
(#6)- The Ten Qualities of A Lay Disciple
We should also note the ten qualities of a lay disciple as described by the Venerable Nagasena to King Milinda. These are:
(1) To stand by the bhikkhus in times of prosperity or adversity,
(2) Living under the guidance influence of the Teachings of the Buddha,
(3) Supporting the bhikkhus in accordance with one’s means,
(4) Striving for the promotion and propagation of the Sasana when one learns that the Sasana is deteriorating,
(5) Having the right view,
(6) Disbelieving that unusual exciting things and news portend good luck,
(7) Taking refuge in no other teacher except the Buddha even at the risk of one’s life,
(8) Controlling his bodily and verbal actions,
(9) Living in harmony with other lay disciples without any feeling of jealousy, envy, deceit and conceit,
(10) Taking refuge in the Triple Gems, i.e. the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Samgha.
One must strive to be endowed with the morality, the livelihood and the qualities mentioned above so that one may become a good lay disciple, as described by the Buddha for the future in the interest of the Sasana.
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