Compliance / Obedience (Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing)

revised on 2020-05-29

By Venerable Uttamo Thera(尊者 鄔達摩 長老)

The Pāli word sovacassatā is compliance or obedience. There was another Pāli word in the Metta Sutta is suvaco cassa—easy to instruct. They are a very close relationship. Only obedient people are easy to instruct and easy to talk with them. This quality is also very important for one’s progress in the right direction of mundane and supramundane welfare.

Therefore, obedience and easy to instruct are connecting with wholesome things and matters. With unwholesome things and matters are ignorant and stupid, and not these qualities. All these we can see in the cases of Devadatta (The Buddha’s cousin) and Prince Ajātasattu. Devadatta was not compliant and heeding to the Buddha’s admonitions that at last came to destruction and ruin.

Prince Ajātasattu was following Devadatta’s evil advice and killed his father King Bimbisāra and missed the chance of realization of Dhamma. A humble person is not proud or conceited and easy to teach. We can see these in the cases of novice Rāhula (the Buddha’s son) and the old monk Rādha.

Ven. Webu Sayadawgyi was the most venerable monk in Burma. In many of his Dhamma talks mentioned sovacassatā—compliance very often as a quality in practice. That is paying heed to teachers, sages, wise and noble ones to follow their advice and instructions. That is very true. We do not have this quality that most of us still roaming in the saṁsāra of sufferings.

Compliance or obedience is very important in societies. This quality has to be started from family life and schools. Obedient and easy to teach children and students are loved by their parents and teachers. Therefore, these children are progressing in life because they follow in the right directions. Nowadays, the situations are different. We allow too much freedom to children and students.

Now children are difficult to teach and admonish. Instead, parents and teachers comply with their desire and views. Now we heard a lot of complaints from parents and teachers about these things. Why these things happen nowadays and not before? Because children and youths have a lot of freedom of rein as they can do what they think and like. Parents and teachers are not their parents and teachers. And they become parents and teachers, and not as children and students.

They are influenced by many kinds of media. Media are their parents and teachers and their educational departments. More than half a century ago, Mogok Sayadawgyi mentioned a very important point of Dhamma to U Tun Tin. (At that time a young man and one of the frequent listener of his talks). These words were also a prediction on science and technology to mankind.

Sayadawgyi started teaching on meditation practice after the second World War, i.e., 1945. His talks were not recorded until 1954. Only in 1955 onwards had proper recordings and it was invaluable Dhamma treasures for Buddhists.

Once he mentioned to U Tun Tin as follow; “Maung Tun Tin! With the progress of science and can record the voices/sound. If we can use it properly/rightly lead to Nibbāna. If we use it wrongly and go into the Woks (i.e., hell cauldron or hell wok).” Sayadaw’s prediction becomes evident nowadays. The problems are not lying with science and technology but with the human mind or saying rightly with the defiled mind. And all the fake progress are leading by greed and delusion, which are the causes of sufferings.

Now we see all the social problems and natural problems as the outcomes. Most people do not see the whole picture of anything and matter. And also they see things and matters superficially and very short-sighted views. They are carrying away by defilement. But the Buddha and noble beings were quite different. They saw the whole picture and penetrated it in depth, which extended to the future.

If we study and research of the suttas, these were not only teaching us for the present life but also for the future to come, even extended to the saṁsāra. Scientists, politicians and economists, can be intelligent and stupid but not wise. Therefore, intelligence and wisdom are different things. A wise person is also intelligent but not stupid.

An intelligent person is not necessarily wise. Even sometimes, they are dangerous. This conclusion is not wrong. Internal and external pollution of man and nature testified this point.

As already mentioned before wholesome dhamma has a connection with other wholesome dhammas; wholesome and unwholesome are also in the same way. A disobedient person is not easy to teach and admonish. It is likely that he also disrespect to others (parents, elders and teachers). He is stubborn and follows his ways. We can see some children and students retort to their parents and teachers, even sometimes insult them with actions.

If they grew up in this way, their lives would be in downfall for sure. So, parents and teachers should instill these qualities in children. Then they will have blessings and protections in their lives, and also to the societies. The following story in the Saṁyutta Nikāya was good for reflection on this subject.

A Thief of Scent

A certain monk was dwelling in a certain woodland thicket. When he had returned from his alms round and after the meal, he had a habit. He used to descent into a pond and sniff the scent of lotus flowers there. The devatā (female deity) inhabited the woodland thicket concerned his practice, desired his good and to stir up a sense of urgency (saṁvega) in him, and approached him. She reproached him as follow.

