Gratitude (Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing)


revised on 2020-09-06


By Venerable Uttamo Thera(尊者 鄔達摩 長老)


Kataññutā—gratitude is a very important noble quality which most people neglect or overlook it. Even the Buddha emphasized its noble quality in some suttas. The quality of gratitude connects with the quality of integrity. In the English dictionary, integrity has two meanings: the quality of being honest and firm in your moral principles; quality of being one united thing—harmony and peace.

It also connects with the qualities of Respect and Humility and Contentment, etc. These qualities are in this 7th group of Maṅgala Sutta with gratitude. Here and other places the Buddha arranged his Dhamma teaching in a very systematic and profound way. It is no doubt that the Buddha penetrated the whole universe—mind and physical worlds very profoundly.

Even the great genius of science—Albert Einstein profoundly penetrated the physical world. But still, he had family problems (see his biography) because he was a worldling and only seen one side of the coin. The Buddha and noble beings had seen both sides. There will be many future dangers, small and great are waiting for human beings, if we neglect the importance of the mind and its nature.

Because wholesome dhammas are connecting and relating to each other. Unwholesome dhammas are also in this way. We can arrange all the Buddha’s teachings into three groups (made by the Buddha himself): Sīla Precepts (morality, virtue, ethics), Samādhi—Concentration (calmness, tranquility, peacefulness) and Paññā (discernment, knowledge, wisdom). It is called three-fold of training or educations.

But in real practice—the Noble Eightfold Path are arranged in Paññā, Sīla and Samādhi—Right view, Right thought; Right action, Right speech, Right livelihood; Right mindfulness, Right effort and Right concentration.

These arrangements were made by the Buddha himself, very systematically, profound, by the real progress and development. First, we need intellectual knowledge or paññā to follow the teachings and practice, as like any worthy knowledge and learning. Therefore, it is more like education than religion.

Buddhists do not accept God idea and its Creation; only interest in human beings, nature and natural laws. It is more like a science. The great differences are scientists only knew the physical world, even they do not know about themselves. Their mind is closer to them than the external world.

Only we have the intellectual knowledge on the Teachings can have right view, and will follow with right thoughts and thinking. Human thinks accordingly with their believed systems, ideas and doctrines. After thinking, we follow with actions and speech. And then we do all these actions (wholesome or unwholesome) in our daily life with people and in livelihoods. We have to do or create all these actions with mindfulness (attention), effort and focusing on it.

Therefore, start with right view and whatever follows will become right or wholesome. And start with wrong view and wrong thinking whatever follow will be wrong or unwholesome. The results are positive and negative, happiness and suffering, harmony and disharmony, peace and problems, etc.

We have to acknowledge the gratitude and then repay it kindness with action and speech. In a sutta of Aṅguttara Nikāya, the Buddha mentioned about two persons hard to find. He said:

“Monks, these two people are hard to find in the world. The one who is first to do a kindness. And the one who is grateful for a kindness done and feels obligated to repay it.”

The first person is someone without any reason; good on others and kind to others. The second person is someone who is acknowledging and grateful for kindness done to him. And then feels the obligation to repay it. At least he responded kindly with thank you. Even we cannot be like the first person and must have the quality of the second one.

If we are naturally not good on others, at least be good on others who have benefited us. Even we should see gratitude as a debt. Some not respond gratitude with kindness and good action, instead insult and injure their benefactors. These are evil, nasty and ignoble people, and it will harm themselves greatly.

Mahākappina Jātaka Story

This was a good lesson for these people. It also taught us what the noble and ignoble beings are. Mahākappina was the name of the monkey, and it was the bodhisatta’s past life. A brahman was lost in a deep forest and later fell into a deep valley, injured and could not climb up to the top. Mahākappina—the monkey saw him and had the compassion to save his life. So, he carried the man on his back and brought him to the top.

The monkey was so tired that he placed his head on the lap of the brahman and took a short rest. During the rest, the man wanted to bring the monkey meat to his wife at home. So, he took a large stone and smacked the monkey head with one blow. The monkey’s head was severely injured and blood spurted out and flowed on the whole face and body.

