In “The Essentials of the Buddha-Dhamma in Meditation Practice,” Sayagyi U Ba Khin points out that during the Buddha’s lifetime there were around ninety million people living in Savatthi and the neighboring countryside.  Of these, approximately fifty million were Ariyas, having reached the first stage of Awakening. We can conclude from these figures that the number of laymen who took to Vipassana (insight meditation) must have been more than those who were in the Orders of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis. Laymen of today should therefore be encouraged in their effort to put into practice the Teachings of the Buddha in their everyday lives.
It can be done.
In the collection of the Suttas, there are a number of discourses given by the Buddha to laypeople. Let us look at one given to the Brahman householders of Sala and Veranja.  The circumstances of this talk are similar to several others given to laypeople. The people of Sala and Veranja had heard of the Buddha and of his reputation. They approached him with a question often asked by laypeople. They wished to know why some people were reborn in lower planes of existence and why others were reborn in the higher planes.
The Buddha answers this question — but he also adds that it is possible to aspire to something far greater than heavenly worlds. The Buddha first gave a very concise reply to their question: some people go to lower worlds including the hells because they live un-righteously and live unbalanced lives; some people go to heavenly worlds through living righteously (Dhamma-cariya) and because they live balanced lives (sama-cariya).
The laymen of each town said that they did not understand the full meaning of what the Buddha had said and they requested that he give them a full explanation. The Buddha then explained that unrighteous living –that is to say, not following the Dhamma — involves wrong actions: unbalanced physical, verbal, and mental actions. On the other hand, righteous living, which follows the Dhamma and is balanced, means actions, which are of the opposite kind. In summarizing the Buddha’s discourse, we will emphasize the type of life, which follows the Dhamma.
The Buddha mentions three kinds of actions of the body. Unrighteous and unbalanced living means killing, stealing, and indulging in sensual pleasures — wrong sexual practices are mentioned in particular. Righteous and balanced living means refraining from killing — a person will lay aside stick and sword, live scrupulously, and be merciful, kindly and compassionate to all living creatures. Such a person does not take what is not given and he restrains himself from indulging in wrong actions with regard to sensual pleasures. Here the Buddha specifies that a man does not have intercourse with women who are under the protection of others. We can infer from the list that all sexual relations outside of marriage are to be avoided.
There are four kinds of speech. Unrighteous and unbalanced speech includes lies, slander, harsh speech, and frivolous chatter. A person who follows the Dhamma will abandon lying. If he is called as a witness, he will tell what he knows and what he has seen, but if he does not know something, he will say so. He will not intentionally lie for his own sake, for someone else’s sake, or in order to obtain material gain.
In avoiding slander, a person will not repeat what he has heard in order to set people against each other. He will work to reconcile those who are disputing and to bring friends close together. He will take pleasure in concord rather than discord. He will delight in concord. It will be a joy to him and will motivate his speech.
In abandoning harsh speech, a person will say what is gentle,pleasing, affectionate, going to the heart, courteous, and pleasant to many people. This is in contrast to the wrong kind of speech, which is rough, hard, severe on others, abusive of others, bordering on wrath and not conducive to concentration.
In contrast to indulging in frivolous chatter, a person will speak,at the right time, in accordance with fact. He will speak about the goal, about the Dhamma, about discipline. What he says will be worth treasuring. His similes will be timely, with a purpose, and related to the goal.
In a discourse to the Bhikkhus, the Buddha distinguished between two kinds of right speech. The first kind of right speech will lead to future lives. It will have taints and will involve clinging to future existence (but it will be on the side of merit). It involves abstaining from the four kinds of wrong speech: lying, slander, harsh speech and gossiping. The second kind of right speech is Noble (Aryan), free of taints, supra mundane and part of the Path to Nibbána. In addition to abstaining from, refraining from, avoidance of and restraint from the four kinds of wrong speech, one should develop the Noble Path through Noble thoughts, thoughts free of the taints, and one should know the Path. 
