Gratitude (Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing)

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 & firm in your moral principles; quality of being one united thing – harmony & peace.

It also connects with the qualities of Respect & Humility & Contentment, etc. These qualities are in this 7th group of Maṅgala Sutta with gratitude. Here & other places the Buddha arranged his Dhamma teaching in a very systematic & profound way. It is no doubt that the Buddha penetrated the whole universe – mind & 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 & only seen one side of the coin. The Buddha & noble beings had seen both sides. There will be many future dangers, small & great are waiting for human beings, if we neglect the importance of the mind & 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, tranquillity, peacefulness) & Paññā (discernment, knowledge, wisdom). It is called three pieces of training or educations.

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

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

Buddhists do not accept God idea & its Creation; only interest in human beings, nature & 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 & thinking. Human thinks accordingly with their believed systems, ideas & doctrines. After thinking, we follow with actions & speech. And then we do all these actions (wholesome or unwholesome) in our daily life with people & in livelihoods. We have to do or create all these actions with mindfulness (attention), effort & focusing on it.

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

We have to acknowledge the gratitude & then repay it kindness with action & speech. In a sutta of Aṅguttana 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 & feels obligated to repay it.”

The first person is someone without any reason; good on others & kind to others. The second person is someone who is acknowledging & 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 & must have the quality of the 2nd 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 & good action, instead insult & injure their benefactors. These are evil, nasty & ignoble people, & it will harm themselves greatly.

Mahākappina Jataka Story

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

The monkey was so tired that he placed his head on the lap of the brahman & 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 & smacked the monkey head with one blow. The monkey’s head was severely injured & blood spurted out & flowed on the whole face & body.

The money jumped up instantly & 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 & looking at the brahman amazingly. The man then remembered he was still in the deep forest & 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 & jumped from one tree to another & showed the way out. After they came out to the edge of the forest, the monkey watched him from behind until to a short distance & left.

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

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

Another very important gratitude we have to repay as debt is 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 & 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 & acknowledges the help given to him.

This gratitude, this acknowledgment is second nature among fine people. Two people are no easy to repay, your father & mother. Even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder & your father on the other shoulder for 100 years. And were to look after them be anointing, massaging, bathing & rubbing their limbs, & they were to defecate & 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 & mother do much for their children. They care for them, nourish them & introduce them to this world.

But anyone who rouses his unbelieving parents establishes them in conviction (saddhā); rouses his unvirtuous parents establish them in virtue; rouses his stingy parents establishes in generosity & rouses his foolish parents establishes them in discernment (paññā). To this extent, one repays one’s parents.”

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

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

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

One of the most important matters is children should have gratitude, respect, proper duties & 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 & harmful as seen in today world.

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

Therefore, in the ancient time wise emperors, teachers & sages trained & educated crowned princes, government officials & students with these moral & ethical educations & 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 & Chinese people influence by outside or foreign views, cultures & educations & they look down on their culture, moral & ethical values & standards as superstitions & nonsense. These misunderstandings & interpretations come from ignorance & delusion. They are deluded & quite ignorant that these moral & ethical standards, values & codes are by the natural laws & ways.

In Chinese can be said as tien tao & tien fa or roughly in Chinese the heavenly way & codes of conducts. These are universal & by the law of cause & effect, law of dependent co-arising & law of conditional relation. Whatever your faiths, views, nationality & culture backgrounds, it is always true. These are not inventions by ancient sages & noble beings like the Buddha. They have only discovered the natural laws which govern nature & beings & not by gods or God.

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

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

We cannot change the natural law & it will never be. If we were born & will die for sure, & 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 & its philosophical & 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 & culture as a good example.

From the Buddha’s teachings, this point is also true. The ups & downs of human civilization greatly depend on human moral principles. These are foundations not only as a human but also for survival & progress. All these points were mentioned in 2 of the long discourses in the Dīgha Nikāya; Cakkavatti Sutta & Aggaññā 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 & Chinese people were easily accepted as part of their lives & developed it. Now, these three teachings: Taoism, Confucianism & Buddhism are inseparable, & not like the other faiths & religions.

Talk about gratitude, Ven. Sariputta was also a good example of integrity. He was grateful & acknowledged the help given to him by someone. It was second nature to him, & among the fine people, the Buddha also supported it. Therefore, I have said many times before Ven. Sariputta was the loveliest man on the earth. He had many fine qualities we need to learn from him. Sariputta entered the stream (became a sotāpanna) was not with the direct teachings of the Buddha. He heard a short verse from Ven. Assajit (Assaji) 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 & also the cessation of all phenomena which arise from the cause. This is the teaching held by the great monk.” Therefore Ven. Sariputta always paid respect in the direction where Ven. Assaji was & went to sleep with his head lying in the same direction. This was out of gratitude & 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 & helping the sangha with small matters. So, the sangha provided him with foods, clothing & dwelling. He wanted to become a monk & asked permission from them. Because of his old age, no one wanted to help him. But the Buddha, with his supernormal power, knew that he was due for arahatship. So, he called all the monks & asked them as was there anyone received Rādha’s offering before.

Ven. Sariputta told the Buddha that Rādha had offered him a spoonful of rice before. Therefore, he asked Ven. Sariputta received him as his disciple & trained him. Ven. Sariputta ordained him & trained him. Old monk Rādha was easy to admonish & followed his instructions strictly that within a few days became an arahant. Here was Ven. Sariputta 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 & train also had the desire to know & 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 & inspired others. Therefore, he was foremost in this. He also had a darker side about him before ordained. He was a family man before & had some children of his own. But after getting old nobody wanted to look after & care for him. Therefore, I ended up living at the monastery.

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

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

Another important matter to contemplate on gratitude & 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 & just for suicide. Therefore, all our thinking & behaviors affect our great mother Earth, just as to our mothers.

The Buddha & ancient sages already knew this a long time ago. Today sciences also confirm it with study, observation, experiment & research. (The same as laws of kamma & 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 & closes to nature. The four great element water, earth, fire & air are nourishing our physical bodies day in day out, & all the year round. Our health & survival depend on them.

Does anyone say thank you & I love you to our benefactors? E.g., water is the source of life. It has many interesting qualities with it. We are never thinking & concerning them. Without all these natural resources, our human civilization cannot survive & develop or progress. Nowadays if we look at nature, we do a lot of harm to them out of greed & delusion. All the pollutions 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 & suffering arise in societies. In nature, everything is interconnecting & relating, whether these are animate or inanimate things. Therefore, with gratitude & respect, we should protect the Earth, treat it properly & wisely. With gratitude & respect come to love, compassion, concern, harmony, happiness & peace.

So, let us develop the noble quality of gratitude for the highest protection with a blessing to oneself & 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 & 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 & behaviors (i.e., unwholesome mental states & actions) are the main causes of all these unfortunate results).

cited from (posted on 2019-11-20)

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