Today’s talk is on the timely hearing of the Dhamma, the 26th blessing of the Mangala Sutta. ‘Dhamma’ can mean many things, but in this context, it means the teachings of the Buddha, one of the three jewels to which a follower goes to for refuge.
During the time of the Buddha, the Dhamma was not written down. It was a tradition then to impart religious knowledge through oral means only. So, the only way to know Dhamma was to listen to it. However, in our present world, we can also learn the Dhamma through reading, particularly where Dhamma books are freely available, such as in Malaysia, so long as one knows where to look for them.
When is it ‘timely’ to listen to the Dhamma?
- When one’s mind is agitated or overcome by thoughts of sense desire, ill will or cruelty, upon hearing the Dhamma, these thoughts go away. Such is a timely occasion.
Once, the Buddha saw a group of youths in the act of killing a snake. When the Buddha asked why they were doing this, they replied that they wanted to kill it before it bit them. (In similar circumstances, we too take a swipe at a mosquito.) The Buddha mildly admonished them: “One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.” (Dhp 131)
- When one is fortunate to be in a place where there is opportunity to listen to the Dhamma.
Humans and devas have such an opportunity, so we should make use of it. According to a sutta in Majjhima Nikaya, if one falls to a lower realm, the chances of being reborn as a human again is extremely slim. It is compared to a one-eyed turtle that comes up to the surface of a great, turbulent ocean to take a breath once every 100 years. What are its chances of getting its head into a yoke also floating in the ocean? That is how difficult it is for that being in a lower realm to be born a human again.
- When one possesses a healthy body and mind.
It is easier to pay attention to the Dhamma when one is healthy. When we are sick, we may be too occupied with taking care of ourselves, or the discomfort is too great for us to pay attention to the Dhamma.
However, if one is physically unwell but not mentally agitated, one is still able to listen to the Dhamma. My mother, the victim of a snatch thief, broke a collar bone and was on medical leave for six weeks. She made use of the opportunity to read Dhamma books.
- When the mind is especially receptive towards the Dhamma.
When the mind is keen to learn the Dhamma, it absorbs it very well. One will reflect over the teachings and ask useful questions. This can be very apparent when one is practising ardently in a meditation retreat.
Also, when one with faith is near death, one also tend to be very receptive, which is a good thing as it can condition a good rebirth. This was the case for Sakka, the king of devas, who in the earlier period of the Buddha’s ministry was not very attentive to the Dhamma although he had faith in the Buddha. However, when he knew that he was about to die, he quickly went to the Buddha to learn the Dhamma. He then attained sainthood and was reborn as Sakka again.
- When there is a good teacher or friend.
Here we find ourselves in this timely situation because we have Ven Aggacitta to teach us the Dhamma. He meditates, studies the scriptures, knows Pali and is a good speaker. We can count ourselves lucky too if we have good friends who are knowledgeable in the Dhamma. With such a person around we can ask about the Dhamma and clarify our doubts.
Timely hearing of the Dhamma is a blessing for three reasons:
- Abandonment of the hindrances.
When one is giving one’s full attention to the Dhamma, one is free from the 5 hindrances of sense desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and sceptical doubt. A mind that is free from the hindrances is naturally happy and at ease. With such a mind, gaining of insight becomes easier.
- Four possible advantages can be obtained from frequent verbal practice of the teachings (Dhamma) heard with the ear, from contemplated upon them with the mind, from thoroughly penetrating them by view.
- One dies with a confused memory and is reborn in a certain company of devas who recite Dhamma verses to him. This slowly rekindles in him the memory of the Dhamma that he had listened to in his past life. Once recalled, these memories will help him progress in his meditation.
- One dies and is reborn in the deva realm where a monk with superhuman psychic powers is teaching Dhamma to a company of devas. Upon listening, memory of his past life association with the Dhamma slowly arises and this will help him in his practice.
- One dies and is reborn in the deva realm where a deva is teaching Dhamma to a company of devas. He remembers listening to the Dhamma in his past life and this will help him.
- One dies and is reborn in the company of spontaneously born devas, one of whom reminds him of their association in the past life and how they lived the holy life together. This will also aid him to resume his practice.
- Extinguishing defilements
Hearing the good Dhamma leads one to the destruction of defilements, which ultimately culminates in the attainment of Nibbana.
Timely hearing of the Dhamma, as in 3 other occasions, namely timely Dhamma discussions, timely meditation and timely insight can destroy the defilements. Furthermore, other benefits will also accrue:
- one hears what is unheard of
- one has a clearer understanding of things heard
- one dispels one’s doubts
- one straightens one’s views
- one’s mind is inspired
When we gain Dhamma knowledge, which is a treasure that cannot be destroyed or stolen, we become wiser about living and thus benefit ourselves and also others. It conduces to our happiness not only in this life, but hereafter too. A great blessing indeed!