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Chapter 21 of the Dhammapada for Awakening

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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 being. The Bhagavad Gita describes such a person in this way: “He whose Self is unattached to external contacts, who finds happiness in the Self, whose Self is united to Brahman by yoga, reaches imperishable happiness” (Bhagavad Gita 5:21). “The yogi whose mind is truly tranquil, with emotions (passions) calmed, free of evil, having become one with Brahman, attains the supreme happiness. (6:27)

Thus constantly engaging himself in the practice of yoga, that yogi, freed from evil, easily contacting (touching) Brahman, attains boundless happiness” (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–including the taking of their life–then we are embodiments of hatred, of enmity for humanity. “Evil-doers (wrongdoers), the lowest (vilest; worst) of men, bereft of knowledge by maya, do not resort to (seek) me, being attached to (existing within) a demonic mode of existence” (Bhagavad Gita 7:15). The Gita further describes such people in these words: “Demonic men know not what to do or refrain from; purity is not found in them, nor is good conduct, nor is truth…. Holding this view, these lost souls, small-minded and of cruel deeds, arise as the enemies of the world, bent on its destruction. Attached to insatiable desires, full of hypocrisy, arrogance and intoxication, having accepted false ideas through delusion, they act with foul purposes. Clinging to boundless cares ending only in death, with gratification of desire as their highest aim–convinced that this is all–bound by a hundred snares of hope, given over to desire (lust) and anger, they seek to gain by unjust means accumulation of wealth to gratify their desires. ‘Today this has been acquired by me. This I shall also obtain. This is mine, and this gain also shall be mine. That enemy has been slain by me, and I shall slay others, too, for I am the Lord, I am the enjoyer, I am successful, powerful, and happy. I am wealthy and high-born,’ they say, ‘who else is equal to me? I shall sacrifice, I shall give, I shall rejoice.’ Thus, they are deluded by ignorance. Led astray by many imagined fancies, caught in a net of delusion, addicted to the gratifying of desire, they fall into a foul hell…. Clinging to egotism, power, haughtiness, desire and anger, these malignant people hate me in their own and in others’ bodies. These malicious evildoers, cruel, most degraded of men, I hurl perpetually into only the wombs of demons here. Entering the demonic wombs, and deluded birth after birth, not attaining to me they fall into a still (progressively) lower condition” (Bhagavad Gita 16:7, 9-16, 18-20).

I know I cited this when commenting on verses fifteen and sixteen, but it is also relevant here, and not to be forgotten.

Wrong priorities

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.”

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 beings, 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 and response that occurs when people hear the teaching of Eternal Wisdom. Some rise to life, and others rise to willful death of the the spirit-consciousness. No longer unaware of the laws of spiritual life (and death), their subsequent actions will determine their expansion or contraction of consciousness. So Buddha says:
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 on 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. 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 is 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.

Receiving honor

When a man has faith, is endowed with virtue, and possessed of fame and wealth, wherever he lives he will be honored (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. Kaivalya, independence, is a term for liberation used from ancient times. Even if surrounded by many others, the seeker is by the nature of his search always alone in the sense of isolation and independence. 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

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Chapters in the Dhammapada for Awakening:

Introduction to the Dhammapada

The History of the Dhammapada

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