The Practice of Chanting in Buddhism
Venerable Dhammasami, 1999
Chanting is very common to any religion. Buddhism is no exception in this regard. However, the aim and purpose of chanting is different from one religion to another. Buddhism is unique in that it does not consider chanting to be prayer.
The Buddha in many ways has shown us to have confidence in our own action and its results, and thereby encouraged us to depend on no one but ourselves. This in fact is the sum and substance of His last message in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. One of the passages in this discourse reads: "Ananda, be dependent on yourself, take refuge in yourself and not in others, by this mean be dependent on the Dhamma, go for refuge to the Dhamma — the righteous principles".
When a Buddhist does chanting, he is not asking some one to save him from evil nor is he hoping to be given a place in heaven as a result after he dies. Instead, through chanting he may be learning, teaching, philosophising or re-memorising the discourse.
Actually, in the Anguttara Nikaya there are some discourses dealing with chanting like Dhammavihari Sutta. It mentions five categories of people who make use of the discourses.
The first one studies it just for the sake of study without putting it into practice or explaining it to others. He even does not reflect deeply on what he has studied. He is known as 'Pariyatti-bahulo' who is keen on studying it alone.
The second one preaches or teaches what he has learnt from the discourses but does not follow it himself. He is 'Pannyatti-bahulo' who is keen only on teaching.
The third one does chanting. He philosophises about the discourses, trying all the time to satisfy his philosophical thirst. He forgets to make use of as mode or life. He is called 'Vitakka-bahulo' who is eager only to indulge in philosophical aspects of the Suttas (Discourses).
The fourth one is the one who chants the discourses to make them last for a long time in his memory. He memorises and re-memorises. Nevertheless, he does not go further to follow it in daily life. He is 'Sajjhayaka-bahulo' who is enthusiastic only in memorising or chanting the teachings of the Buddha, He may even expect some magical power from chanting.
The fifth and last one is who studies the discourses, teaches them to others, reflects on their philosophical points, chants them regularly and above all actually practices it in daily life. He is the one the Buddha praises to be 'Dhammavihari' — a practitioner of the Dhamma, which he has learnt from the discourses.
Having reflected on this Sutta, it is left to us to judge ourselves to which category we belong and why we study or chant the discourses.
I would like to dwell a bit more on chanting in general. This is, after all, an All-night Chanting ceremony. It is nothing but right for us to be fully convinced of what we are doing. Initially I did mention that Buddhism is unique because it does not consider chanting to be a form of prayer.
Then why do we Buddhists chant?
In the olden days, before there were sufficient support materials for study like books, translations and computers we had to memorise to learn a discourse. After we had learnt it, we still had to chant regularly to protect it and hand it down to future generations. If we did not recite it daily we might forget it and omit some part of it. The Anguttara Nikaya says that if the discourses are poorly maintained this will lead to the disappearance of the Sasana.* It was so important those days to memorise and chant it regularly. This must have definitely contributed in developing chanting practice. Chanting meant almost for the survival of the Dhamma itself.
Now we have sufficient support materials, why we should then be still chanting? Is there any more reason to do this?
There are some reasons sufficient to continue chanting practice. Regular chanting gives us confidence, joy and satisfaction, and increases devotion within us. This devotion is really a power. It is called the Power of Devotion (Saddhabala). It energises our life in general. I do not know about the others. For me I often have a joyous feeling when the chanting goes right. I become more confident of myself. I see it as a part of developing devotion.
In Buddhist monastic education tradition, chanting and learning by heart still forms a part of it. We study some of the Theravada Abhidhamma texts — the highest teachings of the Buddha which deal with the ultimate nature of things — in that way in Burma. We are explained the meaning and how the logic develops in the Abhidhamma. In the night we try to chant without having learnt it by heart. We could do it because of the technique. It is known as evening-class (nya-war) over there. It means a certain technique of studying the Abhidhamma and some of the Suttas. It is very helpful as it helps you to reflect very quickly.
When we examine the nature of the discourses, the reasons for chanting will become clearer to us than ever.
THE NATURE OF THE DISCOURSES
A Sutta (Discourse) like Mangala Sutta was an answer to the Deva who asked the Lord Buddha about the real progress in social, economic and spiritual life. It is the vision of the Buddha on those issues as much as his advice to all of us who genuinely want those progresses in social and spiritual life. It is some thing that we should follow throughout our life starting from childhood to the day we take our last breath. Most of the Suttas are of this nature. They are descriptions as well as prescriptions for the common diseases like Lobha, Dosa and Moha (Greed, Hatred and Delusion).
Another nature of the discourses is protection or healing. Ratana Sutta is one of the best-known examples here. It was first taught to Venerable Ananda who in turn chanted in Vaisali to ward off all the evils and famine the people were then facing. Angulimala Sutta also falls into this category as it relieves the pains and trouble of a would-be mother. Mahasamaya Sutta and Atanatiya Sutta come under the same category because they emphasise much on protection and healing. Remember that Venerable Ananda and Venerable Angulimala did cultivate love and compassion before they chanted the discourse for this particular kind of blessing.
The three Bojjhanga Suttas** (Maha Kassapa/Moggallana/Cunda)*** have been in common use to help relieve the suffering of a patient. This is the third nature of the discourses I am trying to understand and reflect. Even the
Buddha asked Venerable Cunda to chant this Bojjhanga Sutta when He was ill. He himself did the chanting of the Bojjhanga Sutta when his senior disciples, Venerable Maha Kassapa and Venerable Maha Moggallana, were sick. These are the kind of Suttas that have both instructions for meditation practice and healing power. Karaniyametta Sutta has these same natures: instruction for daily practice to develop our spiritual benefit and to ward off the evils.
