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Pali Canon - Mangala Sutta

by Sangharakshita


The Mangala Sutta seminar, held at Broomhouse Farm in May 1976

Originally Published in this edited form with the title Auspicious Signs

Edited by Urgyen Sangharakshita (then known as _The Venerable Sangharakshita_)
Words or phrases within square brackets are explanatory additions
by Sangharakshita.


{Please note that the diacritical marks have been copied onto this typescript from the handwritten
ones inserted
into the second edition and may not be one hundred percent accurate. If this work is to be used as the
basis
for any future published, scholarly, work, please check the diacritics with a Pali and Sanskrit
dictionary.}

Auspicious Signs by The Venerable Sangharakshita
_The Venerable Sangharakshita, 1979
Those present: The Venerable Sangharakshita, Lokamitra, Sagaramati, Richard Hutton, Gary
Hennessey, Graham Stevens, and Mark Barrett.
Sangharakshita: First of all, about the title. Hare [Woven Cadences of Early Buddhists. Oxford
University Press, London, (reprinted) 1947. p.40] translates the _mangala_ in Mangala Sutta as _Luck_,
indeed as _The Greatest Luck_, and Woodward [Some Sayings of the Buddha. Oxford University Press,
London, 1973 p.39] translates it as _Blessings_. So why do you think there is this difference between the
two versions? What is a mangala, really? I myself, when translating this particular sutta, have translated
mangala as _auspicious sign_, which I think gets much nearer to the real meaning of the word. Mangala
is not only _auspicious sign_, however, but also an _auspicious performance_ in the sense of a good
luck ceremony. In ancient India they had all sorts of beliefs, and even practices, that we would regard as
superstitious. For instance, if you saw a certain kind of bird flying in the sky it was a sign of good luck,
whereas if you saw a certain other kind of bird it was a sign of bad luck. Thus the good bird, or rather
the bird that meant good luck, was a mangala. It was an auspicious thing, an auspicious sign. If you saw
that bird you knew that something good would follow, Similarly, if you performed the auspicious
ceremony, the auspicious rite, you would know that something good would follow. Do you get the
idea? A mangala is an auspicious sign in the sense that it indicates something good coming along. In
the Mangala Sutta it_s as though the Buddha takes up this idea and asks, in effect, What is the real
auspicious sign? What is the sign that you must really look out for? What is the sign that will really
assure you that something good is coming? And the answer is, it_s your own skilful action. That_s the
best auspicious sign, because if you perform a skilful action you know quite certainly that, in the future,
some happiness will accrue to you, some progress and development, even Nirvana. So the good deed is
the best auspicious sign, the good deed is the greatest luck. This is what, in effect, the Buddha is saying
in this particular sutta. We find in fact throughout in the Pali Canon that this kind of attitude is typical
of what, so far as we can make out, is the teaching of the actual historical Buddha. He tried very hard to
give existing beliefs, practices, customs and traditions a positive twist, as it were. He didn_t condemn
outright all those _auspicious performances_, all those good luck ceremonies and good luck signs. He
said, Look out for the real sign of good luck, perform the real auspicious ceremony and so on, which is
the good action which you yourself perform. If you perform that, then you can be really certain that
happiness and progress and individual development will follow. Do you see the idea? It_s this idea that
the Buddha is enlarging upon the Mangala Sutta. There_s a sort of sequence in it, you_ll notice, a sort
of cumulative development. He proceeds from very simple and ordinary things to quite advanced states

The Mangala Sutta (Edited) Seminar Page 1

and levels - even though both language and method of treatment remain very simple indeed. Whether
the Buddha Himself actually spoke this sutta, in these very words, we can_t really know at this time,
after 2,500 years; but we are pretty certain that these are the kind of ethical and spiritual principles the
Buddha did insist upon. Maybe one of the disciples put them together in this sort of _ballad_ form. Or
maybe not. Maybe the Buddha himself summarized His own teaching in his own words in this way and
spoke these verses in this very form. We don_t know. But certainly the eleven verses of the Mangala
Sutta proper do represent the substance of His teaching - simple, straightforward teaching - to and for
ordinary people, put in this very concise and simple way.
First let_s go through the prose introduction.

