Hearing the Dhamma on Timely Occasions (Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing)

By Venerable Uttamo Thera(尊者 鄔達摩 長老)

Some Buddhists may be not taken this matter seriously & very important. There are many reasons for listening to Dhamma as very important. Nowadays, we can include also study & reading the Buddha’s Teachings from Pali texts translations or written by scholars (most importantly by Buddhist scholars, such as monks).

One of the factors for realization is listening Dhamma talks. The Buddha also said to the monks, after he passed away, the Buddha Dhamma was their teacher. Only by knowing the teachings we can have right views, what are wholesome & not wholesome, what is right or wrong, what is proper or not proper & then we can walk on the right path.

In the Buddha’s time even, some monks & lay people were having the realizations while listening to the Dhamma of the Buddha or one of his disciples. Among the Theravadin Buddhist countries, Burmese Buddhists are very fortunate in this matter. Because Burmese monks had the strong tradition of study & practice of the Pali texts. It produced many fine scholar monks & meditation teachers. From the middle of the 20th century up to this day, some monks could recite the whole Tipitaka by heart.

Burmese monks usually give their talks based on the suttas. So, by listening these talks were like it came from the Buddha directly. Even today, there are more lay people studying the suttas & Abhidhamma directly with teachers.

What time should people listen to Dhamma? It had been said differently in the texts. In the Mahāgovinda Sutta, it was mentioned every five days, & in one sutta it also said that if someone had time & teacher for giving a talk should listen to it. The best time may be someone has stress, unhappiness, sorrow, lamentation pain, grief & despair, a very good, e.g. was the story of Theri Patācārā (a Buddhist nun).

Before ordained, she had lost her whole family, husband, two sons, parents & 3 brothers. With over sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief & despair, she became nearly mad. And then she encountered the Buddha & by listening to his powerful Dhamma, she overcame her sorrow & entered the stream. Another interesting story was about the heavenly being (devata) Subrahmā.

One time he was enjoying the heavenly pleasures with his 1,000 celestial nymphs outdoor under a flowering tree. Human beings enjoy the lowly & ignoble pleasures by making money to destroy the earth, without unaware of the outcome of it. So heavenly beings are more easily under the power of delusion.

The five hundred nymphs on the tree plucked the flowers & threw it down for the other 500 underneath the tree. They made the wreaths of flower for Subrahmā. After sometimes the 500 nymphs on the tree died suddenly & disappeared on the spot. They took rebirths in hell. Without the flowers coming down and singing, the others looked up the tree and found out the situation.

Not seeing anyone of them, Subrahmā devata with his divine eyes searched for them & found them in the hell. The working of the law of kamma is inconceivable. Everyone (all living beings) has good & bad kammas carrying with them (kammic energy) in the round of existence. All these are waiting for chances to give the results.

Now, the time was ripe for these beings. So, Subrahmā checked his future with his supernormal power, and also found out that after seven days they would die & fall into the hell. Hence, in utter fear, he came to the Buddha for seeking consolation. The Buddha gave them talk & at the end, all of them entered the stream. The door to hell waiting for them was closed forever. So, Buddhists should listen to Dhamma talks (including reading & studying) at any time if they have chances & times.

This will increase our knowledge & become intelligent & wise people. Spiritual people knew this point very well. E.g., the Chinese sages invented a system of training their students, which was called reading texts for 100 times or 1,000 times. Some modern teachers experimented with these systems & found out that children had bad habits & characters changed to good persons. They also had a strong power of attention & intelligence.

Time limit is not the main point here in hearing the Dhamma. The time someone needs it urgently is more important, as shown above with the nun Patācārā & Subrahmā devata. But with more listening is better, because it will decrease our mental pollutions. By watching some of the media such as movies, TV programs, video games, etc. are quite harmful to people. If they include a lot of violence, sex, etc.

which are pollutants for our minds. It is like a bulb light in a kitchen at the cooking place, everyday contacts with the dirty air with oil & smoke. After sometimes it becomes dirtier, clouded & not bright anymore. Why is that? Because we use our six senses in an unwholesome way. It also likes eating unhealthy foods for every day; such as junk foods, foods connecting with pesticides, foods with chemicals inside, etc. Then our health degenerate & end up with sickness, pains & deaths.