In other words, Buddhist chanting serves as a reminder of the practice we need to follow in daily life. If we understand and learn how to do it properly, it is another type of meditation in itself. It is also at the same time a healing or blessing service.
The last benefit we may get from chanting discourses is meditative one. When we chant if we try to concentrate well on the chanting, our mind becomes contemplative, not wandering, not engaging in unwholesome thoughts. The late Venerable Dr. H. Saddhatissa Mahanayaka Thero, the founder of SIBC, has rightly remarked in his work**** that almost all Buddhist practices are nothing else but some form of meditation.
* "Dve 'me bhikkhave dhamma saddhammassa sammosaya antaradhanaya samvattanti. Katame dve. Dunnkikkhittam ca pada-byancanam attho ca dunnito."
** Samyutta Nikaya, In the Mahakassapa Sutta, the Buddha chanted the Sutta to ailing Venerable Maha Kassapa while the second to another patient, Venerable Maha Moggallana, His own chief disciple. In the Mahacunda-bojjhanga Sutta, Venerable Cunda was asked by the Buddha who was then ill to chant (expound) the Bojjhanga. All were reported to have recovered at the end of the Sutta.
***Also Girimananda Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya; Girimananda bhikkhu was ill. That was reported to the Buddha by Venerable Ananda who was then taught this Sutta and asked to go back to Girimananda for expounding, reminding him of ten factors. At the end, he got recovered.
**** Facets of Buddhism by Venerable H. Saddhatissa; World Buddhist Foundation, London, 1991; p. 267
Venerable Dhammasami, 1999
The basic attitude of the Buddha towards any problem is best presented in the Four Noble Truths, the central teaching in Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths in plain language are first the problem, if you like; second the cause of it; third the end of it and lastly the solution. In physician's terms, it would be like disease, the cause of it, the recovery from it and the treatment.
Today we are discussing how to cope with fear and deal with pain. I shall try to contribute some fundamental procedures in the light of the Four Noble Truths.
In the Buddhist scriptures negative fear is regarded as an element that pollutes the human mind. It is one of the worst enemies that seeks to undermine all the happiness and progress of the human race. The extinction of it is extremely crucial to realise a lasting peace or to reach sainthood in terms of spiritual achievement.
Yet, even before we learn how to reason in life, we already experience fear when we are young. A child cries when he sees his mother leaving. He cries when you take something from him. That can be, of course, assuaged by the love and the comfort we receive from our parents. Pain can be rather individual compared with fear because as soon as we are released from our mother's womb we experience it. We know it although we cannot explain it.
So how to cope with them? Fear and pain. A large part of Buddhist Canonical literature is devoted to this. That is, I would say, "How we could learn how to deal with fear and pain?" Not only can we human beings cope with fear but we can also defeat and uproot it. Fear is generated in our minds. Fear is something that our mind invents while love is our natural inheritance that can be and must be cultivated.
For those who cannot help themselves, like children and mentally ill patients the best way to cope with fear and to deal with pain is to get support and comfort provided by the society as much as possible. When such people experience love and compassion from society, even their negative fear can be subdued. Medical help must be provided to relieve pain and possible measures taken to lessen fear. Intellectually, economically and spiritually we believe that the strong have the duty and responsibility to care for and protect the weak in society.
Doctors, nurses and volunteers are caring for the sick out of love and compassion. This is the way to reduce their fear and pain. Their love and compassion are indeed divine heart. We Buddhist look for something divine here and now. It happens here and now. It is created and developed by human beings themselves.
This kind of love and compassion, according to the Buddha, makes us one with divine qualities (Brahma-vihara).
Rejoicing in some one else's achievement (Mudita) and presenting ourselves in a balanced frame of mind (Upekkha) are the way to create confidence in people and thereby help reduce the fear they face. If some one thinks that his presence is welcome and rejoiced, then this can help him cope better with fear and pain. This is what they expect from HOPSPICES like this.
These four qualities: namely love, compassion, rejoicing in another's success and a balanced mind, can convert the human world into a heavenly one. It is called in Buddhism, The Four Sublime States. Where love grows fear is kept minimal.
These qualities are much helpful in times of ills, if they have been developed earlier. To start developing them within you only once you have fallen ill can be very struggling and in cases futile. Because the mind is already weakened. You only have to rely on support from those who have these qualities.
However, in principle, we believe that one must learn how to deal with fear and pain internally. For those who are rationally resourceful and more intellectual, psychological measures need to be applied.
First, our attitude towards life should be constantly examined to see if it is realistic. Life, whether we like it or not, consists of good and bad, comfort and discomfort. Are we deliberately expecting only comfort while unreasonably trying to neglect discomfort that nevertheless still forms part of our life? If so, not all the facts of our life have our recognition. We are half-blind. This is a habit that will never get us prepared to face the ills of life, which we can never totally eradicate, since our attitude to our own life is too incomplete, taking into account only half of the reality — the positive half. It is, therefore, important to learn how to live with the pain — the pain that you cannot get rid off with medical help.
