In this third part of the Mangala Sutra, we will look at the Social Principles.
These social principles take us further into our journey of becoming more responsible and reducing our mental suffering. By implementing these principles, we will also be reducing the suffering of those around us. This is not a selfish journey; it is one that helps us gain compassion for others. But gaining compassion isn’t enough. We have to reflect on the principles and put what we learn into practice. So, these following principles cover kindness, empathy, and responsibility.
This played a big part in Buddha’s teachings, and he mentioned it on numerous occasions. One such time he talked about the fruits of giving:
‘If beings knew, as I know, the fruit of sharing gifts, they would not enjoy their use without sharing them, nor would the taint of stinginess obsess the heart and stay there. Even if it were their last bite, their last morsel of food, they would not enjoy its use without sharing it if there were anyone to receive it’.
So, what are the fruits of being generous? For the giver, they help foster a clear conscience; help you build a good future; and make you compassionate and a respected person within society. It also gives you a great feeling of warmth, pleasure, and satisfaction. Many people think we shouldn’t receive anything in return for giving, but I believe this is not being totally honest. If you give a gift to a child and the child smiles warmly at you, you are going to feel happy inside. If you take a sick person to a hospital, he or she is going to be grateful, and you will feel that you have done a good deed. So, it is true that we receive something from giving, and there is no shame in that.
However, we shouldn’t give just to receive these things. They should be looked upon as a by-product and not the purpose for giving.
One of the key things generosity does is prevent us from becoming miserly. It gives us temporary relief from the pain of selfishness and stops us from becoming totally wrapped up in ourselves. When we are miserly, we worry day and night about our wealth and belongings. We go to great lengths to protect them. We can’t sleep at night worrying if someone will break in and steal them. We grow to mistrust others, and our mind is disturbed from the pressure of protecting our wealth. The miser is so scared of losing his wealth that he hordes it. Buddha said:
‘What the miser fears, that keeps him from giving, is the very danger that comes when he doesn’t give’.
How true is that?
So, a miser lives in fear of his wealth, but to what end? When we die, we are not able to take anything with us, so isn’t it nicer to give things away whilst we are alive? I am not talking about giving everything away and living as a pauper. But there is only so much wealth and belongings we need or can use.
If we do give, we have to be careful that our generosity stems from compassion and not from pride. Our intention and motivation are extremely important here. If you are giving just to get thanks or praise, it isn’t going to benefit you in the ways I mentioned above. Your conscience is not going to be clear; you will not become more compassionate or reduce your suffering; and you certainly will not get respect from others. Giving something and expecting praise is not a very attractive trait.
Giving doesn’t just mean material things. It could be a friendly smile or kind, encouraging words. Whatever type of giving you are doing, do it with an open heart. Do not expect praise and thanks. Let the smile on the person’s face be all the thanks you need.
Practice virtuous actions
In part one of this series, I mentioned the five precepts. These were discussed as things to refrain from, but instead of just avoiding negative actions, we should attempt to act in a positive and virtuous way. A good way to do this is to follow the positive aspects of the five precepts:
Harmlessness—If our minds are filled with empathy and respect for all beings, we will never have the intention to harm anyone. We will see that others have difficulties and problems just like us. They go through life trying to be as happy as they can.
In our lives we see people who are less fortunate than ourselves, but instead of just having pity for them, we should have empathy. This is when we put ourselves in their shoes, see the world through their eyes and not try to fit their experience into our world view.
Empathy can be a real eye opener, and from it we can build compassion—not a compassion built on sorrow or guilt, but real heartfelt compassion. Once we have this type of compassion, it will become more difficult for us to have harmful thoughts.
We are all different, and so people will always do and say things we may not agree with. But instead of becoming angry, we should respect their viewpoint and mentally thank them for showing us an alternative way of being. We may, in the end, not change our viewpoint, but at least we have shown the other person respect by listening to them.
Generosity—This was covered in the previous principle.
Faithfulness—If we have a partner, we should be faithful to him or her. It is our responsibility to be kind and caring towards our partner, and vice versa. If we love and cherish someone, we will not want to cause that person any pain and suffering. If we have strong negative feelings towards a partner, I suggest it is time to move on or at least talk it through. I am not saying we should give up at the first hurdle, but if something is over, it is over, and the kindest thing to do is to be honest. I think a huge part of faithfulness is honesty. Things may not always be sweetness and light between you and your partner, but if you are honest, things may work themselves out.