Our mind is like clear water or bright mirror. With it, we can see things clearly & penetrate them. With the dirty one, we cannot do it. There are some higher beings the rupa-brahma gods (beings with the material jhānic power) seemed to be used only three senses; eye, ear & mind doors. These are very useful & important for them.

They can meet the Buddha & arahants to listen to their talk & easily get attainments. The other sensitivities of smell, taste & touch, which they do not need them. But human beings are not like this. They prefer to see & listen to a lot of media with pollutants such as

Sex, violence, useless chattering, etc. Even some children are not escaping from these pollutants. Because some comic books, cartoons, video games, books included these things in it. Media have the great power of educations. Regarding media education, there was a tragic story connected with a woman named Miss Song. It is worth to mention here. She was from the Liao Ning Province of N.E China.

When she was young as a teenage girl liked to watch Tv, videos, and movies and brainwashed by the polluted media. And then she started to beautify herself & had a lot of affairs with men. According to her confession, she had over 40 lovers in her life. At the age of 50, she found out that she had the cancer of the uterus. It was in a serious & severe situation, blood & pus came out often.

The doctor told her that she could survive only three months. Luckily at that period, she encountered with good-hearted people who studied & practiced Confucianism & Buddhism. Within the short period of her life, she gave a lot of public talks & educated people not to get lost in media.

At last with the Buddhist practice, she passed away peacefully. Here we can see the results of unwholesome & wholesome educations very clear. Therefore, we should not use it for foolishly & stupidly. And should not take media education as lightly. Today a lot of social problems have a lot of connection with them. The benefits of listening Dhamma are:

(1) Hearing things never heard before
(2) Having a clear knowledge
(3) Overcoming doubts
(4) Having right views
(5) One’s mind grows serene.

These are the five rewards in listening to the Dhamma.

  1. One hears what one has not heard before

Most people knowledge is very limited. But Buddhas were an exception. In a sutta, the Buddha said that his knowledge was like many leaves in a forest, but he taught only like a handful of leaves on his hand. Even these handful of teachings we know very little, not completely & only superficially. Many of them were we never heard before. If make out the lists there are many.

The most important one was the Four Noble Truths with its details in many suttas. Some of the worldly knowledge even we know very little about it, e.g. rebirth, other faiths take it as reincarnation. Some even not accept this view. The Buddha described it as the rounds of existence, & with it 31 realms of existence.

  1. One clarifies what one has heard before

These are also can give many examples of them. Most people think God creates us & believe in the Creation. The Buddha taught the rounds of the existence of all living beings with the law of Dependent Co-arising (Paticcasamupada). Most people believe there is a permanent self, a soul, or God exists.

They also heard from many faiths teach about them. When they read Buddhism or listen to Dhamma on the doctrine of not-self (anatta) which they never heard before, even not in this life, but for many lives of existence. Because only the Buddha & Pacceka-buddhas could discover it & only the Buddha could teach them. Therefore, it is not surprising that nobody can teach about it.

  1. One gets rid of doubt

Overcoming of doubt is very important for whatever we are studying or doing. Because this is one of the hindrances. The meaning of doubt is: have a feeling of uncertainty, isn’t true or possible? Probably not true or possible, might not be true or might not be existed. So, it has the power of obstruction to our progress in doing something & knowledge.

If someone doubts wrong views & practices is better than without it. But if someone doubts right views & practices will incline towards wrong views & practices; then it is dangerous. In Buddhist spiritual practice overcoming doubt is very important. This is one of the foundations of knowledge in insight practice (vipassanā).

