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Chapter 9 of the Dhammapada for Awakening

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When the mind delights in evil

These next thirteen verses are entitled “Evil” in the Dhammapada text. It is as important to know how to deal with evil as to cultivate the good, as Buddha reveals to us. First he is going to speak of laxity as personal evil, as the path downward away from the light.

Be urgent in good; hold your thoughts off evil. When one is slack in doing good the mind delights in evil (Dhammapada 116).

Narada Thera: “Make haste in doing good; check your mind from evil; for the mind of him who is slow in doing meritorious actions delights in evil.”

Make haste in doing good. Check your mind from evil. Spiritual life is not moseying along the Path, all mellowed out and somnolent. Spiritual life is urgent; it is a sprinting toward the Goal before “the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4), the night of sickness, old age, and death as well as the morass of moral turpitude into which even the best aspirant can fall if he is neglectful.

Very few seekers fail because they suddenly turn and pursue ignorance and evil. Rather, they slide into the downward spiral through laxity and lack of vigilance. No matter how well regulated our outer life may be, there is evil lurking around every corner of the subconscious mind in the form of negative samskaras and vasanas. For that reason we must always be in charge of our mind, restraining it from wandering into the dark corners and getting into trouble. For the undisciplined mind is sure to pursue evil.

Of course there are those who preach the gospel of spiritual laxity. They can sense when a person is striving to move higher in life and consciousness, and keep insisting to them: “You can be too religious.” “You can have too much discipline.” You can do too much, you know.” “You can go too far if you aren’t careful.” “God could not expect for you to….” “God doesn’t care about….” And always said with the implication that you are a fanatic and a fool, or they are afraid that you may become one. Often these are really “foxes without tails” as in the old fable, embittered at the thought of someone not messing up their life the way they have theirs.

The aunt of Saint Teresa of the Andes waged a virtual war against her becoming a nun, so imagine her amazement when her mother told her: “You aunt very much wanted to be a nun when she was your age.” But instead she had become a shallow, greedy worldling, caring for none but herself. Saint Teresa resisted her machinations and today is listed among the saints of Christ. We must be like her. Just before she left for the convent, an unsuccessfully aspiring boyfriend said to her: “I am sorry you did not find someone worthy of your love.” “Oh, but I have!” she replied.

The mind of him who is slow in doing meritorious actions delights in evil. Now this is the outright truth. It is not a matter of mere laziness, but of a corrupted and corrupting heart. I cannot count the number of times I have seen people setting themselves up to fail and crash in spiritual life. They would weave the flimsiest veils around their mind’s eye in order to blind themselves to the truth of their intentions. Some would build great structures of specious reasoning to convince anyone who might question their folly. I will admit that for a time I did not realize their deceit, and when they tried to convince me of the rightness of their evil I would patiently point out the fallacies, assuming they were sincere. Then in a week or two they would be back with another set of fantasies. Finally I had enough sense to realize that it was not a question of whether or not they would abandon spiritual life, but only when. All I was doing was frustrating their desires and earning their resentment. So from then on I would make some inane remark about how each person had to find their individual way and let them go on to destruction. As God said through the prophet David: “I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels” (Psalms 81:12).

“Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).

Be not inclined to evil

If a man has done evil, let him not keep on doing it. Let him not create an inclination to it. The accumulation of evil means suffering (Dhammapada 117).

If a man has done evil, let him not keep on doing it. That seems pretty obvious, but the fact is that the negative ego habitually tricks people into repeating the wrong. “Why be a hypocrite? Be honest with yourself and quit all those impossible ‘holy’ ideas. After all, you are just a human like everybody else.” Accusing the aspirant of being a hypocrite if he does not keep on doing the negative action is, of course ridiculous, but those in the grip of evil are often fooled by it. Yes, it is hypocritical to claim aspiration to higher life and yet willingly do wrong things, but why should it be the aspiration that gets dropped? Why not the wrongdoing? But people fall into the trap all the time. Evil people do the same: when they see aspirants weakening or giving in, they sneer and bully them, mocking their aspirations. That is why in the Bible the force of cosmic negativity or Satan “the adversary” is also called the Devil, diabolos, which means slanderer and accuser (see Revelation 12:10). Of course the real enemy is the ego itself, and since that lives within us (or seems to), it must be ruthlessly reckoned with and all its suggestions ignored–not argued with, for that way lies possible delusion.

Let him not create an inclination to it. Wrong actions can become a habit, therefore new ones should not be repeated, and old ones, even if they have been engaged in for years (and no doubt lifetimes) must be stopped–not slowed, but stopped. This can be done. As Yogananda said, if we don’t have will power, we must develop won’t power.

The accumulation of evil means suffering. Suffering comes from the accumulation of evil in the form of negative karma. As we cannot hold live coals in our bare hand and not be burned, in the same way the presence of evil karma produces inner and outer suffering, either right now or later on. That is its nature. Therefore we must avoid it by every means if we would escape suffering.

Be inclined to good

If a man has done good, let him keep on doing it. Let him create an inclination to it. The accumulation of good means happiness (Dhammapada 118).

Everything said above applies to this, but in the opposite manner.

Fruition of good and evil
An evil man encounters good so long as his evil behavior does not bear fruit, but when his evil behavior bears fruit, then the evil man encounters the evil consequences.

A good man encounters evil so long as his good behavior does not bear fruit, but when his good behavior bears fruit, then the good man encounters the good consequences (Dhammapada 119, 120).

