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

revised on 2020-05-29

By Venerable Uttamo Thera(尊者 鄔達摩 長老)

Practicing of meditation can be started from the 25th blessing of hearing the Dhamma on timely occasions. One of the factors for the realization of Dhamma is listening to Dhamma. Here the blessing is discussing the Dhamma, which has some differences from hearing Dhamma.

But they are closely related. Without hearing Dhamma, we do not know practice and discuss Dhamma with others. Here both sides discuss what they know and do not know yet. In this way, we can part or share knowledge.

It can increase one’s knowledge and progress in practice. Why practicing meditation can be said, start from listening Dhamma on timely occasions? According to the Buddha, Dhammasavaṇa—listening of Dhamma had five factors:

(1) Listening with attention
(2) Taking notes or remembering them
(3) Reflecting on them
(4) Understanding of them
(5) After understanding of them and put it into practice, i.e., sīla, samādhi and paññā.

Discussing of Dhamma also has the five benefits. These are:

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

There is no doubt that discussion or dialogue on Dhamma has great benefits. There were many evidences and stories in the suttas. Even non-Buddhists, i.e., outsiders had great benefits and their lives were changed. Before they had wrong views and after dialogue had the right views and knew how to live their lives. Some even became monks and realized the Dhamma.

Dialogue between faiths is also very important. Especially nowadays this is more urgently need. The main goal of all faiths is peace, harmony and happiness. The basic foundation is nearly the same, i.e., morality; to become a good human being. Because of misunderstanding and misinterpretation, one’s own and other faiths create problems and mistrust. There is also conceit—the superior syndrome. Because of this defilement, some people worship the same God, killing and harming other faiths.

Today human morality is going down very quickly like a thermometer. Dialogue between faiths can help to solve the problem of moral degeneration. We can learn from each other and helping each other to solve social problems. In this respect, Buddha-Dhamma can offer a lot. Dialogue between world leaders, politicians, are also very important for their countries stability and the world.

Out of greed and selfishness, some leaders and politicians only make their countries great and not a concern for others. They have ill-will and capitalist syndrome of growth, profits and competition. Greedy, ill-will, envy, avarice, exploitation, etc. will never bring harmony, peace and happiness to one’s own country and the world. Look at today world situations and we know the outcomes and conditions of unwholesome dhamma. A human cannot solve the worldly problems with confrontation and competition. Because greed, ill-will, delusion are the root of all suffering.

Why should politicians and economists destroy themselves and the world just for sensual pleasures? The price for sensual pleasure is far greater than a momentary, fleeting pleasure. They all have to pay for their evil deeds in hell, as animals and ghosts. These are inexpressible sufferings just for sensual pleasures.

Dhamma discussion and dialogue are mostly practicing by elderly Buddhists. It has a long tradition by Burmese Buddhists who have some Abhidhamma knowledge. They are arguing on some Abhidhamma Doctrines. Tha-pye-kan Sayadaw said that youth and young people also should practice it. He said we should arrange Dhamma discussion for them. We can say this is a kind of Dhamma education. It was like the Chinese culture and moral standards. Some Chinese Dynasties followed them were creating prosperity and lasting longer. All the worldly problems and sufferings can be related to not knowing of the Buddha-Dhamma and not practicing it.

There was no-one understanding and penetrating the human mind and its nature better than or more complete than the Buddha. The suttas were testified this point. For 45 years he was wandering and staying on the earth to teach every kind and type of human beings.

Sometimes heavenly beings came down to ask him questions to clear about their doubts. Arrange Dhamma discussing among the youth can have great benefits for them. With the knowledge of Dhamma, which represents intelligence and wisdom, they will know what is right and wrong, beneficial and not beneficial, proper and not proper, etc.

They can also have the power of how to deal and solve the problems and difficulties in their life. Dhamma discussing is one of the causes of progress in wisdom. We can see this important point in some suttas. In Dhamma, dialogue and discussing should not make arguments and criticisms. Instead, it should be exchanged with knowledge and learned from each other.

Regarding listen to Dhamma talks, there are some differences. In listening to Dhamma, some of them are we already know. It is also we cannot know more than in the talks if we have doubts and cannot solve the problems. Therefore, it is very important to have questions and answers sections after the talks. This practice is quite common in the west, but in Burma does not has this kind of tradition. So, Burmese teachers should allow Dhamma listeners, to enrich their knowledge and solve their doubts. Here I want to present the benefit of Dhamma discussion or dialogue from a sutta.

Discourse on Khemaka: Khemaka Sutta.

