Journey over, sorrowless, freed in every way, and with all bonds broken–for such a man there is no more distress (Dhammapada 90). (Other translators have either “fever” or “the fever of passion” rather than “distress.”)
Here Buddha gives us four fundamental traits of the one who has realized the third and fourth Aryan truths that suffering can be ended and there is a way to bring about that end. They merit a good, careful look.
Journey over. There is an evolutionary path to be traversed which no amount of philosophizing and denial will abrogate. In his discourses Buddha tells about the great deal of time in his previous lives, as well as that one, which was spent in spiritual practice and meditation. Although our goal is transcendence, presently we and all other aspirants must move from the beginning point to the ending point. The universe is not haphazard, but a precision instrument of evolution which will enable us to reclaim our lost awareness and be so established therein that we can never again lose it. This is Nirvana. Although each one’s journey is quite individual, at the same time there are points that will be common to each person. It is rather like the multitude of people that every day drive the same route from one city to another. Their vehicles will be different, and so will be their style of driving, as well as the number of stops they make, and where and why. So each trip is markedly personal and at the same absolutely the same. It is the same with the spiritual journey Buddha is speaking about. That is why upon attaining enlightenment he said: “Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.” And others will say the same when they attain Nirvana. “The holy life fulfilled, the task done” is the journey that must be completed for all delusion and bondage to be ended forever.
Sorrowless. All inner pain is ended permanently for those that have attained perfect freedom in Spirit.
Freed in every way. No kind of limitation, inhibition, or binding remains for them. If in someone we see even the shadow of bondage or limitation, we should recognize the the goal has not yet been reached by them.
With all bonds broken. Nirvana literally means “no binding–bonds.” Again, ALL bonds are broken for the truly enlightened.
All these are the symptoms of a consciousness freed forever from all compulsion, stress, and pain.
In India from time immemorial swans have been symbols of the liberated spirits. They fly easily through the boundless sky, and upon earth they can extract milk from a mixture of milk and water. They do this by means of an acid in their mouths which they expel into the water. The acid makes the milk coagulate, and the swans eat the solidified milk, leaving the water behind. Both the jivatman and the Paramatman are referred to as “hansa” (swan) in the scriptures. This was well known to Buddha, so he said:
The recollected go forth to lives of renunciation. They take no pleasure in a fixed abode. Like wild swans abandoning a pool, they leave one resting place after another (Dhammapada 91).
Translators render this verse in differing ways. Two of the most authoritative, and which we should keep in mind are: Narada Thera: “The mindful [satimanto] exert themselves. To no abode are they attached. Like swans that quit their pools, home after home they abandon [and go].” Thannissaro Bhikkhu: “The mindful keep active, don’t delight in settling back. They renounce every home, every home, like swans taking off from a lake.”
The recollected go forth to lives of renunciation. Those who are inwardly perceptive are the most capable of understanding what is happening around them and the nature of the world in general. Consequently they know that without a total, life-consuming endeavor it will be impossible for them to attain any significant or lasting spiritual progress. Therefore they “go forth to lives of renunciation.” This is not a mere formal taking up of an external ascetic life, but as Narada Thera puts it, they “exert themselves” continually, like good soldiers intending to fight on until the last breath. As Thanissaro Bhikkhu rendered it: “The mindful keep active, don’t delight in settling back.”
A lot of people experience some kind of awakening or opening, and then settle right back into the spot where they were before. A tremendous amount of people do this, even if they keep a few external marks accumulated during their awake period: they still have some trappings of dharma–maybe even a seldom-entered meditation room or area–and they may still retain some kind of affiliation to a spiritually-oriented group (some even become fervent and life-long cult members as a substitute for real progress). But inwardly they are right where they were before it all began.
They take no pleasure in a fixed abode. On the obvious level this means they no longer want a personal, ego-expressive environment, and leave such for an ashram-type situation. But a person can go to seed spiritually as easily in an ashram as in a private home. What is needed is to not settle down into any spiritual outlook or condition, but to keep moving onward, developing and expanding their horizons. They should be always ready to revise, overhaul and completely change their outlook and approach to the ways of dharma, for their understanding should continually expand and their spiritual vision should continually attain new horizons. This is one of the reasons why in Mahayana Buddhism aspirants say: “There are eighty-four-thousand dharma doors; I vow to enter them all.” (Eighty-four thousand is a number symbolizing infinity.)
Like wild swans abandoning a pool, they leave one resting place after another. This is because true spiritual life is a matter of continual growth, and growth means change. If a person is seen to remain the same year after year he is not stable or established in spiritual life, he is sterile and static. He is dead, and very likely artificial. You cannot keep going forward and not be moving at the same time, passing from one place to another. “Home after home they abandon,” as Narada Thera translates it. “They renounce every home, every home,” in the version of Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
“Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). At first glance this just seems to mean that Jesus had no fixed abode and was a wanderer, but there is a much deeper meaning here. The awakened human being can rest his “head” nowhere upon earth, nor in inner ideas and contentments. Only in God-realization can he truly find rest. “O Lord, Thou hast created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of Thine own eternity; yet often we forget the glory of our heritage, and wander from the path which leads to righteousness. But Thou, O Lord, hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are ever restless till they find their rest in Thee.” So says the Confiteor of the Liberal Catholic Mass. Those of lesser evolution easily and happily dwell in holes and nests, but those who have attained true human status which includes self-awareness and insight into the necessity for continual traversing of the path from relative to Absolute, but finite to Infinite, are not so.
