Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – March 9th, 2018
Note: One can listen to this talk here.
L uang Por Anan:
Welcome to everyone from all your centers. We meet again on this Friday 9th of March 2018. Today’s Dhamma talk will be about one particular Sutta called the Mangala Sutta. There is a background story to this Mangala Sutta as well. During the Buddha’s time in India, the learned people would gather in public places and discuss certain issues, and the people would gather to listen to them.
One certain problem arose amidst the assembly, “What is considered auspicious or a good omen and what is inauspicious or a bad omen? What is the highest blessing?” This topic came up and the people debated over it, but still weren’t able to reach a conclusion as to what was auspicious? Ultimately, there were 3 major difference in views. The first group had the view that the certain forms that one saw were considered auspicious or a good omen. The second group, had a different view. They held that it was instead different sounds that one heard were considered auspicious. The third group, held that it was instead different smells, tastes and contact that were considered auspicious. These 3 groups held these views, and there was support but also objection to their arguments. This problem spread eventually throughout the Indian sub-continent. And the devas, or heavenly beings, also continued this debate as well.
First, it spread to the tree-dwelling devas that lived in close proximity to humans. And then it was spread to their friends, the earth-dwelling devas. And from them to the sky-dwelling devas. This topic kept spreading till it reached the heavenly realm of the 4 Great Kings – the deities that protect all 4 directions of the world. It spread further till the Brahma-god realm and onward spreading through tens of thousands of universes. And still there couldn’t find anyone who knew what was auspicious and what wasn’t auspicious. 12 years passed, and they still couldn’t reach a conclusion on this topic. The devas in the Tavitangsa realm, tried to help settle this discussion, and they thought that Sakka, the king of the devas, the head of their realm would likely be able to help and settle this topic. So, they went to meet in his heavenly palace in the Tavatingsa realm, to ask Sakka for an answer to this topic. King Sakka, wanted to help solve this problem, so he asked the devas which realm did this problem originate from? The devas answered it came from the human realm.
Then Sakka asked, “And where does the Buddha reside?”
“In the human realm.”
“And has anyone asked the Lord Buddha?”
“No-one has asked the Buddha yet”
Then Sakka asked the devas, “Why do you throw away a torch and go look for light from a firefly? You should all see that you have missed the opportunity to ask the Buddha to explain this topic of auspicious blessings in all its entirety. You expect me to answer? You should go ask the Buddha.”
The devas then chose one of them to go ask the Buddha. That deva dressed up in all his divine attire and went with large following of devas to Jetavana Monastery, where the Buddha resided. Many devas had gathered from tens of thousands of universes to hear the answer to the question, “What is auspicious?” The deity, his great radiance illuminating the monastery, having worshiped the Buddha, stood respectfully to one side. And he asked the Blessed One in verse,
“Many deities and men, longing after what is good and beneficial, have pondered on what is an auspicious blessing. Please, tell me the greatest blessing!”
The Buddha, who sat in his Dhamma seat, whose splendid radiance enclosed all the devas, mara, and brahmas, and who was compassionate to all the people who didn’t come to hear themselves, now and in the future. The Buddha then taught the 38 highest blessings in Jetavana Monastery.
The first blessing the Buddha taught – Asevanā ca bālānam – translates as “not associating with fools” – not associating with fools is the highest blessing of our lives. So we should look at what is the meaning of this word bala or fools? The word fool – means “weak” or another meaning is, that which cuts off two kinds of benefits. When we think of a person who is a fool. This fool is weak in awareness-insight (Satipaññā). His mindfulness is weak, his wisdom is weak. When a person has weak mindfulness, what are they like? Well, they have wrong view. They see things that are wrong as things that they like. They see things that are good and right as things that are wrong. When they see like this, then they do things that are wrong – because they think what they are doing is right. Its micchaditthi or wrong view.
