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The Buddhas

Chapter 14 of the Dhammapada for Awakening

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The fundamental teaching of Gautama (Sakyamuni) Buddha is that all human beings can attain Buddhahood, that until they do they will be subject to continual birth and death with all their attendant suffering. So now he is going to describe the status of those who have attained Nirvana and become Buddhas just as he did.

Transcendent being

He whose victory is not relost, and whose victory no one in the world can take away, that Buddha, whose home is in the infinite, pathless as he is, by what path will you lead him? (Dhammapada 179).

This is not easy to put in English, considering the vastly differing wording of translations. It might be best to look at Narada Thera’s very literal rendering: “Whose conquest is not turned into defeat, no conquered of his in this world follows him–that Buddha of infinite range, by which way will you lead him?” The English is awkward, but a phrase by phrase analysis will give us the meaning.

Whose conquest is not turned into defeat. The attainment of a Buddha is irreversible. The victory he has won will never be undone, for his victory is over birth and death, and the kingdom he has won is Infinite Consciousness.

No conquered of his in this world follows him. That which the Buddha has vanquished is gone forever; it shall never arise again for him.

That Buddha of infinite range. The cosmos is but a mote in the sunlight of a Buddha’s consciousness. Past, present, and future are one to him, as is relative and transcendent existence. And he dwells beyond even them.

By which way will you lead him? Having transcended all “ways” by gaining infinity, what path could he follow, even voluntarily? So the idea of anyone leading or influencing a Buddha is absurd. He has passed far beyond all the possibilities of relative existence.

Freedom from desire

He who has no entrapping, clinging desire to lead him in any direction, that Buddha, whose home is in the infinite, pathless as he is, by what path will you lead him? (Dhammapada 180).

Desirelessness is freedom from all compulsion and release into boundless Being.

Envy of the gods

Those wise men, who are much given to meditation and find pleasure in the peace of a spiritual way of life, even the devas envy them, perfect Buddhas and recollected as they are (Dhammapada 181).

Harischandra Kaviratna: “Those wise ones who are absorbed in meditation, who take delight in the inner calm of renunciation, such mindful and perfectly awakened ones even the devas (gods) hold dear.” Thanissaro Bhikkhu: “They, the enlightened, intent on jhana, delighting in stilling and renunciation, self-awakened and mindful: even the devas view them with envy.”

Here we have a list of the traits of Buddhas.

  1. They are wise, not in the sense of learned scholars or clever philosophers, but through enlightenment. They no longer think: they know.
  2. Meditation is the keynote of their life. They do not think that they have passed beyond the need for meditation, but like Gautama Buddha they meditate intensely until their last breath on earth. Their entire lives are the fruition of meditation.
  3. They find enjoyment and fulfillment in the peace that comes from renunciation. None but they can realize the joy of the path of the absolute renunciate who has nothing to turn back to, but moves ever onward in the depths of the Infinite.
  4. They are awakened, but not by external factors. They are sambuddhanam, self-awakened. That is, their long-buried, eternal Buddha Nature has emerged as the chick does from the egg, complete and independent. Their enlightenment has arisen from and depends on no factor but their own Buddha Nature.

No wonder the gods envy them, for the Buddhas have passed beyond all capacity for compulsion and suffering, whereas the gods will in time, when their positive karma is exhausted, fall right back into the world of human beings and once more be crucified on the cross of material consciousness.


A human birth is hard to achieve. Difficult is the life of mortals. To hear the true teaching is difficult, and the achievement of Buddhahood is difficult (Dhammapada 182).

There is nothing worthwhile that is not difficult. Those who seek an easy way are looking for dry water and cold fire–it is simply not in the nature of things.

It is difficult to get a human birth because our karma strands us in the astral world, sometimes for centuries. Also, many spirits are waiting for the right combination of earthly elements to be born, and those with similar needs literally scramble and struggle with one another to win the prize of conception. And then the trouble really begins, for “difficult is the life of mortals.” It is difficult to hear the true dharma for there is so little of it in the world and so few true teachers of it. It is also difficult because our darkened minds render us deaf to dharma when we hear it. It is rare to hear the dharma, but much, much rarer to recognize and embrace it. I do not think anyone doubts the difficulty of becoming a Buddha, but since everything is difficult, why not spend the time struggling for Buddhahood? That will end all difficulties permanently.

The teaching of the Buddhas

To abstain from all evil, the practice of good, and the thorough purification of one’s mind–this is the teaching of the Buddhas (Dhammapada 183).

