Texts — Maṅgala Sutta: Discourse on Protection with Blessings
revised on 2020-03-24
By Venerable Uttamo Thera（尊者 鄔達摩 長老）
Nearly all the Theravadin Buddhists heard this sutta chanting before. The Buddhist children learned it from monasteries and schools. At the time of the Buddha men and deities pondered, discussed and argued about the true meaning of blessings (maṅgala). Different people had a different view, and they could not agree to the twelve years of debates.
The Pāli word maṅgala means auspicious and often referring to lucky signs.
In this discourse, it had the meanings of a thing conducive to happiness and welfare. Therefore, most scholars translated it as Blessing.
The question of the debate among human beings was: “What is the blessing?” Everyone has his/her views and opinion of the types of blessing. These depend on their experiences with the five senses of eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. There is nothing strange that they do not come to a final agreement. Everyone has his/her level of knowledge, so the understanding is different. A man hungering and thirsting for money will think about money; so, these people are competing and fighting for power (e.g., politicians). Therefore, every human’s view and thinking are very important because it relates to his/her action. Right view and thought lead to right actions, then the outcomes are peace and happiness. The opposite ways lead to sufferings, chaos, problems and dangers.
At first, the question was asked starting from human beings and then earth deities, deities ruled by four divine kings, it continued up until the deities of the Akaniṭṭha realm (the Highest Pure Abode – dwelt with ariyan brahma gods). It seemed even ariyan brahma gods could not give the right satisfied answers except by the Buddha.
So, a commotion about blessings arose in the world. Here the word commotion is for the Pāli – kolāhala and some translate as rumour which is not exact meaning. Rumour can be true or may be not. Kolāhala always come true.
There were five kinds of kolāhala mentioned in the Texts. These were:
- Commotion about the aeon (Kappakolāhala)
This was Doomsday mentioned in the Buddhist Text. The desire-sphere deities (kāmaloka devatas) made announcements to human as followed. The end of the world would occur after 100,000 years. The world would perish, the great ocean would dry up, the Earth and mountains would burn up and perish. All these destructions would occur up to the Brahma World (i.e., the first jhanic place, burnt down the three lower Brahma Worlds). They ask the humans to develop the four Brahmavihāras (loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity), attend on parents, respect the elders in the family (these were also mentioned in the Maṅgala Sutta). They should be vigilant and heedful.
- Commotion about a wheel-turning monarch
The same desire-sphere deities wandered among humans and made the announcements that a wheel-turning monarch would arise in the world after 100,000 years.
- Commotion about a Buddha
The deities of the pure abodes (i.e., ariyan brahma gods) filled with rapture and joy proclaimed the excellent attributes of a Buddha. They wandered among humans and made the announcements that a Buddha would arise in the world after 100,000 years.
- Commotion about blessings
The deities of the pure abodes wandered among humans and made the announcements that the Buddha would explain the blessings after twelve years.
- Commotion about the way of a sage (moneyya)
The deities of the pure abodes wander among humans and made the announcements that a monk would meet the Buddha and ask about the way of a sage (moneyya) after seven years. The way to arahantship is called moneyya. Moneyya practices are very severe and more difficult than dhutaṅga practices. With every Buddha only had one disciple for this practice. Nālaka hermit was the one who practiced moneyya (see Suttanipāta, 3. Mahāvaggo, 11. Nālakasuttaṃ; Sn 3-11 Nālaka Sutta).
At last, the commotion about the blessings arrived at the ruler of the Tāvatiṁsa Heaven – Sakka. He was wise and knew that no-one could give the right answer except the Buddha. So, he sent a young devata to the Buddha and asked the question about blessings (maṅgala).
The young deity went to the Buddha for the answer, and he was staying in Sāvatthi at Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery.
The Buddha gave the answers to different kinds of blessing from the mundane to the supramundane levels. Buddhists recite it for blessings and free from dangers. Reciting is reminding us and for contemplation. The most important point is put into practice. All the Buddha's teachings were nearly on human beings and the human mind. It was more like education than a religion. A being born into the human world has two ways to choose and walk along on one of the paths.
One is downfall and failures. The other is development and success. These are the unwholesome and wholesome ways or negative and positive ways. All of them are related to the law of actions (kamma) or cause and effect. To choose the right one, we need wholesome education and have to rely on the teachings of the Buddha, noble beings, and ancient sages.
