Lesson 3.6.5 - Siṅgālasuttaṃ - The Buddha’s advice to Laypeople (part one)

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 3.6.5
Siṅgālasuttaṃ 
The Buddha’s advice to Laypeople (part one)

Idamavoca bhagavā, idaṃ vatvāna sugato athāparaṃ etadavoca satthā – 
‘‘Pāṇātipāto adinnādānaṃ, musāvādo ca vuccati;
Paradāragamanañceva, nappasaṃsanti paṇḍitā’’ti.1


This sutta, the Siṅgālasuttaṃ from the Dīghanikāyo presents the well-known advice to laypeople and concludes the ‘Do-Nots!’ of this chapter. The selection of this sutta is divided into two parts: part one points to the activities in one’s life that must be avoided and shunned - vārittaṃ; part two highlights activities an ariyasāvako should remain actively engaged in - cārittaṃ2. The sutta is also referred to as the ‘Vinaya of the householder’: it conveys a mind-set of friendship, empathy and kindness towards one’s fellow beings in which any society would benefit from adapting its directives. About one hundred years ago Rhys Davis mentioned in his introduction: ‘Happy would have been the village or the clan on the banks of the Ganges, where the people were full of the kindly spirit and friendly feeling, the noble spirit of justice which breathes through these naïve and simple sayings. Not less happy would be the village, or the family on the banks of the Thames to-day, of which this could be said.’ How true still are these words for the world of today, where irreverence towards fellow beings and environment alike is based on rude materialism, predaciousness and religious radicalism that creates a spirit of fear, anxiety and insecurity. 

One time the Buddha was staying near Rājagaha in the bamboo grove Veḷuvana at the Squirrel’s feeding place Kalandakanivāpa3 and encountered on his way for alms to Rājagaha a youth by the name of Siṅgālaka4. Siṅgālaka had risen early morning to perform his sacred ritual by paying respect with folded hands, wet hair and clothes to the six directions - ……nikkhamitvā allavattho5 allakeso pañjaliko puthudisā namassati – puratthimaṃ disaṃ dakkhiṇaṃ disaṃ pacchimaṃ disaṃ uttaraṃ disaṃ heṭṭhimaṃ disaṃ uparimaṃ disaṃ…… 

Siṅgālaka performed this reference out of respect to his father, who had instructed him on his death-bed to do so6. The Buddha advised him then that if he wished to pay proper respect to these directions he should need to avoid fourteen evils. He told Siṅgālaka that he like any ariyasāvako should completely:

shun the four unwholesome, defiling actions - cattāro kammakilesā pahīnā honti; 

not perform any evil based on four basic reasons (motivators) - catūhi ca ṭhānehi pāpakammaṃ na karoti;

not follow a life that would diminish and waste his substance in six ways - cha ca bhogānaṃ apāyamukhāni na sevati

and the Buddha further pointed out that the quality of company and friends one associates naturally influences to harm and mischief - pāpamittatāya cha ādīnavā - or can be the opposite: helpful and increasingly beneficial7

The very first of the four reasons which result in evil actions and that the Budhha specifies is ignorance of the danger that arises through intoxications, drugs and inebriants: surāmerayassa cha ādīnavā. The sutta itself specifies some of the results that may happen due to consuming of intoxicants and points to the unfortunate actions one may perform under the influence of lost mastery and clarity of one’s mental disposition. The commentary further reinforces the need and determination to stay away from all intoxicants. While all the other precepts have been discussed in the respective chapters8 this last, the fifth but very crucial precept for every householder: - surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī-sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi - shall be investigated here in more detail. 

In the world of today usually someone who abstains especially from all alcohol is mostly considered to be an ‘outcast who doesn’t know how to enjoy life’. This view is strong, so much so that even some, who in general try to abstain, compromise their sila with the argument of ‘socially accommodating needs and expectations’. So some deeper understanding about the significance of keeping this precept may be encouraging. 

By analysing the individual terms of the complex expression: surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā in more detail the concept behind it gets comprehensible: surā – liquor, intoxicating (distilled for concentration of flavour and strength); meraya – wine (fermented); majja – bewildering, besotting (the mind); pamāda – negligence, carelessness; ṭhānā – place, location, ground for, reason, occasion for. The Aṭṭhakathā gives the following explanation: 

‘Both (surā + meraya) are besotting in the sense of causing intoxication, or alternatively, whatever else causes intoxication by drinking of which one gets mad or negligent is called besotting: - Majjanti tadubhayameva9 madaniyaṭṭhena10 majjaṃ, yaṃ vā panaññampi kiñci atthi madaniyaṃ, yena pītena matto hoti pamatto, idaṃ vuccati majjaṃ11

‘Further pointing to the volition and intention that lies behind: The ‘opportunity for negligence’ (pamādaṭṭhāna) is the intention that causes to drink or to swallow. That is called ‘opportunity for negligence’ because it is the cause for subsequent madness and negligence consequently what should be understood as the ‘opportunity for negligence’ – it is the choice of swallowing the liquor, wine or besotting drink, as the very desire to swallow and occurring through the body door. - Pamādaṭṭhānanti yāya cetanāya taṃ pivati ajjhoharati12, sā cetanā madappamādahetuto pamādaṭṭhānanti vuccati, yato ajjhoharaṇādhippāyena13 kāyadvārappavattā surāmerayamajjānaṃ ajjhoharaṇacetanā ‘‘surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhāna’’nti veditabbā

This commentarial explanation points once more to the volition that originates unwholesome activities and actions in general. In the case of ‘surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhāna’ it is the intention driven by a firm desire to get intoxicated that results in dullness of one’s mental capacity and can end in complete stupidity - both are invited as unwholesome base for stirring to actions that often may be regretted after the effect of the intoxication has subsided. It should be pointed out that, regardless of the respective kind of intoxication14, as long as this underlying desire to achieve the corresponding field of emotional condition of sensations and mollifying mental mood is not eliminated, any addiction can neither get appeased nor eliminated. 

