BSC-Graduated Peradeniya University, Formerly Senior Commercial Manager at Sri Lankan Airlines and, presently Consultant to Air India GSA in Sri Lanka.
Mangala Sutta is recited by Bhikkus in temples as well as in Pirith Ceremonies and also by lay people at marriage ceremonies, laying foundation stones, taking office by political personage etc. Often it is recited to bestow happiness and contentment to all people and even the deities. But was this discourse expounded by the Enlightened One purely for such purposes or for greater sublime super mundane objectives?
To understand the sublime super mundane aspects, it is necessary for one to delve into the sutta and try to see the inner content and not merely from an optical perspective.
In venerating the Dhamma preached by the Enlightened One, we use the words, “opaniko pachchaththan vedithabbo vinnuhiti”. It means getting ever closer to the truth the wise will comprehend through self.
To briefly touch upon the reason for Enlightened One to deliver this discourse, it was due to great debate that went on in this realm and indeed in godly realms as well regarding what the Mangala reasons are. In those days there were three schools of views namely,
- Seeing the good is a blessing
- Hearing the good is a blessing
- Touching the good is a blessing
Blessings (MANGLA) could be of two types,
- Worldly or mundane blessings.
- Super mundane blessing.
The worldly are things such as marriage, the first feeding of a child with solid food, cutting hair of a child for first time, the first reading of words and writing by a child etc. The sound of a Rooster crowing is considered good while the chirp of a Gecko is considered a bad omen.
In the super mundane aspect, Mangala means attainment of Nirvana.
But the worldly or mundane blessings may go wrong, such as a marriage suddenly ending in divorce, a child who had first reading and writing later becoming dumb, after ceremonial cutting of hair child getting bald etc. Yet the worldly people still believe in the seeing, hearing and touching to a greater degree than before and has relegated the comprehension of this Sutta from the perspective of ultimate freedom and giving preference to mundane benefits.
Many thousand years ago in a country, a young man who lived was considered a bad omen by the citizens of that nation and no one ventured out when he was seen around. One day the king of the nation was going on a foot path with his entourage and happened to see this man. The very next moment his head struck the branch of a tree. Enraged and being told that seeing the young man was the reason, he told his guards to behead the man. While being taken away for beheading, the man requested to speak with the king and was granted permission. Then he told the king, “your highness on seeing me this morning your head struck a tree branch causing pain, but after seeing you this morning I am going to be beheaded.” Who was the bad omen?
The first stanza says not to associate the lowly but only associate wise. Most are of the view that this relates to not associating people seen as unsuitable. That is the wrong understanding. The wrong understanding can only lead to establishing ill will in the person concerned and is a demerit. The lowly means those who are not in the path to purification. Despite killing over 1,000 people, yet in the end Angulimala attained nibbana by taking the right path. Even if one was on the wrong path, with understanding can change course and is akin to the full moon coming out of a dark cloud lighting the dark night. Thus those who are the right friends (Kalyana Mitta) should be associated. Indeed this is the first step in the eightfold noble path, Right View.
The second is about suitable locality, to be of merits done in past and set oneself in right course. The suitable locality cannot be found in a place but only about and around self only. One can be in an abode in the most sullied area yet is tranquil and be of inner peace. On the contrary one might live in a luxury apartment and yet may not be of compassion, kindness, equanimity etc. The suitable locality is where the second person greed is not evident.
Greed the second person has travelled with you all this long period, being as this and being as that, and thus will never overcome this sansara.
Merits in the past are those done in the immediate past as well and not only in previous existences and such a person will set him/her on right course of right thought & attitude for emancipation. This is the second step in the eightfold noble path of Right Resolve.