Several older monks were dwelling at Kosambī in Ghosita’s Park. Now on that occasion, Ven. Khemaka was living at Jujube Tree Park, sick and gravely ill. He was at that time an anāgāmi (had the third stage of enlightenment). In an evening these monks emerged from their practice and asked Ven. Dāsaka (may be the youngest monk) to visit Ven. Khemaka and asked him about his illness. Ven. Khemaka told Ven. Dāsaka that his illness was not better and strong painful feeling (vedanā) increased. And then, Ven. Dāsaka returned and reported the news to the older monks.

The older monks for the second time sent back Ven. Dāsaka to asked Ven. Khemaka again. There were the five aggregates (khandhas), i.e., form, feeling, perception, volitional formation and consciousness. These were subjected to clinging. They wanted to ask Ven. Khemaka was, did he regard anything as self or as belonging to self among these five aggregates subject to clinging.

Ven. Khemaka’s answer was, he did not regard anything as self or as belonging to self among these five aggregates. And then, Ven. Dāsaka returned and reported the answer.

The older monks for the third time sent back Ven. Dāsaka to ask Ven. Khemaka again. If he was not clinging to any of the five aggregates as self or belonging to self, then he was an arahant, one whose taints (āsavas) were destroyed.

Ven. Khemaka answered that even though he did not take any of the five aggregates as self or belonging to self, he was not an arahant yet, one who taints were destroyed. But the notion of “I am” had not yet vanished in him about the five aggregates. And he did not regard anything among them as “This I am.” (According to Mogok Sayadawgyi, Ven. Khemaka was only an anāgāmi; he did not take each of the aggregates as self or belonging to self. But he had not yet eradicated ignorance—avijjā which sustained a residual conceit and desire “I am” about the five aggregates.) And then, Ven. Dāsaka returned and reported the answer.

The older monks, after they heard the answer, still not clear what Ven. Khemaka had said before. So, they sent back Ven. Dāsaka to asked for the fourth time; did he speak of form—rūpakkhandha as “I am” or apart from form, as “I am”. The other aggregates also in the same manner. Therefore, Ven. Dāsaka returned and asked the question. Then, Ven. Khemaka was leaning on his staff and with Ven. Dāsaka went to see the elders.

He explained to the elders that he did not take form as “I am” or apart from the form as “I am”. The other aggregates also in the same way. But he still held the whole five aggregates as “I am”, instead of each of them as “I am”. He gave a simile for this point. There were the scents of blue, red and white lotus. Did the scents belong to petals, or the stalks or the pistils? The right answer was the scent belonged to the flower. In the same way, he did not take any of the five khandhas as “I am”, but to the whole five aggregates as “I am”.

He continued to explain to them. Even though a noble disciple had abandoned the five lower fetters (i.e., anāgāmin, fetters are called saṁyojana. There are ten fetters:

(1) identity view,
(2) doubt,
(3) the distorted grasp of rules and vows,
(4) sensual desire,
(5) ill-will,
(6) lust for form,
(7) lust for formless,
(8) conceit,
(9) restlessness,
(10) ignorance.

As an anāgāmi, Ven Khemaka had eradicated the first five fetters. But he still had relation to the five aggregates subjected to clinging. It lingered in him as a residual conceit “I am”, a desire “I am”, an underlying tendency “I am” that had not yet been uprooted. So, the yogi had dwelt to contemplate the rise and fall in the five aggregates subjected to clinging and the residual conceit and the underlying tendency “I am”, came to be uprooted.

Ven. Khemaka explained it with a simile. A cloth had become soiled and stained. And gave it to a laundryman. He would scour it evenly with cleaning salt, lye, or cow dung. And then rinsed it in clean water. Even though the cloth became pure and clean, still had the residual smell of cleaning salt, lye, or cow dung.

So, had to put it in a sweet-scented casket and all the residual smell of salt, lye or cow dung had vanished. In the end, Ven. Khemaka and all the 60 monks became arahants. Because at the same time of Discussing Dhamma, they contemplated their khandhas.

Some points were interesting to contemplate. According to Mogok Sayadawgyi; the first time Ven. Dāsaka went to see Ven. Khemaka, all of the elders were worldlings. After the second time, they were once-returners (sakadāgāmins), because each time they got the answers from Ven. Khemaka and practiced accordingly.

After the third time, they did not make very clear about Ven. Khemaka’s answer. Therefore, in the fourth time, he went to them and explained Dhamma. In the end, all of them finished the practice.

In his commentary on the Maṅgala Sutta, Tha-pye-gan Sayadaw gave the Mahāgosiṅga Sutta—The Great Gosinga Wood Discourse for the Dhamma Discussing. (from Majjhima Nikāya, MN.32 Mahāgosiṅgasuttaṃ).

