Mangala Sutta: Gratitude

Venue: TIMS

Ven Kumara picks up where Ven Aggacitta left off in the series of talks based on Mangala Sutta.

According to the Commentary of Mangala Sutta, gratitude means the state of knowing by constant recollection about assistance, whether little or much, and done by whomsoever it may be. An English dictionary defines it as feeling or showing appreciation (thankfulness) for something done for one.

In the suttas, the Buddha said that two types of people are difficult to find:

one who does a favour first, that is to say he renders help to someone without having being helped by him before. A good example would be the Tzu Chi Society which started in Taiwan. They freely help others, even those of a different race or in another country. Another example would be the people who do dana here. When I first came to Taiping, I’d not done anything for you, yet you gave me food and also provided lodging and other things for me. You did all these for me first even when we were not associated in any way.

one who is grateful and expresses gratitude (verbally or physically)

A friend told me of a poor Malay man in Penang, to whom Tzu Chi had provided dialysis facility. In gratitude, he repaid Tzu Chi by doing gardening work for the society. He had no money so he repaid the good deed with his labour. According to the suttas, the Buddha emphasised the need for monks to show appreciation for the dana they receive. To eat alms food to some purpose, monks should have metta for their supporters. That is why we give Dhamma talks and chant blessing after receiving food from you. Also, up in SBS, we do metta chanting almost every night. Among others, we wish for the freedom of suffering for our supporters. The Buddha himself was one who had lots of gratitude. He even had gratitude for the Bodhi tree under which he attained enlightenment. To express that, he stood gazing at the tree without winking even once for seven days.

We should show gratitude to the following:

The Triple Gem. Without the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, we would be at a loss; we would be in darkness. The best way to show our gratitude is to practise according to the Dhamma.

Parents. It is difficult for parents to bring up children. I realise that my own parents did not have an easy time bringing up my siblings and me. So, it is not difficult to see that we must show gratitude to them.

Teachers. We can show gratitude to them simply by paying attention when they speak.

All others who have helped us in one way or another.

Gratitude is not necessarily giving back in kind. There are many ways to express our gratitude, but it is important to return to the person what is useful to him and serves a purpose to him. It does not have to be an immediate act. We can let the person know that he can count on us to return the favour within the limits of our ability in the future. If for whatever reason, we are not able to repay in material or physical sense, having thoughts and speech of loving-kindness is also practising gratitude.

No man is an island. None of us can live without a helping hand from another. Some people refuse help because they do not want to feel indebted. One should not consider receiving help from somebody as a debt that one is bound to repay. If so, it then becomes a burden and one might be reborn as his chicken in the next life (as in a real life Burmese story)! When one who receives help feels gratitude, it should rightly be a happy and wholesome state of mind, and that by itself is good karma too. So, let others help if help is needed. Think of it not as a debt. Think of it as expression of kindness, of friendship.

The following things will come to a person who has gratitude:

He would be well liked.

People would remember him and would be more likely to help him again and again.

It promotes strong friendship. My father has a good friend who’s a dentist. They help each other a lot. Being a dentist, he provides regular dental service for our whole family for free. My father being quite handy with a lot of things renders help quite often at his house. That friend of his once said to him: “You are like a brother to me. Even my real brothers don’t treat me so well.”

On the other hand, if one does not have gratitude, particularly if he knowingly refuses to repay kindness, then the opposite to the above is to be expected. Even friends can end up being enemies.

Thus, gratitude is a blessing, a mangala, and ingratitude an amangala.

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