Songkran Blessings
April 14, 2024

Today is Songkran, the Thai New Year. It’s a time when people come to give blessings and to receive blessings as a way of starting the new year right. At the same time, we make merit and dedicate it to those who have passed away. In other words, we look to the past, make merit for those we loved in the past who are now gone. We look to the future, we hope to have a good future, which is why we give blessings and ask for blessings. If you simply take blessings, you’re living off your old treasures. If you want new treasures, you give blessings to others.

The monks have a blessing that you hear again and again. It ends with, “Āyu vaṇṇo sukhaṁ, balaṁ.” “Āyu” means long life, “vaṇṇo” means beauty, “sukha” means happiness, “bala” means strength.

Those are the blessings that the monks give regularly. But you have to stop and think about them. Suppose you had all four of those things: You had a long life, but as you got older and older and you got sick, you got deluded. It wouldn’t actually be a good blessing. It would turn into a curse if you got deluded.

The same with beauty: If you get deluded about your beauty, that turns into a curse. There are people who will try to take advantage of your beauty—they want your beauty, they try to take advantage of you by praising your beauty, and you fall for that. So beauty on its own is not necessarily a blessing.

Sukha, you live a life of happiness, you have no pains, you have no troubles, and you become careless, you become complacent.

And as for strength, if you get a lot of strength and you use it to force other people to do what you want, without regard for right or wrong, that becomes your bad karma.

In short, these blessings can turn into a curse if you don’t have the wisdom to use them properly, which is why you don’t want to be deluded about these things.

If you really want a good blessing, you want to have the blessing of wisdom as well, so that you can use your long life to continue doing good in this life. We have this human birth, we don’t know how much longer it’s going to last, but if it does last a long time, you want to keep on using it for a good purpose and not just get lazy as you get older. Even as the body gets weak, you can still do many, many things with your mind. And even if your mind begins to go a little bit, you can develop thoughts of goodwill, you can try to focus your mind as much as you can. You can do a lot of good.

Years back, Ajaan Maha Bua had a student, a woman who had cancer, and before she died she wanted to come and spend some time at the monastery to get her mind into shape. He told her, “Well, I can look after your mind, but you’re going to need a doctor to look after your body.”

She had a friend, an older woman, more than 80 years old, who had been a doctor and now was retired. So the friend came along. They stayed at Ajaan Maha Bua’s monastery for three months. Almost every night, he gave them a Dhamma talk, and they recorded the talks. Back in those days they used cassette tapes. At the end of 90 days, they went back to Bangkok. The woman with cancer lived for another six months. And then the doctor found, all of a sudden, that she had a pile of tapes.

So she came up with the idea that it would be good to transcribe them to make into Dhamma books. But she was concerned: She was old herself, her eyesight was going, she wasn’t strong, she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to complete the task. But Ajaan Maha Bua encouraged her. He said, “You’ve got this body. See how much goodness you can squeeze out of it before you have to throw it away.”

The woman took heart from that and she was able to transcribe all 90 of the Dhamma talks. Now, as a result, we have two large books of very good Dhamma talks.

That was somebody in her 80s. So just because you’re old doesn’t mean you can’t do good. There are lots of ways we tend to focus on the things we can’t do as we get older, but try to think about the goodness that you still can do—focus on that. In that way, your long life becomes a blessing. The same principle applies to beauty, strength, happiness. You can use these things for a good purpose, and then they become a blessing. It’s up to you to have the wisdom to use them properly.

The same holds for our wealth. Often we want to have a life of wealth without any lack. But if all your needs are met, you tend to get stupid. You tend to get lazy. So you ask yourself, “What would be the best use of this wealth?” You can turn it into a perfection. You can turn it into the perfection of generosity. You can turn it into perfection of determination, in which you want to use your wealth for a really good purpose. That way, these things do become blessings because you have the wisdom to use them properly.

At the same time, you can think about long life, beauty, happiness, strength, in terms of inner qualities as well. The Buddha says when you practice meditation, that lengthens the life of your mind. It gives you more strength, gives you more happiness. As for beauty of the mind, that, the Buddha says, is the quality of your virtue. This is one of the reasons why, whenever we have a ceremony like this, we always take the five precepts to remind you that this is where genuine beauty lies. As you get older and you start dressing up, putting on makeup, trying to look like you did when you were young, it gets less and less appropriate. But the beauty of virtue never gets old, never gets out of place, never seems wrong, never seems inappropriate. That’s the kind of beauty you should want: the beauty that you find inside.

The strength inside, of course, would be the five strengths, beginning with the strength of conviction that your actions really do make a difference in life, so you want to be careful about what you do.

There’s also the strength of persistence, when you stick with the principle that you want to do what’s only skillful, you want to abandon anything that’s unskillful. The strength of mindfulness, when you keep in mind what’s right and what’s wrong, not only while you’re here at the monastery, but also as you go through life. Concentration, when you focus on what is really important in your life. Give that top priority. And then the discernment to see which ways you’re causing unnecessary suffering and how you can stop. These five strengths are the things that will carry you through. They’ll make sure that whatever other blessings you gain in life do stay as blessings and don’t become curses.

So think about taking the blessing of wanting mindfulness and discernment so you can use all your other blessings well.

When you’re giving blessings to other people, think about your own behavior as a blessing. When you open your mouth, what kind of things are you saying? Are they things that will harm other people or will they help them? Or are they just worthless? So much of our speech is just thrown away. We have these human mouths and, as Ajaan Lee used to say, “Bow down to your mouth every day.” In other words, use it well. You went to all this trouble to become a human being with a human mouth, so use that human mouth well as part of your way of developing even more blessings for yourself and giving blessings to others. In that way, your words will be worth listening to, worth cherishing—words that will really help other people to see what’s to their benefit as well.

In this way, we give blessings and receive blessings, and that is what establishes us in a good year. Of course, the monks are happy to chant blessings for you, but that kind of thing washes off very quickly. But the blessings you do through your own actions: Those stay with you not only for this coming year but also for a long time to come.