This is the tenth (and last) part in a 10 part series on learning to practise Buddhism:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

From time to time during this course we have quoted directly from a Buddhist Sutra. A sutra is a written record of something the Buddha actually said 2500 years ago to his disciples, or a record of a conversation between Buddha and one of his disciples or a person who visited the Buddha, or beings such as heavenly beings.

Today we will read a complete Buddhist sutra for the first time during this course and you can see how meaningful it is.

Mangala Sutta: The Highest Blessings

“On one occasion the Exalted One was dwelling at Anathapindika’s monastery, in Jeta’s Grove, near Savatthi. Now when the night was far spent, a certain deity whose surpassing splendor illuminated the entire Jeta Grove, came to the presence of the Exalted One and, drawing near, respectfully saluted him and stood at one side. Standing thus, he addressed the Exalted One in verse:

“Many deities and men, yearning after good, have pondered on blessings. Pray, tell me the greatest blessing!”

[The Buddha:]

“Not to associate with the foolish, but to associate with the wise; and to honor those who are worthy of honor — this is the greatest blessing.

To reside in a suitable locality, to have done meritorious actions in the past and to set oneself in the right course — this is the greatest blessing.

To have much learning, to be skillful in handicraft, well-trained in discipline, and to be of good speech — this is the greatest blessing.

To support mother and father, to cherish wife and children, and to be engaged in peaceful occupation — this is the greatest blessing.

To be generous in giving, to be righteous in conduct, to help one’s relatives, and to be blameless in action — this is the greatest blessing.

To loathe more evil and abstain from it, to refrain from intoxicants, and to be steadfast in virtue — this is the greatest blessing.

To be respectful, humble, contented and grateful; and to listen to the Dhamma on due occasions — this is the greatest blessing.

To be patient and obedient, to associate with monks and to have religious discussions on due occasions — this is the greatest blessing.

Self-restraint, a holy and chaste life, the perception of the Noble Truths and the realization of Nibbána — this is the greatest blessing.

A mind unruffled by the vagaries of fortune, from sorrow, freed from defilements, cleansed from fear, liberated — this is the greatest blessing.

Those who thus abide, ever remain invincible, in happiness established. These are the greatest blessings.”

In one of our recent broadcasts we described the effect on our life and our mind through having made many efforts to develop ourselves by practicing the various components of our Happiness Map.

“Our mind has become a platform. The Virtue Platform shown on our Happiness Map is then inside us. Our mind has all the components we have been practicing as real mental qualities or states. Our mind has mindfulness, it has morality, it is generous, it no longer harbours unwholesomeness, it stays wholesome. We are living virtue. We have become what we practiced to develop. Our mind is already happy most of the time, automatically. We don’t have to do anything or get anything for our happiness to arise in us any more”.

If you remember our original diagram of the Happiness Map has a drawing of the oval Virtue Platform at the bottom and above that, about half way up the page were the words:

“Meditation with Virtue and Concentration”

The purpose of Buddhist meditation is to see our own mind clearly, to see it and know what we are looking at. With this unclouded view of our mind we can fix up any of our remaining wrong views and create the right conditions for our minds to become fully awakened. This awakened state is called the Perfection of Wisdom or enlightenment.

In this last part of our course we will describe some of the more advanced stages of Buddhist meditation which lead us toward the goal of the Buddhist Path.

The Buddhist Path is sometimes described as having three principle components. These are virtue, concentration and wisdom. The meaning is that virtue together with concentration form the correct conditions in the mind from which wisdom can arise.

So the practice we have done in building our mind’s Virtue Platform is the correct preparation of our mind for concentration to arise in when we do Buddhist meditation.

Very briefly we will describe the meditational states of consciousness which can be accessed from the correct development of virtue and concentration.

There are four states of concentration which are associated with materiality or having a physical form, and four states which are not associated with materiality so are called formless states. The Pali word we use for these states is jhana, which means ‘meditative state of concentration’.

The jhanas are all wholesome or moral states of consciousness with the first rupa jhana, for example, being associated with initial application, sustained application, joy, bliss and one-pointedness.

Then the formless arupa jhanas are named:

1. Sphere of infinite space
2. Sphere of infinite knowledge
3. Sphere of emptiness
4. Sphere of neither perception nor non-perception.

These jhana consciousnesses equate with the minds heavenly beings are born with and experience for the length of their heavenly lives, with each level corresponding to a particular heaven. The arupa consciousness is where the beings are born in formless realms without a body or form. The rupa consciousness are the lower heavens where the beings do have a body but it is made of very fine materiality which looks more like light or what a persons aura looks like.

