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The Dhammapada


tariki
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The Dhammapada (dhamma = truth/how things are) (pada = way/path) is a relatively well known book of the Buddhist Faith, comprising 423 verses, and divided into 26 Chapters.

 

The little book does not "stand alone" but is in fact a part of a larger text, the Khuddaka Nikaya, which itself is part of the Sutta Pitaka. The Sutta Pitaka is made up of five divisions, and represents the various discourses of the Buddha. This is all part of the Theravada Canon of Scripture, which claims to represent - and this is supported by most scholarship - the closest we can get to the words of the historical Buddha.

 

(Theravada itself is just one of the major divisions of the Buddhist Faith)

 

Now that the Tao thread has passed on gracefully, perhaps others would be interested in giving the various chapters of the Dhammapada a look, and if the mood/spirit takes you, post a word or two.

 

Anyway, we'll see how it goes.

 

Personally, I have five different translations, all of which have commentaries of varying length. I would also say that though I still choose to identify as a Buddhist, it is the Pure Land way that most appeals to me, which is the way of faith/grace - the so called "easy way". Theravada (and therefore the Dhammapada) represents the "way of the sages, where one developes wisdom and gains enlightenment". In the Pure Land we "return to the foolish self to be saved by Amida".

 

So feel free to be critical....... :D

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Chapter 1

 

Choices

 

We are what we think.

All that we are arises with our thoughts.

With our thoughts we make the world.

Speak or act with an impure mind

And trouble will follow you

As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

We are what we think.

All that we are arises with our thoughts.

With our thoughts we make the world.

Speak or act with a pure mind

And happiness will follow you

As your shadow, unshakable.

"Look how he abused me and hurt me,

How he threw me down and robbed me."

Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.

"Look how he abused me and hurt me,

How he threw me down and robbed me."

Abandon such thoughts, and live in love.

In this world

Hate never yet dispelled hate.

Only love dispels hate.

This is the law,

Ancient and inexhaustible.

You too shall pass away.

Knowing this, how can you quarrel?

How easily the wind overturns a frail tree.

Seek happiness in the senses,

Indulge in food and sleep,

And you too will be uprooted.

The wind cannot overturn a mountain.

Temptation cannot touch the man

Who is awake, strong and humble,

Who masters himself and minds the dharma.

If a man's thoughts are muddy,

If he is reckless and full of deceit,

How can he wear the yellow robe?

Whoever is master of his own nature,

Bright, clear and true,

He may indeed wear the yellow robe.

Mistaking the false for the true,

And the true for the false,

You overlook the heart

And fill yourself with desire.

See the false as false,

The true as true.

Look into your heart.

Follow your nature.

An unreflecting mind is a poor roof.

Passion, like the rain, floods the house.

But if the roof is strong, there is shelter.

Whoever follows impure thoughts

Suffers in this world and the next.

In both worlds he suffers

And how greatly

When he sees the wrong he has done.

But whoever follows the dharma

Is joyful here and joyful there.

In both worlds he rejoices

And how greatly

When he sees the good he has done.

For great is the harvest in this world,

And greater still in the next.

However many holy words you read,

However many you speak,

What good will they do you

If you do not act upon them?

Are you a shepherd

Who counts another man's sheep,

Never sharing the way?

Read as few words as you like,

And speak fewer.

But act upon the dharma.

Give up the old ways -

Passion, enmity, folly.

Know the truth and find peace.

Share the way.

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tariki,

 

interesting, this was all new to me. I guess Buddha, like Jesus, never wrote anything down and his followers recollected his teachings much later - ? Seems like the chapter parallels the bible in several places—the idea of “blessed are the pure in heart,” the truth of “only love dispels hate,” the emphasis on sharing the way, the references to this world and the next. (that yellow robe thing, though, needs some explanation :-)

 

As you mentioned, there does seem to be a contrast with the Pure Land version of Buddhism – the voice in the Dhammapada is more ascetic and rigorous, almost Stoic, e.g. it says “Give up folly” as opposed to “return to the foolish self to be saved by Amida.”

 

The first few lines seem like the opposite of Eckhart Tolle’s teaching, who I assumed was strongly influenced by Buddhism. The chapter says “we are what we think,” rather than asserting that thoughts are external, the result of cultural programming, not defining us. Tolle says we are cut off from Being as long as compulsive thinking takes up all our attention. He suggests that we not identify with our thoughts, but become aware of our deeper self as Presence-- reclaiming consciousness from the mind is the essential task of the spiritual journey.

 

Maybe the Dhammapada contains the same idea in different language - ?

