Happiness for happiness
“If he sees that by sacrificing a slight happiness he can obtain a greater happiness, then a wise man should sacrifice the lesser happiness with a view to the greater happiness” (Dhammapada 290).
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to progress in spiritual life is our clinging to the pitiful things of earth which give only a fleeting and illusory happiness that usually results in some form of pain. Infinite joy (ananda) awaits us in the higher states of consciousness that culminate in the realization of God, yet we cling to the petty and unsure pleasures of relative existence, and thereby miss the everlasting abundance of Divine Bliss. Rare is the person who understands that by letting go of the tiny joys of earth it becomes possible to lay hold of eternal happiness that is boundless in its abundance and scope. Rarer still is the person who gladly and wisely tosses aside the attractions of this world to ascend to those of Divinity Itself.
This verse gives the perspective that all sadhakas should hold in relation to the necessary disciplines and sacrifices of the yogic path. Rather than grudgingly letting go of the tinsel of earth they gladly drop them in confidence of gaining joys presently inconceivable to the ordinary human beings. The Bhagavad Gita describes such a person in this way: “His mind is dead to the touch of the external: it is alive to the bliss of the Atman. Because his heart knows Brahman his happiness is for ever” (Bhagavad Gita 5:21). “Utterly quiet, made clean of passion, the mind of the yogi knows that Brahman: his bliss is the highest. Released from evil his mind is constant in contemplation: the way is easy, Brahman has touched him, that bliss is boundless” (Bhagavad Gita 6:27, 28).
The wrong path
“He who seeks his own happiness by inflicting suffering on others, does not reach freedom from hatred, caught as he is in the toils of hatred” (Dhammapada 291).
Venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu: “He wants his own ease by giving others dis-ease. Intertwined in the interaction of hostility, from hostility he’s not set free.”
This unhappy mode of living is seen all around us, from the petty selfishness of individuals to the outrageous disregard of humanity by greedy business and government. Often it is cloaked in a pretense of seeking a higher good or even setting things in order. The Nazis specialized in this insane evil.
Here Buddha tells us the unerring principle that if our happiness or welfare involves the suffering or deprivation of others–even the taking of their life–then we are embodiments of hatred, of enmity for humanity. “These are deluded, sunk low among mortals. Their judgment is lost in the maze of Maya, until the heart is human no longer: changed within to the heart of a devil” (Bhagavad Gita 7:15). The Gita further describes such people in these words:
“There is no truth in them, or purity, or right conduct.…In the darkness of their little minds, these degraded creatures do horrible deeds, attempting to destroy the world. They are enemies of mankind. Their lust can never be appeased. They are arrogant, and vain, and drunk with pride. They run blindly after what is evil. The ends they work for are unclean. They are sure that life has only one purpose: gratification of the senses. And so they are plagued by innumerable cares, from which death alone can release them. Anxiety binds them with a hundred chains, delivering them over to lust and wrath. They are ceaselessly busy, piling up dishonest gains to satisfy their cravings. ‘I wanted this and today I got it. I want that: I shall get it tomorrow. All these riches are now mine: soon I shall have more. I have killed this enemy. I will kill all the rest. I am a ruler of men. I enjoy the things of this world. I am successful, strong and happy. Who is my equal? I am so wealthy and so nobly born. I will sacrifice to the gods. I will give alms. I will make merry.’ That is what they say to themselves, in the blindness of their ignorance. They are addicts of sensual pleasure, made restless by their many desires, and caught in the net of delusion. They fall into the filthy hell of their own evil minds.…These malignant creatures are full of egoism, vanity, lust, wrath, and consciousness of power. They loathe me, and deny my presence both in themselves and in others. They are enemies of all men and of myself; cruel, despicable and vile. I cast them back, again and again, into the wombs of degraded parents, subjecting them to the wheel of birth and death. And so they are constantly reborn, in degradation and delusion. They do not reach me, but sink down to the lowest possible condition of the soul” (Bhagavad Gita 16:7, 9-16, 18-20).
“What IS their affair is put aside. What is NOT their affair gets done. The inflow of thoughts in such brazen and careless people just goes on increasing” (Dhammapada 292).
Harischandra Kaviratna: “If what ought to be done is neglected, and what ought not to be done is done, then the sensuous influxes of the arrogant and the heedless increase.”