Therefore, we should be more aware of our unfulfilled expectations and the variety of our responses to this such as disappointment, frustration and depression. Unfulfilled expectations are a very common experience. Fear is experienced by the most powerful as well as the powerless. The causes of fear are many and varied: fear of violence, fear of crime, fear of failure, fear of uncertainty, fear of the unknown, fear of disease and fear of death etc. While some come into view due to anxiety about the future, most fears are rooted in the past. It is not God given nor identical with the so-called Almighty.
The Buddha said to learn how to live a life fully at the present moment is the best way to keep fear under practical control. Very few people have learnt how to live mindfully at the present moment.
When they are less understood these phenomena like fear and pain can create more fear. For instance, we dislike discussing about death and consequently we remain ignorant of it. Ignorance feeds our mind with fear. This is why the Buddha said we should meditate upon death so that we can understand it more and expel the fear of death. When death becomes less fearful other types of fear can then be more easily dealt with. Let us be mindful of fear and try to understand it. Recognition of it is the most imperative principle in dealing with fear. The same is true in encountering pain. Just to recognise that fear exists at that particular moment in our mind. Give it immediately the attention it deserves.
Having recognised it, it is necessary that we have at least one other object to contemplate. That may be as simple as counting breathing or reflecting on some other positive objects like family members, friends or holy people like the Buddha that do really exist, but not on something imaginary. This reduces the chance of your mind being obsessed by fear. On the other hand, it gives a chance of regaining hope.
When there is more than one object to contemplate, the mind can have an opportunity to remain more objectives in looking at fear and pain. Otherwise, one habitually identifies oneself with the fear and the pain. It is always helpful to try to view fear and pain objectively by saying, "It is painful or there is pain rather than I am in pain or I feel the pain". Personalising of such objective objects only tends to increase their volume and intensity. In Buddhist meditation, both fear and pain are the object to be noticed and observed.
Once fear or pain is recognised, to share it with some one else is another step in dealing with it. When one receives sympathy, understanding, love, compassion and reassurance from someone else, fear or pain is already being restrained and is about to be weakened.
Apart from what we have briefly discussed above, other constituents of mental power like faith, sometimes expressed by the Buddhists as confidence, a concentrated state of mind and determination are some other factors that can defeat fear and pain. They have to be developed.
Creating a civil society where the rule of law prevails and creating a caring and compassionate society where the less fortunate are not forgotten is all conducive to overcoming fear. We all have to play our part.
I think I have touched upon the topic at least briefly and brought you both the healthy and the sick, how to deal with fear and pain physically and mentally, and internally and externally. Thank you very much.
Question & Answer
Q: How can you say fear and pain are objective when it is experienced in a very personal way?
A: We experience fear and pain, especially pain in a more personal way because no one shares with us. In that experiential sense, it is personal. But fear and pain are not special to any one nor any particular group of people. They are there as long we can feel. It does not belong to only one or two but all. As soon as we are born, we cry because of pain. You sit here in the Conference for two hours, you start feeling pain. It is not personal even if we personalise it in our mind. From this perspective it is objective. When we personalise or identify an objective object like fear and pain with ourselves, the fear and pain tend to increase. It damages our ability to cope with it. We should look at the fear and pain in a detached manner in order to maintain our ability to cope with it. It is possible to develop detachment to the fear and pain we feel.
Q: Do you mean it is for mental pain? If so, what about physical one?
A: No, I mean for both physical and mental pain. It can also be definitely used for physical pain. As I have defined it in my paper, I intend this for both of those who are helpless and who can help themselves.
Venerable Dhammasami, 1999
In this talk I would like to focus on a few relevant sources from early Buddhist scriptures to discuss what does it mean by religious and religious family.
However, please bear in mind that at the end of the talk much will remain unsaid since this is quite a big subject in itself.
In Britain, people would judge you according to native Christian culture if you go to church or if you often pray to God. The Catholics would be considered to be more religious because they tend to go to church. According to a research finding by an American Sociologist Grace Davie in 1995. Catholic Church tops the table in terms of having more members, totally counting more than two millions although they are just religious minority here in the U.K. The Anglicans come second with about 1.8 millions members throughout the country.That is a study on community, which concludes that 71% of population in the U.K. belong to religious community although only 15% of the whole population are reported as active church members.17
Surprisingly, about 54% of the people in this country define themselves as religious person. The European average is even higher than this running about 18. It literally means they are those who believe in God and sin.
Well, let us come home quickly. How do we define someone as being religious or non-religious?
Normally we would think of going often to the temple with regular chanting, offering flowers and giving Dana (Offering or Donation) once a year or once a month. Of course, this is undeniable. They are religious activities and who perform them become religious. The temple is a religious institution, which is there to welcome any one and help them in their spiritual need. However, the argument is that the term 'Religious' tends sometime to localise on activities associated with the temple alone.
Anyone taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha is a religious person. He is called 'Upasaka and also 'Saddhavanta'. Anyone living a way of life set out in the formula of Buddhist Five Precepts is religious. He is called 'Silavanta'. Anyone practising Metta (loving-kindness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (rejoice in others' achievement), Upekkha (a balanced mind) is religious. He is 'Dhammavihari'. If they adopt meditative way of life, they are also to be known as 'Yogavacara' (the meditating ones).
The problem with us is that not everyone taking refuge in the triple Gem (by saying, "Buddham saranam gachami") is 'Dhammavihari', a Dhamma practitioner.
Let us talk on practical sense in the context of these scriptures. And today we are above all talking about family that is religious.
