From Bhikkhu Bodhi, In the Buddha's Words
, Chapter IV, The Happiness Visible in the Present Life.
The Pali commentaries demonstrate the broad scope of the Dhamma by distinguishing three types of benefit that the Buddha's teaching is intended to promote, graded hierarchically according to their relative merit:
1. welfare and happiness directly visible in this present life, attained by fulfilling one's morel commitments and social responsibilities;
2. welfare and happiness pertaining to the next life, attained by engaging in meritorious deeds;
3. the ultimate good or supreme goal, Nibbana, final release from the cycle of rebirths, attained by developing the Noble Eightfold Path.
While many Western writers on Early Buddhism have focussed on this last aspect as almost exclusively representing the Buddha's original teaching, a balanced presentation should give consideration to all three aspects. Therefore, in this chapter and those to follow, we will be exploring texts from the Nikayas that illustrate each of these three facets of the Dhamma.
The present chapter includes a wide variety of texts on the Buddha's teachings that pertain to the happiness directly visible in this present life. The most comprehensive Nikaya text in this genre is the Sigalaka Sutta (DN 31) sometimes called "The Layperson's Code of Discipline". The heart of this sutta is the section on "worshipping the six directions" in which the Buddha freely reinterprets an ancient Indian ritual, infusing it with a new ethical meaning. The practice of "worshipping the six directions", as explained by the Buddha, presupposes that society is sustained by a network of interlocking relationships that bring coherence to the social order when its members fulfil their reciprocal duties and responsibilities in a spirit of kindness, sympathy, and good will.
The six basic social relationship that the Buddha draws upon to fill out his metaphor are:
parents and children, teacher and pupils, husband and wife, friend and friend, employer and workers, lay followers and religious guides.
Each is considered one of the six directions in relation to the counterpart. For a young man like Sigalaka, his parents are the east, his teachers the south, his wife and children the west, his friends the north, his workers the nadir, and religious guides the zenith. With his customary sense of systematic concision, the Buddha ascribes to each member of each pair five obligations with respect to his or her counterpart; when each member fulfils these obligations, the corresponding "direction" comes to be "at peace and free from fear".
Thus, for early Buddhism, the social stability and security necessary for human happiness and fulfilment are achieve, not through aggressive and potentially disruptive demands for "rights" posed by competing groups, but by the renunciation of self-interest and the development of a sincere, large-hearted concern for the welfare of others and the good of the greater whole.