The purpose of using these states for Buddhist meditation is that whilst our minds are in these states many of the unwholesome defilements cannot arise. Whilst these defilements are cut off by the jhana meditation, the mind can more easily become pure and bright and the concentration well developed.

This mind is then put to work to examine and see correctly each of the parts that make up a human being or make up what we call our self.

The Buddha taught that human beings are made up of five groups or aggregates. These are:

1. Body – consisting of 32 parts such as our heart, liver, blood, bones, etc.
2. Feelings – consisting of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral mental and physical feelings.
3. Perceptions – consisting of sense perceptions and perceptions such as memory and the mind looking at expectations of the future.
4. Volitions or kamma formations – a group consisting of thinking, ideas and opinions and self-images of what we think we are.
5. Consciousness – consisting of 121 different types of mind and mental states such as the 14 unwholesome and 25 wholesome states.

So with virtue and calmness well developed our mind can achieve the right concentration or focus in meditation to examine our own internal world to recognise and observe each of these five groups.

Buddhism says we have many incorrect understandings of what we really are, incorrect understandings of our five groups. We talk and think about our “self”, but have we ever examined what this self is? We accept and act on most of the mental states that come into our minds willingly, yet many of these produce and create the suffering we experience from day to day. We tend to believe our own self-talk yet on analysis we agree intellectually that most of our self-talk is rubbish. We dwell on the events and experiences that disturb us and or sadden us without knowing how to disentangle ourselves from them. These are examples of how our ignorance about our own nature is manifesting in our behaviour.

Specifically our ignorance has the following wrong views about ourselves. The appearances are that our body is permanent, that the mind and body can be relied upon and that there is a real “me” or “self” either comprising our body, feelings and mind or somehow independent of these things – we don’t know.

Even though we can intellectually understand the body is impermanent, even though we can intellectually recognise feelings cannot be relied upon because they are always swinging back and forth, the mind itself doesn’t know any of this for real – unless there is insight wisdom.

We have to get down to really examining our five groups in the present moment, second by second to develop insight wisdom which itself removes our fundamental ignorance.

The Buddha said that when you really examine your own five groups correctly with the right mind you can recognise, and then realize with insight, that each group has three absolute, unalterable characteristics. Our five groups are all impermanent, unreliable and not-self – anicca, dukkha and anatta in Pali.

When the mind really sees your own mind and body is impermanent it stops grabbing, because it knows grabbing something that only lasts for a second or so, is futile and can never be satisfying.

When the mind sees your own mind and body are unreliable it stops grabbing at them. Through insight wisdom or self-arising knowledge the mind can find out:

1. Your body will die one day;

2. Your feelings can’t be relied upon, they can be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral driven by your past kamma. There is no such thing as a permanent pleasant feeling;

3. Your memories and perceptions are unreliable, and cause us to loose our clarity of the present moment if we dwell on them;

4. Your thoughts and self-images are just arising and passing away. We have thousands of thoughts each day. They are just thoughts, some wholesome, some unwholesome. They can’t be relied upon as always being the correct view.

5. Our various types of consciousness that we experience are unreliable and come and go according to past causes.

Finally, when the mind sees things as not-self (anatta), it stops grabbing because it knows none of the components which we think of and call “us” are really an everlasting self.

There is no single part of us that remains unchanged from when we were a child. We are constantly changing with nothing remaining immune to change. In other words there is no component of us that has an independent unchanging existence which could be called a soul or a self.

There is one particular mind the Buddha found, and he was the first person in this age to discover this mind, a mind that knows anicca, dukkha and anatta of all things simultaneously at one time. It is called nibbana (nirvana in Sanskrit). It is the object of the Buddhist Eightfold Path. So this is where we find at the top of our Happiness Map is the words:

Ultimate Happiness: Nibbana (Wisdom)

The great Buddhist Master we visited one evening during this course, Sogyal Rinpoche, said the following statement in his public talk. He said “Samsara is the mind looking outwardly lost in it’s own projections. Nirvana is the mind seeing inwardly.”

Nirvana is described as perfect peace. An unconditioned mind that does not operate from past causes, it does not operate within the process of cause and effect. Therefore Nirvana is also referred to as being deathless because only conditioned phenomena form what we refer to as birth and death. Because of these characteristics Nirvana is a truly reliable goal and refuge that cannot be swept away by life, death or time.

Each week in our course we have given you quite thorough and extensive instructions for each component of our Happiness Map. Actually the extent of some of the practices we have described are well beyond the beginner levels of Buddhist practice, so perhaps this course has provided more than a basic introduction to Buddhism.

