On Being a Lay Buddhist
The Sigalovada Sutta has been referred to as the “Vinaya of the householder”. I believe there are versions of it in both Theravada (Pali) and Mahayana (Chinese). Basically, it lays out the codes of conduct for lay Buddhists. It includes things to avoid (such as indulgences in and addictions to gambling, intoxicants, idleness, etc.), advice on friendships, how to respect and protect close relationships (i.e. parents, teachers, spouse, friends/colleagues, ascetics/Brahmins, workers/servants), among other things.
The Dhammika Sutta speaks of the duties of a lay Buddhist. This is basically a detailed analysis of the precepts:
“Now I will tell you the layman’s duty. Following it a lay-disciple would be virtuous; for it is not possible for one occupied with the household life to realize the complete bhikkhu practice (dhamma).
“He should not kill a living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should he incite another to kill. Do not injure any being, either strong or weak, in the world.
“A disciple should avoid taking anything from anywhere knowing it (to belong to another). He should not steal nor incite another to steal. He should completely avoid theft.
“A wise man should avoid unchastity as (he would avoid falling into) a pit of glowing charcoal. If unable to lead a celibate life, he should not go to another’s wife.
“Having entered a royal court or a company of people he should not speak lies. He should not speak lies (himself) nor incite others to do so. He should completely avoid falsehood.
“A layman who has chosen to practice this Dhamma should not indulge in the drinking of intoxicants. He should not drink them nor encourage others to do so; realizing that it leads to madness. Through intoxication foolish people perform evil deeds and cause other heedless people to do likewise. He should avoid intoxication, this occasion for demerit, which stupefies the mind, and is the pleasure of foolish people.”
There are also two “Mahanama Suttas” which also deal with being a lay Buddhist. The first one (AN 8.25) defines various kinds of lay Buddhists. However, it states that one is considered a lay Buddhist if they have taken refuge in the Triple Gem. The second Mahanama Sutta (AN 11.13) speaks about developing six recollections at any time (“while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children”).
The Vera Sutta describes what it takes for a lay Buddhist to be a stream-winner. There are various accounts in the Suttas of lay Buddhists realizing stream-entry. Anathapindika, for example, is one of those lay stream-winners.
The Candala Sutta describes the “five qualities” of a lay Buddhist:
1. Having conviction or faith in the Buddha’s awakening
2. Being wholesome and virtuous
3. Non-reliance on superstition or auspices (which seems contradictory to the practices found in some Buddhist countries, but this is a result of local custom and not Buddha’s teaching)
4. Trusting in our own actions (kamma)
5. Supporting the Sangha
For further reading on being a lay Buddhist, here’s a collection of four essays on being a lay Buddhist. Also, Bhikkhu Khantipalo wrote this interesting piece called Lay Buddhist Practice, which he says “can be practiced by lay Buddhists without access to bhikkhus, monasteries, temples, stupas, and so on.” Here is a page on the Uposatha Observance Days (including a calendar) which are discussed in the “Lay Buddhist Practice” article.