Blessings, continued on 9 March 2003

Venue: TIMS

Ven Aggacitta continues with the series of talks on the Mangala Sutta. The next three blessings are

to abstain from evil or bad conduct

to restrain from taking intoxicants

non-negligence in all matters.

Consequences of Bad Conduct

The Discourse on the Results of Bad Conduct (Duccaritavipaka Sutta, AN VIII.40) gives the eight forms of bad conduct and their consequences. Five concern the breaking of the five precepts. The other three concern causing disunity among people, coarse speech and frivolous talk.

The worst consequence that follows any of the above unwholesome actions is that a person will be reborn in hell, as a peta or as an animal.

If one kills then the above consequence may follow, or at the very least one may be born a human being with a short life. That is why some people die premature deaths—they die in accidents or of incurable diseases.

For the other acts, one can still suffer the worst consequence as stated, but could suffer less serious consequences.

If one steals, then one will lose one’s property in some way or another. For example, one may be the victim of theft or robbery. If one has cheated others, somehow the profit thus gained slips through one’s hands very quickly.

One who commits sexual misconduct will have many enemies. Likewise, a person who lies will be slandered, and one who instigates division among people will experience disunity.

People who use coarse speech will hear undesirable sounds, and those who indulge in frivolous talk will find that people do not believe what they say.

Those who take intoxicants will suffer from madness or mental illness.

Abstention from Bad Conduct

Restraint from the above acts of bad conduct takes two forms:

mental restraint (arati)

physical restraint (virati).

We exercise mental restraint if we are able to stop the thought to commit an evil act when it arises. If one is a meditator, then one can note the thought. If one is not, then one should be aware of the consequences of the evil act and so restrain oneself. The ability to do this is a high blessing. One should be resolute in one’s wholesome thoughts and not be influenced by other people to do evil.

In Sallekha Sutta (MN 8), our Lord Buddha said, “Even the thought of doing something good is beneficial. What more if it is acted out in body or speech? Thus, one should be resolute in the thought: ‘Although others are immoral, I will be moral…’”

There are three forms of physical restraint: impromptu abstention, formal abstention and intrinsic abstention.

Impromptu abstention is when a person refrains from doing something bad because he is aware that it is not the correct thing for him to do. For example, he does not take home office stationary for his own personal use.

Formal abstention is when a person refrains from an unwholesome act, mindful that one has formally taken the precepts in front of a Buddha image or a monk, or by oneself.

Intrinsic abstention is when one is enlightened. As such, restraint from unwholesome acts is internalised in him. Thus a teacher is aware of his role in society; an elderly person has the wisdom; a person of good background has been well brought up. They practise impromptu restraint.

There are stories from the Abhidhamma Commentary to illustrate the power of formal restraint. One story tells of a lay devotee who was told by a physician to give rabbit meat to his sick mother to get her well. When he caught a rabbit, he thought that to take a life so that his mother could prolong hers was wrong. So, he freed the rabbit. On reaching home, he was scolded by his elder brother. However, he stood by his sick mother’s side and said, “Since I was matured enough, I’ve never intentionally taken a life. By the power of this truth, may my mother be healed.” This asseveration of truth saved his mother’s life.

I read in a Burmese Dhamma book another case of the asseveration of truth. A young man was curious about a physician who was popular and successful in healing, yet did not carry with him a bag to contain his medication. When questioned, the physician told the man to follow him on a house visit. The physician asked the daughter of the patient, “You have faith in me, don’t you?”

“Yes sir,” she replied.

“Then you must say this with full faith, ‘I’m born of my mother. May this truth heal her.’” The patient recovered.

The Abhidhamma Commentary tells another story of a farmer who, after having taken his precepts from a respected monk, went to look for his buffalo that had strayed into the forest. Along the way, he was caught by a python. His first thought was to use his axe to kill the snake coiled around him. Then he remembered that he had taken his precepts from a respected monk. The thought came to him for a second time and again he refrained from killing. The third time he was prompted to kill, he threw away his axe. The snake uncoiled itself and freed him!

I, too, had an uncanny, personal encounter with a snake. Once I was staying alone in a forest hermitage in Myanmar. One day, I went back to my kuti and there was a cobra trying to enter it. When I told it to go away, it reared its head at me in a threatening manner. I thought, “Shall I chase it away with a stick?” Then I reflected that it would be contrary to the spirit of metta if I held a stick. So I recited Khanda Paritta (verses of metta to serpent kings, harmful animals and other sentient beings) instead. Soon after, the snake crawled away and disappeared before my eyes as if into another dimension. That experience taught me to be extra-vigilant in the practice of mindfulness, particularly when turning corners and moving around in the dark. The Abbot of the village monastery told me that for more than ten years no monk had been able to stay in the hermitage for long because of harassment by snakes. After my uncanny experience, I constantly recited the Parittas, especially Khanda Paritta, and radiated metta during my 7-year stay there. Encounters with snakes gradually decreased to nil.

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