The things that they should do, they think they shouldn’t do. The things they shouldn’t do, they think they should do. Its reversed like this. The things that have benefit, they think has drawbacks. Its reversed like this. The things that have drawbacks, they see have benefit. For example, gambling, which has much drawbacks. But they see it as having benefit – they can gain a lot and be rich. They see wrongly like this. The meaning of fool which cuts off both benefits, what does this mean? The benefit that you should receive this life – good reputation, good way-of-life, good education, a well-established life you don’t receive. And the benefit of the next life – that the mind will be improved and be higher. This means a good future destination. They don’t receive this as well. So, they lose both benefits, in both this life and the next life.
In terms of the benefit one should obtain in this life, the fool is lazy and idle. Being lazy since childhood, then they don’t learn, they don’t study hard, they just want to play and have fun. They are lazy and not diligent in finding knowledge and improving their mindfulness and wisdom. Whatever work or duties they do, they are lazy. They don’t do it. When they grow up with this attitude, then they can’t find wealth. They don’t know the method of finding wealth. If the mother and father leave them wealth, then they will waste it away, due to their laziness. And if they don’t have any inheritance from their parents, then they will face even more hardships. The wealth they do have, they lose and waste it away indulging in the ways that lead one to loss and ruin. Because they see the things that are of no benefit as having much benefit.
So they indulge in the paths of ruin and end up losing everything. And when they have weak mindfulness and wisdom, then they associate with those people that are insincere, those who speak and act nicely to them. They themselves have no wisdom – so they associate with bad people and take them as their friends. So, their wealth disappears even quicker. They have wealth and don’t realise that wealth is difficult to come by. They consume things excessively, have more expenses than income, they lead a life that is inappropriate, they have rich tastes, they use more than their ability. In the end, their wealth is gone.
In the time of the Buddha there was one upper class Brahmin. During a young age this Brahmin’s parents had passed away. But he was very idle and lazy. Not diligent at all. He spent his inheritance excessively. And he associated with bad friends as well. His wealth constantly diminished. In the middle part of his life, he still used money in this way. And in the later part of his life, his wealth disappeared. The Buddha said that this Brahmin – if in his young age he was diligent, and thrifty, he would have been a one of the top wealthy people. But even if in the early part of his life he didn’t do this, even if he started being diligent during the middle part of his life, he still would have been a wealthy person, a step lower than if he had begun as a youth. But even in the later part of his life, if he wasn’t lazy, he would still have been able to be wealthy. But here, he didn’t search for any work, he didn’t know how to live a proper life, he spent excessively, had more expenses than income, he wasted his parent’s inheritance, until it was all gone and became a poor person.
This is the characteristic of a fool – their mindfulness and wisdom are weak. They lose the benefit of this life. And in regards to the benefit of the next life, this type of person has no faith in the Triple Gem, the Buddha Dhamma Sangha, he has no sila or doesn’t keep the 5 moral precepts that maintain one’s speech and actions correctly. They become a person who doesn’t donate, doesn’t sacrifice for the benefit of others, doesn’t help others, but instead spends lavishly on themselves. They gambling as much as they want. They are intoxicated with drinking alcohol, and they also share and treat others to alcohol, meals, and give their bad friends a lot. They have no wisdom. They don’t know what degrades one’s life and one makes one’s life prosper. They just don’t know.
And the other characteristics that define a fool. The fool has bad and evil thoughts as normal. They have bad and unskilful speech and actions as something normal. They do the 3 bad actions of the body – they kill living beings, steal what’s not theirs, they commit sexual misconduct. They do the 4 bad actions of speech – they tell lies, they indulge in divisive speech – they talk so that others will be divided against each other and so that the listener will like or favour them and they break harmonious relationships. They speak harshly. They slander others based on birth, race, status, actions, etc. all to make the listener feel hurt. They indulge in empty talk – talking of bad things, things that have no basis and aren’t logical and that have no benefit. And they do the 3 bad actions in terms of the mind – they have greedy thoughts that want others’ things to be theirs, they have a mind that wants to harm and hurt others constantly, and a person who is deluded and sees wrongly – like explained earlier – that they see things that are benefit as having no benefit, they see things that are good as not good. They have wrong view. If a fool does this himself – then he is a fool himself. If he pulls other people to do the same as them– then he is a fool who is worse than a fool. Today, what is a modern term for this? The mother or father of a fool? In other words, a great fool –the source of all foolishness.