This verse gets tossed off a lot in both East and West by Buddhists and non-Buddhists, perhaps because it sounds so simplistic and so non-invasive, simple, minimal–and noble. It reminds me of a British documentary about a man who traveled the world to acquaint himself with the various religions as they are really lived. In Japan he spoke with a real saint, the head of a sect of Amida Buddhists. The saint outlined the path of Amidism, and the man remarked that it sounded too simple and easy to him. The saint laughed and said: “Just try it.” So we must not take this verse as lightly as many do.

Who can abstain from all evil, physical, mental, and spiritual? All evil! Who can only do good? Only good! And this is not according to our ideas, but according to the ideas of the Buddhas, whose perfect purity is inconceivable. What a task: to thoroughly purify our mind. We have taken millions of years to get our mind into this defiled state, how long will it take to undefile it? Yet this is the teaching of the Buddhas, and there are no shortcuts or bargain days.

A few facts

Long-suffering patience is the supreme ascetic practice. Nirvana is supreme, say the Buddhas. He is certainly not an ascetic who hurts others, nor is he a man of religion who causes suffering to others (Dhammapada 184).

Long-suffering patience is the supreme ascetic practice. Endurance–cheerful endurance–is a necessity in spiritual practice, for the attempts at higher consciousness reveal our weakness, laziness, doubts and just plain cussedness. Like any other endeavor we are sure to have some falls and failures, and then the ego arises and condemns us for not being able or ready to lead a serious spiritual life. But that is a lie and we must close our ears to it.

Someone wrote to me, telling of serious spiritual failures and expressing profound discouragement and depression. This is what I wrote in response, and I hope it will be meaningful to you, mostly because it comes from conversations I have had with saints.

“Many mistakes–and even falls–can occur in spiritual life, but a person can always get up and keep journeying onward. As long as this is done there is always hope for eventual success. There is only one thing that can prevent this: discouragement. If the sadhaka becomes discouraged at his failures and begins to feel hopeless and gives up his efforts, then no improvement is possible. Because of this, discouragement is the worst thing that can happen to a sadhaka, for it will end all spiritual progress. Be sure that you never give into this most harmful thing, and you need never fear failure. If it occurs, arise and keep on moving. Then nothing will be able to stop you in reaching the Goal.”

Nirvana is supreme, say the Buddhas. This has two meanings. First, that Nirvana is the Absolute State, that there is nothing whatsoever beyond it. In writings of the Thai Forest Tradition we find the teaching that Nirvana is not just a state, but Ultimate Reality Itself. Nirvana is equated with the Buddha Nature as expressed by Mahayana Buddhists. Second, the attainment of Nirvana is the supreme necessity and should be the highest priority in the lives of those who would follow Buddha Dharma, the Buddha Tao. (“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.) Nirvana should be the highest aim of our life, and our life should be lived in the context of Nirvana, for it is the ultimate realization and union of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

He is certainly not an ascetic who hurts others. “Hurt” covers all forms of injury, and it is incredible that anyone claiming to be a Buddhist would eat meat.

Nor is he a man of religion who causes suffering to others. What I just said applies here, as well. However, it should be pointed out that there is a vast difference between harming someone and offending them. Certainly it is wrong to attack another in speech or to deliberately try to hurt them. But there are professional offendees who use this to make the supposed offender look bad and to even suppress the speech or action they do not like. This has become epidemic in the last few decades, and sometimes reaches the positively psychotic and vicious degree. Buddha was not saying that the virtuous have to please everybody. He certainly did not himself, and he spoke very plainly, though never with any intent other than the welfare of his hearers. Their response was totally their choice.

The way to live

Not to speak harshly and not to harm others, self restraint in accordance with the rules of the Order [Patimokkha], moderation in food, a secluded dwelling, and the cultivation of the higher levels of consciousness–this is the teaching of the Buddhas (Dhammapada 185).

Although mention is made of the Patimokkha, the rules for monastics, this verse really applies to all.

Not to speak harshly and not to harm others. This has already been covered.

Self restraint in accordance with the rules of the Order. The Patimokkha is for monastics, but the Five Precepts are to be followed by all, and non-monastics should be intent on them.

Moderation in food. Buddha said that moderation in food was beneficial on many levels, that it was extremely healthy and could even prevent health problems.

A secluded dwelling. This is helpful for all if it can be managed. We just do not realize how much chatter and stress is created by urban living, especially noise, including traffic sounds.

