By Ven. A. B. Ananda Maitreya


Relevance for the Householder 

Some scholars who have read very little of Buddhist literature have stated that Buddhism is a religion meant only for persons who have renounced household life. Others have tried to portray it as a kind of pessimistic religion. Still others, out of poor knowledge or prejudice, have declared it a religion hostile to worldly progress. But the unprejudiced and open-minded scholars have honestly and openly praised it and declared its greatness and practicality for every stage of life and every type of situation. One of the great Pali scholars, the late Rhys Davis in his introduction to the English translation of the Sigalovada Sutta in the Digha Nikaya said, “This discourse is called the vinaya (moral code) of the householder....


In one who practices what has been taught, growth is to be looked for, and not decay, and truly we may say even now of this code of discipline, so fundamental are the human interests involved, so sane and wide is the wisdom that envisages them, that the utterances are as fresh and practically binding today as they were than at Rajagaha during the time of the Buddha. Happy would have been the village or the clan on the banks of the Ganges, where people were full of the kindly spirit of fellow feeling, the noble spirit of justice which breathes through these naive and simple sayings. Not less happy would be the village, or the family on the banks of the Thames today, of which this can be said.


Skilful Means of the Buddha

The world is like a school in which there are beings of varied mental levels. A teacher uses toys and pictures and the like when he teaches the children of the kindergarten section. To the boys of the middle forms, lessons of a suitable standard are taught, in a suitable manner. Higher forms are given lessons of higher standards. The Buddha saw the world as a school of many forms and gave instructions suitable to the level of mental development of the beings he instructed. This is shown by the story of the poor brahmin (priest) who came to see him before going to a distant city seeking his fortune. Buddha gave him instructions for him to be successful in his endeavour, and the brahmin, following the instructions, became a rich man. On another occasion, the inhabitants of a village called Veludvaragama invited the Buddha to instruct them to lead a life of peace in the present life and to be born in a happy state after death. The Buddha gave instructions accordingly for them to achieve these goals. 


Merits of Being Wealthy

The Buddha has expounded the merits of accumulation of wealth. In a discourse addressed to Anatha-pindika, legendary for his generosity, He said, “Householder, there are five merits of having wealth. What are the five? A wealthy person can lead a happy and long life having his needs supplied with his wealth. A wealthy person can look after his parents when they are sick, old or in need of his support. A wealthy person can support his wife and children supplying all their needs. A wealthy person can help his relatives, friends, employees and others. A wealthy person can support recluses and priests and the like, who have given up household life to devote their time for spiritual development and gain merit thereby, and ensure he is born into a happy state after death."

In the Mangala Sutta, the Buddha expounded 38 actions that lead to beatitude. Out of these in His own words, “Mata pitu upatthanam" or "looking after the parents" is an important one. So is “Putta darassa sangaho" or "looking after wife and children". “Natakanaca sangaho" which means "to treat relatives and friends well" is another. In many of His discourses the Buddha advises His followers to work for the well-being both of oneself and others.


According to some religions, it is hard for a rich man to enter heaven. But according to the Buddha it is easy for a rich man to enter heaven, provided he spends his wealth properly, fulfilling his duties. It is not wealth but miserliness and other wrong ways that are often cultivated by some wealthy people that obstruct the way to heaven. Therefore, the Buddha said, “Na ve kadariya deva lokam vajanti" which means, "The miserly cannot go to heaven." The Buddha praised the wealthy who are generous in the saying: “Datva ca bhutva ca yatha- nubhavam. Anindito saggamupeti thanam", which means,"The generous man who helps others and enjoys himself too, is praised here and will go to heaven after death."


How to Accumulate Wealth

The Buddha also gave advice on earning wealth as well as using the wealth wisely. In many discourses, like Ujjaya Sutta, Vyagghapajja Sutta, Sigalovada Sutta, instructions for success in earning wealth have been mentioned in detail. In the Vyaggha- pajja Sutta, the Buddha describes the qualities one should have or cultivate to Vyagghapajja, the Koliyan.

To be successful in business or other pursuits, a person should be endowed with four qualities, namely, utthana-sampada, Arakkha-sampada, kalya- namittata and samajivikata.


The first one, utthana-sampada, is indefatigable effort. A businessman should be energetic and active, and should not be deterred by cold, heat, rain and the like. If he fails due to several obstacles, he should not lose heart but try again and again. Success will come to one who does not give up trying. In his plans he should be mindful, far-seeing and cautious.


The second quality, arakkha-sampada, is awareness to protect what one earns. There are many ways one can waste or lose one’s wealth, and therefore one must be vigilant and careful in protecting it from these ways. Fire, flood, an ill-disposed heir, bad habits, like gambling, debauchery in sex and liquor are ways of destruction of wealth. Loyalty and honesty with government prevents fines and confiscations. In short, many ways of degradation of a person also would bring his ruin.