The monkey jumped up instantly and uttered these words surprisingly; “Oh! my God, in this world, still has this kind of man exists.” And then he climbed up instantly to a tree nearby and looking at the brahman amazingly. The man then remembered he was still in the deep forest and knew it dangers there with wild beasts, began to cry pitifully. With sympathy he told the brahman; “Now, I can’t close to you anymore. But I still keep my promise to let you out from the forest. Follow my blood drops.”

The bodhisatta bore his severed pain patiently and jumped from one tree to another and showed him the way out. After they came out to the edge of the forest, the monkey watched him from behind until to a short distance and left.

As soon as the brahman was out of the bodhisatta’s sight, boils and sores appeared from his whole body. It was very painful and unbearable. He did not dare to go back home and ended up at the city gate and became a street beggar. He lived a very painful and miserable life for a few years. One day the king of the country came out to observe the city, and saw him.

He was looked like a strange beast (may be similar to the elephant man) and the king asked what happened to him. After he told his story to him and died. After died and he was reborn in a hell. This was a miserable outcome of ingratitude and severely injured one’s benefactor, who was a noble being. This story was interesting and touching. Ledi Sayadawgyi, in his “Uttamapurisa Dīpanī”, a short treatise on perfection, analyzed the ten perfections in this remarkable story.

Another very important gratitude we have to repay is as debt to our parents. In a sutta on Gratitude in the Aṅguttara Nikāya, the Buddha taught as follow: “These are the levels of a person of no integrity and a person with integrity. A person of no integrity is ungrateful, doesn’t acknowledge the help given to him. This ingratitude, this lack of acknowledgment is second nature among rude people. A person of integrity is grateful and acknowledge the help given to him.

This gratitude, this acknowledgment is second nature among fine people. Two people are no easy to repay, your father and mother. Even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder and your father on the other shoulder for 100 years. And were to look after them be anointing, massaging, bathing and rubbing their limbs, and they were to defecate and urinate on your shoulders, you would not in that way repay your parents.

Even we were to establish them in absolute sovereignty over this great earth, abounding in the seven treasures still would not in that way repay them (i.e., the status of a universal monarch). Why is that? Father and mother do much for their children. They care for them, nourish them and introduce them to this world.

But anyone who rouses his unbelieving parents to settle and establish them in conviction (saddhā); rouses his un-virtuous parents to settle and establish them in virtue; rouses his stingy parents to settle and establish in generosity and rouses his foolish parents to settle and establish them in discernment (paññā); to this extent, one repays one’s parents.”

Above, what the Buddha emphasized the important quality of gratitude was not a small matter. Because he was the greatest of all beings in wisdom and mind power, penetrated everything profoundly and clearly. Now, let us contemplate ancient sages and today people how they see the matter of gratitude. First, study, observe and contemplate ancient culture and sages on gratitude.

Here I can do it with the eastern culture and sages which more or less I know. In all the Buddhist countries with the Buddhist culture and teachings will follow what the Buddha taught. Nowadays the view and practice with gratitude will be Changed a lot with the influence of western culture and thinking. This also strongly influences on the modern Chinese, old or young.

Chinese people were from ancient time had teachings and education in moral and ethical standards, disciplines, duties and obligations from the family level, society level and government level. It seemed to be these wholesome views and education systems were already existing even before Confucius’s time. At a family level, it includes the relationship between parent and children concern with disciplines, rules, duties, obligations, etc.

One of the most important matters is children should have gratitude, respect, proper duties and obligations to the parents. This Shao Tao (it seems to translate into English as filial piety) is the foundation in family education. These moral or ethical codes are very important for human development. Without mental or mind development, material development is dangerous and harmful as seen in today world.

Why is that? If someone does not have any gratitude, respect, duty and obligation to his/her parents will never good to other people. These moral education and codes of conducts are not only concern with family life; it also related to society and country levels. Family life is like the source of a tree, its root. A healthy and strong root will grow a strong trunk, branches, leaves, flowers and fruits.

Therefore, in the ancient time wise emperors, teachers and sages trained and educated crowned princes, government officials and students with these moral and ethical educations and codes of conduct. Some Chinese dynasties were last longer than others because of moral or ethical standards. These were not surprising if someone understands the laws of nature. From wholesome dhamma,, people will get wholesome results.

