The Line Between Renunciant and Lay Practice
Different Dhammas for different temperaments
Disregarding the distinction between the teachings addressed to renunciants and lay followers in the Early Buddhist texts is a mistake. The renunciant practices, which dominate the discourse on Theravada practice in English speaking countries, may discourage householders from fulfilling essential family and social duties, and, for seekers who value such duties, present the practice as impractical.
The Buddha himself emphasizes this distinction throughout the texts. For instance, in the Dhammika Sutta (Snp 2.14, Ṭhānissaro), the Buddha states that, “As for the householder protocol, I will tell you how-acting one becomes a good disciple, since the entire monk-practice can’t be managed by those wealthy in property.”
In the Sāleyyaka Sutta (MN 41, Bodhi) and when the people of Bamboo Gate ask the Buddha for a practice suited for those who handle money, live in homes crowded with children, and desire a higher rebirth, the Buddha provides teachings on ethics and triple-gem recollections.
In the Tevijjavaccha Sutta (MN 71, Bodhi), the Buddha warns the wanderer Vaccha that no householder who doesn't abandon the fetter of householdership can make an end of suffering on the dissolution of the body. However, in that same text, there are numerous householders who, without abandoning the fetter of householdership, have gone to heaven.
Texts like the Siṅgāla Sutta (DN 31), which the great sage Buddhaghosa called “the Vinaya (code of discipline) of the householder”, should be studied alongside the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (MN 10). Even for those who choose not to believe in rebirth, understanding the societal benefits of ethical conduct, and how to cultivate meaningful relationships, could be more appealing to them than meditating on a rotting corpse.