Edited by rivanna
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rivanna, the yellow robe is just a reference to the dress of a Buddhist monk (bhikkhu) so in effect the verse is merely stating that a true "disciple" of the Buddha is one who conducts themselves in the proper manner, and not determined by dress.

 

Anyway, obviously there is a lot in the chapter, and thanks for the interest.

 

I'll have to give what you say about Tolle some thought. I think its where you say...."but become aware of our deeper self as Presence"......that there is some sort of divide in the road. (Then we have the zen people who say that the enlightened mind IS our everyday mind.... :o 0 Perhaps I won't give it more thought... :o )

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Utilising one of the commentaries I have - this from Thomas Cleary, recognised as one of the foremost translators of various Buddhist texts, both Theravada and Mahayana.

 

Cleary's overall summary of the chapter is.....

 

This first chapter presents its teaching in sets of verses contrasting good and bad ways and their consequences, juxtaposing the causes of joy and sorrow. Purity of mind, self-control, moderation, freedom from rancor, accurate thought, purity of action, and practical application are praised as good ways in contrast to corruption of mind, grudge bearing, hatred, laziness, self-indulgence, false thinking, tainted action, and heedlessness.

 

Cleary also draws upon his knowledge of Mahayana and often quotes from the multitude of Mahayana texts. His comment pertinent to the words of Tolle, and in respect of the opening verse...................The Mahaparinirvana-sutra says......"Be master of mind, do not be mastered by mind."

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Hi Karen,

 

Being somewhat of a reader of Tolle's work, i personally didn't find any contradictions in his teachings versus what i read here. When it says you are what you think, i don't believe they are saying that this is the essence of who you are. It seems to me that the writings here are saying that what you think make up your perceived reality of the world and who you are in that world. Later i think in the end we find it is temporal in nature so it can't be absolute reality.

 

In Buddhism, it seems to me that through watching our thoughts (thinking) that we normally identify with, we in time recognize that they are impersonal and conditioned. They do make our world and ultimately when we let them go, we go beyond them to find our real (or more permanent ) identity. This, in Christianity, in my view, is the process of dying to the old nature and coming alive to our true nature in Christ which is beyond thought. Also alluded to as a new world with old things passing away by Paul. "So if any one be in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold all things have become new: ...

 

Just my own personal subjective view and of course not to be mistaken to be authoritative,

Joseph

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Just picking up one or two points......

 

Rivanna:- As you mentioned, there does seem to be a contrast with the Pure Land version of Buddhism – the voice in the Dhammapada is more ascetic and rigorous, almost Stoic, e.g. it says “Give up folly” as opposed to “return to the foolish self to be saved by Amida.”

 

There is certainly, due to its origins, a monastic bias pervading the Theravada Scriptures, and therefore this would apply to the Dhammapada. Pure Land Buddhism arose in part as a reaction to the perceived elitism of a monastic based Buddhism. Although the origins of the Pure Land way are shrouded somewhat, from very early on it can be found as a form of understanding/devotion that was practiced alongside monastic based Buddhism - not least Ch'an/Zen. But in 12/13th century Japan it did self-consciously assert itself as a lay based way, very egalitarian............and devotees actually came to suffer various persecutions from the Buddhist "mainstream" authorities.

 

Also, regarding folly, and foolish selves......the term "foolish self" could almost be called a "technical term" in Pure Land speak. For me, without going into great detail, it has no reference at all to intellectual ability (obviously... :D ), but refers to the fundamental/existential understanding that the perceived self, that which we assume ourselves to be, is totally incapable of resolving the contradictions of human existence in any definitive manner, that such a self is dominated by self-centred desires that can only be broken by the light of infinite compassion that "grasps us, never to abandon us".

 

Anyway, a Pure Lander would still seek to "give up folly"...... :)

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tariki,

 

thanks, that was helpful, maybe I was being a bit too literal I did understand what you mean by foolish self from the way youve used it before -- acknowledging that humans are inevitably limited and flawed, incapable of ultimate certainty or knowledge. The way you phrased it resonates with Tillich’s words, “we are grasped by a peace which is above reason and striving for the good. We have not become wiser and more understanding, but the truth of life is in us, making us whole, giving us deep and restful happiness.”

 

Joseph,

 

thanks for your clarification of those first lines it makes sense. I guess when it says all that we are arises with our thoughts its about actions resulting from attitudes, rather than thoughts defining our innermost being. Reminiscent of the Tao saying the ten thousand things rise and fall, while the self watches their return.

 

This one chapter covers a lot of ground!

Edited by rivanna
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Moving on to Chapter 2.........