The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) hired himself out to a pig farmer, and was so hungry he wanted to eat the garbage fed to the pigs, but he could not. It is the same with the awakened; they can no longer eat the swill in which those of lower evolution revel, but must find other sustenance. Just as the developing human being continually outgrows one status for another, so does the worthy aspirant. People often cluck their tongues and wag their heads over those who keep changing, moving from point to point in their spiritual journey, but Buddha commends them, likening them to “swans taking off from a lake”–ever growing, ever moving, ever free.
Neither things nor thoughts
Those for whom there is no more acquisition, who are fully aware of the nature of food, whose dwelling place is an empty and imageless release–the way of such people is hard to follow, like the path of birds through the sky (Dhammapada 92).
Those for whom there is no more acquisition. Having attained the Absolute, nothing remains to be attained.
Who are fully aware of the nature of food. No matter how much you eat, after a while you will need to eat again or you will die. Buddha is speaking here of the awareness of the impermanence of all material things, an impermanence that reveals their fundamental non-existence. So the wise have ceased to find anything real in material objects. And also have realized the impermanence of any material satisfaction.
Whose dwelling place is an empty and imageless release. They dwell in that Being which is beyond all thingness–not nothing, but No Thing. Such a condition beyond name and form and all objective consciousness is Release: Nirvana.
The way of such people is hard to follow, like the path of birds through the sky. The liberated pass through this world often without leaving a mark. As Jesus said: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
He whose inflowing thoughts are dried up, who is unattached to food, whose dwelling place is an empty and imageless release–the way of such a person is hard to follow, like the path of birds through the sky (Dhammapada 93).
This is very like the previous verse. The two additional points are important.
He whose inflowing thoughts are dried up. “Impressions” is a better translation than “thoughts,” for thoughts proceed outward, not inward. From all sides impressions originating outside of us flow into our minds like breezes blowing over a lake causing ripples and thus disturbing the surface and distorting its reflecting power. These are the waves in the mind substance (chitta) whose cessation Patanjali defines as Yoga. The liberated yogi is not unaware of external phenomena, but they do not touch him–they make no impression whatsoever on his consciousness in the form of evoking a change or a response. He sees and knows, but is unaffected and unconditioned by those experiences. “The ocean becomes filled yet remains unmoved and stands still as the waters enter it,” says the Gita (2:70).
Unattached to food–freed from all involvement or desire for externalities of any kind upon which the ego-mind can “feed.”
He the gods hold dear
When a man’s senses have come to peace, like horses well broken by the trainer, when he is rid of conceit and without inflowing thoughts–even devas envy such a well set man (Dhammapada 94).
Narada Thera renders it: “He whose senses are subdued, like steeds well-trained by a charioteer, he whose pride is destroyed and is free from the corruptions–such a steadfast one even the gods hold dear.”
He whose senses are subdued, like steeds well-trained by a charioteer. “Happiness arising from the contact of the senses with their objects in the beginning is like amrita but changes into that which is like poison” (Bhagavad Gita 18:38). “Pleasures born of contact [with the senses] are wombs of pain” (Bhagavad Gita 5:22). This is true of every sentient being, but for human beings there is a much worse effect: “When the mind is led about by the wandering senses, it carries away the understanding like the wind carries away a ship on the waters” (Bhagavad Gita 2:67).
The way out of this dilemma is also given by the Gita: “They say that the senses (indriyas) are superior [to the body], the mind (manasa) is superior to the senses, the intellect (buddhi) is superior to the mind. And much superior to the intellect is the supreme intelligence (param buddhi)” (Bhagavad Gita 3:42-43). Therefore: “He who by the mind controls the senses,… is superior” (Bhagavad Gita 3:7). Both the Gita and Buddha tell us that the man of wisdom has gained mastery over his senses by intense effort; that such control does not come about spontaneously, but only through will, which is the highest faculty we possess.
He whose pride is destroyed. The only way to destroy pride is to destroy its source: the ego. And the only way to destroy the ego, the not-self, is to dispel it by the light of the true Self.
Free from the corruptions. Actually, “corruptions” is not a very good term. “Inflows” (or influences) is better, for it means external stimuli that provoke a response from the individual, as contrasted with the perfect stability of one whose mind cannot be affected in any manner by the outside world.
Such a steadfast one even the gods hold dear. Such a person not only has harmonized himself, he brings harmony to the world around him. That is why Patanjali says that in the presence of someone perfected in non-violence no violence can arise. Buddha was a perfect example of this. Since the devas’ whole intent is the harmonious movement of the cosmos, such a one is greatly valued by them, especially a yogi.