The right actions of body and speech that the Buddha taught to thelaymen of Sala and Veranja are included in the precepts for virtuous living followed by all true Buddhists. The minimum number of precepts, which must be respected at all times, are the five precepts. These include four righteous actions of the body: not killing, not stealing, and abstaining from indulging in sensual pleasures, including adultery and taking intoxicants. The fifth precept is to abstain from lying. So we can see that here, the Buddha gives a more detailed explanation of the control over verbal actions. A group of eight precepts (ajivatthamaka-sila) for laypeople includes these four types of right speech.  In addition, there are the three types of right kindly actions the Buddha gave the people of Sala and Veranja and the eighth precept is right livelihood.
Of particular interest in this discourse of the Buddha’s is the fact that he speaks of mental actions as well as actions of body and speech. The three kinds of unrighteous and unbalanced thoughts include coveting other people’s property, being malevolent and corrupt in thought and purpose, and being of wrong view. (These kinds of thoughts have the three roots of wrong action at their source: greed, hatred and delusion [lobha, dosa, moha].) The absence of these three roots will lead to the three kinds of righteous and balanced thoughts.
A person should not covet other people’s property. He should not be malevolent in mind or corrupt in his thoughts and purpose. He should think to himself, “May others be friendly, peaceful, secure, happy, and protect themselves.” He should have right view, which includes thinking correctly concerning worldly affairs. He should believe that for a person who gives there will be a future result, that sacrifice will give future results, that actions that are well done or badly done will give appropriate results. He should believe that this world exists, as does a world beyond, that fulfilling one’s duty to one’s mother and father gives good results, that there are beings who are spontaneously reborn, and that there are those in the world who live correctly and who teach about this world and the world beyond, having understood them with their own higher knowledge.
This development of right thoughts will prove to be useful in doing right actions. A person who is free of desire for other people’s property will not steal. Those who are free of hatred will not kill, they will not wish to lie or slander or use harsh words. Those who correctly understand the results of actions will not indulge in these kinds of wrong actions, and they will realize that frivolous talk can only lead to suffering in the future.
The Buddha then told the laymen that through the righteous, balanced living he has just described, a person may be reborn as a rich man or in the Deva and Brahma worlds. Finally, he adds that it can also lead to the highest goal of all, Nibbána. In this way, a person can destroy the taints and enjoy the freedom of mind and freedom through wisdom by his own higher knowledge. So the Buddha, in addition to answering the laymen’s question
about what leads to future suffering and future happiness, also gave them a hint that they should strive for freedom from any future world.
Anyone who has tried to control his thoughts, as recommended by the Buddha, will realize that it is very difficult. The most difficult thing in the world, in fact. This is why it is so important that we learn how to concentrate our thoughts. Through mindfulness of breathing (anapana-sati), laypeople today can bring their minds under their own control. The better the control the better they will be able to think the three types of thoughts given by the Buddha and perform good bodily and verbal actions.
Control of thoughts is especially important with regard to speech.At first, we may find that even though we do not exercise complete control we are able to recognize immediately afterwards when we use wrong speech. If we see ourselves more clearly and if we make progress in being honest with ourselves as well as others, we will not try to excuse ourselves and justify our wrong speech. We will face up to our lies. We will admit to ourselves when we are looking for some benefit for ourselves or others. We will also be able to see the effect of our words, and we will see the pain caused if we try to set people against each other. We will soon prefer tolook for a way to use gentle speech rather than say something harsh. We will not have the mistaken view that shouting at others is for their own good.
There may be an occasion when a person will speak to another even though the other person will become angry, but such occasions will be very rare. This will only be when one is sure that through speaking to him the person will be easily convinced of what is said and will be persuaded to give up un-skilful actions and do what is skilful.  The Buddha compared this with the compassion of a parent who will be rough with a baby to get
a stick or stone out of its mouth. The important thing in this connection is that one truly knows it is the right time to speak. 
