Sayadaw U Jotika, opened his Bangkok talk with some of his own experiences. He said that one of the very wisest people he had ever know was his mother – someone without a good education or scholarly understanding of Buddhism. He himself has spent a lot of time studying the scriptures and asking probing questions, but has never let go of that insight that in the final countdown, wisdom is not something that can be learned from books or scriptures.
By way of example of his scriptural study we heard how he read the famous Mangala Sutta, where he came upon the repeated line ‘this is the highest blessing‘. He asked himself, and then all around him, just what was meant by blessing. No one could give him a satisfactory answer. ‘Blessing‘ he finally found out, means ‘basis for accomplishment‘. In terms of the sutta, there is a list of recommended behaviours that are the ‘basis for highest accomplishment‘. Such as ‘not to associate with fools, and to honour the honourable, this is the highest blessing’.
So how do you ‘honour the honourable’? There are various ways, one of which is to pay respect and lend ear to those who are wise. In his own life, this role was first and most indelibly presented to him in the form of his own mother. This balance between scholarly pursuit and training, and the recognition that knowledge is not wisdom, seems to sum up the charisma and presence of this respected Sayadaw.
Honouring the Honourable
The statement seems to be common sense, and like most dhamma, it is. Yet it is not advice that people commonly follow. What do we honour in our society? In the UK her Majesty the Queen hands out every year the CBE and MBE awards reocognising various people for their contribution to society. While there are social workers and scientists on the list, the names that are reported are always the actors. Yes, people are honoured in the UK just for being on telly. Sean Connery, Elton John, Paul McCartney, all probably very nice people in their own right, have been honoured with knighthood no less – they are now officially Sirs.
Thai society honours the monkhood (Sangha) but seems to delight more in picking faults than finding those who are worthy of honour and reporting that. And much of the time when the honourable are honoured, such as the Dalai Lama receiving the Congressional medal in the US, it is more a ploy of politicians to present themselves as honourable by means of association.
Making anjali, in Thai called to ‘wai’, which is putting your palms together and raising them, is an ancient salute which means ‘I honour that which is highest in you’. Paying attention to such a meaning is paying homage to that which is highest; a recognition of the good aspects which are in everyone. Similarly, with the Ordained Sangha, when one makes anjali or bows to a monk or Buddha image, it is not the person that is receiving the honour but the institution – you are paying respect to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha in general, and never the monk in particular. Monks also bear this in mind, so they know it is not through their own merits that people pay respect, but through the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha in general. Any other attitude leads to either conceit or guilt. Knowing this, monks are happy bowing and paying respects to their elders without judgement of the individual.
Sayadaw U Jotika mentioned a further way in which one can ‘honour the honourable’ and that is by respecting and encouraging those aspects of yourself that are worthy of honour. In the guilt laden, neurotic Western society this a particularly important factor, as there is far too much blame and low self esteem. Everyone has good qualities, and if you do not acknowledge or admire them, they will lose their energy. According to Samma Vayama (Right Effort) you should make a strong continual effort to rouse and maintain those states of mind that are worthy of honour (Kusala).
This makes perfect sense, and yet people do not honour the right things. Things that entertain, excite, stimulate are honoured with people’s attention and respect, while those things that are less exciting, based around renunciation or letting go, are not given due attention.