The cultivation of the higher levels of consciousness. As said previously, this is the number one priority of those who seek Nirvana, whatever their state in life. Such cultivation is done through meditation and constant mindfulness.

Enjoyment (pleasure)

There is no satisfying the senses, not even with a shower of money. “The senses are of slight pleasure and really suffering.” When a wise man has realized this, he takes no pleasure, as a disciple of the Buddhas, even in the pleasures of heaven. Instead he takes pleasure in the elimination of craving (Dhammapada 186, 187).

There is no satisfying the senses, not even with a shower of money. Even if all of the wealth of the world was accessible to us, no matter how much we spent there would be no satisfaction, for the sense are like fires and pleasures are like gasoline. Throw it on the fires and you only get more fire, more desires and more enslavement. “He whose happiness is within, whose delight is within, whose illumination is within: that yogi, identical in being with Brahman, attains Brahmanirvana” (Bhagavad Gita 5:24).

The senses are of slight pleasure and really suffering. But as Ajahn Fuang Jotiko points out, only those who meditate can see this and act upon it. The others keep hoping that somehow they will escape suffering through the senses, like gamblers who waste their lives in anticipation of a change of luck. So addiction blinds and binds us.

When a wise man has realized this, he takes no pleasure, as a disciple of the Buddhas, even in the pleasures of heaven. Whether the senses are physical or astral, the bondage and inevitable pain are the same. The wise know this.

Instead he takes pleasure in the elimination of craving. He finds the greatest joy in the freedom that comes from the elimination of desire-cravings. As Socrates said when in advanced age he was no longer interested in sex: “At last I am free of a harsh and cruel master.” But the wise do not wait for the body to burn out to eliminate craving, for rebirth will be there to return us to sense-bondage.

The only refuge

Driven by fear, men take to many a refuge, in mountains, forests, parks, sacred groves and shrines, but these are not a secure kind of refuge. By taking to this sort of refuge one is not released from suffering. He who has gone to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha for refuge, though, and who with true wisdom understands the Four Noble Truths of Suffering, the Origin of Suffering, the End of Suffering and the Noble Eightfold Path, leading to the Elimination of Suffering, this is a secure refuge, this is the ultimate refuge; by taking to this refuge one is indeed released from all suffering (Dhammapada 188-192).

Driven by fear, men take to many a refuge, in mountains, forests, parks, sacred groves and shrines, but these are not a secure kind of refuge. By taking to this sort of refuge one is not released from suffering. All these things listed are subject to decay and total annihilation–even mountains are eventually worn down–so they offer no secure refuge.

He who has gone to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha for refuge… is indeed released from all suffering. The inner Buddha, the inner Dharma, and the inner Sangha are eternal for they are The Truth of Things. Nevertheless, mere verbal “taking refuge” means nothing. Only by following the Four Aryan Truths and the Aryan Eightfold Path can we come into touch with the inner Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and progress on to Buddhahood. For as the wise teachers explain, it is our inner Buddha, the inner Dharma, and the inner Sangha that we must seek. The exterior counterparts exist only to point to the inner ones.

I will be analyzing the Eightfold Path and the Four Truths later on in Section Twenty, The Way.

Hard to find

A truly thoroughbred man is hard to find. He is not born anywhere, but where that seer is born, the people prosper (Dhammapada 193).

Narada Thera: “Hard to find is a man of great wisdom: such a man is not born everywhere. Where such a wise man is born, that family thrives happily.”

What is there to say? We must strive to ourselves become “of great wisdom” and not wait for the advent of a teacher before we take up the Buddha Way.


Happy is the attainment of Buddhahood, happy the teaching of the true Teaching, happy is the concord of the Sangha, happy the training of those in concord (Dhammapada 194).

So now we know the way to happiness.

Great merit

When a man venerates those worthy of veneration, be they Buddhas or their disciples, who have transcended all obstacles and passed beyond sorrow and tears–venerating such as these, whose passions are extinguished and for whom there is no further source for fear, no one can calculate how great his merit is (Dhammapada 195, 196).

This does not mean a pointless kind of groupyism, which is most of the “discipleship” in East and West, but a following of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas so that in time we, too, shall become what they became before us and thereby showed us the Way.

Next article in the Dhammapada for Awakening: Happiness

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Chapters in the Dhammapada for Awakening:

Introduction to the Dhammapada

The History of the Dhammapada

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