HOW A FAMILY CAN BE RELIGIOUS?
Briefly, we examine if the family practices the Dhamma and makes progress in it. What kind of Dhamma practices you may ask?
Sharing, respect, morality, being grateful to each other are some of the important themes of it.
Sharing is something that brings about family life and sustains it. Without sharing two people cannot live together nor can they establish a family. They share both physical and emotional feelings. They share hope. They share a future. They share food and accommodation. They also share concerns. Mostly they also share religious belief and common culture. The more they share the more they love each other.
They should also share respect. The Buddha said in the Sigalovada Sutta that both husband and wife should be faithful and respectful to each other According to the Buddha marriage life is a partnership where two people belong to each other (Anaticariyaya/Anaticarini). The Buddha did emphasise that a man should not look down on his wife (Anavamananaya) but should share the responsibility of management and the power to control family affairs with her (Issari-ya Vosaggena). The Buddha was giving this advice to Sigala in an exclusively male dominated Indian society of 6th BC.
Once sharing system starts going wrong, then problems begin to arise within the family. Once a fair system of sharing stops the family cannot go further but collapse. Both party and in many cases also children are all would-be victims of the break-up. The basic problem in our eyes is that because the family is not well established in the Dhamma, i.e. not religious. Now Single parent issue has become a huge problem to the whole society here in Britain. They have to be cared and supported by social welfare system. The child grows up having a psychological scar in his mind. It was the most difficult moment for a child to be told sometime in his very young age that he is going to have two homes because his parents will no longer live together.
Now let us look at the relationship between parents and children.
Parents are mainly responsible to initiate their offspring into society, to have good friends and to stay away from bad ones, to have a good education and character They are also responsible to carry tradition and culture to their children, which are recognised as heritage of a nation as much as individual.
The Buddha even speaks about the arrangement of marriage of their children. It is not that they must arrange it but they should see to it that the children got their advice and support in this matter The Buddha would certainly want parents and children to consult with one another in this important event in life. The Buddha's attitude towards marriage is very clear and flexible. He has no problem with either arranged marriage of the Asians or with marriage of one's own choice. He talks about the principle, not the type of marriage.
Parents should also bear in mind to give some inheritance to their children, may be in terms of skills or property.
All the advice show how parents should share with their children in many ways: material, emotional and spiritual helping them build a future. This is a religious parent. They are religious in a sense they fulfill their responsibility towards their children.
WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN THEN?
First and most important of all is for children to be aware of the opportunity their parents exclusively offer to them, to be able to appreciate it and make the most of it. Any parent would choose to send his/her child to the best school so that he could be best educated and secure a good job. Parents make only too much sacrifice for their children. A boss may give you a very good salary but once something has gone wrong with you are not sure about another chance. Parents are always prepared to give you a second chance.
The problems with us as children is we take so much for granted and appreciate very little for anything we've got from our parents. Consequently, we do not feel very grateful to our parents. We think we are by nature entitled to these opportunities.
Many come to understand how great the love their parents have for them only when they become parent themselves. It is sometime too late. They live to regret.
Some thing demanded of children is but respect for their parents and being grateful for love and care they have received from them. The Buddha said a child who is grateful to his parents should be considered a wise child who pleases the whole generation.
He should be aware of the culture heritage and family tradition of his parents. Otherwise, he will grow up without a culture to be proud of as his own. This is another kind of sharing, sharing a cultural identity with his/her parents.
Contemporary British society is facing a lack of respect from children for their parents. Children no longer understand and appreciate that their parents have a great concern for them. They are ignoring a huge opportunity offered to them. They are doing evil to themselves. This is not a religious child.
Parents are worried about their children. A few months ago, we had a group of Laotian devotees from France coming to participate in the Atavisi Buddhapuja here in the temple. Among them was a young couple who had to leave their young children and joined the pilgrimage here, I noticed the mother was trying to telephone to her children in every 10 minutes. When she could not get through, she immediately rushed outside to give a call to her children. I could clearly notice in her face how she was anxious for her children. She told me in Laotian language that her kids have a private class at 7 p.m. and should be back home by now. Nevertheless, since no one picked up the telephone, she became very worried.
One lady devotee once told me that she was very worried and could not bare the anxiety for her younger son because he didn't inform her where he has gone. She again had to face another distressful moment when she learnt that her elder son who is a soldier might be sent to Bosnia.
It is this kind of concern and anxiety of parents that we as children have to appreciate and understand. That will mean respect for parents. That will also mean you are good children. That will also mean you are religious. You share concerns with your parents, apart from family tradition and culture. You are making a progress in Dhamma.
With this, the family can become religious. May you all be happy!
16'Religion in Britain since 1945' by Grave Davie; University of Exeter, Oxford in U.K. & Cambridge in USA, 1994 (ISBN 0-631-18444-9) p. 46
17 ibid., p. 50
18 Ibid., p. 78
Venerable Dhammasami, 1999
The kind of friendship I would like to reflect upon today is somewhat different from what is normally understood. A Friend is a person known well to you and regarded with liking, affection and loyalty. This is how many people usually perceive it. Youngsters would automatically understand it as a kind of relationship that exists between two people or among a group of class mates. But here in the context of the teachings of the Buddha I would like to define friendship in a wider sense to mean being a member of society where someone is linked to someone else in one or another way.