 

Wakefulness

 

Wakefulness is the way to life.

The fool sleeps

As if he were already dead,

But the master is awake

And he lives forever.

He watches.

He is clear.

How happy he is!

For he sees that wakefulness is life.

How happy he is,

Following the path of the awakened.

With great perseverance

He meditates, seeking

Freedom and happiness.

So awake, reflect, watch.

Work with care and attention.

Live in the way

And the light will grow in you.

By watching and working

The master makes for himself an island

Which the flood cannot overwhelm.

The fool is careless.

But the master guards his watching.

It is his most precious treasure.

He never gives in to desire.

He meditates.

And in the strength of his resolve

He discovers true happiness.

He overcomes desire -

And from the tower of his wisdom

He looks down with dispassion

Upon the sorrowing crowd.

From the mountain top

He looks down at those

Who live close to the ground.

Mindful among the mindless,

Awake while others dream,

Swift as the race horse

He outstrips the field.

By watching

Indra became king of the gods.

How wonderful it is to watch.

How foolish to sleep.

The bhikkhu who guards his mind

And fears the waywardness of his thoughts

Burns through every bond

With the fire of his vigilance.

The beggar who guards his mind

And fears his own confusion

Cannot fall.

He has found his way to peace.

 

 

 

 

For me, this is where the first questionable verses are found.....

 

And from the tower of his wisdom

He looks down with dispassion

Upon the sorrowing crowd.

From the mountain top

He looks down at those

Who live close to the ground.

Mindful among the mindless,

Awake while others dream,

Swift as the race horse

He outstrips the field.

 

Thomas Cleary, in his commentary, contrasts this essentially "Theravadan" expression with the warnings given to those on the Mahayana path (Cleary himself speaks of the "Lesser" and the "Greater" journey).....

 

Buddhists on the Greater Journey are always warned to avoid becoming so intoxicated by the state described here as to lose pity and compassion for others. That proscribed intoxication is called the Deep Pit of Liberation.

 

Cleary's overall summary of the chapter is that it focuses "particularly on describing the merits of vigilance and rebuking negligence and heedlessness. Vigilance means exercising unremitting awareness of self, truth, and reality, sloughing off the torpor of heedlessness to act practically on realities."

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Hi Derek,

 

This is a great thread, thanks for starting it.

And many thanks for moderating this forum.

 

Wakefulness is the way to life.

The fool sleeps

As if he were already dead,

But the master is awake

And he lives forever.

He watches.

He is clear.

How happy he is!

For he sees that wakefulness is life.

How happy he is,

Following the path of the awakened.

With great perseverance

He meditates, seeking

Freedom and happiness.

So awake, reflect, watch.

Work with care and attention.

Live in the way

And the light will grow in you.

 

I love the last lines here, "Live in the way and the light will grow in you" - Could have come from John or any Christian contemplative.

 

As for the theme of the whole passage, Paul's words come to mind,

 

“Wake up, sleeper,

rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph 5:14

 

"The master is awake and he lives forever."

 

To me this conjures the image of the Taoist immortal. However, it also seems to perhaps touch a way of seeing the resurrection. Jesus, the spiritual master, was awakened to his life in the divine. He is awake, therefore he lives forever, not even death has the final say.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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Here is Chapter 3

 

Mind

 

As the fletcher whittles

And makes straight his arrows,

So the master directs

His straying thoughts.

Like a fish out of water,

Stranded on the shore,

Thoughts thrash and quiver,

For how can they shake off desire?

They tremble, they are unsteady,

They wander at their own will.

It is good to control them,

And to master them brings happiness.

But how subtle they are,

How elusive!

The task is to quieten them,

And by ruling them to find happiness.

With single-mindedness

The master quells his thoughts.

He ends their wandering.

Seated in the cave of the heart,

He finds freedom.

How can a troubled mind

Understand the way?

If a man is disturbed

He will never be filled with knowledge.

An untroubled mind,

No longer seeking to consider

What is right and what is wrong,

A mind beyond judgments,

Watches and understands.

Know that the body is a fragile jar,

And make a castle of your mind.

In every trial

Let understanding fight for you

To defend what you have won.

For soon the body is discarded,

Then what does it feel?

A useless log of wood, it lies on the ground,

Then what does it know?

Your worst enemy cannot harm you

As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.

But once mastered,

No one can help you as much,

Not even your father or your mother.

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An untroubled mind,

No longer seeking to consider

What is right and what is wrong,

A mind beyond judgments,

Watches and understands.

