Friday, January 9, 2009

The 38 Blessings: Part I


The twelve days of Christmas. The eight days of Hanukkah. The seven days of Kwanzaa. Cultures around the world each have their version of multiple blessings. As 2009 is probably going to be equally tough as, or even tougher than 2008, we all need as many blessings as we can get.

Therefore, this column is presenting today the first of a two-part series on the 38 blessings to welcome the New Year and to give encouragement and moral support to our dear readers that our life does not have to be as gloomy as the 2009 economic forecast. The reason is, in Buddhism, we are in charge of our own blessings.  It is quite up to us how we want to take on life, whether it is during recession or otherwise.

Having said that, let us now take a tour of Buddhist blessings.

In Buddhism, the Discourse on Blessings, Mangala Sutta, lists 38 items which Lord Buddha regarded as the Highest Blessings.  The Sutta comprises 10 sections in which a few relevant blessings are grouped together.  Buddhist scholars note that, as with other teachings of Lord Buddha, the blessings seem to run from simpler deeds towards the more sophisticated ones.

To borrow a modern-day gamers' philosophy, we all have to start at the "first level."  Then, as our skills accumulate, we proceed to subsequent levels that have more challenging tasks.  As gamers would have agreed, the more challenging the task, the more fulfilling the reward.  Keeping this logic in mind, let us check out the list that Lord Buddha provided.

(Note: the original quotes of Lord Buddha are those in italics and in quotation marks. The definition of each section is provided by the author for the reader's convenient reference.)

1. Blessed company

"... 1) Not associating with fools; 2) Associating with the wise; 3) Expressing respect to those worthy of respect..."

While the first group of blessings seems to be easy enough, it is by no means less significant than those in the subsequent groups.   For if we contemplate it carefully, we would notice that the subsequent blessings could not be achieved if those in the first group are not realized.  Therefore, being in blessed company is at the same time least difficult to achieve yet most crucial to achieve if one is seeking more refined blessings in life.

2. Blessed determination

"...4) Living in a suitable location; 5) Having meritorious deeds in one's past; 6) Setting oneself in the right course..."

To enable oneself to be exposed to as much blessings as possible in life, one must prepare oneself for it.  Buddhist blessings, it should be noted, do not come by random, by luck or at the mercy of some gods/goddesses.   By having determined to achieve a blessed life, a good Buddhist starts by setting oneself on the right course.

Having been on the right course would enable one to be wise in choosing an appropriate location where one would spend this life. Being in a suitable location would then open up an opportunity to accumulate meritorious deeds.   Everything in life is actually a cause-and-effect, if one carefully looks at it.

Alternately speaking, when one reflects the fact that one was able to do meritorious deeds in the past, one would realize that it started first with one's determination to do something good which then propelled one to be in the right place.

3. Blessed learning effort

"... 7) Extensive learning; 8) Skillfulness in one's arts; 9) Highly-trained discipline; 10) Well-spoken speech..."

Determination and blessed company might already bring us many blessings.  But if we are determined to constantly improve ourselves, we must put in a lot of effort to be a thoroughly learned person.   In Buddhism, one does not become learned by forced rote-learning, but rather by having high discipline to practice our respective arts extensively and with a resolute mind.

It is also noteworthy that being able to speak well also belongs to this group.   Lord Buddha seemed to imply that one should not consider oneself learned until one masters the skills of passing on one's wisdom to others effectively.   Talking about well-spoken speech, the author could not help but be reminded of America's President-elect Barack Obama.   He seems to be a fine example of someone who possesses the third group of blessings!

4. Blessed responsibilities

"...11) Filial piety; 12) Cherishing one's children and spouse; 13) Complication-free livelihood..."

One may have great self-determination, be in good company, and put oneself through a strenuous learning effort, but one can not really count oneself as being really blessed if one ignores one's social responsibilities.   Lord Buddha put a lot of emphasis on filial piety, as it is also implied in further blessings. Blessing No. 13 sometimes translated as "not leaving work undone (and hence does not cause complication in one's livelihood)."

5. Blessed generosity and charity

"...14) Generosity; 15) Righteous conduct; 6) Caring for extended family; 17) Beneficial activities..."

The fifth group of blessings is an obvious extension of the preceding group.   It implies a blessed social responsibility on a wider scale. Having righteous conduct here means one lives by the dhamma, thus causing no harm to others, either by thought, by words or by deeds.

The natural next step on the moral scale for a person who lives life determined not to harm others in any way is giving.  In other words, one not only refrains from harming others, one also makes other feel good. Giving does not have to be anything material.  One can simply avail one's time and effort to the service of others.

How are we doing so far?   How many blessings do you already have in your life?   Make sure you pass the words around that life's blessings abound for those who are determined to achieve them.   We will be back with the latter half of the 38 blessings in two weeks' time. Meanwhile, enjoy counting your blessings!


These monks exemplify the blessings from all the five groups: blessed company, blessed determination, blessed learning efforts, blessed responsibility, blessed generosity & charity.

The Monk’s Work Team by SBA73


Jade Meng said...

We are in charge our own blessings and our own life. We create our own luck and we shape our own future. A nice site.

nash said...

Thank you very much, Jade. :-)

Anonymous said...

hard-to-find nice site concerning mindfulness and blessings.

nash said...

Thank you very much. :-)

Chia Ming said...

Thanks =)
Do you have part II for this?