Mahāgosiṅga Sutta

At one time, the Buddha and some of his chief and great disciples stayed in the Gosinga Sal Wood. Then in an evening, Ven Mahāmoggallāna, Mahākassapa, Anuruddha, Revata and Ānanda went together to Ven. Sāriputta for his talk. After they arrived there instead of giving his Dhamma talk, first he asked Ven. Ānanda the following question.

The Gosinga forest was beautiful and peaceful at night. The sal trees were in full blooms. The fragrant scent of the flowers diffused in the night. The question was what kind of monk could grace the Gosinga forest. Each of the monks following gave or offered their views accordingly to their outstanding or foremost qualities.

Ven. Ānanda’s Answer:
In this matter, a monk who had heard a great them fluently reflected on them and penetratingly comprehended them with wisdom. That monk taught people (monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen) for the uprooting of latent defilement (kilesa). Such a monk could grace the Gosinga Sal Wood.

Ven. Revata’s Answer (Sāriputta’s youngest brother):
In this matter, a monk who delighted in solitary seclusion enjoyed seclusion, constantly strived for tranquility, endowed with insight and devoted to practice in secluded places. Such a monk could grace the Gosinga Sal forest.

Ven. Anuruddha’s Answer:
In this matter, a monk who could survey a thousand world systems celestial or divine eye which was extremely clear, far more surpassed than the telescopes of the scientists. Such a monk could grace the Gosinga Sal forest.

Ven. Mahākassapa’s Answer:
He was older than the Buddha in age. Because of his background before ordained and austere practices in the holy life, the Buddha took him very highly and praised him a lot. He was the only monk who the Buddha exchanged robes with him. After the Buddha passed away, he preserved his Dhamma for original and pure from the contamination.

Today Buddhists owed him a lot for his effort. In this matter, a monk who practiced the austerity of forest-dwelling and praised the virtues of it. Taking only food received on the alms round and praised the virtues of it. Wearing discarded pieces of cloth and praised the virtues of it. Keeping only three robes for wear and praised the virtues of it. Who was of few desire and praised the virtues of having only few desire.

Who was contented and praised the virtues of contentment? Who sought seclusion, stayed aloof from people, strived energetically in practice, completely endowed with morality, concentration and wisdom, attained liberation and endowed with the reflective knowledge of that liberation. Such a monk could grace the Gosinga Sal wood.

Ven. Mahāmoggallāna’s Answer:
In this matter, two monks were discussing the higher Dhamma. Each asked the other question and each answered questions put by the other without difficulty, e.g., Dhamma Discussions between Ven. Sāriputta and Ven. Mahākoṭṭhita. Such a monk could grace the Gosinga Sal forest. After he had given his answer and Ven. Mahāmoggallāna asked Ven. Sāriputta of his view on this matter.

Ven. Sāriputta’s Answer:
In this case, a monk who had mastery over his mind that whatever attainment (there are two attainments; i.e., absorptions—jhānas and fruition states—phalas) he wished to enter for at any time and he could do it quite easily. Such a monk could grace the Gosinga Sal wood. All of them had different answers, but the Taste of Dhamma was only one.

They answered them from their characters and preferences. They wanted to know how the Buddha responded to them. So, they went to see The Blessed One. The Buddha said that all of them answered properly and praised them. All answers were well spoken and justified. And then, the Buddha gave his view on this matter.

The Buddha’s Answer:
In this case, the monk returned from the round of alms-food and had finished his alms-meal. And then, sat down with crossed legs to practice mindfulness in meditation, satipaṭṭhāna bhāvanā with the determination that he would not get up from sitting until his mind was freed from the clinging of defilement—kilesa. This monk could grace the Gosinga Sal forest.

All these kinds of monks mentioned in this sutta still exist into this day. Thanks to the monks who preserved the Dhamma and practices and supported by the laity in Buddhist countries such as Burma and Thailand. Burma continues to produce monks like Ven. Ānanda who can recite the Tipiṭaka by heart. Thai forest tradition still produce monks like Ven. Mahākassapa.

Burma continues to produce excellent scholars, monks and meditation teachers. So, monks and laity alike can learn the Dhamma and practices, and with many meditations, centers continue to arise. These meditation centers give the chances for anyone who wants to practice to end dukkha in this life, which the Buddha emphasized in his answer.

Even we can say all the human problems and sufferings come from not knowing the Dhamma and not practicing it. So, for every human being nothing is more important than study and practice the Dhamma. Listening and discussing of Dhamma on timely occasions are pre-requisites for it. So, the Buddha said that discussing the Dhamma on timely occasions was the highest protection with a blessing.

revised on 2020-05-29; cited from https://oba.org.tw/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=4702&p=36981#p36981 (posted on 2019-11-21)

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