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The Rod

Chapter 10 of the Dhammapada for Awakening

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All fear pain, and therefore that which brings pain. Buddha now speaks of “the rod.” The word he uses is danda, which simply means a stick or rod, usually wooden, which at his time was a symbol of authority and an instrument of coercion and punishment. Even today in India the lathi is used by the police as a weapon, and most people know about the highly-feared practice of caning in Singapore in which a bamboo rod is used, just as in Buddha’s time and today in India. Since all that happens to us is the manifestation of karma, and that which is pain-bearing is the result of negative karma, “the rod” means the reaction produced by such negative karma.

All tremble at the rod. All fear death. Comparing others with oneself, one should neither strike nor cause to strike. All tremble at the rod, life is dear to all. Comparing others with oneself, one should neither strike nor cause to strike (Dhammapada 129, 130–Narada Thera).

The word “strike” here means to kill, not just injure. Our English word “homicide” literally means to strike another human being. Cide–strike–at the end of any word means to kill (suicide, infanticide, parricide, genocide, etc.). The meaning is quite clear: since we do not wish to die, but prize our life, we should not kill another or cause another to be killed, or even morally support the killing of another. If we do, then we shall be killed in the future. When Jesus said: “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52), he was quoting Buddha, as he does several places in the gospels.
He who does violence to creatures seeking happiness like himself does not find happiness after death.

He who does no violence to creatures seeking happiness like himself does find happiness after death (Dhammapada 131, 132).

Not just in this world do we reap karma, but in the subtler worlds, the heavens and the hells. Further, these four verses apply to all sentient beings, not just human beings.

Do not speak harshly to anyone. If you do people will speak to you in the same way. Harsh words are painful and their retaliation will hurt you (Dhammapada 133).

This is very clear and needs no comment.

If, like a cracked gong, you silence yourself, you have already attained Nirvana: no vindictiveness will be found in you (Dhammapada 134–Narada Thera).

Both Narada Thera and Thanissaro Bhikkhu say that this verse does not mean we attain to perfect Nirvana by controlling our speech, but that a kind of “pre-Nirvana” tranquility is experienced.

Like a cowherd driving cows off to the fields [with a rod], so old age and death take away the years from the living (Dhammapada 135).

This is not capricious or bad “fortune,” but the effect of the “rod” of karma.

Even when he is doing evil, the fool does not realize it. The idiot is punished by his own deeds, like one is scorched by fire (Dhammapada 136).

Buddha said that one of the signs of inner awakening is the ability to feel guilt and shame. It is remarkable how few people can see the nature of their actions, shrugging off any moral sense and justifying anything they wish to do or have done. I grew up hearing people say: “I don’t see that” to any moral principle they did not like. But of course blind people do not see, do they? And when they experience the reaction for their deeds they complain about being unlucky and even challenge the existence of God with the old cliché about “how could a good God allow…?” They never think to ask: “How could a good person do what I do?” It is their moral intelligence they should doubt, for God has nothing to do with it. The morally stupid do not realize that their entire life is nothing but their own past deeds coming to fruition.

He who does violence to the peaceful and harmless soon encounters one of ten things–he may experience cruel pain, disaster, physical injury, severe illness, or insanity, or else trouble with the authorities, grave accusation, bereavement, or loss of property, or else destruction of his house by fire, and on the death of his body the fool goes to hell (Dhammapada 137-140).

Well, there you have it. How many Westerners who claim to be Buddhists are even aware of these teachings of the Buddha?

Neither naked asceticism, matted hair, dirt, fasting, sleeping on the ground, dust and mud, nor prolonged sitting on one’s heels can purify a man who is not free of doubts (Dhammapada 141).

Most of us have seen photographs and even motion pictures of the psychotic, drug-addicted “sadhus” in India who revel in their subhuman way of life. They were around in Buddha’s time, and just as meaningless. The only way to be free of doubt is to have true knowledge. And the first step to knowledge is the abandonment of all the nonsense listed in this verse.

Even if richly dressed, when a man behaves even-mindedly and is at peace, restrained and established in the right way, chaste and renouncing violence to all forms of life, then he is a brahmin, he is a holy man, he is a bhikkhu (Dhammapada 142)., whatever his formal mode of life may be.

Who in the world is a man constrained by conscience, who awakens to censure like a fine stallion to the whip? (Dhammapada 143–Thanissaro Bhikkhu).

Who indeed is ruled by conscience, and who, when censured or rebuked by the wise–either through spoken words or those found in holy writings–responds not with excuses or resentment, but begins running along the way of dharma as a good horse responds to the whip? Such are rare indeed, as are buddhas in this world.

Like a thoroughbred horse touched by the whip, be strenuous and determined. Then you will be able to rid yourself of this great suffering by means of faith, morality, energetic behavior, stillness of mind and reflection on the teaching, after you have become full of wisdom, good habits and recollection (Dhammapada 144).

No need to comment, just to apply.

Navies [irrigators] channel water, fletchers fashion arrows, and carpenters work on wood, but the good discipline themselves (Dhammapada 145).

We all have personal definitions of what makes a person good, but Buddha’s is the best. The good do not busy themselves with trying to order others around and change them; they change themselves through self-discipline. They do it all themselves. Buddhas point the way, and they walk it.

“Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37).

Next article in the Dhammapada for Awakening: Old Age

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Chapters in the Dhammapada for Awakening:

Introduction to the Dhammapada

The History of the Dhammapada

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