The other is the foundation knowledge of the mind & material phenomena or right view. With the analytical knowledge of mind & body, the view of a being, a person, a soul or self is disappeared. Then, it reduces the affection & hate (like or dislike) on someone. Overcoming doubt is the discernment of the conditions of mind & body. In the world, the different faiths or religions arise is not knowing the causes of phenomena, e.g., the doctrine of the creator & the creation.

The causes of phenomena are so deep & profound that people are following the ways of easy thinking. The Buddha did not accept the first cause or root cause. The easiest way of thinking is the doctrine of causes-ahetuka-vada. Both of them are extreme views. Here I want to present a story of a person who had got rid of doubt. This man was born into a Muslim family. At a young age, his father forced him to study & learn the Koran text with a teacher. He had the nature of curiosity, inquiry mind & intelligent. He never accepted anything without clear understanding & direct experience.

Later he fell in love with a Christian & studied the Old & New Bibles. Later he became a teacher in Philosophy Department & studied all the eastern & western philosophy & doctrines. After sometimes, he had the duty to write a book on Buddhist Ethics to teach the philosophy students. He did not have good knowledge of Buddhism, except mentioned in the Philosophy books. So, he made thorough research & study on Buddhism for the Buddhist Ethics textbook.

Even later he wrote a book on Religions, included 11 faiths. From his knowledge about religions, he preferred Buddhism to others. The reason behind it was more logical & profound than others. The most important point was Buddhism cleared away of his doubt on the Creator & the Creation as it was not the truth. But still at that time not become a Buddhist yet. He still doubted the doctrine on rebirth.

The reason was he could not prove it or had direct experience. Luckily, later, he could prove it as a truth. And then became a Buddhist at the age of 50. Later he went to 10 days vipassanā retreat & had a direct understanding of the 4 Noble Truths & became a Buddhist monk. This was the ending of all of his search for the truth. Doubt on his father’s faith led to the search for the truth, & with the Buddha’s teaching led to the ending of all doubts.

  1. One’s views are made straight

If one has wrong views & by listening Dhamma, clearing doubt & wrong views. So, one’s views are made straight or right. There are eight causes for wrong views to arise. The two main causes are:

[1] Listening wrong teachings
[2] Unwise attention (ayonisomanasikara).

The opposites are also true if someone has to listen the right teachings will have right views & wise or right or proper attention. With wise attention & wrong views are overcome. There was an interesting discourse in the Aṅguttara Nikāya. It was Aramadhanta Sutta & the name of a brahman. He asked the Buddha about the reasons for disputes & arguments. He asked in general & the Buddha also answered in general. Only the Buddha & arahants overcome them.

The causes are still existing that people have disputes & arguments. With different views that people are disputing & arguing. Therefore, we must find out the causes for them to arise. The Buddha’s Teachings were searching for the main causes. There are two causes: original & nearest causes. The 4 Noble Truths are also in this way. These are internal & external causes, without finding out the internal causes we cannot solve the disputes.

There are two groups of disputed people; the householders & religious group. Their fundamental internal causes are different. In one of Mahā Kaccāyana’s discourses, the internal cause for householders for dispute is kamaragakilesa - the defilement of sensual lust. These are the desirous objects of the five sense objects - form, sound, smell, taste & touch.

Sensuality is the main cause & there are also other causes. Sensual lust sinks someone. People are controlled & governed by lust & sensuality that in disputes & arguments. Out of craving or desire that many disputes are arising. If we study the present situations around the world, this is very clear.

Religious people are disputing & arguing for different views, doctrines, ideas & outlooks. Overcome or transcend sensual lust & views are the Buddha & arahants only.

Buddhists who listen to Dhamma talks with mindfulness or Pali Chanting know this experience directly. Wholesome dhamma has the wholesome result, & unwholesome dhamma has an unwholesome result. Therefore, we should not overlook the effect of sound on one’s mind. Even nature is sensitive about it.

