DN 31 | Sigalovada Sutta: Advice to Sigalaka. (How to live a good household life)

Note – this version is not a word-for-word translation, but a softened version that is designed to make it ‘digestible’, especially with younger people in mind. In my opinion if this sutta were to be taught to all primary school children from the age of five years old, every society would benefit!

I heard this: one morning when the Buddha was out walking on his way to collect alms, he came across a young man who was in the street, on his knees, and bowing in each direction: he bowed to the North, the South, the East, West, above him and below him.

The Buddha asked him what he was doing there; and the young man answered that his father, who was dying, had asked him to pay respect to “the six directions.” And because he loved and respected his father, he wanted to do what he asked; so that was what he was doing.

“But you know,” said the Buddha, “That’s really not at all how we worship the six directions.”

“I have been doing it wrong? Then tell me what I should do!”

The Buddha explained:

To have a mind at peace, especially to have a peaceful life if you want to have a family, you need to avoid doing harm and making enemies.

1. Four immoral actions

To stop yourself from doing all kinds of things that are wrong to do, that create enemies and make trouble for yourself, it is enough to say that

  • You will never harm any living being,
  • You will never steal from somebody else,
  • You will never lie to anyone, and
  • You will never run after somebody else’s loved-one.

2. Causes of harmful actions

Next, you can look too at all the reasons why we do such things. What makes you do something wrong? Usually it comes down to

  • Being driven by greed for what you want,
  • Anger or hatred towards what you don’t like,
  • Fear of what is terrifying to you, or
  • Acting while being in a day-dream, not calculating the effect of your action.

So if you can completely give up these things that cause us to do harm in the first place, you can be sure to never do harm to anybody, and to have a mind that is much more at peace as a result.

3. Avoid the six ways of losing money

Another thing you need to have a mind at peace, and especially to have a peaceful home (this might sound unexpected, but it’s very important): You need to be able to earn a living for yourself, and to be sure not to lose the money that you earn. Otherwise you will always have anxiety about money and never be secure. With the opportunities you have, what do you think would stop you from earning a good living? And for what reasons might you lose it once you have earned it?

These are the kinds of things that will make you risk losing everything you have: 1. Drinking alcohol or taking drugs, because when you are drunk you are more likely to become angry and get into fights, you get sick more easily, you can get a bad reputation, and you become very careless and stupid when you are drunk.

2. Staying out too late at night, because you put yourself at risk, and things you own at risk because you aren’t there to protect them.

3. Constantly going to parties, because it’s easy to spend money when you like to party, and if you want your whole life to be a party it is hard to concentrate on working for your living, or to be content with what you have. Part of you is always looking for the music, looking for the dancing, the singing, the excitement.

4. Gambling, because even if you win the loser resents you, you constantly risk losing wealth and security, and when it becomes an addiction your whole life can easily fall apart.

5. Bad friends are a problem, because they are a bad influence upon you and can turn on you with no warning.

6. Laziness, because you will always find excuses not to work – either it is too hot, too cold, to early, too late, you’re too hungry or you’re too full. Good luck earning money that way!

4. Know what is a good friend

To help you have a mind at peace, and especially a peaceful home, you need to know how to choose your friends. There are so many people who will pretend to be your friends, who can seem very lovely on the surface, but underneath are all kinds of enemies in disguise.

  1. There is the taker, the one who asks a lot and gives as little as possible, is only generous when he is hoping to get something for himself, and does the bare minimum of his duties only out of fear.
  2.  There is the talker who makes you believe she is highly generous by talking a lot about her generosity, who says kind words which mean nothing, and when you need her help is always having a crisis of her own.
  3. There is the flatterer, who exists only to agree with you and supports everything you do whether it is good or bad, praises you to your face and puts you down behind your back.
  4. There’s also the partner-in-crime, who encourages you to do all that is harmful for you, comes with you drinking, gambling and partying, and helps keep all your bad habits alive and strong.

If you are wise and want to be happy, you will stay away from these types of so-called “friends”. The words of such people might give you temporary pleasure, but their actions will only bring you into pain and sadness the longer you stay in their company.

Be sure to choose good friends, kind and good people who want to help you from the heart. Sometimes we run away from these people because they don’t give as much easy pleasure as the company of other people, but if we are wise we can recognise their qualities.

  • 1. There are those, for example, who are always a help to you, who look out for you when you are weak and in trouble, who are so generous that they always give double of what is asked for. You know someone is truly a friend when they come to support you when you are afraid.
  • 2. There are those that will never leave you, who never abandon you no matter what happens. They don’t keep secrets from you and they don’t talk about your problems with other people. They would even lay down their life for you.
  • 3. Some people you will meet are your best teachers, who will try to stop you from doing wrong, show you what is right, teach you what you need to know and guide you to walk the right path in life, the path that ends in goodness.
  • 4. Some you will meet who are full of compassion for you, who are happy when life goes well for you and don’t ever laugh when things go wrong for you; and who speak of you with kindness to other people.

When you find such people, hold onto them and protect them with all your strength! These friends are the most valuable things you can find in life.

