December 15th, 2008

operesque

An editor for the 38 Blessings?

A little group of us -- Jan Lindenberg, David Woodard, Hisae and I -- has formed a "religious expeditions club". We meet up every week or so to investigate a different religion or philosophy. We started with Christianity (with a trip to the Mount of Olives church), continued with Shinto (via some folk artefacts at the Dahlem ethnographic museum), and yesterday did Buddhism, making a trip to Berlin's Buddhistisches Haus. Here, some Sri Lankan monks gave a two-hour-long exposition of the Mangala Sutta, the list of 38 Blessings found in the Suttanipāta. When Siddhārtha Gautama -- the Buddha -- was staying at Savatthi, in Jeta's Grove, in Anathapindika's monastery, "a certain deity, whose surpassing brilliance and beauty illumined the entire Jeta Grove, late one night came into the presence of the Blessed One. Having come and saluted him, he stood to one side and spoke to him reverently in verse", dictating these blessings one by one.

Now, it so happens that later today I have a meeting with a literary editor. We'll be whittling some of the numbered entries in my Book of Scotlands down to size. With this in mind, perhaps, I remarked to David Woodard after the Buddhist lecture "I couldn't help thinking that, if the Buddha had had a good editor, the Mangala Sutta could have been cut down from 38 blessings to about 20". David is also writing a book, and also going through this kind of editorial process right now.

In this frame of mind -- after a slightly-too-long lecture -- it's tempting to go through the Mangala Sutta with a blue pencil, cutting out repetitions and tautologies:

Mangala Sutta

1. Not to associate with fools
2. To associate with the wise
Could these two be combined in one, perhaps?
3. To honour those worthy of honour
Tautological?
4. Living in a suitable locality
5. Good deeds done in the past
6. Setting oneself on the right course
7. Great learning
8. Skill in work
9. A highly trained discipline
10. Well-spoken speech
11. Looking after one's mother and father
12. Caring for one's wife and children
Maybe combine in a single "be nice to relatives" item?
13. Unconfused actions
14. Generosity
15. A righteous life
16. Caring for one's relatives
See 12, bundle into 11.
17. Blameless actions
Might this be placed under the umbrella of "unconfused actions"?
18. To abhor all evil
19. To avoid all evil
These two could be collapsed into one.
20. Abstention from intoxicants
21. Diligence in righteousness
22. Reverence
23. Humility
24. Contentment
25. Gratitude
26. Hearing the Dhamma at the right time
Product placement? Maybe a little too pushy -- we could use the inside back cover for this.
27. Patience
28. Compliance
29. Seeing the monks
30. Opportune discussion of the Dhamma
See 26.
31. Self-restraint
32. A holy life
33. Seeing the Four Noble Truths
34. Realising Nibbana
35. When affected by worldly conditions, if one's mind remains unshaken
36. Sorrowless
37. Stainless
38. Secure

See, I've already cut the 38 blessings down to 30 in that cursory gloss through. A really good editor could surely get the blessings down to twenty or less.