An illustration of how difficult it is to know when to speak or not is illustrated in the case of the novice Aricavata.  This novice was approached by Prince Jayasena who is described as always pacing up and down and always roaming about. He asked Aricavata if a Bhikkhu who was diligent, ardent and self-resolute could attain one-pointed-ness of mind. Aricavata answered that this was possible. So Prince Jayasena requested that the novice teach him the Dhamma. But the novice hesitated. “If I were to teach you the Dhamma as I have heard it, as I have mastered it,” he said, “and if you could not understand the meaning of what I said, that would be wearisome to me, that would be vexing for me.” The prince insisted, however, so Aciravata taught him. Then the prince declared that he did not think it was possible for a Bhikkhu to attain one-pointed-ness of mind.
Aciravata went to the Buddha and explained what had happened. The Buddha told him that Prince Jayasena lived surrounded by sensual pleasures. He enjoyed them and was consumed by thoughts of sensual pleasures. He burned with the fever of sensual pleasures and eagerly sought sensual pleasures. Therefore, it was impossible for him to know, see, attain or realize what can be known, seen, attained or realized by renunciation.
The Buddha then pointed out to Aciravata that if he had used appropriate similes, Prince Jayasena would have been able to understand. He should have pointed out that while animals who receive no training will never be tamed, animals who do receive training will be tamed, or he could have used the illustration of two friends who go up to a mountain. One of them then climbs the mountain and describes the parks, woods, level ground and ponds that he can see. His companion does not believe him. So he has the companion climb up to see for himself. As long as the companion was hemmed in by the mountain slope, he could not see what was to be seen.
The novice Aciravata pointed out that since these two similes had only just then been given by the Buddha, he could not have known them and used them in his discussion with Prince Jayasena.
This incident can be a lesson to people who wish to tell others about the Buddha’s Teachings. They should not over-estimate their ability to understand how best to explain the Dhamma to others. No one has the ability of the Buddha to know how best to teach others. We can also see the importance of being familiar with the Teachings. The more we understand, the better the chance we will be able to use an appropriate explanation.
The most important lesson to be learned from this discourse, however, is the importance of control over the senses. The restless prince was such a slave to the pleasures of the material world that he could not believe it is possible to control the mind.
The Buddha pointed out in a discourse to a group of Bhikkhus the benefits to be derived from mindfulness of the body.  Mindfulness of the body, the Buddha explains, leads to a mind, which is utterly pure and clean, inwardly settled, calmed, focused and concentrated. On the other hand, he warns, if mindfulness of the body is not developed, the leader of negative forces, Mara, will gain access.
It is therefore very important that laypeople be able to control their senses. This will make it possible to follow the precepts and work for happiness in this life and future lives. But more important, it is essential if we are to work for the true happiness of Nibbána.
The Buddha used very telling images to illustrate the sort of control we need in a discourse addressed to Venerable Ánanda.  He tells Ánanda that in the development of control over the senses in the discipline for the Noble, the six senses of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind will be stimulated by shapes, sounds, smells, tastes, touches and mental states which will be either liked, disliked or both liked and disliked. A person should be able to be aware that such sensations are present very quickly. For sights, it should be as quick as opening or closing the eyes. For sounds, it should be as quick as a finger snap; for smells, as quick as raindrops sliding off a lotus leaf that is slightly slanted; for tastes, as quick as spitting; for touches, as quick as a strong man bending or stretching out his arm; for mental states, as quick as a few drops of water drying up when they fall in a red-hot iron vessel. Whether the sensations arising are liked, disliked or both liked and disliked, it should be all the same to a person. In this way, they will be stopped and equanimity will be established.
This refers to those who are fully Awakened, Arahats. It is useful to know the goal to be reached, however, and to appreciate how much control over the mind is possible. For those who are still learners, the Buddha points out, sensations will cause them to be troubled and ashamed and the sensations will be loathed.
So we can see how important it is for laypeople to lead righteous and balanced lives, and how essential it is to develop control over the mind and the senses if this is to be done. We can all aspire to the perfect equanimity of the Arahats.