The monk sniffed the scent of lotus flowers which had not been given. So, this was a factor of theft, and became a thief of scent. The monk responded that he did not take it or damaged it. And only sniffed the scent from a distance. So, what was the reason to accuse him as a thief of scent? But there were also others who dug up the lotus stalks and damaged the flowers.

They had rough behaviors and why did not she reproach them. The devatā replied that these people were already rough and fierce, and like a soiled and dirty cloth. So, she had nothing to concern for them. But the monk was different. Because he was a person without blemish, and always in quest of purity. Even a small bit of unwholesomeness appeared as big as the cloud.

Then the monk accepted her admonition and thanked her for the advice. And requested her to admonish him again in the future whenever she saw such a deed. The deity reflected that this monk might become negligent and would think a deity was looking after his welfare. Therefore, she rejected his request and proposal. And told him that she was not his hired servant. He should know himself what was good for his welfare and the way to a good destination.

The monk in this story was seemed to be a good monk who loved nature and easy to be admonished and compliant. But he still lacked restraint with fragrant flowers. Even it seemed he was attached to it as a habit. For most people take small matters and things as insignificance. But for the wise, sages and noble beings even they take the minor things as important for mental development.

If someone can take care of the small things and for the serious ones not become problematic for them. Therefore, the Buddha warned the monks even to see the slightest thing as a fault. Even small problems are more important than the bigger ones. Most of the bigger problems come from, the smaller ones. From nothing and it becomes something. So, most of the human problems or social problems are created by human cravings and ignorance.

In this story, even an unseen being wanted to help good people. This was not the only story in the Nikāyas. Ven. Channa, who was proud and stubborn and not easy to admonish and teach by other monks. He was born with the bodhisatta on the same day and very close to him. So, he was very conceited and not changed his bad behaviors even after admonished by the Buddha.

The Buddha, on the night of his parinibbāna, imposed the brahma punishment on him: he was to be left to his ways without anyone to teach or correct him. This punishment made his life difficult. So, he corrected his conceit and stubbornness and went to see Ven. Ānanda for help. Ven. Ānanda had learned by heart all the discourses of the Buddha that he gave him a suitable discourse, and then Ven. Channa became an arahant.

So, we can see how much important the quality of compliance. In the Dhammapada, one has to show gratitude to someone who points out our faults. We should take it as someone shows us the buried treasures in the earth. That is true because most people cannot easily to recognize one’s own mistakes. But easy to see others’ faults.

Only by knowing one’s own mistakes that one can have the chance to correct it. The best way is to check your own mistakes and faults very often. So, it needs mindfulness. To rely on oneself is better than on others.

In helping or teaching others, we also need to be careful. Sometimes it can get into troubles. Importance to know the time, the place, the person involves and how to use words. The following jātaka story described these points. Once the bodhisatta was a hermit. One day he crossed the river by boat with other passengers.

The boatman was a bad-tempered man. And he never mentioned the boat fee to passengers beforehand. Only after passengers arrived at the other shore and he charged the boat fee. This behavior of his often caused the quarrels with the passengers.

This time also happened the same thing, at first with the passengers. At last, he turned towards the hermit for the fee. The bodhisatta told him that he did not have any money. So, gave teaching to him as a fee. The bodhisatta hermit advised the boatman to declare the fee beforehand. And continued to exhort him that should not be angry, the outcome of anger was not good to him, etc. His anger was already arising with the passengers and after what he heard from the hermit made him angrier.

So, he beat the bodhisatta on the spot. At that time his wife sent foods for him arrived there. She tried to pull apart her husband from the hermit. This foolish man was so angry that he turned to his wife and kicked her away. Unfortunately, at that time she was pregnant and terminated the pregnancy. He was also arrested and put in jail because the hermit was the king’s teacher. The hermit gave the same teaching to the king and rewarded with a village of 100,000 income tax money. But the bodhisatta rejected the reward.

This time the hermit received the blows from the boatman. The qualities of compliance and easy to teach and instruct are very important for worldly and spiritual progress. People want to be peaceful and happy in life should develop it. Parents should take this point seriously. And have to train their children to be obedient and respectful.

These qualities are ingrained in sages and noble beings. To become a good person it needs this quality. Therefore, the parents want their children to progress in life and not to be worried about them should put effort to train them. So, the Buddha taught; compliance was the highest protection and blessing.

revised on 2020-05-29; cited from (posted on 2019-11-21)

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