Therefore a thorough meditation like Vipassana-meditation presents an effective tool that can eliminate all source of addiction: With its base of objective observation of letting go all attachment towards all kind of sensations that arise and pass, related to the respective influence of prior drug consumption or not - any attachment subsides. Ultimately it is nothing else than attachment and holding onto the respective kind of stimulation or soothing effect resulting from intoxication that pushes to its consumption. With attachment and clinging subsided – the desire to getting intoxicated will diminish; with patient but thorough determination to regular practice of meditation all previous appreciating of the effect derived from drugs will turn into repugnance.

May sincere determination to refrain from all intoxication along with persistence to regular practice of meditation subjugate all desire to inebriation and thus finally result in its elimination: may this crucial precept be maintained by more and more beings!

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[1] Cattārokammakilesā, Siṅgālasuttaṃ - See lesson and English translation! 
[2] on the principles of vārittaṃ and cārittaṃ sīla compare the previous chapter: 3.5.2 Cārittaṃ Vārittaṃ Sikkhāpada but also this chapter: 3.6.1 Vibhaṅgasuttaṃ
[3] veḷuvane kalandakanivāpe: On the designation of this term of the place where the Buddha enjoyed to stay often compare: Introduction to 3.3.6 Ambalaṭṭhikarāhulovādasuttaṃ 
[4] Siṅgālaka also Sigāla or Siṅgālo. I am sticking to the version of the CSCD here
[5] allavattho: alla + vatthaṃ: wet + cloth
[6] This practise of revering the six directions is not explained in the commentary but seems to have been a sacred ritual of those days, where each direction Siṅgālaka payed his respect to was governed by a different god (Agni, Indra, Varuṇa, Soma, Visnu, Brihaspati). The commentary mentions that Siṅgālaka’s father, a follower of the Buddha’s teaching had never succeeded to convince his son to do likewise, therefor he asked his son on his deathbed to perform these practices. He foresaw and hoped that the Buddha was to appear before his son and so he could be converted to right understanding: - Athassa pitā maraṇamañce nipanno ‘‘mama puttassa ovādaṃ dātuṃ vaṭṭatī’’ti cintetvā puna cintesi – ‘‘disā tāta namassāhī’’ti evamassa ovādaṃ dassāmi, so atthaṃ ajānanto disā namassissati, atha naṃ satthā vā sāvakā vā passitvā ‘‘kiṃ karosī’’ti pucchissanti. Tato ‘‘mayhaṃ pitā disā namassanaṃ karohīti maṃ ovadī’’ti vakkhati. Athassa te ‘‘na tuyhaṃ pitā etā disā namassāpeti, imā pana disā namassāpetī’’ti dhammaṃ desessanti. So buddhasāsane guṇaṃ ñatvā ‘‘puññakammaṃ karissatī’’ti. Atha naṃ āmantāpetvā ‘‘tāta, pātova uṭṭhāya cha disā namasseyyāsī’’ti āha. Maraṇamañce nipannassa kathā nāma yāvajīvaṃ anussaraṇīyā hoti. Tasmā so gahapatiputto taṃ pituvacanaṃ anussaranto tathā akāsi. Tasmā ‘‘kālasseva uṭṭhāya rājagahā nikkhamitvā’’tiādi vuttaṃ.
[7] see next lesson: 3.6.6 Siṅgālasuttaṃ - part two 
[8] For - Musāvādā veramaṇī--sikkhāpadaṃ and its commentarial explanation compare the chapter on sammāvācā: 3.4.7 Tiracchānakathāsuttaṃ; 3.4.9 Kosambiyasuttaṃ. Likewise compare the chapter on sammākammanto: for pāṇātipātā veramaṇī-sikkhāpadaṃ see 3.5.6 Daṇḍasuttaṃ; on - adinnādānā veramaṇī-sikkhāpadaṃ see 3.5.6 Daṇḍasuttaṃ; and for - kāmesumicchācārā (abrahmacariyā) veramaṇī-sikkhāpadaṃ see 3.5.8 Methunasuttaṃ!
[9] tadubhayameva: tad + ubhayaṃ + eva: both of them likewise 

[10] madaniyaṭṭhena: madanīya + aṭṭhena: intoxication + on account of, because

[11] Khuddakanikāye, Khuddakapāṭha-aṭṭhakathā, Sikkhāpadavaṇṇanā, Sikkhāpadapāṭhamātikā  

[12] ajjhoharati: eat, swallow  

[13] ajjhoharaṇādhippāyena: ajjhoharaṇa + adhippāyena: eating, swallow + by intention, desire  

[14] The commentary relates that various alcoholic drinks were used during the times of the Buddha, produced from cakes and plants. There were five kinds of ‘liquors’ (pañca surā) made from flour, from cake, rice, yeast mixed with condiments; there were five kinds of ‘wine’ (pañca meraya) made from flowers, fruits, sugar, honey mixed with condiments: Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānanti ettha pana surāti pañca surā – piṭṭhasurā, pūvasurā, odanasurā, kiṇṇapakkhittā, sambhārasaṃyuttā cāti. Merayampi pupphāsavo, phalāsavo, guḷāsavo, madhvāsavo, sambhārasaṃyutto cāti pañcavidhaṃ  

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Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.6.5

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Last modified: Wednesday, 22 February 2017, 1:53 PM