Special occasion: The monastics were invited to spend the previous night in Tan Chong Sim’s newly completed house and for dana this morning.
Āyasmā Aggacitta explained the reason for devotees to take refuge in the Triple Gem and take precepts before offering food.
‘Dana’ is giving, whether to people or animals. The merits accrued from dana is proportional to the purity of mind of the giver and that of the recipient. Purity of mind depends on how one keeps one’s precepts.
The Buddha was once asked whether one gained merits only by giving to him and his disciples. The Buddha replied that even if one discarded the remains on one’s plate into a pond with the wish that the discarded food may sustain some life in it, he also gained merits.
One who gives with a pure mind obtains more merits than one whose mind is less so. The purer the precepts of the giver and the recipient, the higher are the merits that are accrued.
The practice of inviting monks to stay in a new dwelling is one that has been practised since the time of the Buddha. While meditating near Pataliputta where a new town was being built, the Buddha saw devas staking claims on sites in the yet to be built township. The more powerful devas claimed the better sites. Later, the planners seemed to follow a heirachy when allocating houses to the residents. They chose to build the houses of ministers on the sites occupied by the more powerful devas. It was as if the devas had influenced the minds of the town planners.
The Buddha was invited to the house of a minister in the same place for dana, after which he uttered a short verse:
“Where a person of wise disposition dwells
he should offer dana
to virtuous and restrained renunciants
and dedicate the merits to the devas there.
Being honoured, they honour him;
being cherished, they cherish him.
Then they’d have compassion for him,
like a mother for her own child.
One whom the devas have compassion for
always meets with good fortune.”
Āyasmā Aggacitta related the experience of someone who told him of how he tried to exorcise ghosts haunting his house but to no avail. Finally he decided to honour them instead. He had no more problems after that.
Renewing precepts and taking refuge in the Triple Gem are meritorious deeds. So one should do this before dana, and then transfer merits to the devas after the dana. Then they in return will look after one, resulting in good fortune, which is a sort of blessing. But what are real blessings, from the Buddhist perspective?
There is a story in which a group of people, after discussion over a period of 12 years, could not come to an agreement as to what constituted blessings. The Buddha, when asked, expounded 38 blessings (mangalas).
Āyasmā Aggacitta explained 3 of them: not mixing with the foolish; mixing with the wise; honouring those worthy of honour. Foolish people are either those who do not or cannot differentiate between wholesome and unwholesome deeds or those who do know but do not care. They also include those who encourage people to break precepts.
Wise people are the opposite. They understand that karma and suffering must be looked at from a long-term perspective. The suffering of this life may be rooted in the unwholesome deeds of our past lives. The sum total of tears that one has accumulated throughout samsara is more than the water in all the oceans put together. Knowing this, they can persist in observing the precepts, performing other meritorious deeds and encouraging others to do so despite encountering difficulties sometimes.
The Buddha and his disciples are most worthy of honour (puja). So one can honour them with lights, flowers, and incense. However the Buddha said that the best way to honour him is to put his teaching into practice. So if one really wants great blessings one should practise dana, sila and bhavana.
One should also honour one’s parents, elders, superiors and teachers by showing respect and attending to them in various ways. For the Chinese here this is a long-established cultural norm that should continue to be inculcated in the minds of the younger generation.