Now Buddha tells us the truth about the world.
“Do not practice an ignoble way of life, do not indulge in a careless attitude. Do not follow a wrong view, and do not be attached to the world” (Dhammapada 167).
Do not practice an ignoble way of life. Just two verses back we read: “By oneself one does evil. By oneself one is defiled. By oneself one abstains from evil. By oneself one is purified. Purity and impurity are personal matters. No one can purify someone else.” One of the most important teachings of Buddha is the truth that the purifying and ordering of our life is in our hands alone, that no one can do anything for us–we must do everything ourself. Certainly someone can give advice and even helpful teaching, but the following of it is entirely our choice and doing. This is why Buddha speaks of “practicing” an ignoble or unworthy way of life. It is willful action on our part, however much we may want to excuse ourselves and put the blame elsewhere. We must face up to this truth if our progress is to be real and lasting.
Harischandra Kaviratna renders it: “Let no one follow a degraded course of existence.” All of us are born into a degraded environment, because ignorance rules the world, but it is up to us to resist and rise above it to lead the noble–aryan–life. A true aryan never “lets nature take its course,” but takes charge and directs the course of his life according to his intelligent understanding.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu renders this clause: “Do not associate with lowly qualities”–in ourselves or in others. “Touch not the unclean thing” (II Corinthians 6:17), is valuable advice. Associating with those who are of degraded character will in time influence and degrade us. When I was in college I had the stupid idea that it would be all right for me to accompany my friends to bars and dives, telling myself that I might be able to get them to drink less and get in less trouble. In two or three weeks I figured out how stupid this was, for only two things could happen: those places would become increasingly repulsive to me until I came to the point where I would refuse to go near them, or I would develop an affinity for them and what went on there until I myself became “one of them.” I chose to not let either one happen, so I spent a long time sitting in the car waiting for my friends to come out of the cesspools. Then I got wise to the fact that they were not my friends at all, that we walked on two separate ways. I stopped the association and never regretted it.
Do not indulge in a careless attitude. There are so many pitfalls for the beginner and the seasoned traveller on the path, and many of them seem of little importance, undramatic and easy to ignore. But they are as deadly as the obviously destructive ones. Simple carelessness is one of them–just not being vigilant or intent on following the disciplines and principles of spiritual life. I have known people who bragged about “not bothering,” with this or that discipline or observance, thinking they were being sensible and sophisticated. But today their lives are devoid of spiritual content altogether. They have joined the ranks of the “used to do” and “used to be” people who have nothing but a sadly aborted past. If eternal vigilance is the price of political freedom (according to George Washington), so also is spiritual freedom and its pursuit.
Harischandra Kaviratna translates: “Nor live in indolence.” Spiritual laziness is equally harmful.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu: “Do not consort with heedlessness.” And that includes heedless people as well as leading a heedless life–especially one that blinds us to the dangers of samsaric existence. “I don’t worry about that” is usually the seal of inner death.
You see, the spiritual demise of most people takes place through neglect of the details that so easily can be wrongly seen as unnecessary or too small to matter. And so they die, “not with a bang but a whimper” as Eliot says.
Do not follow a wrong view. A wrong turn takes us off the path and makes us end up in a wrong place. It is the same with adopting a wrong idea about the way to higher consciousness–we will not reach it, and may have a great deal of damage to undo before we can try again. Error can never lead to truth, but it can certainly bog us down in delusion. The same is true of wrong types of meditation–they waste our time and can even harm us. I know of more than one meditation system in India that produces serious mental problems. Friends of mine in both India and America have had their lives and minds ruined by following them. And only a few were able to extricate themselves and be healed. I have seen people’s mental troubles clear up in twenty minutes by just stopping the repetition of a harmful mantra. An Indian friend of mine suffered from suicidal tendencies produced by years of practicing a foolish yoga system. She constantly felt that God hated her. In a few hours after quitting that destructive practice all depression was gone and she came to me smiling. “I now know that God is always with me,” she said. Many people in East and West have their minds and lives damaged by unqualified and ignorant teachers.