 

Thomas Cleary speaks of these lines as the need to surrender the impulse to evil and relinquishing anticipation of reward for goodness. Leading on from this, there is the need to not be attached to any form of "spiritual attainment", which is called "affliction by the dust of religion". Cleary also mentions the Zen Proverb...."The spoils of war are lost in celebration."

 

For me, this is at the very far end of the spectrum covered by "grace", and leads into "Love God, and do what you will" (St Augustine), which D T Suzuki relates to the Buddhist Anabhoga-Carya, or "no striving", "effortlessness".

 

Which can be seen as a return to "innocence", the regaining of Paradise.

 

In a discussion between Merton and Suzuki, the path is traced from an original innocence, through knowledge, and into a new innocence. The "fall" here is understood to be not rebellion (against God) but a happy fault that necessitated so great a redeemer (the "O felix culpa" of the Catholic Tradition)

 

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time. (T S Eliot)

 

("Knowing it for the first time" seems to imply the slate is not wiped clean, nor has the suffering of experience been wasted or unnecessary - which has something to say regarding Theodicy, but I'll leave it.)

 

P.S. The discussion between Merton and Suzuki is Part Two of Merton's book of essays "Zen and the Birds of Appetite", an essay called "Wisdom in Emptiness".

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Mike, thanks for the encouragement.

:)

 

My pleasure.

 

 

For me, this is at the very far end of the spectrum covered by "grace", and leads into "Love God, and do what you will" (St Augustine), which D T Suzuki relates to the Buddhist Anabhoga-Carya, or "no striving", "effortlessness".

 

Which can be seen as a return to "innocence", the regaining of Paradise.

 

It's really good thing grace covers that end. :D Thanks for your ever relevant thoughts here.

 

Even though these verses are very emphatic about self-mastery, I suppose that's the way of self-power...though its ultimate aim true to that of other-power. Self-mastery depends on selfless grace just the same...

 

If a man is disturbed

He will never be filled with knowledge.

 

...like an unsettled pond cannot find the clarity that reflects the moon. 'Be filled' is passive. "Be ye filled with the holy spirit".

 

Thanks,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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Nick, its been a while since I really gave the text a close look. I'm familiar enough with it that particular verses pop into mind, one in particular that speaks of the "sage" who, like a swan, is always flying off, leaving the lake behind. (One translation has it that they leave home after home behind.) I'm no sage, but the image is an encouragement and a perfect picture of how things are, at least for me. Once again, no attempt to identify myself with Christ, but I think of the NT verse about the Son of Man having "nowhere to lay his head."

 

Anyway, I more than hinted at the beginning, that in effect I'm reading it with semi critical eyes, after quite a few years now seeking more to open to grace than endeavouring to "attain", in the way that the Dhammapada often implies, or even states explicitly. So the words are often very "new" to me, and in some ways, distant and even inappropriate.

 

I'm the one with questions.

 

All the best

:)

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Just a little background to the various concerns/questions I ask myself.......in between just living.

 

The central doctrine of Buddhism is anatta, or "not-self", without understanding which a real knowledge of Buddhism is altogether impossible. The point is, at least to me, that it cannot be understood in any intellectual sense, but only experienced.

 

Many Buddhist texts, not least the Dhammapada, can come across as a manual for "attainment", and one can find oneself seeking to groom a spiritual persona for stardom! That is not the intent of the text, obviously, and as was explained at the beginning, the Dhammapada is just a small part of a larger whole.

 

One Theravada Bhikkhu wrote that at the moment of emancipation/enlightenment, effort falls away having reached the end of its scope. It is the scope of effort, and the paradoxes it involves, that set me on the trail of Pure Land Buddhism, the way of "Other Power."

 

Within the Ch'an/Zen tradition, when the Sixth Patriarch was chosen, there was, according to legend (?) a competition between the applicants. Each had to write a verse to explain their understanding.

 

One wrote.....

 

The body is the Bodhi-tree

The mind is like a clear mirror standing.

Take care to wipe it all the time,

Allow no grain of dust to cling to it.

 

The winner.......

 

The Bodhi is not like a tree,

The clear mirror is nowhere standing.

Fundamentally not one thing exists:

Where then is a grain of dust to cling?

 

As Thomas Merton has said, this verse is not any sort of statement of fundamental principle, not any declaration of pantheism, nor anything else of the sort, but a pointing to the most penetrating "experience". The language is not metaphysical but poetic and phenomenological. The insight is "a direct grasp of being itself, but not an intuition of the nature of being." (See the essay "Mystics and Zen Masters" in the book of the same name)

 

All this, for me, relates to "faith" and "works", the contrast between a "self" that "accepts" an offer of salvation, as opposed to a realisation of that which IS, which can come in infinite ways.

