The Buddha’s Teachings to Lay People


  • John L Kelly



Lay Buddhism, 5 Nikayas, Pali Suttas


In this work, all the discourses addressed to lay people in the four main nikayas of the Pali Canon, and most of those in the fifth (Khuddaka), have been surveyed, categorised, and analysed. The different ways in which the Buddha customised his style of teaching and the Dhamma being taught according to the various demographic characteristics of his audience (i.e., age, gender, class, and spiritual attainment) are explored, highlighted and discussed. Some of the findings are to be expected, whereas others are less so. There are several clear gender and class differences in the type of discourse used, the topics of the teaching, and in whether the sutta is oriented to lead the listener to the more worldly goals of happiness in this life or a good rebirth, as opposed to being directed towards complete liberation from rebirth. There are differences too based on the age of the addressees, but less pronounced. This survey has also brought forth some distinct characteristics of the different nikayas of the Pali Canon in terms of their suttas to the lay community. The Anguttara Nikaya contains more suttas targeted directly to lay people, plus many others of the ‘indirect’ variety, more suttas addressed to women and to the middle-class, and a higher emphasis on the goals of happiness in this life and a good rebirth. Overall the suttas addressed to lay people show a very strong emphasis on good conduct by body, speech, and mind. But this paper hasn’t addressed whether there would be a different emphasis shown in an examination of the suttas addressed exclusively to the monastic community, and this is an area that warrants further exploration. A comprehensive catalogue of suttas in the Pali Canon that are addressed to householders is included in an appendix.

Author Biography

John L Kelly

John Kelly is a lay Buddhist who has studied Pali and Sanskrit for a number of years, and is currently in the process of completing an MA in Buddhist Studies from the University of Sunderland. Since retiring from work as a computer database designer, he has devoted time to assisting on various Buddhist related projects, including editing of Bhikkhu Bodhi's forthcoming Anguttara Nikaya translation and creation of the website which links together the Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit and other parallels to suttas in the Pali Canon. Mr Kelly currently lives in brisbane, Australia.


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How to Cite

Kelly, J. L. (2011). The Buddha’s Teachings to Lay People. Buddhist Studies Review, 28(1), 3–77.