5. Paying respect to the six directions

Now, I will tell you what is really meant by paying respect to the six directions. When we say “the six directions,” we are talking about the six kinds of relationships we should guard more closely than our most precious possession, because they are what often make life go well or go badly for us.

The East; mother and father

You should look after your parents and protect your relationship with them in this way:

  • support them as they have supported you all throughout your childhood,
  • do your duty to them joyfully and with compassion,
  • keep your family’s tradition and lineage

They in turn should:

  • stop you from doing wrong,
  • guide you towards the right thing to do,
  • show you how to earn a living, and
  • help you with advice about choosing a good partner in life.  

This relationship in the East direction. If it is respected and looked after in this way, is always kept peaceful and secure.

The South – your teachers

The most important thing is to show your teachers respect, and to show interest in what they teach. More specifically, one should:

  • go to all their classes,
  • listen with all your attention to their instructions,
  • and be willing to learn.

You should be grateful to your teachers, and show your gratitude by serving them well.

In turn, the job of a good teacher is not just to tell you things – rather they should train you in how to be your own master, to be self-disciplined.

They should

  • constantly check whether you have understood or not,
  • teach not just in one field but in all branches of knowledge,
  • bring you to meet other people who can help you and be good mentors for you, and in this way give you as many protections and safe-guards as possible to keep you from falling from the path of learning.

So that’s the South. Think about it – if we really look after our relationship with our teachers in this way, keeping it always peaceful and safe, how easy it will be to learn and progress!

The West  – that is the relationship between a husband and wife, two partners in life.

  •  A good husband is someone who really respects and values his wife, who is honest and faithful to her.
  • He does not keep all the authority of the household for himself but shares it with his wife.
  • And when he shares or gives anything with his wife, it should be given freely as a gift.
  • A good wife, then, is someone who equally respects and values her husband, and is completely honest and faithful to him. 
  • She should be kind to other people in the household and the extended family of herself and her husband.
  • She needs to be well-organised, to manage well her jobs in the household and take good care of the house and what belongs in it.

That is the West, and this is really the best way to keep this relationship peaceful and to make sure it lasts a long time.

The North: friends and colleagues

To keep our relationship with friends and colleagues peaceful and secure, towards them you should

  • be both generous in your actions and kind in your words.
  • be honest with them,
  • treat equally the people you consider friends – don’t play favourites.

When you treat them well in this way, your friends and the people you work with will

  • be there to help and protect you if ever you are in danger or weak;
  • help you and be your refuge if ever you are afraid,
  • stay with you even when everything is going wrong for you,
  • look after and respect your family as well as yourself.

The lower direction: People who work for you

It’s important to be a good employer, so as to be both respected and loved by your employees, and in general to make the job go more smoothly. A good employer should:

  • pay their employees fairly and provide food if necessary, look after those who are sick,
  • allow a fair and reasonable amount of free time (usually an employer and an employee will agree on this together)
  • sometimes give gifts, or special treats.
  • give the right jobs to the right people, knowing who is a beginner and who is an expert, who is talented in which field, and choosing who should do what based on this.

And the employees being treated well in this way, should also aim to be good employees:

  • doing their work well,
  • being willing to start early and finish late when it is needed,
  • taking only what is given to them, and
  • speaking well of their employer to other people.

That’s the Lower Direction, and if you respect it and look after it in this way, you will be quite sure to have very few problems with your employees.

The Upper Direction: spiritual leaders and guides

These are people you meet who have decided that their life’s work is only in finding the path to perfect goodness and wisdom.

They survive by your kindness and your support, and so you should always have an open door for them, and be generous in actions, speech and thoughts too; look to give them what they need, be it clothing, food or something else.

And in turn they can give you what is most valuable of all – they can direct you towards good actions and keep you from bad ones, share their wisdom and help you to make clear your own knowledge, and show you the path to goodness and a good destination when you die.

That’s the Upper Direction, and by respecting it in this way, it is kept peaceful, and it is kept secure.

Then the Buddha continued, saying that to be truly good, one should respect and look after all of these people who surround you in your life – when you do so, it is as if you are putting a safeguard around yourself in every possible direction.

Work to be wise, gentle and well spoken, humble and easy to live with. We can easily see that people like this are sure to be well loved in life. 

Be compassionate and make friends with good people, be easy to talk to, don’t be stingy – but at the same time know how to be a leader, a teacher, how to manage arguments. Like this, everyone will respect you and want to work with you.

The types of actions that hold the world together are those that are based in generosity, kind words, fairness and looking out for others, and if they were not there, then no parents would ever be respected by their children. Wise people meditate on these subjects, and work to better themselves in all these various ways, it is in this way that they become the source of praise from all around them.

This is what the Buddha said. And to finish the story, when he had finished speaking the young man replied “That’s wonderful! You have made clear to me what was cloudy, and brought light like an oil lamp into the darkness. From here on until I die, I take refuge in the Buddha and the Dhamma, and the Sangha. Please accept me as a lay-follower.”