Thus have I heard: Once, when the Master was dwelling near
S1vatthi in Anathapindika_s park at Jeta Grove,...
S: S1vatthi was the capital city of the kingdom of Kosala, which was one of the two leading kingdoms
of North India in the Buddha_s day. (There_s an interesting description of the Indian _middle country_
and of the commercial, cultural and political importance of S1vatthi in the 6th century B.C. in Trevor
Ling_s The Buddha, which I_ve been reading recently.) Jeta Grove was situated outside the city, at a
convenient distance, and had been acquired by the merchant Anathapindika for the use of the Buddha.
[After acquiring the property from Prince Jeta by covering the area with gold coins Anathapindika put
up what we mustn_t call monasteries but, rather, rest houses for the monks - though we shouldn_t
really call them monks: they were the Buddha_s full-time followers - and the Buddha Himself spent
altogether twenty-six rainy seasons there, staying either at Jeta Grove itself, which was situated to the
south of S1vatthi, or at East Park, which was situated to the East of the city and had been acquired for
His use by the well-to-do lay patroness Vis1kh1. So far as we can see, S1vatthi was the Buddha_s
_headquarters_. He spent more time there, and seems to have given more teaching there, than in any
other single place. It_s therefore not surprising, in a way, that this particular sutta should have been
given there rather than elsewhere.]
According to Buddhaghosa_s account, when the Buddha was _in residence_ anywhere, [as distinct
from wandering from place to place] He used to divide His day into five periods, going in quest of
almsfood in the morning, assigning the bhikkhus topics for meditation in the afternoon, and so on.
During the second of the three watches of the night He would lie awake, and during this period devas
and other spiritual beings would visit Him, and He_d give teaching to them in the same way that He
gave teaching to human beings during the daytime. We therefore find the text saying, in continuation:

........ a dev2 of surpassing beauty, lighting up the whole of the Jeta Grove,
approached him, as night waned;.......
S: The actual text says devat1, a word which is only grammatically feminine and means a divinity.
Perhaps it was the fact that the devat1 was _of surpassing beauty_ that misled the translator.[Laughter]
[Perhaps he thought that only someone of the female sex could be described in such terms.] Be that as it
may, the divinity _lighting up the whole of Jeta Grove, approached him [i.e. the Buddha] ,_as night
waned_. In other words, he approached Him just before dawn. It_s a very mysterious sort of time, you
know, just before dawn. It_s neither light nor dark. There_s a faint glow in the sky, and a very definite
sort of atmosphere: according to Buddhist tradition it was a this particular time that non-human beings -
or superhuman beings - used to approach the Buddha.

.. and drawing near she saluted and stood at one side. Thus standing she spoke

The Mangala Sutta (Edited) Seminar Page 2

this verse to the Master:_Devas and many men have thought
On luck, in hope of happiness:
Tell me the greatest luck_
S: If you don_t know much about the law of cause and effect, or law of conditionality, you_re very
dependent upon good luck, on _signs_. Primitive man didn_t have a very scientific understanding of
things. He didn_t always understand why certain things happened. For instance, primitive man saw that
the sun rose every morning. But did he know why the sun rose every morning? No, he didn_t. Perhaps
he thought he did. Some primitive men might have noticed that the cock crew every morning. So they
thought it was the crowing of the cock that caused the sun to rise. Why? The cock crew, then the sun
rose: it was obvious. Primitive men would tend to think like that. It was the old logical fallacy of
_subsequent to, therefore because of_. There were many sequences. of this sort, and a lot of things that
we think of as _superstitious_ are in fact observed sequences that are not really cause-effect sequences;
but the primitive mind - or at least primitive man - thinks of ...

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