So, we have to be very careful about the media. Seeing & watching all this rubbish will pollute our mind. Now, scientists with many types of research & experiments also have found its effects on the mind and the physical world.

Recently, a very funny thing had happened. In America, at a music concert, surely it was nothing to do with classical music. This was violent music with the youths & they were singing & shouting violently. Suddenly a 16-year-old girl fell & sent her to a hospital & saved her life. Her lung could not work properly because of the over shouting. Luckily, the doctors saved her life back.

The Mahayana Buddhists even use sound & spiritual music to calm their mind. In the Pali Suttas there were many stories & incidents of monks & lay people by listening to the Dhamma gave by the Buddha & they had realizations. Why could these people achieve the results? We know that Buddhist training is sīla, samādhi & paññā. (precepts, concentration & discernment or wisdom).

During the talks, their precepts were pure. Concentrating on the Dhamma & their mind became calm & peaceful. Their mind was not concentrating on the sensual objects like today, man. With the calm & peaceful mind & contemplation led to a realization. The nun Patācārā was overcome by sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief & despair, which made her nearly mad. After hearing the Buddha’s teaching, her mind became calm & serene. And then continued to give her special teaching that she was established in the fruit of stream-entry.

Ālavaka was the most violent & fearsome ogre (yakkha). He was so angry with the Buddha that even threatened to split the Buddha’s heart & grabbed him by the feet & hurled him across the Ganges River. Even this very violent & fearsome being after listened to the Dhamma & his mind became calm & serene & also established in the fruit of stream-entry.

So hearing & listening Dhamma is a very important matter for Buddhists. It is as an important practice in cultivation of the mind, by listening very often with contemplation. This is not only accumulated Dhamma knowledge with contemplation but also increase our intelligence & discernment. With a lot of Dhamma knowledge & practice, we can solve many problems in daily life when it needs.

In a sutta in the Aṅguttara Nikāya, two brahmins Kāranapālī and Piṅgiyāni were talking about the Dhamma of the Buddha. Piṅgiyāni brahman explained to the other brahmin on the qualities of the Buddha Dhamma with five similes. Brahmin Piṅgiyāni was a non-returner (anāgāmin) and visiting the Buddha every day to offer incense & garlands.

[1] Someone after listening to the Dhamma of the samana Gautama (i.e., Buddha) & he could not listen to the other dhammas anymore (i.e., the teachings of other teachers). As an example, someone after eating the best delicious food in full stomach & he could no longer desire tastes of an inferior kind.

[2] Whichever part of the Dhamma one had listened, it would give the satisfaction and placidity of mind. (i.e., it was good in the beginning, in the middle & the end). As an example, someone in hunger & received a honey ball whichever part he had bitten & it gave the delicious flavor.

[3] Whichever part of the Dhamma one had listened, one would derive elation and joy. It was like someone who came upon sandalwood & any part of it would give the sweet smell.

[4] Buddha Gautama was like a medical doctor & his Dhamma could cure the mental diseases (kilesa roga - defilements of the mind). It was like a skillful physician might instantly cure someone who was afflicted & gravely ill. Mahayana medicine Buddha could come from this idea.

[5] Someone was traveling under a very hot sun, with the burning heat, tiredness & hunger. After he encountered a lotus pond, it released him from burning heat, tiredness & hunger.

In the same way by hearing the Buddha Dhamma, it freed someone from the heat of defilements (from the Kāranapālī Sutta). So the power of Dhamma is unlimited & the best medicine for all ills of the world. Whether it is about the body or the mind, in family problems or social problems, political or economic problems, most Buddhists maybe never thought that they are the most fortunate & luckiest beings in the world, because of the past great merits they encounter the Buddha Dhamma in this life.

The Buddha had mentioned very clear that to get a human birth, encounter the Dhamma, to have an interest, to understand and practice accordingly was the most difficult matter in the world. But most of us are taking it as easy & never thinking it as a priceless treasure. We are foolishly & stupidly wasting our chances, time & energy in trivial matters & things. There was an interesting sutta about the four best things in the world.

