Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The 38 Blessings: Part II


Somewhere far beyond by Katarina2353

Two weeks ago, we discussed the first half of the 38 blessings in Buddhism. We learned that the blessings seem to have been grouped together according to a theme they share.

We also learned that, as with other Buddhist teaching, the blessings start with practices that are more common and not too difficult to achieve and subsequently move upwards in terms of difficulty level. The more effort one has to put in to create a blessing for oneself, the more rewarding the blessing is.

For those who have missed the first half of blessings, check it out below. Now, let us take a look at the latter half of blessings and discover why they are more rewarding.

6. Blessed mindfulness

"... 18) Avoiding unwholesomeness; 19) Not consuming intoxicants; 20) Non-recklessness in the dhamma..."

By being mindful and not living one's life recklessly, one would be able to avoid life's many temptations that would lead to unwholesome acts. Consuming intoxicants directly jeopardise one's ability to be mindful, and therefore in itself is an unwholesome act.

While blessed mindfulness comes after one has persevered and achieved the first five groups of blessings (and thus gaining enough wisdom to realise the values of mindfulness), it does not mean one cannot attempt to start from here. In Zen teaching, for example, being mindful is the first and foremost blessing of all. Arguably, if one can master the mindfulness practice, the other blessings would naturally follow.

7. Blessed humility and gratitude

"... 21) Showing respect; 22) Being humble; 23) Being content in what one honestly earned; 25) Gratitude; 26) Listening regularly to dhamma teachings..."

If any readers have experienced mindfulness practice in a retreat before, seeing this group of blessings right after "Blessed mindfulness" should not be a big surprise. This is because the very first feelings that mindfulness practitioners would likely discover in their mind are these very qualities. As a regular assistant in mindfulness retreats, the author always observed with marvel how the practice of mindfulness alone could soften the body language of people. In other words, the gentle physical gestures are merely a reflection of a tender mind.

This group of more-refined blessings can be explained as follows. Within days of continuous mindfulness practice in a retreat, newcomers would discover unprecedented peace in their own mind, thus feeling content with what they have and how their life is. This consequently leads to the gratitude, respect and humility one feels towards one's teacher, hence the desire to listen regularly to dhamma teachings.

8. Blessed patience in higher learning

"... 27) Patience; 28) Openness to criticism; 29) Sight of a true monk; 30) Regular discussion of the dhamma..."

This group of blessings is obviously a continuity of the former. Both indicate the process to gain wisdom. When one listens to dhamma teachings regularly as number 26 signifies, one gets to lay one's eyes on a true monk. Also by regularly listening to his teaching, one learns patience which enhances one's openness to criticism. A person who has mastered these blessings certainly has what it takes to be a teacher him/herself, which naturally leads to blessing number 30 - a regular discussion of dhamma.

9. Blessed efforts towards ultimate wisdom

"... 31) Self-control; 32) Leading a holy life; 33) Discernment of the Four Noble Truths; 34) Attainment of Nirvana..."

As anyone who has been to a mindfulness retreat, Theravada or Zen, would readily agree, the training is by no means a casual business. The Theravada tradition even calls for a vow to submit oneself, even one's life, to the efforts to attain the Enlightenment. To be able to uphold that vow naturally requires utmost self-control which, in turn, enables one to lead a holy life, layperson and monk alike.

It is the noble, mindful life with constant self-control that would ultimately lead one to the ability to thoroughly understand the Four Noble Truths. And only by "seeing" the Four Noble Truths that one reaches the Enlightenment.

Now, we are ready to discover the final group of Buddhist ultimate blessings. This may sound curious since conventional wisdom has it that the Enlightenment is the epitome of all things Buddhist. Are there in fact any other Blessings more refined than the Enlightenment experience itself? Read on.

10. Blessed state of mind

"... 35) Mind that is not shaken by the world's constant changes; 36) Mind that is free from sorrow; 37) Mind that is free from defilement; 38) Mind that is blissful..."

Perhaps the best way to explain it is through the cause-and-effect concept. Just as the previous blessings were the causes that led to the Enlightenment, the Enlightenment experience itself is the cause of this final group of blessings. The highest blessings of Buddhism, therefore, is the state of mind that is unshaken, free from sorrow and defilement. It is the blissful mind that Buddhism is all about and it is this blissful mind than all Buddhists should go after in earnest. The good news is that the blissful mind is not beyond reach. The 38 blessings have shown us clear, gradual steps that we can follow in order to reach life's highest goal.

If we recall our discussion two weeks ago, we will realise that the very first step towards the ultimate blessing is something very simple and quite within reach - not to associate with the fool/wicked. If we can put our foot firmly on that first blessing with great determination, the rest would surely follow.

If the idea of step-by-step progress on the blessings list seems too daunting, you can also try the Zen approach. Zen believes that, once we train our mind, the rest will follow. No matter which approach you decide to take, it is important to remember that, in Buddhism, we are in charge of our own blessings. So, hold that discouraging thought right there and take action now! If people, and sentient beings, have been able to attain the highest Blessing for more than 2,500 years, so could you!

Let this New Year, 2552 in Buddhist Era, marks the beginning of your earnest quest for the Enlightenment. Examine your blessings often and set goals. If you are reading this column, chances are that you already achieved many blessings. May you continue relentlessly on this path and be successful this year and may you enjoy the blissful state of mind while helping others for years to come.

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