To have much learning, skillful, well trained and disciplined and of good speech is the third stanza. This is the third step in the eightfold noble path. Trained and disciplined will be those who would not utter any lies, not use divisive speech, not indulge in abusive rude talk and also abstain from frivolous talk. Also by training (sikka) only one achieves the attainment of the Jhanas. The Enlightened One uttered, “sikka eka sanna uppajjanthi, sikka eka sanna nirujjanthi” by training itself is one perception arisen and by training itself is one perception eliminated. Even in the Sathipattana Sutta it is stated about training with the whole body experiencing tactile sensations while breathing in and out. This the third step, Right Speech
The fourth stanza is about caring for one’s mother and father, cherish wife and children and be of right action. In other words this is the fourth step of Right Action, of ethical actions that manifest compassion. Sadly though in these days one often hear of how parents are being badly treated by children who at times are even left on the road. Such children will always come to ultimate grief for their actions. The ethical actions are a very important aspect of our lives. It is about not killing, not taking that which is not given and not indulging in any sexual misconduct. Those who resort to such actions though may find some initial satisfaction will ultimately end in great grief. Thus even if one has erred, the need is to take corrective action to be in the right path (Life of Angulimala Thero). This is the fourth step, Right Conduct.
To give generously and be of right conduct, look after ones relatives and is of blameless action is the fifth stanza. This is about making a living through ethical means and being of no harm to others. This is the fifth step of Right Livelihood. However right living is fast disappearing with many today resorting to wrong living in this world like the sale of weapons, be those WMD (weapons of mass destruction) or WSD (weapons of single destruction), intoxicants, liquor, poison etc. Also an alarming development is the use of internet technology, the worldwide web by many vendors to spread things that are of extreme negative impact to the society at large which defile the mindset and propel such people to resort to wrong actions etc.
At Sravasthi a leader of a dance troupe once asked the Buddha whether as told by his teachers that those who entertain people with music and dance will be born heaven. Buddha initially refused to answer but after being asked three times said that those who act to imperil others by stirring their sense desires would only end in lower abodes.
To cease and abstain from evil, refrain from taking intoxicants and heedful of Dhamma is the sixth stanza. Right effort in eightfold noble path is about cleansing of defilements and not accruing new, cultivating the rightful actions and further develop the existing right actions. The person steeped in the practice of this stanza is on the right track. This is the sixth step, Right Effort.
The seventh stanza of great blessings says that it is about being respectful and not full of ego, contented and grateful and to listen to Dhamma at the right times. The eighth is about being patient and obedient, associating Bhikkus and to discuss Dhamma on right occasions. Such actions can never be expected from one not in possession of Right Mindfulness, the 7th step. There is also a wrong mindfulness. Imagine a cat seeing a rat on prowl and will freeze in its step even for an hour or more with intent to kill the rat, a case of wrong mindfulness. Thieves are often possessed with wrong mindfulness.
The ninth expounds about eradicating the defilements by living a chaste life, comprehend the four noble truths and realization of the truth of nibbana. This is the Eighth Step of Right Concentration, of seed and the fruit leading to right knowledge and liberation of Nibbana. Such a mind is unruffled by the eight worldly phenomena of gain/loss, fame/ill fame, praise/blame and happiness/sadness. This indeed is the greatest blessing of all and the Arahaths are not affected by these worldly factors.
Yet the problem with people is that they seek only blessings just by listening to the Sutta and not apply themselves in the strategic path in the daily living. We the worldly people are often under the influence of the eight worldly phenomena. But by adhering to the guidance of these supreme blessing factors one can derive the strength to be of equanimity and not be unduly burdened by the worldly factors.
Though it is an act merit to listen to the Sutta, the important factor is to realize that the Enlightened One has given us guidance to apply these blessings factors to our daily life for ultimate deliverance of Nibbana.
“Thumhe hi kichchan aathappan – Akkatharo Tathagatga
Patipanna Pamokkanthi – Jhayino marabandana”
By you must the effort be made: the Tatagathas point out the way. Those who go this way in contemplation, free themselves from the bondage of Mara.
In essence the Mangala Sutta guides the lay people and well as ascetics to a noble practice while living our daily lives. It should not be seen only as a means for getting blessings or to be recited only on occasions but to be practiced daily and such a person/s would invariably be on the right path to ultimate purification, Nibbana.
“Yassa purecha pachchacha – Majjecha naththi kinchanan
Akinchanan anadanan – Tamhan brumi brahmanan”
To whom there is nothing in the past or in the future or in the present, who owns nothing and who clings to nothing – him I call a Brahmana.
Bhavathu Sabba Mangalam!
(This article has been based on a recent Dhamma Discourse given by Venerable Gampaha Pemasiri Thero of Sumathipala Aranya in Kanduboda)