Practicing for whom (2)?

Bhikkhus, there are these four kinds of persons found existing in the world. What four? (1) One who is practicing for his own welfare but not for the welfare of others; (2) one who is practicing for the welfare of others but not for his own welfare; (3) one who is practicing neither for his own welfare nor for the welfare of others; and (4) one who is practicing both for his own welfare and for the welfare of others.

(2) And how is a person practicing for the welfare of others but not for his own welfare? Here, some person does not himself abstain from the destruction of life but he encourages others to abstain from the destruction of life
[Similarly with taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, and false speech].He does not himself abstain from liquor, wine, and intoxicants, the basis for heedlessness, but he encourages others to abstain from them. It is in this way that a person is practicing for the welfare of others but not for his own welfare.

(3) And how is a person practicing neither for his own welfare nor for the welfare of others? Here, some person does not himself abstain from the destruction of life and does not encourage others to abstain from the destruction of life. [Similarly with taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, and false speech]. He does not himself abstain from liquor, wine and intoxicants, the basis for heedlessness, and does not encourage others to abstain from them. It is in this way that a person is practicing neither for his own welfare nor for the welfare of others.

(4) And how is a person practicing both for his own welfare and for the welfare of others? Here, some person himself abstains from the destruction of life and encourages others to abstain from the destruction of life. [Similarly with taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, and false speech]. He himself abstains from liquor, wine, and intoxicants, the basis for heedlessness, and encourages others to abstain from them. It is in this way that he is practicing both for his own welfare and for the welfare of others.

These, bhikkhus, are the four kinds of persons found existing in the world.
AN4.99 translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

There is beauty in the repetition of the precepts, and the point is well made. If we practice only for ourselves, or only for others, or don’t practice at all — all three of these scenarios are inferior to pursuing the practice for our own benefit AND for the benefit of others. The more deeply we understand this principle, the more energetic we will be in improving or refining our practice with the precepts.

The least reasonable of the four kinds of persons described in the sutta is the one who attempts to encourage others to behave well while he himself does not. We are keenly attuned to the hypocrisy of people who encourage others to do something positive that they themselves are unwilling to do. This also exposes the illogic of living “for others”.

One point embedded in the sutta is that we can’t act in the world without affecting others. Even by withdrawing, we have some effect. Whenever we do something beneficial, even if it appears to give a positive result only for ourselves, the ripple effect is felt by others. Same story when we act in a harmful way; we may think we are only harming ourselves, but ouch! Others can’t help but catch some of the harm. This is a fundamental characteristic of kamma: interrelatedness.

So give it a think. How are you practicing? Are you in the category you’d like to be in?

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Filed under General, Generosity, Harmlessness, Intoxicants, Non-taking, Precepts, Sex, Speech

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