The Basis for Practice: The Four Requisites

The four prerequisites for practice

The four requisites are considered basic needs for all people: food, shelter, medicine (medical care), and clothing. Monastics within the scripture are often discussed receiving and depending upon the four requisites. Ven Thanissaro has a chant in his chanting book specifically about the respectful and proper use of the requisites. Without these requisites, we are prey to various dangers, disease, hunger, the elements and so on. There’s some reason to believe that a large number of the initial converts to Buddhism were those of privilege who had these four requisites in security. [1,2] I would put forward the premise that for most any person to engage meaningfully with Buddhist practice they must be secure to at least a minor degree with respect to the four requisites.

If one is hungry, sleeping rough, sick and naked it is incredibly hard to turn your mind meaningfully toward practices of virtue, concentration, and wisdom, you may not even have time if all your energy is expended towards survival. Even if through that very practice one is able to become solid enough such that lacking one or more of these requisites is not a threat to their practice, this point does not emerge from the hardship itself; you need security before you can tolerate insecurity. Anyone then that wishes to spread the dhamma must account for the material hardships of those they are preaching towards, acknowledging that without security in the requisites one is unlikely to be able to internalize or practice the dhamma.

We can take generosity as an example. If you are insecure in any of the requisites then any opportunity to give to others is directly threatening toward your own well-being. The Buddha said not to give in such a way that you hurt yourself and yet I will point out that one unable to give at all due to hardship is effectively excluded from practicing an important part of Virtue. Even the gift of an ear to listen can be impossible if you’re working three jobs.

Buddhist communities ought to place importance on securing requisites for everyone such that they are most receptive to Dhamma. When we avoid doing this we effectively allow many people to stay in states where they are cut off from Dhamma. This can be and I think should be read also as a support for policies that distribute the requisites as a human right: universal healthcare, food, housing and clothing for all. When we deny anyone these requisites we deny them the best chance to find Dhamma.