It seems to be a strong human trait to want what we don’t have. We seem never to be satisfied. The grass is always greener on the other side, until you reach the other side, and then you find some other patch of grass to desire. If we were talking about phones here, no harm is done, but we are talking about other humans, who have feelings. If we think how cruel unfaithfulness is, we will never consider doing it.
Faithfulness is concerned not only with partners; it also covers work colleagues, parents, family, friends, and anyone else you come into contact with. Being faithful means to be trustworthy, loyal, and steadfast. Is that you?
Truthfulness—The saying goes, “honesty is the best policy,” and it clearly is. We hate to be lied to and so does everyone else. When we are truthful, we gain respect, friends, and trust. I believe we all long for these things.
We also gain a mind that is calm, without guilt and remorse. Sometimes the truth is painful but being lied to is more painful.
Self-control—Once we drink too much, take illegal drugs, are overcome by sexual urges or are angry, our self-control goes out the window, and with it the previous four precepts.
Self-control is nothing more than mindfulness. If we are mindful of our thoughts, our speech, and our bodily actions, we will stay in control. However, once we have lost control of our mind, our speech and actions follow suit. Self-control helps us be sure that our behaviour and impulses are kept in check.
This is an alternative way of looking at the precepts. If we keep harmlessness, generosity, faithfulness, truthfulness, and self-control in the forefront of our minds, we will be practicing virtuous actions. \
Help your friends and relatives
In previous principles, we spoke about helping our parents/guardians and spouse/children. However, we shouldn’t stop there; we should also help our friends and extended family. As we help one another we create goodwill, and this will help us along the path.
As with our parents, we can help people materially, financially, physically, or emotionally. Sometimes emotional help is the most important. There are times in all our lives when we feel like we have hit rock bottom. It is at these times we need a shoulder to cry on or a helping hand.
Remember what I said previously about cause and effect? If we help people when they need assistance, they are more likely to help us when we are in trouble. So, it is of great benefit to all of us to help each other. We all grow stronger with mutual help and support.
It is important to help our friends, but it is equally important to choose good friends. Here is a quote attributed to Buddha that sums up the importance of choosing one’s friends carefully:
‘An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind’.
So be sure you surround yourself with good friends, and once you have done that, strive to be a good friend yourself. Let me finish by mentioning what it says about a true friend in the Mitta Sutra:
‘He gives what is beautiful, hard to give, does what is hard to do, endures painful, ill-spoken words. His secrets he tells you, your secrets he keeps. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you; when you’re down and out, doesn’t look down on you. A person in whom these traits are found, is a friend to be cultivated by anyone wanting a friend’.
We should not only try to look for friends like this, but also try to become that type of friend ourselves.
Be blameless in your conduct
A blameless life is one whereby we do not harm other beings with our body, speech, or mind. In fact, we go out of our way to help others, and that includes animals and the environment.
What these principles are trying to do is reduce our sense of unease and discontentment with life, and the way they are doing it is to show us that by being kind, caring and blameless we will have less stress and guilt, and our minds will be more stable and less agitated. I am sure we would all welcome that.
As you work through these principles, you will see that some are about helping yourself directly—such as following an ethical code and learning practical skills—and some are about helping others—such as taking care of your spouse and helping your friends. This is because we do not live in a vacuum. We are all interconnected. So, if you help others and live a blameless life, you are indirectly helping yourself. But if you harm others and live a blameworthy life, you are in turn harming yourself.
A great way to help others is to do volunteer work. I am sure we can find some time in our busy lives to help others. It doesn’t have to be working for a recognised charity. It could be helping needy people in your community, mowing the lawn for an old person, taking a sick neighbour to hospital, raising funds for local charities and so on. You will be surprised at the difference you can make if you try.
In one of Buddha’s sutras he mentioned another aspect of a blameless life:
‘And this undeluded person, not overcome by delusion, his mind not possessed by delusion, doesn’t kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person’s wife, tell lies or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare and happiness.’
What he is saying here is that if we follow the five precepts, we will already be on the road to living a blameless life. It may not be enough, but it certainly is a great starting point.
We must stay aware, moment by moment, of our actions of body, speech, and mind. If we do not have thoughts of bitterness, do not tell lies or use words that will harm others and do not kill, steal, or otherwise hurt people and animals, then we truly are blameless.
It is also important not to encourage others to act against the five precepts. If we can teach and encourage others to follow a blameless path, we will be doing a great service to humankind, and our lives will become blameless and beyond reproach.
This blog is based on my book ‘Life’s Meandering Path’- available from Amazon and Kindle.
You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos, and practice guided meditations on my website.