Mangala Sutta 21

Reverence and humility,
Contentment and gratitude,
Timely hearing of the Dhamma;
This is the greatest blessing.

Patience and obedience,
The seeing of recluses,
Timely discussion of the Dhamma;
This is the greatest blessing.

We continue with this verse on the subject of cultivating inner values. Patience could be a full-time practice all on its own. Imagine what complete, unbounded patience would feel like; nothing would be able to rile us, we could see the world just as it is and know that our (inner) condemnations and complaints have no power. We could accept that people are as they are, without reference to us; people that used to annoy us would only arouse compassion or lovingkindness.

The word John Kelly translates as obedience (sovacassatā), Bhikkhu Bodhi calls “being amenable to advice”. This is a critical element of developing wholesome inner values. If we’re unwilling to be instructed by those who know better than we do (on a particular topic), then we’re just stuck and can’t move forward. However, the quality of being “easy to admonish” is not common, in my experience. [Apparent non-sequitur alert] I find it especially in looking for bridge partners. I’m a novice bridge player, and the most difficult thing is finding partners to play with who are around my skill level, and both able and willing to continue learning. For reasons I’m unable to fathom (insufficient confidence?) many people feel threatened by being corrected, even when it is done in the most constructive way. In bridge, I seek out instruction. For heaven’s sake! I’m a novice player, very much in learning mode. But many people feel personally threatened if it is suggested that they could have done something better. Just to be clear, I seek instruction from players who are advanced, or teachers of bridge; I’m not talking here about criticizing my partners. But some people resist even that, preferring to make all possible mistakes on their own. Huh?

In spiritual life, it is even more important to maintain an attitude of humility and the role of a student, even if we are teachers at the same time. If we stop learning, our existing knowledge begins to decay. It’s the unexpected ideas, the ones that seem to come from left field, that make real growth possible. Closing ourselves off to these possibilities leads to stagnation, in my opinion.

“The seeing of recluses and timely discussion of the Dhamma” refers to not only learning what the Buddha taught, but becoming engaged in the teachings, talking them over with others who are thinking deeply about them, and working out their applicability to our own life. So it’s not enough to read the books, the knowledge has to be digested and incorporated through interactions with other human beings. If we don’t seek out wholesome companionship for discussion, if we stick with only what we ourselves think, misunderstanding of the teachings will almost certainly result. These teachings were made to be explored, not just memorized (though it’s amazing how helpful memorization of your favorite teachings can be).

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