I must admit before I go into some details here that I am very much limited by the English word 'Friend' in trying to reflect on the teachings of the Lord Buddha on the subject which is enshrined in Pali, a language quite different altogether from the one I am using as a medium in this talk.
In Pali, there are many terms to indicate friendship; they differ from one another in the degree of interdependency that exists between individuals concerned. We have come across so far more than ten of them like Mitta, Sahayaka, Sakha, Vatthu, Sahaya, Sampavanka, Dutiya, Parisa, Sangaha, Sappurisa, Sahadhammika, Sandittha and Sambhatta.
I mentioned first that friendship is something that exists between members of society. Who are they? It will become just so clear to you if you open your eyes with fresh awareness and look around you. Your parents are the first members of society you associate with in your life. Then brothers and sisters, then teachers and school-mates when you are sent to school. As you grow older you add more people to the list of those you have come across in your life; In a bus you meet people; In hospital you have them there; In shopping centres they are there... people... people... and people. All are members of society. We are linked to one another in one way or the other. The other day Mrs. Manel told me that she was so frightened to see a child crossing the road repeatedly three times. It was on her way to the temple. Normally we would think that we have nothing to do with that child. But we feel so horrified to see it. It affects us in some way. Because we all are members of society and so is that child.
Actually, in using the many Pali words indicating friendship I mentioned earlier the Buddha must have wanted to indicate the environment you are in. Your parents, relatives, schoolmates, classmates, teachers19, spouse, physician, employer and employees and many more — all these people are your environment. They become your environments. The environment that surrounds you is conditioning you. They influence the way you think and act.
So the Buddha said, "Carefully choose your own associates" (Asevana ca balanam panditananca sevana) meaning do not associate with the fool but only with the wise. It has to be started when we are young. We need to be taught. Here again that is only possible if we have very good friends — father and mother. All our future depends on it. It is extremely important for a person to be able to live a full life or not to be able to do that. Some learn the Dhamma since when they are young, some do not. It all depends mainly on parents — the most crucial environment you have in your life.
The Puggala Vagga of the Anguttara Nikaya states that the Buddha and the Cakkavatti (a universal monarch) are the two that people may be fortunate enough to have as a friend. They bring progress, benefit, happiness and peace to many. People have benefited from the teachings of the Buddha for almost two thousand and six hundred years now. It is there for any one with out any discrimination. A Sri Lankan can benefit from it as much as a Westerner does.
A Cakkavatti is a righteous ruler who cares very much for the social and spiritual progress of his subjects. Just imagine what happens in Rwanda, Kampuchea and so on where people have to live in fear, not being able to live a full life, not being able to develop social and spiritual progress. We have nearly all our specialists and consultants living outside the country affecting the development of the country in a great deal. In Thailand where you have a good King, you hardly see educated Thais working in other countries. All you see is Thai restaurants and companies operating in foreign lands.
The Buddha and the righteous rulers are the best friends we can ever have in our life. So according to Buddhism we as human beings have to make effort to be as pure as a lotus flower — it grows in the mud, but it comes up not only from the mud but also from water. It has to come up above the mud and water level to live the full life of a lotus flower. It is not dirty with mud where it is in nor is it affected by the dirty water.
Just imagine our life. It is full of unsatisfactory situations. We are hardly satisfied with our environment; we have so many complaints, and when we meet each other, we find ourselves endlessly gossiping about someone or complaining about a system... health-care, transportation, programmes on television.., rubbish in newspapers... the behaviours of our neighbours... or people you find at work place or even you meet in the church and temple.
You can be easily carried away, spoiled and corrupted by the circumstances that you are in.
Just continue to imagine for a second if we have to be conditioned by these things all the time. What would you mean by life? You would not find anything worthwhile... meaningful and enjoyable at all. So to learn how to deal with your environment.. in other words to have a good friend is very important.
The Sigalovada Sutta elaborates very much on who is a good friend and who is not. As you all know someone who is selfish, who talks much about the past and future, not the present, ... who persuades you to gossip... who says good things about you in your presence and criticises you in your absence... who ruins you with intoxicants and drugs... who encourages you to associate with immoral acts.... He is a bad friend.
A good friend means in brief, the one who protects you and your interests, who encourages you to do good things..., who helps you, who never abandons you when you are in trouble, who asks you to refrain from doing bad things, who does not gossip about you, who appreciates your good qualities and achievements, who acknowledges his own weak points... and who is not boastful... he is a good friend.
One day Venerable Sariputta was admonishing Bhikkhus who are forest-dwellers. He asked them to find a good friend and above all to be a good friend themselves. It is recorded in the Majjhima Nikaya, Goliyani Sutta.
At the end of the talk during question time, Venerable Moggallana asked Venerable Sariputta if a good friend is needed only for the forest-dwellers20.
Venerable Sariputta21 replied if a Bhikkhu who is a forest-dweller when he is among the Sangha should develop the will to listen and be a good friend himself, it is even more important for the city-dweller Bhikkhu.
It is clear that we not only must have a good friend but also must be a good friend ourselves. All the teachings of the Buddha are but to train us to become a good friend to one another. Of course, it manifests in many forms is a good parent, good neighbour, good teachers, good citizen etc....
There are many words of the Buddha spoken on the subject especially to enhance harmony between friends. Again in the Sigalovada Sutta, He defines friends into six categories: parents and children, employer and employee, husband and wife, moral guardians and their followers, teacher and pupils, and associates.
