What are the True Blessings?

Dec 00

As a Buddhist monk, I am often asked to give advice to people facing major life decisions. I am sure this happens to clergy of other religions also. As a general rule, I do not think it is appropriate for me to give specific recommendations regarding someone's career choices, but I do ask them to examine carefully where their true happiness lies. The Buddhist scriptures has some excellent passages that bear on such questions.

The Mangala Sutta is one of many verse passages found in the Pali canon. In Buddhist countries, it is a great favourite for chanting aloud, and a great many Asian Buddhists know it by heart. The text is the Buddha's answer as to what constitute true blessings in this life. The list, comprising thirty-eight blessings, run the gamut from the worldly to the sublime and transcendental. The answer remains as relevant today as when the Buddha uttered it. The striking thing about this text is its profound practicality.

The very first of the blessings is "not to associate with fools," and together with the second "to associate with the wise" epitomizes the Buddha's general advice about seeking good friends and companions. This advice is repeated elsewhere in many other places and the Buddha often emphasized the importance of good friends. At one time his disciple Ananda remarked that good friendship was half of the holy life, to which the Buddha replied, "Say not so Ananda! Say not so! Good friends are the whole of the holy life."

Amongst the worldly blessings the Buddha listed living in a suitable place, having much learning and useful skills, and making one's living without difficulty. He also emphasized the importance of family life; honouring one's parents, enjoying the company of relatives and cherishing one's spouse and children are named as blessings.

To be possessed of moral qualities are considered blessings. To have beautiful and truthful speech, to be blameless in one's deeds, to practise generosity and to refrain from drunkenness are all on the list. To be respectful, grateful and content are considered blessings.

Toward the end of the series, we come to the purely spiritual, or higher blessings, beginning with the practise itself; hearing and discussing the Dharma, practicing meditation and sense-restraint. These lead into the fruits of practise, the supreme blessings of realization, purity and ultimate release.

One feature that is very significant is what items are not to be found in this quite exhaustive list. Wealth, status, fame, power, beauty, excitement are all qualities that were not considered important enough to be named as blessings by the Buddha. It is, however, precisely these ephemeral attractions which make up the dominant values in the world. This is why so many people in our culture are so profoundly unhappy, because they are looking for happiness in the wrong places.

There is a lot of pressure in our society to "get ahead" and all too often this is crudely interpreted as making more money, or perhaps, gaining in prestige. Neither of these, in truth, have very much to do with a person's happiness or satisfaction in life. If getting a bigger salary means losing time spent with one's family, or taking on a greater stress load, the choice should be examined very carefully. Is the trade-off really worth it?

is sometimes said that you can judge the value system of a culture by its tallest buildings. In other times and places, temples and churches dominated the landscape. Most of the huge skyscrapers in our civilization house banks and insurance companies. Our value system is perversely backward. How many people give up the true blessings of a family life, not to mention peace of mind, in the interests of making more money?

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