Residing in a suitable location,
Good deeds performed in the past,
Setting oneself in the right direction;
This is the greatest blessing
The first verse of the Buddha’s response to the question, “What is the greatest blessing?”, is about orienting ourselves and setting the conditions to learn discrimination by choosing who we spend time with and who we respect.
The second verse (above) addresses what Bhikkhu Bodhi calls “establishing secure foundations”, the inner and outer requisites for success in life. That is:
(1) Residing in a suitable locality (paṭirūpadesavāso)
(2) Merits done in the past (pubbe katapuññatā)
(3) To set oneself on the right course (right resolution: attasammāpaṇidhi)
A preliminary question has to do with semantics: we now have two instructions that the Buddha claims are “the greatest blessing”. How can two be the greatest? Well, in this usage, greatest really means maximum, the best available, and this “best” has many parts, each of which is maximally beneficial in itself and which will cumulatively build into the maximum conceivable benefit for a human being. So I’m taking a step-by-step approach to this sutta, trying to uncover and reflect on the most useful parts.
What does it mean to reside in a suitable location? Obviously, we don’t all have a wide range of choices available to us. But within our means, I believe we are directed towards finding a place in which there is no imminent threat and where we are able to choose wholesome activities. A person in a war zone may have no goals but survival. A person in prison has very limited options, but may be able to work towards residing in a part of the prison in which s/he can study and practice the Dhamma (the teachings of the Buddha). Most of us, however, do have some choices. We can be aware of, and discriminating about, our environments. Is there something overwhelming or unwholesome about our situation that we CAN change? Is there some way in which we could make our dwelling places more amenable to introspection and service?
More on this verse next time.