Stay Away From the Fools and Associate with the Wise

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Sattigumba and Pupphaka

Asevanā ca bālānaṃ, paṇḍitānañca sevanā;
Pūjā ca pūjaneyyānaṃ etaṃ maṅgalamuttamaṃ.

Avoid the Fools and
Associate with the wise.
Give respect to the respectable.
This is the highest blessing.

Maṅgala Sutta

This small quote is from the first verse spoken by the Buddha when he was asked, “What is the highest blessing?” There are thirty-eight blessings listed and you can find them here. However, the first verse is the most important and we will only discuss the fools and the wise.

The commentary to this verse explains:

  • The fools are those who commit bad kamma (in body, speech and mind)
  • The wise are those who create good kamma (in body speech and mind).

The wise are morally developed. Those who are lay people will follow the five precepts. Those who are monks will follow their 227 precepts. When a wise person hears about the 5 precepts, or a wise monk hears about the 227 precepts he becomes happy. When he hears of the bad karma created by breaking the precepts, he becomes happy because has not broken his precepts and knows that bad karma will not come to him. When he hears of the good karma due to morality, he becomes happy because he knows that good karma will come to him. These are the wise people according to the Bālapaṇḍita Sutta. The fools are described in the same sutta below:

Suppose a fool is sitting in a council hall, a street, or a crossroad, where people are discussing what is proper and fitting. And suppose that fool is someone who kills living creatures, steals, commits sexual misconduct, lies, and uses alcoholic drinks that cause negligence.  Then that fool thinks,

‘These people are discussing what is proper and fitting. But those things are found in me and I am seen in them!’

This is the first kind of suffering and sadness that a fool experiences in the present life.

Bālapaṇḍitasutta MN 129


Those who do not follow the 5 precepts for lay people or the 227 precepts for monks become afraid when they hear these precepts and the negative results. They are called the fools (bāla). Actually, the ones who become afraid have some hints of wisdom and they know they should change. It is the ones who don’t become afraid at all who are the absolute and most dangerous fools because they have wrong view and act on it. They are dangerous because they believe the wrong actions they do are actually good and they also share this view with others. The commentary to the Maṅgala Sutta says that it is like when one house on fire and burning, it too, easily spreads to the next house.

Spiritual development starts with being morally wise as stated above. After morality is developed, one is capable to develop concentration of mind (samatha). Those who have developed concentration have completed the second part of “being wise”. The third step is to develop vipassana or the insight knowledges. One must have concentration to develop vipassana knowledges and one must have morality to develop concentration. That is why we say: sīla, samādhi, & paññā (morality, concentration and wisdom), in that order and not in any other order. The highest level of insight is the realization of Nibbāna and the highest level of the attainment of Nibbāna (while still alive) is the Arahant knowledge. This is when greed, hatred and delusion are completely destroyed without remainder.

Many people ask me about where they should ordain. If you wish to find a proper monastery, you should look for spiritually wise monks. While this is difficult to know by looking, the morally wise monks are easier to find. One cannot be spiritually wise without being morally wise. Therefore, start at a place where both the vinaya (rules) and meditation are important.

In addition to one house fire spreading to another house, the Maṅgala commentary also speaks about rotten fish and how that spreads to the objects near by.

One who ties up putrid fish
with blades of kusa grass
makes the kusa grass smell foul:
so it is in the following fools: (It 68, 9-12, Ja IV 435, 28-29, JaVI 236 4-5)

maṅgala commentary

In contrast, the commentary also explains that if you were to wrap tagara jasmine flowers with leaves, those leaves would also smell very fragrant.

One who ties up tagara
with leaves [fallen from a tree]
makes the leaves sweetly fragrant:
so it is in the following wise: (It 68, 13-16, Ja IV 436, 1-2, Ja VI 236, 6-7)

maṅgala Commentary

This is literally used to explain that whatever is near to us can easily and literally “rub off” on us. Probably the best example is our language or accent. Not so long ago, if someone was from the New York City area, or Long Island, you would really know this by the way he talked. My father is from the Bronx and everyone knows it. Now this is becoming a thing of the past. Why? Because of television and internet videos.

If you think about it, the television and internet are affecting people in the most deeply rooted subconscious ways and they affect the way people speak. If it can affect the way people speak, then why would it not affect people’s attitudes, beliefs and morals? As the internet algorithms choose more an more polarized and extreme events to show you, those polarized and extreme events will become a part of you. They will become the new normal. Or have they already become the new normal?

You are encouraged to associate or live with those who are higher than you in morality and wisdom. This is very important because it will be easy for this to literally rub off on you, like fragrant flowers.

Sattigumba Jātaka is listed in the commentaries quoted above to explain this point very well. It is a story of two parrots born as twins from the same mother, but a storm came and they were separated shortly after birth. One bird was raised by a gang of thieves and the other was raised by hermit ascetics. The king came across both parrots at different times. The first encounter was the evil parrot who spoke of stealing and killing while the other spoke of kindness. The king was moved by the difference in the two birds.

While this story seems strange and hard to believe, one can find examples of parrots on youtube which can bring out this point very well. Believe it or not, many parrots are in need of shelters. Just google rescue “parrot + your location” and you will find many organizations looking find new nests. Below is a video about a rescue bird with evil people who witnessed its owners death.

This bird witnessed its owner’s murder. It was a key witness in a trial.

If that gets you down, there are numerous channels with cute and loving parrots who obviously had cute and loving owners. Below is one of those.

I hope this post makes things clear for you. This post is dedicated to my cousin, Les Brodie who recently died. He also had a well trained talking bird and told me about what a joy it was to have. It had its own bicycle and the bird would often pick up the phone with its claw on the first ring (back when phones had a receiver) and imitate his voice, “Hello? Uhuh.. ummm.. yes.. uhuh…” Apparently, sometimes his friends would have conversations with the bird without Les’s knowledge! He was a very special person, and so was his bird. If you are a parent, your kids will be your parrots. In addition, we are all like parrots with whomever we follow or associate with. Your associations literally will “rub off” on you like the leaves surrounding the smelly fish or the fragrant jasmine flowers. So please be wise in your associations.

Avoid the Fools and
Associate with the wise.
Give respect to the respectable.
This is the highest blessing.

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