The Dhammapada exploration – part 16: Affection/dear ones

Coming to this chapter of the Dhammapada, I have to reiterate that it’s always good to look at multiple translations of Buddhist texts. In this series I usually use the Buddharakkhita one, but Access to Insight also hosts the one by Thanissaro Bhikku. The differences in translation can be pretty profound sometimes.

One example that fucked stuff up a little for Buddhism in the west is the difference between non-aggression and love. The Pali term metta is used for an active kind of well-feeling, loving-kindness towards others, and it’s often translated as love. Christian commentators of the new times also make use of the word “love”, but in my mind they pervert what is meant.

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The Dhammapada exploration – part 15: Happiness

So we talked about death earlier, and you know you’re gonna die, you’re already dying right this very minute. A cheerful thing to know. But there you thought Buddhism is all about serenity and happiness. “What use is this Buddhism crap if it doesn’t make me happy?”

An excellent question. The Buddhism crap is useful, but only in order to realize that you produce your own suffering. So stop doing that, and you will be happy. Here’s how:

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The Dhammapada exploration – part 14: The awakened

Whew, it’s been a while since the last Dhammapada exploration, but I relaunch it with a nice one: The awakened, the Buddha. Or you could also spell it “the buddha”. The historical Buddha, Siddharta Gotama, never claimed that he was “the” Buddha. He was a buddha. Just like you can be a buddha, an awakened one.

This isn’t some mad vision-seeing and LSD-trip-like awakening we’re talking about, either. It’s an awakening that lets you see, first-hand, the true nature of things. Nothing more and nothing less. And once you have it, will you be happy? You might, at least one of the living buddhas, Matthieu Ricard, is said to be the happiest man on this planet. Will you be glowing all day long and grinning and smiling just from achieving realization? Probably not.

I have to paraphrase something I read perhaps from Brad Warner, but it might also go back to Dōgen: Before you get enlightenment, you think it is a thing of pure gold that shines with wonderful radiance to bathe everything in glory. Once you have it, you see it’s no more than a clump of shit.

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The Dhammapada exploration – part 13: The world

This is a series of articles I’m doing on one of the basic Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada. Read the rest of the articles in this series.

What is our relationship with the world? Not what is our purpose, I highly doubt there is one. But how do we interact with the world around us? Let’s find out some of the Buddhist views!

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The Dhammapada exploration – part 12: The self

This is a series of articles I’m doing on one of the basic Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada. Read the rest of the articles in this series.

Last time we talked about death, so let’s go to a more cheerful subject: self. Or is it more cheerful? We’ll see!

157. If one holds oneself dear, one should diligently watch oneself. Let the wise man keep vigil during any of the three watches of the night.

The three watches are childhood, youth and old age. Those who cultivate virtue can better take care of and protect the self through all these stages.

158. One should first establish oneself in what is proper; then only should one instruct others. Thus the wise man will not be reproached.

If you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t dispense it as wisdom.

159. One should do what one teaches others to do; if one would train others, one should be well controlled oneself. Difficult, indeed, is self-control.

Practice what you preach. This is such deeply wise advice and it works for any situation. Recently I’ve read that companies led by people who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk perform even more poorly than companies led by people who are themselves bad at work, but who are at least honest with their employees about that. Of course teams where the team leader was honest and hard-working turned out to also become honest and hard-working.

So this stuff works.

160. One truly is the protector of oneself; who else could the protector be? With oneself fully controlled, one gains a mastery that is hard to gain.

You can’t charge others with protecting you. If you have an alcohol problem, you can’t say “friends, please don’t allow me to drink at tonight’s party, I know I will lose control and be fucking drunk as hell and I’ll be insulting the host and trying to sleep with his husband”.

This control has to come from you. That’s why it’s self-control, duh.

161. The evil a witless man does by himself, born of himself and produced by himself, grinds him as a diamond grinds a hard gem.

Evil and unwise actions you perform will hafe an effect on you, sooner or later.

162. Just as a single creeper strangles the tree on which it grows, even so, a man who is exceedingly depraved harms himself as only an enemy might wish.

This is awesome. By not being skillful you strangle your own development. You’re your own worst enemy, you are able to be worse to yourself than even your worst enemy could be.

163. Easy to do are things that are bad and harmful to oneself. But exceedingly difficult to do are things that are good and beneficial.

No one said it’s gonna be easy to cultivate wisdom and right action. And this verse again tells you so. No easy peasy marching into paradise simply by believing in some savior or some prophet’s visions. The path is as difficult as it is wonderful.

164. Whoever, on account of perverted views, scorns the Teaching of the Perfected Ones, the Noble and Righteous Ones — that fool, like the bamboo, produces fruits only for self destruction.

