Should monks really be giving blessings?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Should monks really be giving blessings?

Post by waterchan » Tue Apr 22, 2014 6:47 am

Would blessings not encourage pernicious views in a naive lay person or family who think this brings a tangible effect, such as good kamma being transferred or great luck being bestowed by the holy elder monk's powers?

Every time I hear about blessings being given by monks, I can't help but cringe a little. Most Buddhists are not practitioners. A monk closing his eyes and reciting Pali easily lends itself to the interpretation: "Oh how exciting, we are receiving holy energy!"

I remember Ajahn Brahm saying that he once gave a blessing to a schoolgirl who asked for a blessing to help her pass her exam. A few days later, she started spreading the word that these monks at Bodhinyana Monastery were fake, useless monks and nobody should trust them. She had failed her exam. Of course, I expect many of us here will realise that her failure had more to do with her not studying than the blessing being utterly useless, but this proves that blessings can lend a false sense of security to the naive person.

Ajahn Brahm isn't the only one who gives blessings either. I saw a photo where Ajahn Sumedho was giving baby blessings to an apparently very devoted and reverent family. I am certain both of these very senior disciples of Ajahn Chah are aware that their blessings pale in comparison to the power of the kamma of the one receiving them. Yet they still do it, so they must have good reasons.

Was giving blessings a common practice among the Buddha's original sangha? Are there any cases in the suttas or Vinaya where the Buddha or his disciples went around giving blessings to the laity? If not, then is it a good practice to be doing today?
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Re: Should monks really be giving blessings?

Post by Cittasanto » Tue Apr 22, 2014 7:16 am

there is the case of Angulimala giving (what could be seen as) a blessing in MN86. And the vinaya does allow giving a blessing after a meal offering....
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Re: Should monks really be giving blessings?

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Tue Apr 22, 2014 12:47 pm

The recitation of protection discourses is an ancient practice, but monks should explain the meaning of the Suttas so that the audience cultivate the right mental attitude. I always explain, if there's even half a chance, but it's not always possible:

An Exposition of the Mangala Sutta
This remarkable discourse should be learnt by heart and studied by all Buddhists. It shows how pragmatic the Buddha’s teaching is. There is no room for superstition and rituals. Understanding and practice are vital, blind devotion and lip-service are futile. One who diligently practises the Dhamma shows how much they revere the Buddha.

What blessings could one possibly get by allowing the mind to wander elsewhere while supposedly listening to the Maṅgala Sutta, or by or reciting it by rote if one neither understands the meaning, nor practises its teachings? At best, one will make the wholesome kamma of reverence while listening or chanting. At worst, it is just like bathing in the Ganges to wash away one’s sins. However, if one recites or listens to it reverentially, while reflecting on the meaning, one will make powerful wholesome kamma.
The practice of tying holy threads is not found in the Suttas or Vinaya AFAIK. If anyone can tell me where it is mentioned I will be glad to correct my understanding. As I understand it, the practice is something adopted from Brahmanism in ancient Sri Lanka.

The sprinkling of holy water is mentioned in the texts, on the occasion of the teaching of the Ratana Sutta, which the Buddha taught to Venerable Ānanda. The Buddha gave Ānanda his own almsbowl and instructed him to circumambulate the City Walls while reciting the Ratana Sutta and sprinkling water from the Buddha's alms bowl.

Superstitious Beliefs are indeed a great hindrance to the right understanding of the Buddha Dhamma, but how far is it the monks' responsibility to remove the wrong views of others, and how much is it their own responsibility to approach learned monks, and do their own study to remove their wrong views? Prosletyzing is disliked by everyone, and preaching to deaf ears is a waste of time and effort.
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Re: Should monks really be giving blessings?

Post by beeblebrox » Tue Apr 22, 2014 3:57 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote: preaching to deaf ears is a waste of time and effort.
Hi Bhante,

I know this probably wasn't the intended meaning of your phrasing, and it is unrelated to the topic of this thread, but I still would like to share a couple of things.

A few years ago, when I came out of someone's apartment, I had the fortune (maybe not from a Theravadin perspective) of running into a Tibetan monk who walked by. I bowed to him. He seemed happily surprised, so he bowed back. He then started to say something... so, I had to let him know that I was deaf.

When I said this... he acknowledged it very little, and then just walked away. He looked straight ahead and didn't even look back.

I think it's possible he's probably heard an advice similar to yours, and took it a bit too literally. I don't think that this is something limited to the Tibetan tradition (and I'm pretty sure that not all of their monks would behave in the same way)... so, I still can imagine a similar thing also happening with a Theravada monk. Why? It's my impression that the traditionally Buddhist countries have some backwards ideas about deaf people.

A deaf friend once shared with me that he couldn't register for a 10-day vipassana retreat because he was deaf.

He was told that the "auditory feedback was integral to the practice." It seemed strange to me... especially considering that he was a good lipreader, and is able to speak well. (Unlike me.) I think that this was just a reflection of the general attitude in the traditional Buddhism, towards a deaf person. (Or to what we're actually capable of doing... to give this a bit more charitable interpretation).

To keep the topic of this thread: I think it is definitely the job of monastics to give the blessings, in the form of Dhamma, whether it is to a deaf person or not.


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Re: Should monks really be giving blessings?

Post by TheNoBSBuddhist » Tue Apr 22, 2014 4:32 pm

...And what of those who have chronic, persistent and pernicious tinnitus, such as I.....?

You will not be punished FOR your 'emotions'; you will be punished BY your 'emotions'.


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‘Absit invidia verbo’ - may ill-will be absent from the word. And mindful of that, if I don't respond, this may be why....

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