26 July 2011

Meditation on the auspicious

In my conversations with people from different walks of life and different parts of the country I’ve heard some talk of the auspicious and inauspicious. I know of one family living in Sinhapitiya, Gampola that was quite fixated with such things. If one member had to embark on an important journey, another would set off a few minutes earlier so that any ill-sign would be first encountered by this individual and the traveller spared.

I don’t know if gaze or encounter serves to depreciate power of ill-omen or make it disappear altogether upon such ‘contact’. This family firmly believed this was how it was. Back then I thought it was a simple and effective exercise to put someone at ease about the day ahead, fill his/her mind with positive and calm thoughts and divest it of uncertainty and doubt. The superstitious need such devices, I thought.

I’ve heard tell that it is inauspicious to see a bikkhu as one steps on the road to start the day. I’ve also heard the theory that this was a story propagated by Christian clergy, although that would put the propagator at odds with his faith.  In my life, given the cultures that I’ve grown up with, the sight of a bikkhu has always served to calm. Indeed this is true for clergy
belonging to theistic faiths as well.

Those who appear to have given up worldly things in search of a different kind of truth and healing inspire good and wholesome thoughts. It is good to start the day that way. 

Theoretically, the inauspicious claim with respect to seeing a bikkhu makes no sense, since it was the sight of a world renouncer that gave the disenchanted Prince Siddhartha a sense of hope and offered him a pathway towards a pathway out of sorrow.

These thoughts came to mind after reading afresh the Mangala Sutta, following a short email exchange with Gamini Gunawardena recently. We were discussing integrity, the temptation to err or stray and those who rise above such things.

Gamini Maama quoted:

Phutthassa lokadhammehi - Cittam yassa na kampati
Asokam virajam khemam - Etam mangalamuttamam

[A mind unruffled by the vagaries of fortune, from sorrow freed, from defilements cleansed, from fear liberated — this is the greatest blessing].

Greatest’ in this translation is perhaps not quite accurate since this discourse on blessings mentions 38 blessings and none is privileged over the other. The Mangala Sutta is often taken as a comprehensive summary of Buddhist ethics, individual and social, and constitutes a remarkable guide in the matter of facing and overcoming life’s many challenges. It is a pithy and amazing text that has the power to clear doubts and help weigh option-efficacy. Like most Buddhist teachings, this too is of immense value both for those of monastic persuasion and those less inclined to grapple with the deeper philosophical questions of existence, i.e. those who just want to get from here to there, today to tomorrow with minimal hassle and headache.   

It was, so the book says, a response by the Enlightened One to a request made by a certain deity: ‘Many gods and humans have pondered on blessings or auspicious signs; tell us which are these that make for welfare and prosperity’. It was remembered and retold by the Ven. Ananda and recorded in the Sutta-Nipata and in the Khuddakapatha. The 9th verse touched and inspired this note.

The lines speak of patience and compliance, the ‘seeing of monks/bikkhus’ and the opportune discussion of the Dhamma: ‘Khantī ca sovacassatā …Samanānañca dassanam….Kālena dhammasākacchā’. While it is hard to think that ‘seeing’ here was meant or meant to be taken literally, the literal element is most certainly as much a nimitta or a sign as was the fourth of the pera nimithi (the signs that led Prince Siddhartha to leave home and family, to seek a way out of suffering).

Different things work for different people in the matter of getting by, finding relief in the battering of the verities that one’s hours and days are made of.  When I reaffirm commitment to strive to abide by the dhamma and reaffirm decision to take refuge in the Tripe Gem, the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, I dwell on particular characteristics of each. With respect to the last, I use a name or example of a bikkhu for purposes of focus. If I see a saffron robe on the road, I see the Ven Arahat Assaji whose grace, serenity and composure inspired Upatissa and Kolitha to follow him and consequently embrace doctrine and teacher, and secure realization.

We live in a world that is filled with the inauspicious and auspicious. We don’t have the eyes or the wisdom to see and differentiate accurately. In days that are like fractured mirrors, I think it is a blessing indeed that there are things we can identify with wholesomeness, things we can let mind and eye graze upon, for such grazing opens windows to truths that liberate or else offer a small guideline to a benign and beneficial engagement with the world, such as that 9th stanza of the Mangala Sutta.

I see a bikkhu on the road and I find it easier to focus on the Triple Gem. We make our auspicious signs. We are our own inauspiciousness too. The Mangala Sutta helps me.

Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhitatta; May all beings be happy.


Ramzeen said...

Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhitatta