From The Gentle Art of Blessing
The ancient spiritual teachers understood the extraordinary power of thoughts – both good or bad – that we have only started to rediscover. Thought can very literally give life or kill. Thus the book of Exodus 21:17 condemns to death he who has cursed his parents. And in the struggle between Jacob and the angel at Peniel in Genesis 32, Jacob refuses to let go of the angel before the angel blesses him. (This story is to be interpreted in its symbolic sense as the new birth of Jacob, who becomes aware of his spiritual identity; hence his change of name, which indicates his awareness of his divine nature.)
That a practice such as blessing could be so universally widespread in almost all cultures, probably since the beginning of time, stresses an important factor: the slow awakening of humanity to a fundamental reality which could be called the law of the attraction of good, a concept we will explore in greater detail in the coming pages.
At its deepest level, blessing implies a sense of the sacred, of some hidden abundance available to those who open themselves up to it through this practice, of some unseen power available to protect and make whole. Most often, it refers to good received from a deity through certain practices, and that is probably its most widely accepted sense.
For instance, in the Maha Mangala Sutta, the Buddha lists the thirty-eight highest blessings for a Buddhist, such as associating with the wise, right self-guidance, cherishing one’s wife or partner, being generous, expressing contentment and gratitude, having an undefiled mind, and so on. By practicing these blessings, we ourselves are blessed and also those around us.
It is much less known that in Judaism, one of the most widespread spiritual practices in the world, blessing constitutes the roots of its practice, its fundamental grounding. The very first chapter of Genesis states that God blessed the creatures he had just brought to life, man and woman. Thus blessing is renewed to Abraham, and again to Moses. The blessings received from God constitute the very center of Jewish practice, to the extent that a leading Jewish scholar, Rabbi Walter Homolka, has spoken of a culture of blessing which extends far beyond the prayer service to the smallest acts of everyday life. (This practice is not unlike the Buddhist “gathas,” which are declarations of mindfulness attached to the most mundane activities.) In the Hebrew Bible, it is not only God who blesses his creatures, but human beings as well who bless their Creator.
The Mishna – the codification of Jewish religious law which was written circa 200 CE – begins with a section on blessings (B’rachot, from the word B’racha, the Hebrew term for blessing). Baruch means “he who is blessed.” Rabbi Meir, in the second century of this era, stated that a Jew should pray one hundred blessings a day. The B’racha is the center of the daily liturgy as well as of individual and family spirituality.
In his radical redefinition of many basic spiritual concepts, Jesus gives fresh meaning to the act of blessing. In the Beatitudes, he shows that blessedness is the result of living in harmony with the fundamental laws of the universe, some of which are presented in this famous text, (Matthew 5:1-12). For instance, Jesus indicated that those who had a pure heart would see the divine reflection everywhere. Those who had a clear thought, who refused to split hairs, to intellectualize spiritual truths (the “poor in spirit”) would have their hearts filled with and governed by unconditional love, the deeper dimension of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus also stressed that numerous blessings, or good, would come the way of those who radiated goodness. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the Earth,” (Matthew 5:5). In other words, ultimately, true goodness always triumphs over hate, obscurity, and violence, not because there is any special moral virtue in doing good but because unconditional love expressed as goodness constitutes the ultimate structure of reality and of the universe.
However, if there are innumerable references to the blessings received or bestowed by the deity or certain spiritual practices such as the thirty-eight Buddhist blessings mentioned above, or bestowed by priests or holy men or women, there are very few references to what one might call a “lay” practice of blessing such as this book encourages, i.e., the active blessing of others whatever one’s religious background or absence of such a background.
The act of blessing triggers some of the fundamental spiritual laws governing the universe. These laws appear to be as rigorous and dependable as the laws of the physical universe, albeit more difficult to verify according to the methodology of modern science. It is therefore important to understand that the art of blessing does not simply mean having a few good words or positive thoughts. When the laws that underpin this practice are understood, blessing can become a powerful tool for good, a means of healing, as many have discovered through its practice.