They are compared with six directions, which you have to keep secure by fulfilling your duties and responsibilities towards them.
The Buddha always referred to Himself as a teacher22 to include Himself in the list of friend. In the Kosala Samyutta, it says that at home mother is a friend. The merits you acquired by fulfilling your duty as husband (also wife), as a member of society and country will be your good friend that helps you till next life.23
Somewhere in the Anguttara Nikaya, Sangaha Sutta the Buddha also advises us to be generous towards each other, to speak only sweet and kind words, to help boost the interests of each other and not to have any discrimination in dealing with people. These four practices are considered helpful in harmonising our friendship in society. Loving-kindness, compassion, joyous feeling and equanimity that are known as four sublime qualities are also to harmonise and strengthen friendship in society.
When the Buddha was still alive one day the King Pasenadi of Kosala came to see Him. The King reported to the Buddha about the conversation taken place between him and Venerable Ananda. The King said that on that occasion Venerable Ananda told him that a good friend is worth half of a holy life.
The Buddha said, "If He were to be told by Ananda like that He would have said to Ananda, that a good friendship is not worth only half the holy life but is equally worth to the whole holy life itself"24. Because a good friend helps you develop the Noble Eightfold Path as a way of life.
In plain terms, it means when you have a good friend you have already fulfilled all the purpose of spiritual achievement. But if you have fallen into bad friendship, you have lost all of it.
19 A good teacher: · 1. Metta vagga, Pannya Sutta, A.N. ·2. Mahavagga, Vinaya Pitaka.3. Devadatta-vipatti Sutta, Atthaka-nipata, Metta vagga, A.
20 "Arannyikenavuso bhikkhuna sanghagatena sanghe viharantena suvacena bhavitabbam kalyanamittena?"
21 "Arannyikena pi kho avuso Moggallana bhikkhuna ime dhamma samadaya vattitabba, pageva gamanta-viharina."
22 Mahaparinibbana Sutta, etc.
23 "Katapunnyani kammani mittam samparayikam."
24 "Upaddham idam bhante brahmacaiyassa, yadidam kalyana-mitta, kalyana-sahayata, kalyana-sampa-vankata."
Venerable Dhammasami, 1999
Na bhaje papake mitte, na bhaje purisa'dhame;
bhajetha mitte kalyane, bhajetha purisuttame.
Associate not with evil friends, associate not with degraded men;
Associate with good friends, associate with noble men.
DHAMMAPADA STANZA No. 78
A few days ago I had a chat with Rosie, the sponsor of today's special Puja. We were trying to reflect on something about friendship from the Dhamma we have learnt. Of course, we based our conversation mainly on my last talk on the subject — Friendship.
Today partly due to her request and partly due to my intention to develop such an important topic, I am going to talk on who is a good friend.
Here first and foremost I would like to thank Venerable G. Piyadassi, the Head of our Centre for his kind arrangement making it possible for me to touch upon the same subject twice within a month. My thanks are also to Rosie who has requested this sermon for the sake of her son who is celebrating his birthday today.
Manjula, on behalf of the Sangha and the congregation I wish you a very happy birthday, May the blessings of the Triple Gem be upon you today and throughout your life!
If I ever had to answer the question, Which discourse of the Buddha is the most comprehensive and has His entire message? I would definitely say it is the Mangala Sutta, the discourse on gradual progress (also discourse on blessing). We all know it, mostly by heart. In our Saturday Dhamma class children are supposed to do the same to memorise it.
It mentions what we have to do from birth to Nibbana. Learning the discourse may take only an hour but following it has to be followed throughout our life.
The most important factors come first there. It is about good and bad friends. This is the piece of the Sutta that I propose to contemplate today.
We know that the Buddha has said that the value of a good friend is equal to the entire holy practice. The problem here is, Who is a good friend and who is a bad one?25
A GOOD FRIEND
In many ways, the Buddha took whatever opportunity available to Him to enlighten us on the issue, The Buddha often commended Venerable Sariputta and Venerable Moggallana, the two Chief Disciples as good friends to the Bhikkhus. The Master made it known to the Venerable Sariputta and Venerable Moggallana themselves when He said, "Sariputta, you are a wise man; Moggallana, you are a wise man too" (Pandito tvam Sariputta, Pandito tvam Moggallana).
At the same time, He would tell them that a good friend is not always loved and is not loved by all — Sada hi so piyo hoti, asada hoti appiyo the wise form only a minority in the world.26
In the Dhammapada, the Buddha is reported to have said that the wise form only a minority in the world.27
Venerable Channa, a former charioteer, was the only man to learn about the secret departure of Prince Siddhartha from the Palace and actually accompany Him on that journey that became known to us as Great Renunciation. He was very moved about the departure but later became so proud of his boss that he joined him when he became a Buddha, He did not care about any other people whether they are Chief Disciples or senior disciples or an Arahat. Because the Buddha was his former boss.
The Buddha just before His Mahaparinibbana had forbidden anyone from speaking or advising him (Channa). That is known as noble punishment handed to some disobedient.
When the Buddha was still alive Channa's relationship with other Bhikkhus had not been a smooth one. Channa at times rebuked the Bhikkhus and the Buddha had to tell the advisers that they would not always be appreciated for their advice to him. However, to be a good friend they still should have the same concern for him and go on advising him on what is right and what is wrong. Venerable Channa most of the times misunderstood his good friends. He is not alone anyway. We often do the same when we focus on the tone or the messenger rather than the message.