Buddha warned people to be very cautious regarding the matter of cause and effect, saying that it was very easy to make a mistaken attribution. We see this even now: people living to be over a hundred supposedly because they drink whisky or smoke cigarettes every day. When I was a child I heard it said that some people were too mean or too evil to get sick or die, and it seemed to be the case, even though it was not. When wrongdoers are seen to be thriving or content, many feel that the law of cause and effect is not operative in their lives, but Buddha is explaining that at the moment they are reaping the effects of past good karma, but in time they will reap the evil, as well. By observing a person’s present life we certainly can see what kind of karma they created some time previously, and can know what kind will be coming to them later on.

Do not think lightly of evil or good

Do not think lightly of evil that not the least consequence will come of it. A whole waterpot will fill up from dripping drops of water. A fool fills himself with evil, just a little at a time (Dhammapada 121).

I once read an essay on what constituted a genuinely evil person. One trait was the insistence that rules and laws did not apply to them, that they could break the rules and laws and suffer no negative reaction. Sociopaths and maniacs throughout history have claimed themselves to be above the law of cause and effect, but they have always been proven wrong.

Another form of sociopathy and mania does not claim to be above the wrong deeds, but insists that the deeds are not wrong. “Those little things don’t matter,” they say, and they often call them “little no-harms.” But in time they catch up with them and have become big harms. “Little drops of water, little grains of sand, make the mighty ocean and the mighty strand.” It has now been over sixty years since I sang those words in Sunday School, but they are as true as ever. “Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man” (Proverbs 6:10, 24:33). Habitual “little evil” is the path to eventual great evil, both in deed and in consequence. “Little white lies” turn into large black falsehood eventually–and karmically.

Do not think lightly of good that not the least consequence will come of it. A whole waterpot will fill up from dripping drops of water. A wise man fills himself with good, just a little at a time (Dhammapada 122).

Just reverse what was said about evil and you get the message.

Avoiding evil

One should avoid evil like a merchant with much goods and only a small escort avoids a dangerous road, and like a man who loves life avoids poison (Dhammapada 123).

It is quite fashionable to kick at the Roman Catholic Church nowadays, but I was an adult before encountering in Catholic literature the idea that the wise avoid “the near occasion of sin.” It was obvious good sense, but I had never heard of it before in my Fundamentalist “hallelujah, glory, glory” religion. (I learned a great deal more wisdom from the “Scarlet Woman,” and am most grateful.) Buddha has the same view. Also implied here is a wise and positive sense of our susceptibility to evil and an avoidance of foolhardy confidence in our wisdom and strength to withstand or detect evil. There is a time to take evil very seriously, as seriously as we view good.

If there is no wound on one’s hand, one can handle poison. Poison has no effect where there is no wound. There is no evil for the non-doer [of evil] (Dhammapada 124).

The main idea is that there can be no evil consequences for those that avoid evil, but equally important is the implication that evil is fundamentally internal. Evil karma is internal, not external. It is not the overt act that creates the karma, but the thinking and putting forth of will that creates it. That is why the thought can create the karma even if there is no external act (see Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28).


Whoever does harm to an innocent man, a pure man and a faultless one, the evil comes back on that fool, like fine dust thrown into the wind (Dhammapada 125).

Narada Thera: “Whoever harms a harmless person, one pure and guiltless, upon that very fool the evil recoils like fine dust thrown against the wind.”

This should seem obvious to anyone who looks into dharma, but I think Buddha included this statement because the good and the holy desire no vengeance and always forgive those who wrong them, and even refuse to reveal their identity. Often saints have said that they would leave a place if those who harmed them were punished. Naturally this could make people assume that their blessing would prevent any retribution, even metaphysical. But that is not so. It is the nature of saints to forgive and wish well to all, but it is the nature of karma to be eventually faced–both are part of the Cosmic Law. Further, the weight of karma is determined partly by the character of the person wronged. It is much heavier karma to wrong a good or holy person than an evil one. This is not a value judgment on the part of the universe, but a matter of the strength of the very life force of the person wronged. I have witnessed this myself, having seen swift and intense reaction come upon those who wronged or even insulted those who were engaging in intense tapasya. Others have told me of instances in which death resulted from injuring a great yogi or master. I know of two situations in which the transgressors and their families died shortly after the offense. It gave me a very healthy respect for the law of cause and effect.


Some are reborn in a human womb, evil-doers go to hell, the good go to heaven, and those without defilements achieve final liberation [Nirvana] (Dhammapada 126).

Some karmas are over quickly, but the most long-lasting are the karmas that result in rebirth. Those that have mixed–good and evil–karma are reborn on earth where both types of karma easily come to fruition. Those with evil karma go to the “hells”–those astral regions where intense karma can be undergone without the person dying from the effects. Those with positive karma go to the “heavens”–astral regions where their happiness will not be clouded by the possibility or presence of suffering. Those who wisely have dissolved their karma, enter Nirvana, for Nirvana can never be the effect of any cause–only the absence of cause and effect.

Inevitable reaction

Not in the sky, nor in the depths of the sea, nor hiding in the cleft of the rocks, there is no place on earth where one can take one’s stand to escape from an evil deed (Dhammapada 127).

Nor is there any place in the subtle worlds to escape, as the preceding implies.

Not in the sky, nor in the depths of the sea, nor hiding in the cleft of the rocks, there is no place on earth where one can take one’s stand to not be overcome by death (Dhammapada 128).

For death is the fundamental effect of negative karma. So it is not death we must seek to avoid, but negative karma, the cause of death.

Next article in the Dhammapada for Awakening: The Rod

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Chapters in the Dhammapada for Awakening:

Introduction to the Dhammapada

The History of the Dhammapada

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