Mangala Sutta: 38 Blessings (Part 3/3)

Mangala Sutta: 38 Blessings (Part 2/3)


At this stage, material development is no longer of priority. The objectives of life have changed. This is the level of serious spiritual practice directed at attaining the Supreme Blessings of the Path, and Fruits of the Path, to Nibbana.

Part 5: The Supreme Blessings 

31. To practice self-restraint

32. To live according to the Four Eight-fold Path

33. To understand the Four Noble Truths

34. To attain Nibbana

35. To be unaffected by worldly conditions

36. To be free from sorrow

37. To be free from defilements

38. To have lasting peace and security

31. To practice self-restraint 
We have now entered the highest stage where a greater effort is needed for further progress. We should no longer be easily swayed by sensual desires or physical discomforts. We must train ourselves to remain focused on the path. The most basic way is by the strict observance of the Five Precepts, or better still by observing the Eight Precepts. For many practicing Buddhists, it is a tradition to observe the Eight Precepts on new and full moon days, but they can be observed on other days as well.

A good way of training ourselves in self-restraint is to attend meditation retreats where we can practice the Eight Precepts over an extended period of time. This also allows us to lead a simple life of voluntary austerity, providing us the mental and bodily discipline to follow closely to the Eight-Fold Path. Meditation, particularly Vipassana or Insight Meditation, also trains us in the best way of self-restraint, which is constant mindfulness.

The Eight Precepts 
1. To abstain from killing any living beings.

2. To abstain from taking what is not given.

3. To abstain from sexual activity.

4. To abstain from lying and false speech.

5. To abstain from the consumption of intoxicants and drugs.

6. To abstain from eating after noon.

7. To abstain from singing, dancing, music, shows, perfume, cosmetics and decorative accessories.

8. To abstain from using high or luxurious seats or beds.

32. To live according to the Four Eight-fold Path 
At this level of spiritual maturity, this blessing does not simply mean a superficial observance of the Eight-Fold Path. At this level, it means a serious and mindful adherence to each and every factor of the Path. All the previous blessings are the preparations for us to follow this path with determination and diligence. The Eight-Fold Path can be summarized into its three aspects of sila (morality), samadhi (mental development), and panna (wisdom).

The Noble Eight-fold Path 

  1. Right Speech (Morality)
    To refrain from lying, slander, harsh words and gossip. To cultivate truthful, peaceful, kind and meaningful speech.
  2. Right Action  (Morality)
    To abstain from killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. To cultivate harmlessness, honesty and faithfulness.
  3. Right Livelihood (Morality)
    To avoid occupations involving killing (of both humans and animals), the sale of animal flesh, the trading of humans, weapons, poisons and intoxicants. Occupations which are unethical, immoral and illegal should also be avoided.
  4. Right Effort (Mental)
    To apply mental discipline to prevent unwholesome thoughts from arising, and to dispel unwholesome thoughts that have arisen. To develop wholesome thoughts, and to maintain those wholesome thoughts that have arisen.
  5. Right Mindfulness (Mental)
    To be aware of the body, and bodily postures and sensations. To be aware of the mind and its thoughts, emotions and feelings. To be aware of the Dhamma.
  6. Right Concentration (Mental)
    To practice meditation to train the mind to be focused and disciplined in order to cultivate and acquire wisdom.
  7. Right Understanding  (Wisdom)
    To understand and accept the Four Noble Truths.
  8. To Thought  (Wisdom)
    To cultivate thoughts of generosity, loving-kindness and compassion.

33. To understand the Four Noble Truths 
By following the Eight-Fold Path, true understanding of the Four Noble Truths will arise. This is different from academic knowledge based on studies, or understanding coming from mere thinking. It is the deep and experiential realization of the truths of reality and existence, arising from the careful practice of morality, mental development and wisdom.

Each aspect of the Eight-Fold Path supports the cultivation and development of the other aspects. For example, observing morality is the foundation necessary for mental development, which leads to wisdom. Wisdom enables us to see the benefits of morality, which we will be more attentive in observing.

A higher standard of morality allows for a greater level of mental development which results in an even deeper penetration of wisdom. And this cycle of spiritual growth continues as an upward spiral towards true understanding of the Four Noble Truths and the eventual attainment of Nibbana.