Nowadays, some Chinese politicians and Chinese people influence by outside or foreign views, cultures and educations and they look down on their culture, moral and ethical values and standards as superstitions and nonsense. These misunderstandings and misinterpretations come from ignorance and delusion. They are deluded and quite ignorant about these moral and ethical standards, values and codes which are related to the natural laws and its ways.

In Chinese, it can be said as tien tao and tien fa or roughly in Chinese the heavenly way and heavenly dhamma—the codes of conducts. These wholesome dhammas will lead beings to good destinations (sugati), such as humans and heavenly beings. Going against them and following the opposite ways will be sure to dugati—painful destinations such as hell beings, animals and ghosts. These are universal and by the law of cause and effect, law of dependent co-arising and law of conditional relation. Whatever your faiths, views, nationality and culture backgrounds, it is always true. These are not inventions by ancient sages and noble beings like the Buddha. They have only discovered the natural laws which govern nature and beings and not by gods or God.

So, some people crazy for power and money is so strong that they do not have any moral standards, values and behaviors. These people take unwholesome things and matters as wholesome, and wholesome as rubbish and non-sense. They misconceive poison as medicine; medicine as poison. The sun will never rise from the west and only from the east. Especially influential people (leaders, politicians, economists, businessmen, etc.) have to be very careful with their outlooks and conducts.

If they are thinking foolishly and conducting stupidly, the harm they cause themselves and others are very serious. We can see all the harms caused by foolishness and stupidity in world history. Great dynasties, kingdoms and great cultures were wiped out on the earth. To become a decent human being need moral educations and conducts. We are born into the human realm must think and behave like a man, and not like animals, ghosts and hell beings. If we have to change, have to change our mind and conduct.

We cannot change the natural law and it will never be. If we were born and will die for sure, and not by God’s wishes, but by the natural laws. A very well known English historian Arnold Toynbee who had studied many world languages praised Chinese culture very highly and its philosophical and wisdom language. People who study Chinese letters will understand what he had said. Some people are asking questions like; “Is man has any future?” Some scholars refer to Chinese civilization and culture as a good example.

From the Buddha’s teachings, this point is also true. The ups and downs of human civilization greatly depend on human moral principles. These are foundations not only as a human but also for survival and progress. All these points were mentioned in two of the long discourses in the Dīgha Nikāya; Cakkavatti Sutta and Aggañña Sutta.

It seemed to be the Chinese knew these things even before the Buddha. This might be one of the main reasons when Buddhism came to China and Chinese people were easily accepted as part of their lives and developed it. Now, these three teachings: Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism are inseparable, and not like the other faiths and religions.

Talk about gratitude, Ven. Sāriputta was also a good example of integrity. He was grateful and acknowledged the help given to him by someone. It was second nature to him, and among the fine people, the Buddha also supported it. Therefore, I have said many times before Ven. Sāriputta was the loveliest man on the earth. He had many fine qualities we need to learn from him. Sāriputta entered the stream (became a sotāpanna) was not with the direct teachings of the Buddha. He heard a short verse from Ven. Assaji (Aśvajit) which run thus:

“Ye dhammā hetuppa bhava, tesaṁ tathāgato āha, tesañca yo nirodho, evaṁ vādī mahā samaṇo.” “The Tathāgata (i.e., Buddha) has declared the cause and also the cessation of all phenomena which arise from the cause. This is the teaching held by the great monk.” Therefore, Ven. Sāriputta always paid respect in the direction where Ven. Assaji was and went to sleep with his head lying in the same direction. This was out of gratitude and respect for his teacher. The Buddha also encouraged the monks to follow his example.

Another story about him was related to Ven. Rādha. Rādha was a poor old brahman who stayed in the monastery and helping the saṅgha with small matters. So, the saṅgha provided him with foods, clothing and dwelling. He wanted to become a monk and asked permission from them. Because of his old age, no one wanted to help him. But the Buddha, with his super-normal power, knew that he was due for arahantship. So, he called all the monks and asked them as was there anyone received Rādha’s offering before.