There was also a counterpart of Maṅgala Sutta in the Suttanipāta called Downfall – Parābhava Sutta (Sn 1-6. Parābhavasuttaṃ). This was a deity came to ask the Buddha about the causes of a person’s failure and leading to perish. The question appeared in their minds after the deities knew about the blessings. We should not only know about the progress and success in life and after but also the causes of failures and downfalls; so that we should know what should have to follow and what should have to avoid. The Buddha gave the causes one by one up to the twelfth cause and stopped there because the deity stopped asking.
The causes of downfall in the sutta were:
- One who detests the Dhamma (e.g., the ten causes of wholesome kamma);
- Associating with bad people and preferring their teaching (e.g., the ten unwholesome kamma);
- Not supporting one’s parents, not taking care of them, not serving them (with this point we can appreciate the wisdom of the Chinese sages – the Shao-tao as a foundation of progress);
- Deceptive speech;
- Miserliness (Here the Buddha mentioned very rich people indulgence in sensual pleasures and a miser to others. Even in U.S. we heard news about a wealthy politician using public funds for pleasure);
- Social pride, look down on one’s relatives;
- Sexual promiscuity, indulgence in liquor, fondness for gambling;
- Not content with one’s wife, with others’ wives and prostitutes;
- With old age marries a girl and could not sleep from jealousy over her (there was a Thai news some years ago, a 74 years-old man married a 14 years-old girl);
- Debauched, spendthrift;
- With little wealth and strong craving, no contentment, with strong craving and thirst for power (we can see that politician’s thirst for money and business men’s thirst for power in today world).
After the Buddha explaining the twelfth cause for downfall and the deity stopped for asking other causes. The reason was he found no pleasure in the causes of downfall. Countless of deities had strong saṁvega in the teaching and practiced accordingly, attained the fruits of stream-entry, one-returner and non-returner respectively. Although the Buddha stopped the causes of downfall further, we can continue the contemplation. In the small booklet of “Abhidhamma in Daily Life” by Sayadaw Ashin Janakābhivamsa it mentioned about the unwholesome and wholesome mental factors (akusala and kusala cetasikas). There are fourteen unwholesome mental states or factors effecting the mind (citta) towards negative directions and results. These are:
① Delusion ② Shamelessness ③ Fearlessness of wrong ④ Restlessness ⑤ Greed ⑥ Wrong view ⑦ Conceit ⑧ Hatred ⑨ Envy ⑩ Avarice ⑪ Worry ⑫ Sloth ⑬ Torpor and ⑭ Doubt.
There are fourteen mental factors effecting the mind towards positive directions and results. These are:
① Faith ② Mindfulness ③ Shame of doing wrong ④ Fear of doing wrong ⑤ Non-greed ⑥ Non-hatred ⑦ Non-delusion ⑧ Loving friendliness ⑨ Compassion ⑩ Appreciative joy ⑪ Equanimity ⑫ Right speech ⑬ Right action ⑭ Right Livelihood
We can select out the roots related to these two groups of unwholesome and wholesome mental factors; we will get three roots from each group. For unwholesome roots are: ① Greed ② Hatred ③ Delusion. For wholesome roots are: ① Non-greed ② Non-hatred ③ Non-delusion.
From the lists of unwholesome dhammas and its roots, and wholesome dhammas and its roots, human beings have the choices to choose for their downfall and welfare. Following the path of unwholesome roots will lead to downfall and sufferings; whereas it will lead to development, success, peace and happiness with the wholesome roots. People without proper knowledge and education usually end up with the negative path. Instead of making friends with the wholesome roots, they choose the enemies as teachers. The Buddha not only taught about downfall and blessings but also transcended them. Therefore, there are three path or ways opening to everyone. It is the good time and opportunity now to transcend dukkha by following the 37 or 38 blessings which mentioned in the Maṅgala Sutta. We should not miss this chance. (It is also interesting to compare some of the mundane blessings mentioned by the Buddha with some of the teachings of the ancient Chinese sages. There were some similarities between them. Maybe this was one of the reasons Chinese people easily accepted Buddhism when it was spreading into China.)
We are learning the Maṅgala Sutta by heart even at a young age as children. But we are still distancing ourselves with it from the practical way of life. Therefore, we have to study and learn it and then use it in daily life.
revised on 2020-03-24; cited from https://oba.org.tw/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=4702&p=36769#p36769 (posted on 2019-09-11)
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