A good friend is the one who points out our faults directly to us.28 Of course, the manner in which things are done is very important. Pointing out someone's faults in his or her absence may result in gossiping.
To distinguish between a wise person and a fool, one who has a vision for both short and long term welfare is a wise man. It says in the Samyutta Nikaya, Kalyanamitta Sutta that if the country has such a man as a ruler, they have the best friend. The same discourse also stresses that each and every of us should be determined that we will try to become a good friend ourselves.
A good friend himself is always open to criticism. The Samyutta Nikaya, Pavarana Sutta records that the Buddha Himself had a meeting every fortnight in which He asked the Bhikkhus to point out His faults, if any. When everyone was silent, Venerable Sariputta then asked any member of the assembly to criticise him. That was the procedure the Buddha adhered to, and the monastic Order he founded was programmed to be in that way.
It is not that easy to be open like that. We feel very much resistant and offended when we are criticised, For this very reason, we can imagine that the wise can only remain minority in society.
A person who is not receptive towards other people's opinions is compared with a spoon which does not experience the taste of a curry although a curry is never cooked without being given a stir with a spoon. He is not a good friend, Like a spoon towards curry, he is indifferent to the consequences of his own action.29 He will probably understand the ill nature of his unwholesome action only when he reaps the result of it. Unfortunately, that will also be the time he weeps. He brings a vicious circle back. The circle of suffering is indeed long for the fool.30
The Buddha advises us that we should stay alone when we cannot find a good friend.31
A person who is flexible and receptive is like the tongue that experiences the taste of a curry. He learns his mistakes and becomes mature. That is why a fool who acknowledges that he is foolish is indeed a wise man.32
A bad friend always tries to boast to you about something he has done, The Dhammapada says such a man seeks undue fame. He is ambitious. He wants every work, great or small to be referred to him. He desires more and his pride increases
The Anguttara Nikaya spells out some characteristics of a bad friend. Mitta Sutta talks of a good friend first. It says that a worthy friend means someone who gives you something people don't easily give away, who does something for you that people feel reluctant to do, who is so patient with you, who enlightens you about the hidden nature, who protects your secret, who never abandons you in times of difficulty and who does not look down on you when you are down.
The opposite is the characteristic of a bad friend.
One characteristic that the Buddha stressed often is being grateful. Being grateful to parents, teachers and those who have helped you.
Actually to be generous, to be able to renounce something and to look after parents have been mentioned as the specific nature of a good man.34
Another mirror where we could reflect upon the good and bad characteristics of a person is found again in the Anguttara Nikaya. It describes a person who wants to make known the weak points of other people even when he is not asked, but is reticent about the reputation and achievement of other people even when he is asked. We should keep away from such a person. He talks of his quality and praises himself even when not asked but never opens his mouth about his weakness.
We should be determined not to be that way and should make sure we do not have a friend like that. We have to be responsible for our own choice of friend. This is a part of present Kamma in the making.
To have a bad friend is a sufficient reason for downfall even for those who have been ordained.
According to the Buddha the aim of having a friend or friends is to get help in leading a righteous and prosperous life. That is the Noble Eightfold Path.
Many kinds of happiness and progress are spoken of in the Mangala Sutta: a good education, good job and business, good environment, good moral education, high social status and ultimately the end of suffering — Nibbana. However, these can be achieved only when one has a good start i.e. associates with the wise and not with the fool.
How do we know who is wise and who is not, who is good and who is bad? When we are young, we depend on our parents to choose it for us. Therefore, the process of having a good friend is a matter of more than one generation. Science research has revealed that 69% of a child's behaviour is affected by his environment. He imitates. The gene plays less then 20%. The environment for a child starts from his parents.
Bad friends may in the same way have an impact on more than one generation. It is something crucial for many generations.
Ajatasattu could have reached the first sainthood (Sotapanna) if he had not fallen into bad company with Devadatta. He killed his father. He attempted to kill the Buddha. Consequently, he suffered a lot, for quite sometime being overwhelmed by a sense of guilt for those unwholesome acts. He could not even sleep as a result until he met the Buddha who gave him a future, Ajatasattu suffered immensely.
In brief a dutiful and responsible partner, parents, teachers, citizen, employer and employee, neighbours are good friends. You want to live in a community where such people are a member. They have concerns for you. One is wise when dutiful and responsible. Only a wise friend can become a good friend.
The highest criterion for being a wise person is to be in a complete control of one's mind, which means Arahathood. Such a person is no longer shaken by praise and blame. He becomes a rock in the face of these elements.
It is reported in the Dhammapada. One day a seven years old novice was walking behind his teacher-monk on alms round. He saw an irrigator working. He asked his teacher what the man was doing. He again came across a Fletcher fledgling and bending the shafts. A carpenter was the last one he saw, He asked about these people whenever he saw them. He was a child who spoke like a child. He was like any other child, very curious, very keen to explore.
His teacher patiently explained him that an irrigator was leading water to where he wanted. A Fletcher was bending wood to make his arrows ready. A carpenter was in a control of wood carving and figuring the way he wanted.
The young novice became convinced of the usefulness of controlling and started controlling his mind. Soon afterwards, he attained Arahatship.