If you speak out against the wisdom from a position of ignorance or perhaps even ill will, that will not benefit you. You foolish bamboo.

165. By oneself is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself is one made pure. Purity and impurity depend on oneself; no one can purify another.

This might ring a bell if you know humanism (in the sense of secular humanism). Buddhism is very much a human-centered philosophy. Everything is your responsibility and your responsibility alone. No interventionist gods, no shifting responsibility to your family.

Remember an earlier verse where it was said that you can’t even hold your own parents responsible for your fate? It’s like that. Some find it scary to have to rely only on yourself. Some call it egoistic, but is it egoistic to be self-reliant and responsible or is the inverse true? By being that way, you place no burden on anyone else. I find that to have nothing to do with egoism.

Of course we’ve already learned that according to Buddhist the ego, the self does not exist, we are non-self, anatta.

166. Let one not neglect one’s own welfare for the sake of another, however great. Clearly understanding one’s own welfare, let one be intent upon the good.

Thanissaro Bhikku has this as “Don’t sacrifice your own welfare for that of another.” Some interpretations take “welfare” to mean spiritual progress. So make sure your own progress is unhindered first, before helping others.

I interpret this also as taking care of your own life, a decent income and living quarters first before attempting to establish the same for others. If you’re struggling to pay the rent, even if your intentions are good, donating to the poor might not be a good idea at that point. It might be uplifting in the short term, but the next month you’ll have less, and before you know it you yourself will be in need of help from others.

Instead those who have already established stable conditions for themselves should share. There’s also nothing wrong with getting filthy rich (through decent means, of course) and then sharing a lot of that, even if you end up building factory after factory or office building after office building and if you are greatly successful. You share your own fortune by creating jobs, by keeping the cash flowing.

If you just buy yacht after yacht to feed your greed and indulge in many sense-pleasures, that would not be in the sense of the word in my opinion. But even being stinking filthy rich, you can be beneficial to society.

Look at Elon Musk, for example. I wouldn’t want to look too closely at how he established his fortune, but no one can deny that he creates a lot of jobs and has invested a great deal of money in furthering the advancement of the human race, he’s doing his share of attempting to save the planet.

Now you can say “But oh, what about all the displaced people from Eritrea, what about the hungry in refugee camps in Syria, how has Elon helped them? He hasn’t!” and you might be right, even though we don’t know if he donates to Médecins Sans Frontieres. This still does not diminish the value of his positive intentions.

Just like the Gates family with their Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It might be true that the foundation exists also to funnel donated money into primarily US companies by clever stock market trading. Thereby shareholder value is increased and it maybe drives this or that greedy CEO to orgasms. That might all be true. But Bill also seems to have a genuine interest in defeating malaria and in making sure a further ebola outbreak does not wipe out half the human race.

At least these parts of those intentions are good. They bear good kammic fruit. If shady means are utilized, well, then those bear bad kammic fruit. But I didn’t actually want to go there, I just wanted to give some examples of how egoism and selflessness are not always aligned in the way we commonly think.

The Dhammapada exploration – part 11: Old age

This is a series of articles I’m doing on one of the basic Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada. Read the rest of the articles in this series.

The Dhammapada touches on so many things, but weirdest for westerners is probably thinking about old age and death. We like to avoid that in our youth-obsessed culture.

So are you ready to get old, sick and die? I thought so! Here we go!

146. When this world is ever ablaze, why this laughter, why this jubilation? Shrouded in darkness, will you not see the light?

Thanissaro has this last bit as “Enveloped in darkness, don’t you look for a lamp?”

We have to stray a little to get this one. The flames are the flames of passion, the darkness is your ignorance. We are all easily engulfed by these flames. And I mean sense pleasures here. You are ignorant of the emptiness of these pleasures. But by developing wisdom (the light) you can see right through to the truth of their emptiness and no longer be attached (or engulfed by them).

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The Dhammapada exploration – part 10: Violence/punishment

This is a series of articles I’m doing on one of the basic Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada. Read the rest of the articles in this series.

Ah, punishment! We talked about evil in the last episode, surely Buddhism prescribes a lot of punishment for evil deeds! Those monks, do they self-flagellate in silence? If you steal, should you cut off a finger or two? Let’s find out!

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The Dhammapada exploration – part 9: Evil

This is a series of articles I’m doing on one of the basic Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada. Read the rest of the articles in this series.