This is a thumbnail sketch of the human race in general: arrogant and heedless of realities, they despise and refuse to do what is right, and insist on loving and doing the wrong. That is the simple fact. So naturally the inflow of desires and aversions and foolish aspirations just keep on flowing in, drowning their spiritual consciousness and turning them into morally insane delusionals–hopelessly so, in most instances. Their heart–prayer is: “Lead us from the Real to the unreal; from Light to darkness; from Immortality to death.” And their prayer is abundantly answered from life to life. As I just quoted: “The evil-doers turn not toward me: these are deluded, sunk low among mortals. Their judgment is lost in the maze of Maya, until the heart is human no longer: changed within to the heart of a devil” (Bhagavad Gita 7:15).
“They whose recollection of the body is always well established, however, have nothing to do with what is not their affair, always persevering in what IS their affair. The inflow of thoughts in such recollected and aware people simply dies away” (Dhammapada 293).
Harischandra Kaviratna: “Those who are constantly watchful as to the nature of the body, who abstain from doing what ought not to be done, who strive to perform the deeds that ought to be done, who are mindful and self-restrained–in such men the sensuous influxes are extinguished.”
Those who understand what is mortal and what is immortal, avoid wrong and gravitate toward the right, their innate goodness finally rising to the surface and bringing hope of their further emergence into the Light of Reality. To those who continually seek the Good and the True, impulses opposing their upward movement become weakened and then altogether annihilated.
“After killing mother, father and two warrior kings, and destroying the kingdom along with its subjects, the brahmin goes on his way unperturbed” (Dhammapada 294).
I must admit that I am disgusted with these mindless bumper stickers that say: “War is not the answer.” To what? It certainly is the answer to aggressive evil. The same is true of the moronic statement: “Violence never settled anything.” It certainly took care of Hitler and company and a lot of other aggressive criminals. Certainly no morally sane person likes war or violence, but having been born on the battlefield of this world they have to be reckoned with.
Buddha–born a member of the warrior caste–here exhorts us to inner warfare. It it pretty well agreed that “mother” is desire and “father” is egotism, but the rest is not so assured. Basically, kings and kingdom–distracting powers and that upon which they so effectively act–should be destroyed along with all they imply and which are their side-effects. Only when this is done can the Brahmin–the Knower of Brahman–walk through life unperturbed. For this reason the Gita says:
“Smoke hides fire, dust hides a mirror, the womb hides the embryo: by lust the Atman is hidden. Lust hides the Atman in its hungry flames, the wise man’s faithful foe. Intellect, senses and mind are fuel to its fire: thus it deludes the dweller in the body, bewildering his judgment. Therefore, Arjuna, you must first control your senses, then kill this evil thing which obstructs discriminative knowledge and realization of the Atman.…Get control of the mind through spiritual discrimination. Then destroy your elusive enemy, who wears the form of lust” (Bhagavad Gita 3:38-41, 43).
When we realize that Jesus was brought up on the spiritual traditions of the East, including Buddhism, and that he lived in Buddhist centers in India, we can understand what he really meant when he said: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). He is speaking of inner forces, not our families. Without an understanding of Indian religion (including Buddhism and Jainism as well as Hinduism) we cannot understand Jesus and his teachings.
Buddha continues the theme, saying:
“After killing mother, father and two priestly kings, and killed a tiger as his fifth victim, the brahmin goes on his way unperturbed” (Dhammapada 295).
First he spoke of warrior kings–forces for personal gain and satisfaction–and now he speaks of priestly kings: forces of externalized philosophy and religion that really lead away from the reality of the aspirant’s true nature. Whether the tiger is ego, desire, delusion, or suchlike, everything that is not real must be destroyed out of our consciousness. Then we can go on our way in peace toward Nirvana.
The next six verses–in the translation of Venerable Narada Thera–begin with the words “well awakened the disciples of Gautama ever arise….” There are many kinds of awakening that come to human being, most of them negative such as awakening to the possibilities of ego and evil in its many forms. That is wrong awakening in contrast to the rare and wondrous awakening of which Buddha is going to speak.
As a student of Buddhist wisdom, Jesus was quite aware of these verses, and spoke of the two kinds of awakening–which he called “rising up” even though the English translations usually say “resurrection.” He said: “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation [krisis–accusation or condemnation]” (John 5:28, 29). This has nothing to do with a mythological “last day” or end of the world, but is speaking of the effect/response that will occur when people hear and are moved by the speaking of Eternal Wisdom. Some rise to life, and others rise to willful death of the the spirit-consciousness. No long unaware of the laws of spiritual life (and death), their subsequent actions will determine their expansion or contraction of consciousness.
“Well awakened the disciples of Gautama ever arise–they who by day and night always contemplate the Buddha.
“Well awakened the disciples of Gautama ever arise–they who by day and night always contemplate the Dharma.
“Well awakened the disciples of Gautama ever arise–they who by day and night always contemplate the Sangha” (Dhammapada 296-298).
