Great learning and craft,
Well-trained in discipline,
With every utterance well-spoken;
This is the greatest blessing.
Bhikkhu Bodhi calls this next verse of the Mangala Sutta “Preparations: Training oneself for success in life”, including:
(1) A well-rounded education (abundant learning: bāhusaccaṃ)
(2) Skill in a craft or profession (sippaṃ)
(3) Being well-grounded in a code of discipline (vinayo susikkhito)
(4) Well-spoken speech (subhāsitā vācā)
After we’ve attended to our friendships, environment and intentions (in the previous verses of the Mangala Sutta), we turn to some skills that most of us learn in early adulthood. Youth is a time set aside for education (if one is lucky), and for learning a skill or craft that might be useful in earning a living. Implied here is the goal of learning enough, academically or as an apprentice, to become economically self-sufficient.
It is interesting to me that the Buddha brings this very worldly concern onto his list of “greatest blessings”. As I said before, the list of blessings seems to be cumulative, each one building on the previous blessings. My deduction from this verse is that we are instructed to do what is required to establish ourselves as self-supporting adults. This view is in harmony with what I observe in the world. People who fail to develop their talents often lack self-confidence, and may have anxiety because they depend on others more than on themselves.
There are forces which can make this step a challenge. Many live in cultures where unemployment is high, or where good education is unavailable, or in a family where becoming self-sustaining is not a shared vision. We would have to acknowledge that folks in these situations are not receiving the greatest blessings. Still, it is rare for there to be no options, no choices for improving one’s conditions.
Even if one has congenital limitations, physical or mental, and must remain dependent on others for basic living, there are still choices which can be directed toward the wholesome and away from the unwholesome.
I’d also like to point out that the first line of this verse directs us to not just learning, but “great learning”. Bhikkhu Bodhi takes this to mean a well-rounded education. To me it means getting as much education as we can, not just doing the minimum, and probably not for a limited time. A lifetime attitude of being an engaged student seems to me a rich blessing.