The Four Noble Truths 

  1. All beings are subject to Dukkha
    Dukkha is usually translated as suffering but it actually encompasses a wide range of negative feelings including stress, dissatisfaction and physical suffering. Dukkha exists as all beings are subject to illness, separation from loved ones, not getting their desires, aging and death.
  2. Dukkha arises from desire and craving
    All beings crave pleasant sensations, and also desire to avoid unpleasant sensations. These sensations can be physical or psychological, and dukkha arises when these desires and cravings are not met.
  3. Dukkha can be overcome by the elimination of desire and craving
    Nibbana is the state of peace where all greed, hatred and delusion, and thereby dukkha, have been eradicated.
  4. There is a way out of dukkha, which is the Noble Eightfold Path
    Dukkha can be reduced, weakened and finally eradicated and Nibbana thereby attained, by following this path as taught by the Buddha.
    All of us are capable of attaining Nibbana. We may not get enlightened straight away but it is possible for us to attain a level from which Nibbana is assured. Enlightenment is not necessarily realized suddenly or completely. For most people, it will come in gradual stages.

34. To attain Nibbana
There are four stages leading to enlightenment which are Stream-Entering, Once-Returning, Non-Returning and Full Enlightenment. Anyone who has attained the first three stages can advance to higher stages depending on their practice. To attain full enlightenment, ten fetters or obstructions, must be overcome.

The Ten Fetters 
1. Belief that nothing survives the body after death, at one extreme. Or belief in a permanent unchanging entity (immortal soul) that survives after death, at the other extreme.

2. Sceptical or irrational doubts regarding the teachings of the Buddha, in particular the teachings on kamma and rebirth.

3. Belief that one can be purified through sacrifices, rituals or ceremonies.

4. Attachment to sense pleasures.

5. Anger and ill-will.

6. Desiring existence in a fine-material realm (a heavenly existence).

7. Desiring existence in a formless realm (an even more refined heavenly existence).

8. Conceit and pride.

9. Restlessness and discontent.

10. Ignorance and delusion.

* This should not be confused with the delusion of self which is completely overcome only by Arahants when they attain full enlightenment.

Stream-Enterers are those who have at most seven more lifetimes to go before attaining full enlightenment. They have ‘entered the stream’ to Nibbana. During their remaining lives, they will be reborn only in the human or a heavenly realm, and never in a lower realm. Stream-Enterers have eradicated the first three fetters. However, they still have a long way to go as they have yet to weaken the next two fetters (4 & 5) or fully eradicate all the remaining fetters.

A characteristic of Stream-Enterers is that they observe the Five Precepts strictly but easily, and are extremely averse to committing harmful actions of any kind. Their other characteristic is an unshakeable confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the (noble) Sangha. These characteristics may have arisen naturally, possibly carried over from a past life, or developed in the present life through the serious practice of the Eight-Fold Path.

Once-Returners will have only one more life in the human or a heavenly realm before attaining full enlightenment. They have eradicated the first three fetters and weakened, but not yet completely eradicated the next two (4 & 5). Non-Returners will have a final life in a very high and refined heavenly realm and will gain full enlightenment in that realm. They have eradicated the first five fetters. Arahants have successfully eradicated all ten fetters and have become fully enlightened. They have freed themselves from rebirth and attained Nibbana.

All of us should strive hard to become at least Stream-Enterers. It is well within the reach of all sincere Buddhists, whether they are monks, nuns or lay people, who accept and have confidence in the Dhamma and live according to the Eight-Fold Path. With commitment and sincerity, it is very much achievable in the present life. Attaining Nibbana then becomes just a matter of time.

The Fruits of the Path 
The following are the Fruits of the Path, or the Supreme Blessings attained by the enlightened. While we may not yet be able to achieve all the following blessings in full, we will be able to at least experience and taste these Fruits of the Path to Nibbana. Having had even a small taste of Nibbana will encourage us to strive on.

35. To be unaffected by worldly conditions 
There will always be changes in our lives, some which cause happiness while others bring sadness. It is the nature of existence that change is always taking place and the changes relating to our lives are always fluctuating between extremes. Realizing the ever-changing nature of our existence and practicing equanimity enables one to be unaffected by these worldly conditions.

The Eight Worldly Conditions

Gain and loss

Honour and disgrace

Praise and blame

Pleasure and pain

36. To be free from sorrow 
Sorrow, distress, grief and worry are part of our lives and stem from clinging and attachment to the things we desire and love. The enlightened realize the truth of impermanence that whatever arises must also one day cease to exist. By facing this truth directly and understanding it, one will be free from sorrow.

37. To be free from defilements 
The defilements of greed, hatred and delusion are the root causes of all suffering and unsatisfactoriness. Even the most subtle aspects of the defilements should be eradicated. These subtle aspects include desire and clinging, aversion and irritation, and disinterest and ignorance. The enlightened are totally free from all of these defilements.

38. To have lasting peace and security
Unlike the ever-changing and unsatisfactory nature of our mundane existence, the peace and happiness of Nibbana is permanent. Even the slightest taste of Nibbana can never be lost. Thus to have attained Nibbana is to have attained the ultimate blessing of perfect peace and absolute security.

In Summary:

For those who abide by this teaching, They will have established complete safety, And attained unending happiness wherever they are. These are the 38 Highest Blessings.


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