These are of course the Three Refuges of those who ascribe to Buddhism. They are interpreted both externally and internally. The internal principles are the Buddha nature of each sentient being, the Dharma that is the personal practice that will lead to Buddhahood, and the Sangha is gathering inward of the individual’s powers in order to orient and impel them toward the attainment of Nirvana. (Sometimes the third element is said to be spiritual association with Buddhas and Bodhisattwas that can be invoked by the aspirant to be of assistance in the path to Nirvana.)
“Well awakened the disciples of Gautama ever arise–they who by day and night always contemplate the body” (Dhammapada 299).
Those who remain ever aware of the temporary and unreliable nature of the body–including the “body” of the material universe–will retain the correct perspective on their momentary life in this world and will develop the requisite attitudes toward them, especially intense disinterest and detachment.
“Well awakened the disciples of Gautama ever arise–they who by day and night always delight in harmlessness” (Dhammapada 300).
Ahimsa, nonviolence, is an absolute requisite for following the Buddha Way. (“Buddhism” is a word coined by Western scholars for the teaching of Buddha, but Buddha Tao was the name given to it for over two thousand years by its followers.) And it is to be delighted in, not acted upon grudgingly or with dragging feet. Without a perfect–total–observance of ahimsa there no possibility of enlightenment.
“Well awakened the disciples of Gautama ever arise–they who by day and night always delight in meditation” (Dhammapada 301).
What I said just now about ahimsa applies to meditation as well.
The causes of difficulty in life
“Hard is the life gone forth, hard to delight in. Hard is the miserable householder’s life. It’s painful to stay with dissonant people, painful to travel the road. So be neither traveler nor pained” (Dhammapada 302–Thanissaro Bhikkhu).
“The life gone forth” is the usual term for monastic life. Here Buddha tells us that both the monastic and non-monastic life in this world are difficult and not easy to delight in. This is because both of them involve immersion in relative consciousness and intense awareness of this world. “The miserable householder’s life” means that the householder life is miserable right across the board without exception. The “happily married” are simply unconscious of their perilous status–as are many monastics. In other words, life in this world is problematic whatever its external modes may be. The monastic must not be proud of his life and think he is superior to others, for if he is clear-sighted he will see that he is in the same boat as everyone else. As someone once remarked: “If you are on the Titanic it does not matter if you are booked in first class or steerage.” The wise are ever aware of this and seek Nirvana whatever the external conditions of their life.
Everyone knows that living with discordant people is painful, and the world is composed of little else. All translators agree that a “traveller” is one enmeshed in the cycle of birth and death, whether in or out of the body (between incarnations). So we must become inwardly calm amidst the dissonant and eventually extricate ourselves altogether from “traveling” in any form.
“When a man has faith, is endowed with virtue, and possessed of fame and wealth, wherever he lives he will be honoured” (Dhammapada 303).
However, there is a great difference between those endowed with faith and virtue and those who are famous and wealthy. Usually those with fame and wealth are valueless in association, whereas the faithful and virtuous are of of great value when met with. One kind gains the honor of the deluded world and the other has the honor of the wise and those who seek to become wise.
“The good are conspicuous a long way off, like a Himalayan peak, while the bad are just not noticed, like arrows shot into the dark” (Dhammapada 303, 304).
This is the viewpoint of the seekers after enlightenment and those that are enlightened. The good are seen and the bad are unseen. The good exist in the world of wisdom and the bad and ignorant simply are ghosts to those pursuing the True. The good are “real” and the others are “unreal.” And it should be so for us. We should have no negative reactions to the negative, but expend our attention and energies on associating with and honoring the good.
Living alone in the forest
“Living alone, sleeping alone, traveling alone, and resolute, alone and self disciplined, one should take pleasure in living in the forest” (Dhammapada 305).
Buddha loved the forest life and permitted no other life for the monks, but some authoritative translators say that “the forest” is this world of desires and delusions. The seeker, even if surrounded by many others, is by the nature of his search always alone in the sense of isolation and independence, kaivalya–independence–being a term for liberation from ancient times. It is interesting that “monk” (monachos) means “one who lives alone” even though some monasteries have contained hundreds and even thousands of monks. (The monastery of Saint Pachomius in Egypt once had over thirty thousand monks.) A contemporary book on monastic life was aptly entitled Living Together Alone. Those who wish to live in a herd and have “community” are not fit for the monastic life, nor are monastic foundations that are herds or “families” true monasteries.
Next article in the Dhammapada for Awakening: A Woeful State
Chapters in the Dhammapada for Awakening:
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