And if one is a fool and others reprimand and rebuke them, they don’t like it. They won’t accept it. They feel like they haven’t done anything wrong. They don’t see the things that are drawbacks as real drawbacks. They won’t accept it. They say “I’m good, I’m right.” Then they also pull others to the wrong path too. If people aren’t on their side, they become difficult, they don’t follow them, they blame and get angry with them. Even if there are genuine people that wish for their well-being, they still get angry and have ill-will towards them. And when this fool gains friends, these friends aren’t true friends, they are false friends. They are people who are selfish and out for themselves. They talk as if they are good, but don’t do good. Their mouths say, they will help this way and that way, but they can’t be relied on. They like to speak sweetly but will follow the ones they can give them the most benefit. In front of us, they praise us, but behind our backs they criticise us. And the fools pull us to different paths that lead to decline and loss. So these fools, just like an enemy, one shouldn’t take as a friend that will be with one in times of joys and times of sadness.
There are also many types of fools. Some fools can be helped and can change. So there are some that can change. But the really bad ones, can’t be helped at all. They have really strong wrong views. Like the view of seeing parents haven’t done any good to us and thus have no gratitude. Or seeing that dana or generosity has no benefit. And the bad things they do have no bad results. The people who reprimand them and try to show them the right way, they don’t accept it and don’t want to change themselves.
But the fools that can be helped: well, they do bad and evil, but later they can realise they were wrong, they can accept. And some can even become sotapannas or arahants. In the beginning they were deluded, but they are able to change.
We probably have heard cases such as like Venerable Angulimala. In the beginning, he had a high level of mindfulness and wisdom, but he met a teacher who was a fool. This teacher fell for the deceit of his students who were jealous of Angulimala. They spread rumours and made the teacher become deluded and a fool. The teacher tricked Angulimala and gave him the method to make very bad karma. It led to him killing 999 human-beings. But it was good that he was able to change. Because of the spiritual power of the Buddha, Angulimala could overcome his weak mindfulness and wisdom and become someone who was complete in mindfulness and wisdom in that very life. This is one example.
For ourselves, we have been born here and we have to accept that we can’t all be wise. At the minimum most of us will have the characteristics of a fool within our hearts. But then we come meet with the Dhamma and the noble Sangha, that can be a true refuge for our hearts. Those true noble disciples of the Buddha, they teach and advise us correctly. Just like our teacher the arahant bodhisattva, Venerable Ajahn Chah. Or even if we didn’t meet these individuals directly, whether in this period or in the Buddha’s time, but we can read their Dhamma teachings in books. Doing this then we can change the heart that has the characteristics of a fool within it and become a good person. There are many who have experienced this. This is a type of fool in whom these traits are not firmly established and can still be overcome.
Every person must have some aspect of a fool within their hearts. It’s not that we are born and we are all good and all wise. It’s not like that. Due to the power of delusion, most of us have to be fools in the beginning. So, we have to be careful then. Don’t be a fool that is firmly established, at least be a fool that can change.
And what does it mean to associate with fools? How do we know that we are in association with them? Will they make us suffer? This means that we meet with them, we get close to them, we have a deep bond with them, have common respect and trust in each other, we think and see things in a similar way, we do common activities together, we follow each other. These 7 ways are the types of ways we associate with fools. If we don’t want to associate with them, then we shouldn’t do these 7 things together.
When I was with Luang Pu Chah, if any monk or novice was stubborn, they wouldn’t listen to the teacher, they wouldn’t behave following the monks discipline or practices, then Luang Pu Chah would reprimand and rebuke that individual in the midst of the Sangha-community. If Luang Pu Chah reprimanded that individual, then all the other monks wouldn’t speak with that individual. No-one would come to see that monk in his dwelling, they wouldn’t get close to him, they wouldn’t show any affection or respect to them, or be friends with them. They wouldn’t do any of that and would just leave them alone. Let them reflect and change their ways, so that they can be a fool that can change themselves. Because he had to live with the community. But if he couldn’t be helped, then he would end up isolated from the community. This is from my learning with Luang Pu Chah, seeing Luang Pu Chah teach in this way.
