What Does It Mean to Be Blessed?

gold and silver dragon figurine
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While we ask [the Buddha and] the Sangha for occasional blessings,
they bless themselves continually by
learning, practising, realising and sharing the Dharma,
just as we can too.

— Stonepeace | Get books

There is a short but popular scripture called the Mangala Sutta (Discourse on Blessings). According to a commentary, it was preached when there was a great discussion among humans regarding what the true definition of ‘blessings’ was. The devas (gods) who overheard this too argued among themselves till the debate spread upwards into the heavens. Knowing this, Sakka (Sakra: king of Tavatimsa heaven) suggested that a deva should visit the Buddha for the answer. The sutta is an example of why the wise Buddha is regarded as a ‘Teacher of humans and gods’. In the cover of deep night for privacy, the deva, whose radiance illuminated Jeta Grove approached the Buddha, respectfully saluted him and asked, ‘Many deities and humans longing for [good and] happiness have pondered on blessings [mangala: that conducive to happiness and prosperity]. Pray tell me what the highest blessings are.’ The Buddha replied thus —  ‘[1] Not to associate with the foolish [who have evil conduct, unless one can transform them], but to associate with the wise; and to honour those who are worthy of honour — this is the greatest blessing. [2] To reside in a suitable locality [for Dharma learning and practice], to have done meritorious actions in the past and to set oneself in the right course [towards enlightenment] — this is the greatest blessing. [3] To have much learning, to be skilful in [handi]craft [skill for one’s work], well-trained in discipline, and to be of good speech — this is the greatest blessing.

[4] To support mother and father, to cherish wife [spouse] and children, and to be engaged in peaceful occupation [that harms none] — this is the greatest blessing. [5] To be generous in giving, to be righteous in conduct, to help one’s relatives, and to be blameless in action — this is the greatest blessing. [6] To abhor more evil and abstain from it, to refrain from intoxicants, and to be steadfast in virtue — this is the greatest blessing. [7] To be respectful, humble, contented and grateful; and to listen to the Dharma on due occasions — this is the greatest blessing. [8] To be patient and obedient, to associate with [good and wise] monastics and to have religious discussions on due occasions — this is the greatest blessing. [9] Self-restraint, a holy and chaste life, the perception of the Noble Truths and the realisation of Nirvana — this is the greatest blessing. [10] A mind unruffled by the vicissitudes of life (Eight Worldly Winds: gain-loss, fame-defame, praise-blame, pleasure-pain), from sorrow freed, from defilements [greed, hate, delusion] cleansed, from fear liberated — this is the greatest blessing. Those who thus abide [in the above, from 1-10], ever remain invincible, in happiness established. These are the greatest blessings.’ (Adapted from Venerable Narada’s translation)

The deva might had expected a simple singular and somewhat unfathomable answer, but what the Buddha pragmatically listed was a checklist of down-to-earth blessings (10 in brief and 38 in detail), beginning from the attainment of worldly happiness, and stretching progressively to the ultimate goal of spiritual happiness, all of which are the greatest blessings in their own context, which implies that they collectively form the truly greatest of all blessings. The less we fulfill of the list, the less blessed we are, missing opportunities to sustain or increase our blessings. Of course, to share these teachings like the Buddha did to guide others to practise accordingly would constitute an even greater blessing. Instead of blessings being a vague or abstract power given by others to us, to be blessed is in terms of protecting and elevating oneself from evil, to advance towards purity in compassion and wisdom. However, this does not mean blessings must always be self-created and can never be shared, as we can still practise the dedicating of merits from our own blessings with one another. The Mangala Sutta is traditionally recited as a Paritta text for protection and yes, blessing – for both the reciters and listeners seen and unseen, which urges them to bless themselves by following its teachings. In a way, when the sutta is chanted, the Buddha is sharing the blessings of his realisation of its truths with us too! To copy the sutta in print to better internalise its teachings, and for sharing it is meritorious too. This applies to forwarding to share this article too!

What greater blessing can there be
than being able to and actualising
the learning, practising, realising and sharing of the Dharma?

— Stonepeace | Get books

Related Article:
An Exposition of the Mangala Sutta

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