The devas or gods were looking for the answer to the highest blessing for 12 years. There was also a monk who had supernormal power wanted to know the ending of the four great elements. So he went to heaven to look for the answer. From the lower realms of deity to higher realms of the Brahma god and no-one could answer him. Therefore he had to come down again & ask the Buddha for the answer.

All these profound questions were except the Buddha no one could answer them. Here also the Four Great Kings of the heaven (Cātummahārajika deva) asked Sakka, the King of the 33 Gods on these four best things. Sakka could not give them the answers, so they all came to the Buddha for the answers.

All these four things are connecting with Dhamma.

  1. What is the best gift in the world?

If we are talking about gifts, there are many kinds & for many reasons. As Buddhists, we give or offer four requisites to the monks. Dāna is giving & has two meanings; the gifts & the mental state of giving volition, or things & action. There is a very special kind of gifts which most people overlook or neglect. This is paññā dāna - the gift of knowledge. Gift of things & the gift of knowledge (especially here is the Buddha Dhamma) which one is the best? Dhamma gift is the best one.

The Buddha’s answer to the devas was: “Sabbadānaṁ dhammadānaṁ jinati - The gift of Dhamma is greater than all other gifts.” The devas are satisfied with the answer. The commentary explained it as followed. Why the Buddhists make dāna as the best gift? There are many reasons for this wholesome action. For some, this is the second nature for them and carried with them from their past lives.

For most Buddhists, they develop this wholesome dhamma from the teaching of the law of kamma. The basic reason for Dhamma gift is greater than others is it can lead to the realization of Nibbāna. One of the factors for realization of Nibbāna is listening Dhamma talks. (exception of the Buddha & Paccekabuddhas).

Therefore the gift of Dhamma is the best gift. In this discourse, we are talking about from the point of gift receiver & not the giver. The giver also has its benefits. Material gifts are for this life only & most of them are short life span, e.g., giving foods. Gift of Dhamma leads to the ending of dukkha. Therefore the gift of Dhamma is incomparable from other gifts.

Salvatore Cioffi (1897-1966) – U Lokanatha:

A long time ago in the first half of 20th century, an Italian American chemist received a gift of Dhamma from a friend for Christmas. This book was the English translation of “Dhammapada”. After reading it & he became a Buddhist. Giving up his job & wealth, he went to Burma & ordained there. His ordained name was Ven. Lokanatha or well known in Burma as Italian monk U Lokanatha.

After some years in monkhood, he walked on foot along the silk road from Asia to pass the middle east and to the USA. He determined to follow the Bodhisatta Path (to become a future Buddha). One time he went to pay homage to the famous Ven. Webu Sayadaw & asked him directly; “Ven. Sayadaw, are you an arahant?” Instead of answering his question directly, Sayadaw’s respond was; “I have no courage to become a bodhisatta.” Sayadaw U Lokanatha passed away in Burma in 1966 (He was in Burma for 40 years).

  1. What is the best enjoyment or taste?

There are nine kinds of enjoyment. These are the enjoyments of the common people.

[1] Enjoyment comes from funny things, or people are amusing & make you smile or laugh.
[2] Enjoyment comes from affection
[3] Enjoyment comes from sympathy (garunarasa)
[4] Enjoyment comes from violence; people like to watch violent movies, & people commit terrors can come from this taste, such as terrorism.
[5] Enjoyment comes from courageous acts
[6] Enjoyment comes from loathsomeness
[7] Enjoyment comes from amazement
[8] Enjoyment comes from fright (ghost story)
[9] All other feelings

According to the Buddha; “The taste of Dhamma is greater than all other tastes – Sabharasaṁ dhammarasaṁ jinati.” Why is that? There are no real peace & happiness behind all the other enjoyments. In the end, these are not good. It cannot last long & at last, make people become in confusion.

