Those who have explored it, know the power of the practice of gratitude. But different people find they are thankful for quite different things. In other words, when we count our blessings, it really is a skill to know what your blessings are. It turns out that this very question was put to the Buddha. And he, a master of lists, lists 38 of them. This is the topic of the sutta from the Pāli canon that I wanted to share today – the Mangala Sutta. It appears twice in the canon (The Sutta Nipāta and the Khuddakapāṭha). This site offers translations by 4 authors, but my favorite are the ones by Ven. Ṭhanissaro and Ven. Nārada. Ajahn Geoff (Ven. Ṭhanissaro) has chosen to call it “highest protection”. Others have called it the highest blessing. In any case, every time I read it, I realize how many things are going right for me. It’s hard not to read it and feel wealthy as many of us check off at least a few of these supreme blessings.
I share the sutta below mixing the two translations and perhaps adding a third perspective (my own) a bit. I mean no disrespect to either of these great scholars – I have nothing but the highest regard for them. It is just that for some phrases, I liked one better and for some others, I like the other translation.
I have heard that at one time the Blessed One was staying in Savatthi at Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. Then a certain devatā, in the far extreme of the night, her extreme radiance lighting up the entirety of Jeta’s Grove, approached the Blessed One. On approaching, having bowed down to the Blessed One, she stood to one side. As she stood to one side, she addressed him with a verse. Many devas and human beings have pondered the blessings, desiring well-being. Tell, then, the highest blessings.
The Buddha replied:
“Not to associate with the foolish, but to associate with the wise; and to honor those who are worthy of honor — this is the greatest blessing.
To reside in a suitable locality, to have done meritorious actions in the past and to set oneself in the right course — this is the greatest blessing.
To have much learning, to be skilled at one’s work, well-trained in discipline, and well-spoken — this is the greatest blessing.
To support mother and father, to cherish wife and children, and to be engaged in conflict-free work (occupation) — this is the greatest blessing.
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.
To avoid evil and abstain from it, to refrain from intoxicants, and to be steadfast in virtue — this is the greatest blessing.
To be respectful, humble, contented and grateful; and hearing the Dhamma on due occasions — this is the greatest blessing.
To be patient and compliant when corrected, the seeing of monks and discussion of the Dhamma on due occasions — this is the greatest blessing.
Self-restraint, a holy and chaste life, the seeing of the Noble Truths and the realisation of Nibbāna — this is the greatest blessing.
A mind unruffled when touched by worldly circumstances, freed from sorrow, cleansed of defilements, liberated from fear — this is the greatest blessing.
By acting in this way, they are everywhere unvanquished, and everywhere they go in safety: Theirs, the highest blessings”
- The Pali words here are samaṇānañca dassanam:
- samaṇa literally means one who exerts himself/herself in spiritual pursuit – a seeker. However, the word has been used to mean a specific type of seeker – a certain category of renunciates that includes Buddhist and Jain monks and distinct from another category of seeker – brāhmaṇa.
- Seeing is indeed the literal translation of dassanam. One can take it to mean meeting/associating with monks, but this particular verse has for centuries captured the imagination of the devout – that the mere sight of monks is a fortunate occurrence, on many occasions having inspired people to take their first step on the path. I have left it as the literal ‘seeing’ to honor the interpretation of those who have gone before us.
- The maṅgala sutta is among the traditional verses of protection (paritta) chanted by people in some countries – usually on Sundays. It is worth reflecting on why reading this sutta is a protection of oneself.
- The image above is of a different scene from the canon, but it has some elements in common with the story above – the Buddha meditating in the woods, a luminous being approaching him with a request…
1. “The Khuddakapatha” (Khp 1-9), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/khp/khp.1-9.than.html
2. “Mangala Sutta: Blessings” (Khp 5), translated from the Pali by Narada Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/khp/khp.5.nara.html .