Devotees, ladies and gentlemen, I hope I have tried my best to offer you some thing this evening for your own reflection. I shall now stop here. May you all be happy'
25 There are many other technical terms used in Pali for instance; Sappurisa, kalyanamitta.
26 Dhammapada Stanza No. 77
27 ibid., No. 85
28 Dhammapada Stanza No. 76
29 Ibid., No. 64
30 Ibid., No. 60
31 Ibid., No. 61
32 Dhammapada Stanza No. 77
33Ibid., Nos. 73 - 74
34 Angguttara Nikaya, Sappurisa Sutta
Venerable Dhammasami, 1999
Now I just would like to discuss the word Sharing which is very important and very much a basis of spiritual practice. What do we mean by Sharing? Sharing is so important, The more we share, the more we love each other. Unless two people share, they cannot live together. You might wonder why we have to share with others. We are not related. We do not know each other. Why should we share?
But the point is that unless we share, as human beings we can not live together in a society. Take me for example, my parents would not build a school just for me. Nor would they build a hospital just to provide me with treatment when I get ill. Whenever I want to travel, say I now have to go back to London, I need a good motorway. It would be unreasonable to expect my parents or grandparents to build such a big motorway for me so that I can go back to London.
So how have they managed? They have sent me to a government school, which I shared with other students. We shared teachers, classrooms, play ground and disciplines, and at home we shared food and shelter with our mum and dad. Whenever we get ill we go to the hospital and share the health service with many people. In the same way, we share so many things. So sharing is very very important for all of us.
The Buddha said that the human world is imperfect. People see many of their desires remain unfulfilled. Things do not always turn out in the way we expect them to be. But, of course, there are ways and means of making the world better and oneself perfect. There are ten of them. Meaning ten ways of perfecting oneself in the imperfect world. The most fundamental one and the starting point is sharing.
We have to learn how to share with each other. One pound is nothing to you and me. But it means a lot to someone who does not have anything; it means survival to those homeless people. When we share with them, then they have something to eat and survive on, and they suffer fewer problems. They feel a sense of being cared for by some body. They can also enjoy peace. Only when your neighbours and friends have peace then you will have peace. Everything is related in this world. I cannot live alone. You cannot live alone. Then to have friends and neighbours we have to learn how to live in harmony with each other And the best way to do that is to learn how to share.
Now we are sharing this room. We share nationality, language and culture. Sometimes we also share ideologies. So the more we share the more we gain solidarity, the more we become united. Without sharing as a way of life, we cannot talk about any other religious practices.
People pay taxes. This is a way of sharing with each other. With those taxes, the government builds hospitals, schools, roads, motorways, community centres, parks and all other essential things for the people. Without having to build a park ourselves, we can just go and enjoy the park. Why? Because everybody, not only this generation but through so many generations, have been sharing with each other. Here in the U.K. some pay tax up to 40% of their income. That is why we can see here one of the best welfare, health care and education systems in the world. All this is what we call in Burmese 'Dana'. It means sharing or giving something away.
FIVE PRECEPTS: SHARING AS A WAY OF LIFE
Just now, you have taken the Five Precepts. It is also a way of sharing in five different ways.
Through the first precept, you undertake to refrain from killing. It includes also physical and mental harming, damaging and torturing. By observing this, it means you share security with others. As a human being, we need two basic human rights; the right to life and the right to property. They can only be obtained through mutual understanding between individuals, groups, communities, nations and groups of nations.
I need the guarantee from my neighbours that they would not threaten my life and my temple. In the same way as my neighbours, they expect a similar guarantee from me that I would not harm them. So by observing this precept we share a sense of security. In a society, without this we cannot live together. People will start fighting among themselves as soon as they refuse to share the land or the available resources with one another.
The Buddha wants all of us to extend this guarantee also to the animals. Whether an animal or a human being, we share one thing — it is common to both, that is the will to live and fear of punishment. Therefore, by observing this first precept we are ensuring the basic human right.
The second is "I refrain from stealing or taking what is not given". It includes not evading taxes and damaging or destroying public property. It means you give a guarantee to protect the property of other people; you will not steal or destroy but will respect them. You are offered the same guarantee and peace of mind from the society. This is the way we share with each other. Of course, we do not have meals together every day and we do not all live in the same house. It is impossible. But still we are sharing a lot.
The third one is "I refrain from sexual misconduct" which means you give a guarantee to show most respect to family life, which is the basic unit of society. A decline in family values in this sense means the degeneration of human society itself.
The fourth is "I refrain from telling lies". We can see the animals do not talk to each other. However, as human beings we do communicate, we try to understand each other through language. If we do not use the language properly, then we cannot build trust. With mistrust people used to build nuclear arsenals and unnecessarily big armies costing a lot to taxpayers. The problem was that they did not trust each other. Then the way to build trust between individuals, groups, societies, communities and nations is by speaking the truth. We have to respect the truth. We have to mean what we say.
Moreover, this precept also includes refraining from unguarded speech that may break a friendship between two persons or groups, from gossiping and from using harsh words.
The last one is "I refrain from taking intoxicants". I do not think any doctor will recommend drinking for your health. In addition, if some one, a drunken person, comes in now, we cannot listen to a Dhamma talk or we cannot talk to each other without being disturbed. He might try to break the windows, to damage the cars or the house. It is very disruptive. First he or she loses peace in his or her own mind and then starts disturbing the environment. It can make you forgetful and become less efficient in carrying out your responsibilities.
That is why these five are known as the Five Precepts. They are not commandments. They have been designed and recommended by the Buddha for the harmony, peaceful co-existence and happiness of our society.
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