Please don’t be overwhelmed or feel that Buddhist practice is beyond you or too advanced because it’s not like that. It’s unrealistic to expect to be able to run before you have learnt to walk. Just know that if you start Buddhist practice by implementing the bits you can relate to, the parts that do make sense to you, that effort will achieve a real benefit for yourself and others around you.

Geshe Acharya Thubten Loden, spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhist Society of Australia, writes in his book Meditations on the Path to Enlightenment:

With the laziness of procrastination you have a willingness to practice Dharma but a sense that there is not time for it now. You postpone engaging in virtue until later. There are so many excuses! ‘At the moment I do not have sufficient intellectual knowledge of the Dharma to be able to practice properly. I will wait until the children leave home and then do a degree in Buddhism so that, when I do come to practice, I will do so properly.’ Another may think, ‘If I do anything, I want to do it wholeheartedly. I’m too busy to devote a high level of effort now, so I will carry on with business until I amass a large amount of money and can retire. Then I will be able to devote myself to the Dharma.’ Or else, ‘You cannot gain realisations without doing a lot of meditation. I have no time at the moment to meditate because I have to nurse my sick old mother. When she has passed away I will have time to meditate, so I will practice Dharma then.’ There is usually a major misconception of what Dharma is and how to go about it that supports the attitude of procrastination. (Loden 1996) 3.

Geshe writes:

Never fall into the trap of waiting for the right circumstances to be able to practice Dharma according to some pre-conceived notion as to what constitutes practice. Whatever your present circumstances they are perfect for you to apply the Dharma in the most effective manner according your specific karma. You are a unique individual. Your circumstances are unique, and you can uniquely apply the Dharma according to those particular conditions. (Loden 1996) 2.

So the important thing is to just start. You can build on that as you go. Start and never give up.

The Saddharama Smriti Upasthana Sutra mentions there are thirty-two benefits that can be gained from listening to the Dhamma. It reads as follows:

What are these thirty two? When a realised master teaches the Dhamma, he is like a parent to his audience (giving guidance), and he is like a bridge across the river of birth and death.

When one hears what one has never heard before, one attains new realizations. Once one has knowledge, one can begin to think about what one has learned.

Once one has begun to think about what one has learned, one has truly begun to practice self-cultivation.

Once one has begun to practice self-cultivation, one will abide in peace. Once one has begun to abide in peace, one can begin to benefit others; and then a mutually beneficial interaction can begin.

If one is able to abide in peace, then even hardship will not seem disturbing.

If one listens to the Dharma, then roots of goodness will begin to grow where formerly they did not grow.

If one contemplates what one has learned, then one will become prepared for liberation.

Listening to the Dharma can lead people with perverse views to change their views to right ones and listening to the Dharma can help people destroy unwholesome thoughts whenever they arise.

Listening to the Dharma increases goodness of mind and rids one of negative mental causes and conditions.

Listening to the Dharma keeps one from being scattered and disorganised in one’s activities.

Listening to the Dharma leads one toward the company of good people and leads one away from selfishness and falseness.

Listening to the Dharma encourages one to care for one’s parents and believe in karma; it also shows one how to live a long life.

Listening to the Dharma leads one to be raised by others and protected by heavenly beings, and it causes one’s deepest wishes to be fulfilled.

Listening to the Dharma brings one all the joys of the Dharma and keeps one from sloth and laziness.

Listening to the Dharma causes one to progress quickly, to understand gratitude and to think often on the meaning of death.

If one has listened often to the Dharma, at the time of one’s death, one will not cling to life or feel remorse for what one has done.

Ultimately, listening to the Dharma will lead one to Nirvana.

May the many causes we have made giving these teachings enable all Buddha Dhamma Teachers to skilfully offer Buddha Dhamma courses and Teachings for the benefit of the sentient beings during the Buddha Sasana.

May we at the Buddhist Discussion Centre (Upwey) Ltd offer Buddha Dhamma teachings again and again to help beings know the Buddha Path, realise the Buddha Path, and follow the Buddha Path. We are a Buddha Dhamma Teaching organisation.

We apologise for any errors or misunderstandings which have been expressed without intention during this course.

Thank you very much.


1. maha_mangala_sutta1.htm

2. Geshe Acharya Thubten Loden. 1996. Meditations on the Path to Enlightenment. Published by Tushita Publications, 1425 Mickleham Road, Yuroke, Victoria 3063, Australia.

“The gift of Dhamma excels all other gifts”