The Buddhist notion of householder is often contrasted with that of wandering ascetics (Pāḷi: samaṇa; Sanskrit: śramaṇa) and monastics (bhikkhu and bhikkhuni), who would not live (for extended periods) in a normal house and who would pursue freedom from attachments to houses and families.
In Buddhist thought, the cultivation of dana and ethical conduct will themselves refine consciousness to such a level that rebirth in one of the lower heavens is likely, even if there is no further Buddhist practice.
What is a householder?
Other people in the canon who are sometimes identified as "householders" in contemporary translations are simply those individuals who dwelt in a home or who had not renounced "home life" (Pali, agārasmā) for "homelessness" (Pali, anagāriya).
While there is no formal "householder discipline" or "code of ethics" in the ancient Buddhist Code of Ethics (Pali, Vinaya), the Sigalovada Sutta (DN 31) has been referred to as "the Vinaya of the householder" (gihi-vinaya).
This sutta includes:
- an enumeration of the Five Precepts
- an analysis of good-hearted (Pali: su-hada) friends
- a description of respectful actions for one's parents, teachers, spouse, friends, workers and religious guides.
- the Five Precepts
- the Eight Precepts for Uposatha days
- support of one's parents
- engaging in fair business.
This sutra is preserved in five versions (two in Pali, three in Chinese) representing two different recensions, one in the Samyuktagama/Samyuttanikaya, the other in the Anguttaranikaya and in the Samyuktagama and further developed in the Abhidharmaskandha, one of the canonical books of the Sarvastivadin Abhidharma.
- "Not to kill, not to steal, not to seduce, not to lie, and not to drink liquor, etc. This is called the morality of an upāsaka".
- "It is a rule (dharma) for an upāsaka that he should abandon stinginess. As for all living beings, without exception, stinginess, and envy are destroyed by him.
- "An upāsaka knows suffering according to reality, knows the collection of suffering according to reality, knows the extinction of suffering according to reality, and knows the path to the extinction of suffering according to reality. He understands with certainty. This is called 'possessed of wisdom.'"
- Be capable at one's work
- Work with diligence and skill
- Manage domestic help skillfully (if relevant) and treat them fairly
- Perform household duties efficiently
- Be hospitable to one's husband's parents and friends
- Be faithful to one's husband; protect and invest family earnings
- Discharge responsibilities lovingly and conscientiously; accomplish faith (faith in the possibility of enlightenment, and of the enlightenment of the Buddha.)
- Accomplish moral discipline (observe/practise the five precepts.)
- Practise generosity (cultivate a mind free from stinginess or avarice; delight in charity, giving and sharing.)
- Cultivate wisdom (Perceive the impermanence of all things.).
The Buddha also gave advice on householders' financial matters. In the Anguttara Nikaya (4.61; II 65-68) it is said that the Buddha stated that there are four worthy ways in which to spend one's wealth:
- On the everyday maintenance of the happiness of oneself and one's family (as well as any employees, friends and co-workers);
- On providing insurance (against losses from fire, floods, unloved heirs and misfortune generally);
- By making offerings to relatives, guests, ancestors ( offerings to ancestors are traditionally made, in a respectful Halloween type ritual, throughout Buddhist countries on Ulumbana, in the eighth lunar month – around October. Food offerings and good deeds are done in order to relieve the sufferings of hungry ghosts and to help rescue one's ancestors from the lower realms, to secure rebirth for them in higher realms. Many people visit cemeteries to make offerings to departed ancestors), the Monarch and the Devas (note that worshipping Devas will not bring you closer to enlightenment but it may give you some kind of material advantage);
- By providing alms to monks and nuns who are devoted to the attainment of Nibbana. In the Digha Nikaya (III) the Buddha is said to have advised Sigala, a young man, that he should spend one fourth of his income on daily expenses, invest half in his business and put aside one fourth as insurance against an emergency.