Do not be attached to the world. Can it be more simple? We must cure ourselves of all worldly addictions.
Harischandra Kaviratna: “Nor be a person who prolongs his worldly existence.” Right here and now the wise begin living in the spirit–not just inwardly but outwardly, too.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu: “Do not busy yourself with the world.”
“Wake up and do not be careless, but lead a life of well-doing. He who follows righteousness lives happily in this world and the next” (Dhammapada 168).
This verse is all about dharma. No one can follow dharma who is not awakened to some degree. Unhappily, many people wake to some degree, but because they do not encounter dharma they fall back into the sleep of ignorance, losing another life in a chain of lost lives. We who have come into the orbit of dharma must not waste this most valuable asset, but follow it well. If we do so, then we shall live happily in this world and the next until Nirvana is reached.
Lead a life…
“Lead a life of righteousness, and not a life of wrong-doing. He who follows righteousness lives happily in this world and the next” (Dhammapada 169).
To do this we must learn the dharma well; then happiness will persist in this life and beyond.
See the bubble
“Look on the world as a bubble, look on it as a mirage. The King of Death never finds him who views the world like that” (Dhammapada 170).
First we realize that the world is like a bubble that quickly bursts and is gone. From the evanescent nature of the world we progress to realize that it is at all times only a mirage, a dream without real substance. Those who truly realize this through the cultivation of their inmost consciousness will never be touched by death, but will be forever immortal.
The gilded world
“Come, look at the world as a gilded royal carriage, in which fools get bogged down, while men of understanding have no attachment to it” (Dhammapada 171).
First we have to know what heavy and ponderous things chariots were at the time of Buddha, especially those of the wealthy that were covered with ornamentation–often of gold. They were miserably uncomfortable to ride in, but their ostentation suited the prideful who wished to overwhelm the “commoners” with their splendor and implied power. It reminds me of when the Indian Airlines planes would land in Khajuraho on the way to Benares. The rural people would be gathered to watch in wonder as the “great bird” came out of the sky and landed among them. Usually the captain would allow the braver of them to come up the entry stairs and peek inside with uncomprehending wonder. Perhaps to them the passengers were gods. I recall one very old and feeble sadhu struggling up the steps and coming further inside than the shy locals usually did. He carefully looked around without any expression then turned and walked out and down. I had a feeling that he felt it was far shy of being a pushpaka–a magnificent flying machine of ancient India–as were the passengers. He definitely had seen enough of what little the twentieth century had to offer.
This world is an awkward, uncomfortable, gaudy vehicle carrying us along until it inevitably bogs down and we sink with it and suffocate in the swamp. Surely the wise care nothing for it.
The transformed man
“Even if previously careless, when a man later stops being careless, he illuminates the world, like the moon breaking away from a cloud.
“When a man’s bad deeds are covered over by good ones, he illuminates the world, like the moon breaking away from a cloud” (Dhammapada 172, 173).
Yes, the world is a swamp, but we can break the hypnosis of the world, turn around and start moving back to Reality. We can neutralize our negative actions by engaging in meritorious actions. When we do this we break free of the veils of illusion and shine, illumining the world around us. When the Buddha-Nature within us is revealed, once again the Buddha walks the earth and shows the way to lost humanity.
The Buddha in which we must take refuge is the Buddha within, not Gautama Buddha of history, though he continues to teach us through his recorded words. He points us to the inner Buddha, not to himself as an individual, and he assures us that Nirvana is our true nature, our true condition which we can recover. Jesus said: “I am the light of the world,” but he also said to his disciples: “Ye are the light of the world.…Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matthew 5:14, 16). They, too, were Christs, and we also are Buddhas and Christs. This is the true dharma.
“Blinded indeed is this world. Few are those who see the truth. Like a bird breaking out of the net, few are those who go to heaven” (Dhammapada 174).