Ho boy, this week it’s all about evil! But didn’t I write earlier that Buddhism is non-dualistic? So why does it have an idea of evil? The key perhaps is that Buddhism doesn’t have any absolute good and evil. It’s all a gradient. Most things are. So let’s see what they wrote about this:

116. Hasten to do good; restrain your mind from evil. He who is slow in doing good, his mind delights in evil.

If you have an intention to do good, follow the impulse, immediately. If you think “hmm, I’ll give this beggar five bucks, it’s not gonna hurt me”, don’t dwell on it until you think “hey, maybe I can keep the five bucks and instead buy more video games on Steam for myself”.

It’s a stupidly trivial example, but you get the idea: When an impulse to do good arises, do not slow it down, do not overthink it. Act.

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The Dhammapada exploration – part 8: Thousands

This is a series of articles I’m doing on one of the basic Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada. Read the rest of the articles in this series.

Chapter 9 powerfully drives home the size and importance of the dhamma (the teaching, wisdom, knowledge, the true nature of reality), of the practice, of mental concentration.

100. Better than a thousand useless words is one useful word, hearing which one attains peace.

101. Better than a thousand useless verses is one useful verse, hearing which one attains peace.

102. Better than reciting a hundred meaningless verses is the reciting of one verse of Dhamma, hearing which one attains peace.

What’s funny about this is that the Buddhist canon consists of thousands upon thousands of verses itself.

Then again, you have to consider that Buddhist teaching was often phrased in a way that can be understood by anyone and everyone. There are more advanced texts, there are verses regulating monastic life, there is advice about worldly things. Not every bit of Buddhist teaching will be important or useful to everyone.

Anyhow, the core message here is that you can write a billion words, if none of them is useful, it’s a waste.

103. Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.

I totally enjoy this one. It’s indeed easier to just slap someone in the face than to must the will to overcome your own fears, insecurities, imperfections and shortcomings.

104-105. Self-conquest is far better than the conquest of others. Not even a god, an angel, Mara or Brahma can turn into defeat the victory of a person who is self-subdued and ever restrained in conduct.

We’ve seen Mara before, and Brahma was said to be the chief god of the hinduistic religions at the time of the Buddha, that’s why he appears in these texts. If you conquer yourself, nothing can undo this victory.

106. Though month after month for a hundred years one should offer sacrifices by the thousands, yet if only for a moment one should worship those of perfected minds that honor is indeed better than a century of sacrifice.

107. Though for a hundred years one should tend the sacrificial fire in the forest, yet if only for a moment one should worship those of perfected minds, that worship is indeed better than a century of sacrifice.

If you recognize the wisdom of a wisest one, an arahant, this is worth more than a thousand empty rituals.

108. Whatever gifts and oblations one seeking merit might offer in this world for a whole year, all that is not worth one fourth of the merit gained by revering the Upright Ones, which is truly excellent.

109. To one ever eager to revere and serve the elders, these four blessing accrue: long life and beauty, happiness and power.

Well, you can hope for that. But you can also see this as so much superstitious poppycock. It is also in contradiction to other Dhammapada passages where it is said that not your parents, only you yourself can make wise choices for yourself.

But choosing your own path does not have to conflict with being respectful towards elders. I’m not sure what the Pali word was that was translated as “elders” here, but some translations have it as “the worthy ones”, not the elders. I like that one much better, because just by being older one does not necessarily become wise, and I see no reason to revere a person if they are merely old but foolish.

110. Better it is to live one day virtuous and meditative than to live a hundred years immoral and uncontrolled.

111. Better it is to live one day wise and meditative than to live a hundred years foolish and uncontrolled.

112. Better it is to live one day strenuous and resolute than to live a hundred years sluggish and dissipated.

113. Better it is to live one day seeing the rise and fall of things than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things.

The rise and fall is connected to dependend origination. Something we haven’t seen too much of in the Dhammapada so far, but that is a core concept of Buddhism.

114. Better it is to live one day seeing the Deathless than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the Deathless.

115. Better it is to live one day seeing the Supreme Truth than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the Supreme Truth.

The deathless (amata, not to be confused with anatta, the non-self or non-soul) is not immortality. Instead the deathless state is one of full awareness, of getting rid of clinging, of Nibbana.Join me next time if you’ve like this, when we explore one of my favorite topics: evil!

The Dhammapada exploration – part 7: Arahants

This is a series of articles I’m doing on one of the basic Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada. Read the rest of the articles in this series.

Buddhism often concerns itself with wisdom. Wisdom is not the same as intelligence, as being smart. Wisdom comes from direct experience of reality and can be cultivated, not learned from a book. So even if you enjoy the Dhammapada for what it is, you must also practice the cultivation of wisdom, you must meditate. This is not a matter of choosing. You can choose to learn about Buddhism intellectually, but the realization comes only by also practicing.

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