Self-restraint, a holy and chaste life, the perception of the Noble Truths and the realisation of Nibbana — this is the greatest blessing. .
We are nearing the end of the Mangala Sutta.
From this stanza onwards, the Buddha’s message seems to relate more about blessings associated with higher spiritual practices.
There is no doubt that a religious lifestyle that is committed to achieving enlightenment is far more superior from a Buddhist perspective.
So how does the laity connect to this stanza.
I think we can pick up some clue from the word self restraint.
A spiritual life refers to the fine tuning and mastery of our mental state. An ability to recognise our innate craving and aversion. Then gain mastery over them.
In another word, we are no longer helplessly enslaved by our craving and aversion.
Self restraint at its most basic and also most difficult level, is upfront abstainance.
The ability of not giving in to our desire is lauded as victorious and noble.
As laity, we are not expected to lead a life that is similar to the renunciant monks and nuns.
However, we can try to lead the holy life on specific day. For example, eight precept observance for 1 day, 3 days fasting retreat. 5 days or 7 days meditation retreat etc.
Such holy days observance are similar to having a juice or salad diet after months of abundant feasting.
During such retreat, we shut down all sensual enjoyment. No luxurious meal, no entertainment, no sensual indulgence. We face our basic human existence face on. Tune our mental awareness inwards and get to know ourselves better.
By doing so, we lead a self restraint, holy and chaste life for at least a day. The blessings from living such a day will be great.
For beginners, it is best to start with a one day 8 precepts retreat. (I’ll share about it in another blog)
Next in the stanza; perception of the noble truths deal with our innate ignorance. The previous paragraph about self restraints deals with craving and aversion.
Put both together, they complete the Buddhist approach to spiritual practice.
We should also note that the word used is perception of the noble truths. It is not the realisation of noble truths yet.
In short, it is a spiritual practice to perceive the Truth that was taught by Buddha. It is a conscious effort to reprogramme our perception.
We can start by reflecting and reminding ourselves about the 3 truths of existence.
1. Our existence is painful and a source of suffering. There are physical and mental sufferings. The fundamental of survival requires constant efforts and a certain degree of fear that help keep us safe. Being perceptive, means that we recognise these unsatisfactory conditions upfront. We are no longer deluded into ignorant satisfaction with our existence.
2. Our existence is impermanent and ultimately, death is inevitable. The greatest irony of our “important” life. No matter how we live our life, it all ends with death. The same fate awaits the king, the president or the commoner.
3) The absence of self. There is no little man or woman trap in our physical body. No soul. No permanent entity. We learn to recognise that “I” is an illusion. We learn to let go and not be too attached to an ego. A grasping at a self.
After that the Buddha said realisation of Nibbana or Nirvana is the highest blessings.
All the previous paragraphs is practice. Upon realisation, it becomes natural. It is as it is.
The Buddha’s exemplary life demonstrated the art of enlightened living. The epitome of wisdom lifestyle. He adviced the same for those serious in following his footsteps.
Therefore we should clearly understand what is considered the highest blessings in spirituality.