This is itself the plain truth. People are stumbling through this world completely blind to realities–even to themselves. “How hard to break through is this, my Maya,” says the Bhagavad Gita (7:14), and rare are those who regain their sight and act upon it to break away from the orbit of this world and fly into the sky of freedom. For the “heaven” Buddha is speaking of is the limitless expanse of Infinite Consciousness.
“Wild swans take the path of the sun. Men with powers travel through space, but the wise step right out of the world, by conquering Mara and his host” (Dhammapada 175).
Strong birds such as wild swans fly from east to west, and those who possess the psychic powers known as siddhis can fly through the air at will, but the wise leave the world behind altogether by conquering Cosmic Delusion (Mara) and its attendant evils.
“When a man has already violated one rule, when he is a liar and rejects the idea of a future world, there is no evil he is not capable of” (Dhammapada 176).
Narada Thera: “There is no evil that cannot be done by the liar, who has transgressed the one law [of truthfulness] and who is indifferent to a world beyond.”
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali truthfulness is a major factor in the yoga life, as it is in the teachings of the Buddha, being one of the Five Precepts. It is certainly interesting that Buddha uses this one transgression as the basis for many. Perhaps it is because a person lies purely from the basis of egotism and an attendant disrespect and even contempt for those he lies to, caring only for his own interests.
In defense of their evils, negative people almost always sneer at the karmic law which ensures they will reap the consequences of their evil deeds in the future–either in this life or another on the earth, or in the astral world. They deny it vigorously and mock those who accept it, considering them fools.
Having degraded themselves in these two ways, there is no longer any foulness that is not possible for them to commit, either through lack of conscience or defiance of dharma. They become capable of any wrongdoing, nothing whatsoever is beneath them. “Caught in the net of delusion, they fall into the filthy hell of their own evil minds.…They sink down to the lowest possible condition of the soul” (Bhagavad Gita 16:16, 20).
“Miserly people certainly do not go to heaven. Fools for sure do not praise generosity, but the wise man who takes pleasure in giving is thereby happy hereafter” (Dhammapada 177).
Narada Thera: “Verily, misers go not to the celestial realms. Fools do not indeed praise liberality. The wise man rejoices in giving and thereby becomes happy thereafter.”
Devaloka, the world of the gods, is won only by many good deeds, for in that world a person is given all he desires and enjoys all beautiful and good things. He knows not a moment of discontent, but is always in a state of intense happiness.
Only kindness and generosity to others gain admission to that realm. Fools who are centered in their ego and preach the gospel of “Number One” have no use for generosity at all, but the wise delights in giving–not because it will win him merit, but because he truly is happy in the happiness of others. Generosity is also an indication that the person understands his oneness with all life, which is why in the East devout people feed and look after animals and even insects. Those who rejoice in helping others will certainly rise to the higher worlds of blessedness after death and reap far more blessings than they realized was possible on earth.
Entering the Stream
“Better than being sole king of the whole earth, better than going to heaven or sovereignty over the whole universe is the fruit of becoming a stream-winner” (Dhammapada 178).
At one point in our evolution we reach the point where the momentum of our spiritual aspiration and spiritual merit ensures that we shall indeed move onward to Nirvana without hindrance. Effort will still be required, and obstacles will yet have to be overcome, but the outcome is assured and we will from that time onward be moving in a direct line to liberation. This is certainly better than anything else we might be given, for all those things will be ultimately lost–that is the nature of relative existence. But to pass beyond all things is to gain Everything in freedom.
Next article in the Dhammapada for Awakening: The Buddhas
Chapters in the Dhammapada for Awakening:
- The Twin Verses
- The Mind
- The Fool
- The Wise Man
- The Enlightened
- The Thousands
- The Rod
- Old Age
- The Self (Atta Vagga)
- The World
- The Buddhas
- Impurities (Taints)
- The Righteous (Dharmic) One
- The Way
- A Woeful State
- The Elephant
- The Bhikkhu
- The Brahmin
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