 

Hopefully I have not muddied the waters.

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So on to Chapter 4.......

 

Flowers

 

Who shall conquer this world

And the world of death with all its gods?

Who shall discover

The shining way of dharma?

You shall, even as the man

Who seeks flowers

Finds the most beautiful,

The rarest.

Understand that the body

Is merely the foam of a wave,

The shadow of a shadow.

Snap the flower arrows of desire

And then, unseen,

Escape the king of death.

And travel on.

Death overtakes the man

Who gathers flowers

When with distracted mind and thirsty senses

He searches vainly for happiness

In the pleasures of the world.

Death fetches him away

As a flood carries off a sleeping village.

Death overcomes him

When with distracted mind and thirsty senses

He gathers flowers.

He will never have his fill

Of the pleasures of the world.

The bee gathers nectar from the flower

Without marring its beauty or perfume.

So let the master settle, and wander.

Look to your own faults,

What you have done or left undone.

Overlook the faults of others.

Like a lovely flower,

Bright but scentless,

Are the fine but empty words

Of the man who does not mean what he says.

Like a lovely flower,

Bright and fragrant,

Are the fine and truthful words

Of the man who means what he says.

Like garlands woven from a heap of flowers,

Fashion from your life as many good deeds.

The perfume of sandalwood,

Rosebay or jasmine

Cannot travel against the wind.

But the fragrance of virtue

Travels even against the wind,

As far as the ends of the world.

How much finer

Is the fragrance of virtue

Than of sandalwood, rosebay,

Of the blue lotus or jasmine!

The fragrance of sandalwood and rosebay

Does not travel far.

But the fragrance of virtue

Rises to the heavens.

Desire never crosses the path

Of virtuous and wakeful men.

Their brightness sets them free.

How sweetly the lotus grows

In the litter of the wayside.

Its pure fragrance delights the heart.

Follow the awakened

And from among the blind

The light of your wisdom

Will shine out, purely.

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Thomas Cleary says of these verses that we can pursue the things of this world as vanities, or we may mindfully use them constructively to beautify the world if we realise their value.

 

Though we should.....

 

Understand that the body

Is merely the foam of a wave,

The shadow of a shadow.

 

 

Nevertheless, we should.....

 

Like garlands woven from a heap of flowers,

Fashion from your life as many good deeds.

 

That the first does not negate the need for the second. Rather the idea suggests that the "good deeds" are empty of self.

 

Cleary again.........speaks of "being in the world but not of the world", that individual liberation and enlightenment are continually "reinvested" in the world for the benefit of the people of the world.

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Like a lovely flower,

Bright but scentless,

Are the fine but empty words

Of the man who does not mean what he says.

 

Or, as Jesus says in St Matthew..... "The scribes and the pharisees sit in Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach but do not practice"

 

There is another little story, of a man looking for a good church to attend. He enters one and hears the preacher say......"We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done." The man dropped into a seat and sighed with relief....."Thank goodness, I've found my crowd at last!"

 

Knowing it is MY crowd has its own "rewards", so...

 

Look to your own faults,

What you have done or left undone.

Overlook the faults of others.

 

 

 

In the translation of the Dhammapada by S.Radhakrishnan that I have, he says of "wisdom" that it is attained by spiritual insight or intuition rather than by observation and analysis, a result of a contemplative rather than an intellectual attitude.

 

Radhadkrishnana, entering the realm of Greek mythology, goes on to speak of what a goddess tells young Telemachus, "Take courage. Some things you will think for yourself. Others a god will put into your heart." And that "genuine insight/wisdom is achieved by a perfect communion with the source of all truth, which is to be found, not created."

 

Speaking of "creation", he says that the Primordial Buddha wished to become many, that the wish was prajna, divine wisdom. That the Buddha and Prajna came to be regarded as the Father and Mother of the Universe.

 

Heady stuff indeed, and a bit far from my own small world of feeding the cat and obeying "the wife"!!!

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Maybe if it had been about hot dogs or burgers he would have got it?

 

Anyway George, not a digression at all. There was a story of the Dalai Lama where he was invited to give a talk on Tibetan Metaphysics to an invited audience of 2000 people. He walked onto the stage, where a rather large chair had been readied for his royal presence, complete with a very large cushion. He sat himself down and found himself bouncing up and down a bit, which caused him to break into delighted chuckles. He preceded to bounce for a few seconds more, all the while smiling and laughing. Eventually, I suppose, he gave his profound lecture, but a zen master would have said the lecture had already been given!

 

We should all learn to bounce a little bit more.

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