We now come to a section called “the thousands”–though that is not always the number cited; a lot of “hundreds” come in, too. The straightforward good sense of this section makes it invaluable.
Pointless versus peace
“Better than a thousand pointless words is one saying to the point on hearing which one finds peace. Better than a thousand pointless verses is one stanza on hearing which one finds peace. Better than reciting a hundred pointless verses is one verse of the teaching [one dhammapada] on hearing which one finds peace” (Dhammapada 100-102).
The essence of these verses is quite simple: anything that does not lead to peace–the peace of enlightenment and Nirvana–is ultimately pointless. This should be the test of all “wisdom” teaching: Does it culminate in Nirvana? If not, it is pointless. This may be a drastic outlook, but it is certainly necessary.
The third of these verses reveals how far “devotees” can drift from the original teachings of the Master they think they follow. Sutra recitation is an obsession with many Mahayana Buddhists. Every day they spend hours in mechanical recitation, confident that the mere words will somehow benefit themselves and others, completely missing the point that it is the following of the Buddha’s teaching that produces results–nothing else. They are nothing more than “pointless word” factories.
It is with this perspective that Jesus said: “Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27).
There is another implication to these three verses: the fact that the way to peace can be gotten from discourses and books. As the Venerable Master Chen Kung says, we can become the disciples of any Master whose words we study and apply, no matter how long ago that Master lived and taught. For the way to peace must be travelled, not just studied and discussed.
The great conqueror
“Though one were to defeat thousands upon thousands of men in battle, if another were to overcome just one–himself–he is the supreme victor” (Dhammapada 103).
Solomon said: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Provers 16:32). “If a yogi has perfect control over his mind, and struggles continually in this way to unite himself with Brahman, he will come at last to the crowning peace of Nirvana, the peace that is in me” (Bhagavad Gita 6:15).
“Victory over oneself is better than that over others. When a man has conquered himself and always acts with self-control, neither devas, spirits, Mara or Brahma can reverse the victory of a man like that” (Dhammapada 104, 105).
No external force, however mighty can move the enlightened yogi from his perfected state. It is in the context of Buddha’s teaching that we can understand what Saint John meant when he wrote: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (I John 3:9).
Greater than all sacrifices
“Though one were to perform sacrifices by the thousand month after month for a hundred years, if another were to pay homage to a single inwardly perfected man for just a moment, that homage is better than the hundred years of sacrifices.
“Though one were to tend the sacrificial fire for a hundred years in the forest, if another were to pay homage to a single inwardly perfected man for just a moment, that homage is better than the hundred years of sacrifice.
“All the sacrifices and offerings a man desiring merit could make in a year in the world are not worth a quarter of the better merit of homage to the righteous” (Dhammapada 106-108).
Many things mark out the great difference between East and West, but one of the most obvious is the great facility the East has for recognizing superior merit and paying it respect. The West, on the other hand, is so busy swaggering about while braying all the live-long day about how equal everyone is and how they are “as good any anybody else,” they really evince nothing but short-sighted, inveterate egotism which has no basis in reality whatsoever. When the West “worships” they do so with ramrod straight backs, sitting in padded seats, and watching intently to make sure they are getting their money’s worth. The East on the other hand (and this includes the Christian East), bows, bows, bows, and prostrates. In all Eastern places of worship it is this humble reverence that pervades everything. Consequently I learned early on in encountering the East that only those who can show reverence are worthy of it, and that only those who can bow low are able to rise high.
In all the religions of the East it is considered the highest merit to seek out the pure and the wise to bow in homage before them. Buddha was squarely in this perspective, therefore he spoke the foregoing verses. But why would he consider this true? Because when we are in the presence of an illumined person we begin to vibrate in sympathy with his powerful aura, and ourselves become elevated, at least for the time we are in his presence. And for many that elevation is permanent, inspiring them to follow the path to liberation. In India great value is placed on darshan–which Yogananda defines as “the blessing which flows from the mere sight of a saint.” Those who have spent time with the saints know the reality of this. Many mental and physical ills are cured just by entering the presence of the truly holy. This is my personal experience. You can read of the value of darshan in many parts of Autobiography of a Yogi.
“Four principal things increase in the man who is respectful and always honours his [spiritual] elders–length of life, good looks, happiness and health” (Dhammapada 109).
Narada Thera: “For one who is in the habit of constantly honoring and respecting the elders, four blessing increase–age, beauty, bliss, and strength.” I have been witnessing this for nearly half a century and I know it is true.
Better is a single day…
It would be a blessed thing if we could indelibly impress the following six verses in our consciousness, for they give the only spiritually intelligent perspective on life itself and its sole purpose.
“Though one were to live a hundred years immoral and with a mind unstilled by meditation, the life of a single day is better if one is moral and practices meditation.
“Though one were to live a hundred years without wisdom and with a mind unstilled by meditation, the life of a single day is better if one is wise and practices meditation.
“Though one were to live a hundred years idle and inactive, the life of a single day is better if one is wise and makes an intense effort.
“Though one were to live a hundred years without seeing the rise and passing of things, the life of a single day is better if one sees the rise and passing of things.
“Though one were to live a hundred years without seeing the deathless state, the life of a single day is better if one sees the deathless state.
“Though one were to live a hundred years without seeing the supreme truth, the life of a single day is better if one sees the supreme truth” (Dhammapada 110-115).
As the Declaration of Independence says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” And they need no comment.
Next article in the Dhammapada for Awakening: Evil
Chapters in the Dhammapada for Awakening:
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