The Buddha in his discourse to the people of Sala and Veranja answers their question about what leads to good or bad results in future lives. We do not need to wait until then to reap the benefits of leading righteous, balanced lives. Venerable Buddhaghosa in the Visuddhimagga quotes several texts from the Suttas in which the Buddha describes present benefits. 
The first quotation is from the Buddha’s answer to Venerable Ánanda’s question, “What is the object of, what profit is there, in good conduct?”  The Buddha answers that being free of remorse is the object of and profit in good conduct. In other words, if we live moral lives, we will have a clear conscience. Ánanda continued to question the Buddha and through his answers the Buddha showed that freedom from remorse leads to joy, which leads to rapture and so on — through calm, happiness, concentration, seeing things as they really are, turning away, and fading of interest, one reaches the release through knowing and seeing. “So you see, Ánanda,” the Buddha concluded, “good conduct leads gradually up to the highest.”
Shortly before his death, the Buddha taught the laymen of Pataligama that there are five bad results for the immoral person and five good results for the moral person. If a person is immoral: (1) he is poor through indolence, (2) he has a bad reputation, (3) he is confused and lacks confidence whenever he goes to a meeting, (4) he has anxiety when he dies, and (5) he is reborn in the lower worlds of suffering, including the lowest of the hells.
On the other hand, if a person is moral: (1) he becomes wealthy through being industrious, (2) he has a good reputation, (3) he is confident and self-possessed whenever he goes to a meeting, (4) he dies without anxiety, and (5) he is reborn in a heavenly world.
Even if a person does not feel ready to try for the final goal of Awakening, Nibbána, these benefits of leading moral lives are well worth the effort. If a person has wealth, a good reputation, self-confidence, and no fear of death and what comes after, he will certainly be much happier than the average person in this world.
If development of the mind and of insight into the true reality of existence is added to moral living, the benefits can be far greater. This is pointed out in Ashin Buddhaghosa’s last quotation, which is from a discourse given by the Buddha to a group of Bhikkhus.  Certain aspects of what the Buddha says apply particularly to Bhikkhus, but we can apply the basic ideas to the lives of laypeople.
First of all, the Buddha points out that the Bhikkhus should respect the moral code, seeing the danger there is in the slightest fault. With this strong basis, they will be able to be intent on internal mental tranquility with uninterrupted meditation, intent on attaining insight, and intent on seeking seclusion in order to work properly. Laypeople today can also work for mental calm through developing their concentration, even if they do not reach the highest stages of uninterrupted mindfulness that are possible for those who retire from everyday life or who make significant progress along the Path to Nibbána. They can acquire sufficient concentration to began developing insight. Even if laypeople of
today do not retire from everyday life permanently, it is possible to do so for certain periods during the day, for a day or more during the month, and for longer periods from time to time to undergo training in developing their concentration and insight through following a meditation course.
The range of benefits that can be expected, as the Buddha explains, go from relatively minor advantages all the way to the highest goal. First of all, a person will be dear to his companions in the life of purity, loved by them, and held in respect and honored by them. Bhikkhus will receive the four necessities of life, which correspond to the wealth to be expected for laypeople, which we mentioned already. If we wish that others who give to us should acquire great merit, then this will be the case, for we will be of great merit ourselves. The more highly developed a person is, the greater the merit there is in giving to him. When others make in giving to us they can share that merit. We will also be able to overcome aversion and craving, as well as fear and dread. The Buddha then enumerates the various stages of concentration, Awakening, and higher mental powers, which the Bhikkhus could strive to attain. All of these will not be appropriate for laypeople to aspire to, but the first three stages of Awakening are certainly within the grasp of all who have the necessary merits and who make the right kind of effort in this life.
Let us conclude with the Buddha’s advice to Ánanda:  “Whatever, Ánanda, is to be done out of compassion by a teacher seeking the welfare of his disciples and compassionate for them, that has been done by me for you…Meditate, Ánanda, do not be slothful, do not be remorseful later. This is our instruction to you.”