  1. What is the best delight of the mind?

There are many things which people are looking for delight. Some are with family members, with wealth, with sense objects, etc. People are always looking for pleasure & no contentment. This is human nature. After they get what they want & become happy & joy with it for some periods. Later they become bored with them. So they are changing object to object, matter to matter & never have satisfaction with it. From discontentment & dissatisfaction come human problems & suffering.

Heavenly beings also have this kind of situation. The Buddha’s answer was; “Sabbaratim dhammaratim jinati” – The delight of Dhamma is better than all other delights” Worldly pleasures are not peaceful & calm, even lead to problems & suffering. Dhamma delight or enjoyment is peaceful & calm & true happiness. Therefore yogis & noble beings who have jhānas & fruits use to stay in these peaceful states.

Even the pleasure comes from study & contemplate, the Buddha Dhamma leads to joy & happiness, which excel the sensual pleasure.

  1. What is the best destruction?

The destruction of craving/greed (tanhā) or dukkha is the best. Therefore the Buddha’s answer was; “Tanhākkhayo sabbadukkhaṁ jinati – The destruction of craving or all dukkha is the best.” The destruction of craving or all dukkha is the highest stage of realization, which is arahatta magga & phala – the path & fruit of arahantship.

Therefore the arahatta magga & phala is the destruction of craving/tanhā – tanhākkhayo with the destruction of craving & free from all kind of dukkha. Because craving is the source of all dukkha, we cannot destroy dukkha directly.

So craving is the cause & dukkha is the result. With practice, we can cut off the connection between them. With the destruction of tanhā & dukkha is ended. But human beings are afraid of the destruction of tanhā. So they are searching & fighting for wealth, power & pleasure with each other. With human conflicts, all social problems & sufferings arise. Nowadays, these problems & sufferings are worse than before. With the power of science & technology, the destruction is becoming greater.

Now we are at a critical point. The Buddha taught & urged us for the destruction of craving. Human beings, instead of listening to the Buddha, & become the followers of Mara – The Evil One/Tanhā & develop & increase its qualities. All these four questions were searching & discussing the answers for 12 years. At last, they found the answers from the Blessed One.

The power of Dhamma was so great that even the Buddha took the Dhamma as his teacher. Without a teacher is dangerous & many problems & sufferings are waiting for each one of us from now on to the future. Therefore hearing the Dhamma on timely occasions is the highest protection with a blessing. Listening very quite often is the best way. We should use our leisure time on it.

If we are listening to Tanhā very often it will become our teacher; it will sink us to the bottom of the ocean floor & we can never come up to the surface again. This is the power of tanhā. If we take the Dhamma as our teacher, we can rise higher & higher, at last, will transcend the world & free forever. Listening Dhamma is truly the highest protection & blessing.

Here I want to make some suggestions for Buddhists. It is also very important to other faiths by their teachings. Because terrorists & terrorism arise has some connections with the misunderstanding & misinterpretation problems. Some years ago, the Ven. Nyanaponika Thera mentioned the following point in one of his essays. He said that in the past some Sri Lanka families were teaching their children after they came back from works & schools in the evening before the meal.

Another important thing was some mothers or fathers near bedtime telling their young children with Buddhist stories, such as jataka stories about the bodhisatta – The Great Being. There are nearly 550 stories which described the Buddha’s past lives developed the ten perfections as a bodhisatta. Each perfection has three levels; basic, middle & higher or highest levels. At least every human being should have the basic level of perfection, & can be called as a true human.

Some might think cultivated the paramis was for oneself. It is for both, to oneself & others. These are giving services & making sacrifices for all living beings. Selfishness & self-centeredness bring problems & sufferings to oneself & others. Nearly all the Buddha’s teachings were about human beings & societies. Therefore teaching the children with Buddhist stories is an important education for them. So listening Dhamma is not only for grown-up Buddhists but to all groups.

cited from https://oba.org.tw/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=4702&p=36978#p36977 (posted on 2019-11-21)

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