Like the earth
Like the earth he is not disturbed, like a great pillar he is firmly set and reliable, like a lake he is free from defilement. There are no more rebirths for such a well set man (Dhammapada 95).
Like the earth he is not disturbed. The earth is often cited in Indian writings as an example of patience.
Like a great pillar he is firmly set and reliable. The man of wisdom is established and profoundly stable–and therefore reliable. Jesus spoke of “a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock” (Luke 6:48). Those who dig deep and establish themselves firmly upon the bedrock of Self-knowledge remain unshaken by any outer conditions.
Like a lake he is free from defilement. This was written before the days of chemical pollution, and refers to the fact that dirt thrown into a lake settles to the bottom and the water does not become dirty at all. As long as we live in this world, dirt will be flying around, but even if it touches the wise, it is purified by the fires of wisdom and his mind remains as unclouded as before.
There are no more rebirths for such a well set man. It is when we can live in this world and be totally unaffected by it that we are ready to graduate to a higher level of existence and be freed from rebirth.
Freed by full realization and at peace, the mind of such a man is at peace, and his speech and action peaceful (Dhammapada 96).
No need for comment.
The ultimate man
He has no need for faith who knows the uncreated, who has cut off rebirth, who has destroyed any opportunity for good or evil, and cast away all desire. He is indeed the ultimate man (Dhammapada 97).
He has no need for faith who knows the uncreated. Obviously faith, however positive a force it may be, is not the desired end. Rather, knowing supersedes believing, “when faith is lost in sight.” But it is not just just any kind of knowing that Buddha is speaking about. He means knowledge of “the Uncreated”–knowledge of Brahman which is attained only by the merging of consciousness in Consciousness, the union of the finite with the Infinite. Buddha also referred to this principle of enlightenment as “the Birthless” and “the Deathless.” In other words, he is quite unequivocally proclaiming the existence of the jivatman (individual Self) and the Paramatman (Supreme Self). Further, he is making it clear that they can be known by those that reach the end of the evolutionary process in which we are all presently engaged–some consciously, but most unconsciously. All sentient beings are involved in this process and shall eventually realize its ultimate aim: Nirvana.
Who has cut off rebirth. Until the Absolute is known: “Of the born, death is certain; of the dead, birth is certain” (Bhagavad Gita 2:27). But once perfect Knowing arises, rebirth is permanently ended.
Who has destroyed any opportunity for good or evil. The enlightened act in perfect accordance with their divine nature; they do nothing because it is “good” and avoid nothing because it is “evil.” They have no compulsion to either, nor are they in any way influenced by those concepts. Instead, they see things in terms of Real and Unreal. They look upon themselves as neither good nor evil. They simply ARE. When the first person who met Buddha after his enlightenment asked him who he was, he replied: “I am awake.” So it is.
And cast away all desire. Nirvana being total fulfillment, desire is completely impossible to the Knower.
He is indeed the ultimate man. He is the end, the pinnacle, the zenith of Being Itself.
A happy place
Whether in the village or the forest, whether on high ground or low [mountain or valley], wherever the enlightened live, that is a delightful spot (Dhammapada 98).
This has two meanings, one internal and one external. Wherever the enlightened live is delightful to them, for their consciousness is not external, but internal–in the realm of boundless freedom. Also, wherever the enlightened live is a delight to those who meet them there. Even if it be in a desolate place devoid of outer comfort, those who encounter them there will always remember it fondly as a place of greatest happiness. Those of us who met him know very well how right it was for Swami Sivananda to name his little house by the Ganges “Ananda Kutir”–Abode of Bliss. In Bengal I met a saint at a train stop–not a station, just an ugly rectangle of crumbling cement. Even now in my mind’s eye I see it and feel great joy, whereas the memory of great scenic beauty spots or architectural monuments evoke no response at all; they are only mental images devoid of life. They are past, but the saints are ever-present.
Delightful for them are the forests where men find no delight. The desire-free find delight there, for they seek no sensual joys (Dhammapada 99).
The psychology of the wise is vastly different from that of the worldly ignorant. As the Gita says: “The man of restraint is awake in what is night for all beings. That in which all beings are awake is night for the sage who [truly] sees” (Bhagavad Gita 2:69).
Once I was taken by a prison psychologist to meet a holy Carmelite nun. She had never left the monastic enclosure for nearly forty years, except once when she and the mother superior attended a conference of Carmelite nuns. She even spoke to us sitting behind a grill. Since egotists cannot stop talking about themselves no matter where they are, or with whom, the psychologist began recounting in great detail about all the electric doors that he had to hear banging behind him whenever he went to work in the prison. When he finally stopped, I looked at the sister and said: “That may seem terrible to people in the world, but think much how we would like it, for it would safeguard our solitude and quiet.” She agreed, but he was miffed because we did not feel sorry for him or even envy him a bit. I was thinking vividly of how wonderful it had been when I sat in my tiny hut on the bank of the Ganges in holy Hardwar, happy in the thought that New Delhi with all its “stuff” was far away.
Next article in the Dhammapada for Awakening: The Thousands