And reflecting on the drawbacks of associating with fools, we will lose the wealth that we have and that we will gain. This is because the fool will lead us to paths or ruin and decline. They will make us lose our good name, others will complain and see us as bad people, because they associate the fools with us. And fools have the characteristic of blaming the many faults of others. They don’t see anyone as good in this world. They will criticise others, take any bad points of others and slander them even further. They make us lose our reputation, people will talk about us, we won’t be trusted in meetings, and ultimately we become bad too. In the end we could go wrong and commit crimes – selling drugs, murder, molesting women, and in the end need to go to jail. And fools cheat others as well, and may be a danger to one’s own life or a danger to their families. And this is just in the present life. After death, in the next life a fool will be reborn in a lower, painful realm, as a result of doing bad in actions, speech and thoughts. The fools lead others to be fools and to the same destination as well.
And when we don’t associate with fools, then the results are that we won’t lose one’s wealth, we won’t lose our good name, we don’t lose our good fortune, people won’t criticise us or blame us and saying we do bad things, we don’t lose our prosperity, we have more inner strength, and we will be free from various dangers in life, our spiritual merits grow, and next life we go to good, pleasant destination, and not to a lower realm.
We can reflect that the Buddha had the most highest and ultimate wisdom, being able to overcome all his mental defilements, and could teach the good Dhamma and make them understand clearly, to individuals of all levels – whether humans, devas, or brahma-gods – to those of tens of thousands of world-systems – to those that didn’t know what is auspicious and what isn’t auspicious – and what is the highest blessing. We can reflect that what the Buddha taught in the Mangala Sutta – even just the first point – has such great benefit to those listen and follow it. It has such immense and deep benefits. The teachings of the Buddha, are a true miracle.
So today I will just talk about this one point for today, that not to associate with fools is the highest blessing in our life. Just not associating– is the highest blessing – not just the fools on the outside – but the fools on the inside as well – so our hearts are not fools too, as I have explained in this talk. And if our heart is not a fool, then this is the highest blessing of our life – which is something that we don’t even have to do at all. We just don’t associate and don’t be a fool ourselves – that’s all. So that should be enough for today’s talk.
Questions and Answers:
Q: My mother has stage 4 cancer. She has faith in Amitabha Buddha and has done his chant regularly for a long time. She is too tired now to chant his name, though.
Luang Por Anan: If too tired to chant she can still play a tape and listen to it, and chant inside her mind. It is okay if no sound comes out of her mouth. She can chant in the heart.
Q: My mother is an accountant at a seafood company. Is this wrong livelihood since the company kills living beings?
Luang Por Anan: No, its not wrong livelihood since she has no intention to kill others. She can have metta for the animals.
Q: What should one do if one is married to a fool? But maybe the fool is a good parent.
Luang Por Anan: Build goodness, send metta, and work with the situation that you are in. Maybe the fool will improve and get better. You can determine your mind to help them. The fact that they are a good parent means that they are not a complete fool.
Q: Chanting for those that have died, is it important to do the chants on the 7th, 49th, and 100th days after death?
Luang Por Anan: No, those days are not special to help the dead person but make it easier for the living to gather together. The Abidhamma chant (traditionally chanted at funerals) is from teachings that the Buddha gave to devas in the Tavatingsa realm. Devas who have subtle minds can understand these teachings, like the mother of the Buddha, who attained to sotapanna (stream-entry) by listening to these teachings. The chant is in Pali so one may not understand the meaning, but one can gain merit by gaining peacefulness while listening. If you chant or listen in English, then you can contemplate with wisdom, and this wisdom is the highest merit. After Luang Pu Chah passed away we did the funeral chants every day for a year.