For instance, in the Khuddaka Nikaya, the Buddha articulates that "brahmins and householders" (Pali, brāhmanagahapatikā) support monks by providing monks with robes, alms food, lodgings and medicine while monks teach brahmins and householders the Dhamma.
Thus, instead of advising householders to relinquish these and all attachments as a prerequisite for the complete liberation from samsara in this lifetime, the Buddha instructed householders on how to achieve "well-being and happiness" (hita-sukha) in this and future lives in a spiritually meaningful way.
The primary bases for meritorious action in Buddhism are generosity (dāna), ethical conduct (sīla) and mental development (bhāvanā). Traditional Buddhist practices associated with such behaviors are summarized in the table below.
|FAITH (Saddhā)||GIVING (Dāna)||VIRTUE (Sīla)||MIND (Bhāvanā)||WISDOM (Paññā)|
Householders & Nibbana
The Anguttara Nikaya (AN 6.119 and AN 6.120) identifies 19 householders (gahapati) who have "attained perfection" or, according to an alternate translation, "attained to certainty" (niṭṭhamgata) and "seen deathlessness, seen deathlessness with their own eyes" (amataddaso, amataṃ sacchikata).
- unwavering faith (aveccappasādena) in the Buddha
- unwavering faith in the Teaching (dhamma)
- unwavering faith in the Community (sangha)
- noble moral discipline (ariyena sīlena)
- noble knowledge (ariyena ñānena)
- noble release (ariyāya vimuttiyā)
While some interpret this passage to indicate that these householders have attained arahantship, others interpret it to mean they have attained at least "stream entry" (sotapatti) but not final release. The para-canonical Milindapañha adds:
- "...[F]or a householder who has attained arahantship: either, that very day, he goes forth into homelessness or he attains final Nibbāna. That day is not able to pass without one or other of these events taking place." (Miln. VII, 2)
Prominent householders in the Pali canon
- Anathapindika, is referenced for instance in AN 1.14.249 as "the householder Sudatta, the foremost lay devotee."
- Citta, referenced for instance in AN 1.14.250 as "the [foremost] householder for explaining the Teaching." In SN 17.23, Citta is one of two male lay disciples identified for emulation by the Buddha.
- Nakulapita and Nakulamata, referenced for instance in AN 1.14.257 and AN 1.14.266, respectively, as "the best confident" and the foremost "for undivided pleasantness."
- Ghatikara was a potter in the time of Buddha Kassapa. He was an Anagami and the chief supporter of Buddha Kassapa (MN 81).
The path of a Tantrica or Ngakpa (mas.) or Ngakma (fem.) is a rigorous discipline whereby one "enjoys the sense-fields' as a part of one's practice. A practitioner utilizes the whole of the phenomenal world as one's path.
As such, we can see the prominence of householders in the Vajrayana tradition.
One can, however, be a householder without taking the vows of a Ngakpa. Simply holding the five precepts, bodhisattva vows and the tantric vows while practising diligently can result in enlightenment.
Contemporary Buddhist householder practices
Below common contemporary lay Buddhist practices are summarized.
Other practices: Bodhisattva vows
Daily practices: Prostrations, refuge, cultivating compassion and bodhichitta, bodhisattva vows, tantric vows (if applicable), meditation in the form of Tantric sadhanas (if applicable), purification techniques, recitation of mantras
|Lay Buddhist practices by school|
mantras, include tantric mantras
|Study scriptures||Uposatha||dependent upon tradition||regularly|
- Kapleau (1989), p. 191.
- Daily chanting among Mahayana Buddhists can be found, for instance, among Nichiren and Pure Land practitioners.
- Examples in the Pali canon where the Buddha extols the practice of the Five Precepts included in the Dhammika Sutta and in the Sigalovada Sutta.
- In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, the Buddha states that devotees can do pilgrimages to his birthplace, the place of his awakening, the place of his first teaching and the place of his death. Other sites have also been traditionally recognized by Theravada practitioners.