Don't undermine your worth by comparing yourself with others.
It is because we are different that each of us is special.



The third quality, kalyana-mittata, means "having good companions", who instruct, help and encourage him in improving his business. If one is unable to have such good and well- intentioned companions, it is better to keep oneself to oneself rather than have ill-intentioned companions who would lead him to lose his wealth. "Na ce labhetha nipakam sahayam..... eko care khagga-visana-kappo -If you cannot find a good companion, go alone fearless like the unicorn, and do not contact bad companions."


The fourth quality, samajivitaka, means "following an even and simple way of living." A person in business should spend money carefully so that his expenditure does not exceed his income. He should be watchful that his income and expenses balance well like a sharp salesman watching the scales so that it is not unevenly tipped. A person who imitates the ways of a rich man while earning a small income would ruin himself very rapidly. This does not mean that one should be mean and stingy. Such a person’s wealth is of no use to him.


Using Wealth Wisely

In the Sigalovada Sutta, we see the Buddha advising the youth, Sigala, how to use wealth in the following stanza: “ekena bhoge bhunjeyya, dvihi kamman payojaye catuttam ca nidhapeyya, apadasu bhavissati."

"Let him divide the income into four portions. One to be used for daily expenses, two for the progress of the business and the last to be deposited carefully for the use in the future and in any case of failure or bankruptcy."

The Buddha did not praise poverty at any stage. His words were “Dali- ddiyam dukkham loke kamabhogino" which means "poverty is an ordeal for a person living a household life."

The Buddha advised householders to try to earn wealth and to spend it properly so that their lives are useful. On another occasion the Buddha said, “A salesman should know the quality of goods he buys. He should know their prices and the amount of profit he would gain on the sale of those goods. He should be skilled in the art of buying and selling. He should be honest and trustworthy so that any rich person would deposit their money without fear under his care." (Anguttara Nikaya)

There are some people who are satisfied with a little income and live a simple life. But if a person expects to do great service, to help the people who are in need of his help, he should try to earn wealth by right means. In achieving these, instructions given by the Buddha are helpful. When the Buddha visited the village called Pataligama, his advice to lay disciples was that a really virtuous person is vigilant and energetic and thus will become very rich.


Wealth and Kamma

At this point, one might question: “Is poverty not a result of an unwholesome kamma of a previous life?"

According to Buddhism, poverty maybe a result of either a past or a present kamma, or both. But most such kammas can be suppressed and overcome by wise and far-seeing steps one takes in the present life.

"Atthekaccani pap-kammani payoga-sampatti-patibalani -There are certain unwholesome kammas which can be suppressed and overcome by means of wise and strong steps taken in this life." Most often it depends on the present situation that a past kamma (good or bad) rises up and finds opportunities to give it result. Therefore, efforts made at present is the pre-eminent cause of a person’s progress or failure in the case of the majority of people.  "Utthatha ma pamadattha-Get up, loiter not," is the Buddha’s frequent advice to the world.

There are further sayings of the Buddha concerning wealth and other necessities of life: “Brethren, these 10 things, desirable, pleasing and charming are hard to achieve in the world. What are the ten?  Wealth, Brethren, is desirable, pleasing and charming but hard to achieve in the world. Beauty..., health..., virtue..., holy religious life..., true friends..., erudition..., wisdom..., genuine dhamma..., to be born in heaven..., each of these things is desirable, pleasing, and charming, but hard to achieve.

“Brethren, to these 10 things, desirable, pleasing and charming and hard to achieve in the world, 10 things are obstacles. What ten? Laziness and lack of activity is the obstacle to wealth. Lack of finery and lack of adornment are obstacles to beauty. Following unhygienic ways is the obstacle to health. Association with persons of foul character is the obstacle to virtues. Unrestrained senses is the obstacle to life of holy celibacy. Deceiving is the obstacle to friends. Lack of recitation and re-reading is the obstacle to erudition. Not listening and not asking questions is the obstacle to wisdom. Lack of practice and contemplation is the obstacle to achievement of true dhamma. Getting on to evil ways is the obstacle to birth in heaven.

A person who expects to achieve success either in the worldly or in the religious life should avoid these obstacles and follow the way of growth and success as follows:

“Brethren, by increasing in ten growths the aryan disciple (a noble follower of the Buddha) grows the aryan growth, takes hold of the essential, takes hold of the best for his person. What ten? He grows in landed property, in wealth and granary, children and wife, in servants and workmen, in animal wealth (like cattle and sheep); he grows in faith, virtues, in erudition and in generosity and wisdom."

From these words of the Buddha it is very clear that he valued the layman’s growth in wealth, health and every aspect of family life as an aryan growth.