Ven. Sāriputta told the Buddha that Rādha had offered him a spoonful of rice before. Therefore, he asked Ven. Sāriputta received him as his disciple and trained him. Ven. Sāriputta ordained him and trained him. Old monk Rādha was easy to admonish and followed his instructions strictly that within a few days became an arahant. Here was Ven. Sāriputta even remembered very clear Rādha as a layman offered him a spoonful of rice very long time ago.

This wholesome quality compared to the character of Devadatta, was quite far apart. In the above story Mahākappina, the brahman who smacked the monkey’s head was Devadatta’s past life. Ven Rādha was not an ordinary monk. He was easy to admonish and train also had the desire to know and learn Dhamma. Because of him, there were some Dhamma recorded in the Saṁyutta Nikāya as Rādha Saṁyutta.

He put a lot of questions to the Buddha on Dhamma (over 20 of them) which the Buddha answered and inspired others. Therefore, he was foremost in this. He also had a darker side about him before ordained. He was a family man before and had some children of his own. But after getting old nobody wanted to look after and care for him. Therefore, he ended up living at the monastery.

Nowadays, most societies are in a similar situation; more and more people neglect their parents. Some end up on the street life and others in nursing homes. This kind of ingratitude and disrespect creates without love, compassion and unconcern for others. Even we cannot have gratitude, respect, love, compassion and concern for our parents and it is impossible for thinking to others.

Survival for the fittest is animal philosophy and not for human. Even by reading or hearing about noble beings such as ancient sages, great men, bodhisatta, chief and great disciples of the Buddha and lay people are inspiring and joy arises. If we put them into practice, the results will be greater.

Another important matter to contemplate on gratitude and respect is the natural world surrounds the mother Earth or us. One of the most important things always needs to remind us is we are part of nature. We can never be separated from it if we are selfishly exploiting or misusing it and just for suicide. Therefore, all our thinking and behaviors affect our great mother Earth, just as to our mothers.

The Buddha and ancient sages already knew this a long time ago. Today sciences also confirm it with study, observation, experiment and research. (The same as laws of kamma and rebirth. These discoveries by science solve the problem of God). Our Earth is quite a beautiful planet in our solar system. All these we can see in many color photos around the world if any place was protected.

Even it is quite beautiful from the outer space. Any place without destroyed or polluted by human—forest, mountain, stream, river, waterfall, flowers, trees, etc. have amazing beauty. These things can be felt by people who love and close to nature. The four great element water, earth, fire and air are nourishing our physical bodies day in day out, and all the year round. Our health and survival depend on them.

Does anyone say thank you and I love you to our benefactors? For example, water is the source of life. It has many interesting qualities with it. We are never thinking and concerning them. Without all these natural resources, our human civilization cannot survive and develop or progress. Nowadays if we look at nature, we do a lot of harm to them out of greed and delusion. All the pollution we created were poisoning the earth. Therefore, there are many natural disasters that appear by destroying the harmony of nature.

Even human beings are in disharmony; there will be violence and suffering arise in societies. In nature, everything is interconnecting and relating, whether these are animate or inanimate things. Therefore, with gratitude and respect, we should protect the Earth, treat it properly and wisely. With gratitude and respect come to love, compassion, concern, harmony, happiness and peace.

So, let us develop the noble quality of gratitude for the highest protection with a blessing to oneself and others. (2017 was the hottest year in records. And also, many disasters appeared such as heavy rains, hurricanes, forest fire, very high temperature (50°C), earthquakes, etc.

And then in the United States of America, there were many shootings with guns and killed a lot of innocent people, As an, e.g. in Arizona State, a man from the window of a hotel room was shooting people with the automatic rifle. These people were gathering at the open air concert. Most of these things were happening on the continent of America. Now, the most important and urgent problem to solve is temperature rising. Human mind and behaviors (i.e., unwholesome mental states and actions) are the main causes of all these unfortunate results).


revised on 2020-09-06; cited from https://oba.org.tw/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=4702&p=36974#p36974 (posted on 2019-11-20)


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According to the translator— Ven. Uttamo's words, this is strictly for free distribution only, as a gift of Dhamma—Dhamma Dāna. You may re-format, reprint, translate, and redistribute this work in any medium.