A Continuation of the Commentary on Buddha’s Practical Wisdom found in the Dhammapada
“When a man is resolute and recollected, pure of deed and persevering, when he is attentive and self-controlled and lives according to the Teaching, his reputation is bound to grow” (Dhammapada 24).
The last words of this verse comprise the key idea. The word which Richards renders “reputation” is yasha which in Sanskrit and Pali can mean reputation, but usually means success, fame, or glory. Most translators prefer “glory,” but we should keep the other meanings in mind as well.
Most religions, in order to impose their authority and convince people of their need for religion, put out a single main message: “You are nothing without me.” And usually compound it with: “You are evil, and without me you deserve pain and death.”
Interestingly enough, with them there never seems to be much of a difference between the believers and the unbelievers, the faithful and the unfaithful, as regards their states of mind and conditions of life. But “true believers” are so busy believing, hoping, and obeying that they almost never follow the sage wisdom of Dr. Bronner–of peppermint soap fame–and “judge only by the results.”
Even Hinduism and Buddhism, that have such an optimism for the eventual condition of their adherents, insist that at the present their adherents are ignorant, degraded, and basically crazy or idiots–so much so that in most people’s mind the Divine Atma and the Buddha Nature are so far over the horizon that for all practical purposes they suffer under the same condemnations as those of other religions, adding “bad karma” and the certainty of rebirth to their burdens.
But if we look we shall see that Buddha does not say the virtuous and wise attain or are given glory. The implication is that each human being already has some degree of glory by his very nature, and that sadhana (spiritual practice) is intended to expand that glory or, more rightly put, to extend his awareness of his own glory to infinity, to Nirvana.
If we have no idea who or what we are, then how can we formulate any intelligent goals for ourselves or rightly estimate our ability to attain those goals? It is therefore absolutely necessary for us to understand our innate worth, for that is the foundation on which we can build our future advancement or self-discovery.
Then our rallying cry can be with David: “Awake up, my glory;…I myself will awake early” (Psalms 57:8). Motivated by both hope and assurance, we can then sculpt ourselves into the image Buddha presents to us as that of one whose glory is ever-increasing.
We have previously spoken about the problem of “discontinuity”–that so many of us suffer from a seeming incapacity to sustain a course of thought or action unless we are impelled to it by the force of addiction, desire, aversion, or fear. Making a sustained effort of will in the sphere of our personal life is a far too rare matter, indeed. Yet, we can see from Buddha’s checklist that the capacity for active resolve is the first step–not some far-off target in our development.
As said, the requisite resolve is active, not merely intellectual. “I have to quit smoking,” “Some day I must get to around to that,” and “As soon as I have the time…” are phrases we use like the ticking of a clock that counts the passing away of our very lives.
Buddha, however, is not speaking of wishful thinking but of active doing. The path to rebirth is paved with good intentions; the path to Nirvana is paved with right resolve and right action–sustained right resolve and action. For only the end result counts. To go full steam down the road for a while and then fizzle out means nothing.
One time a young woman, seized with momentary spiritual aspiration, insisted on leaving home and traveling with Sri Anandamayi Ma. Her father accordingly brought her to where Ma was currently staying. After a few days he accompanied Ma to the railway station as she was leaving that place. Seeing his daughter firmly ensconced among the “in group” of women that usually travelled with Ma, he happily remarked: “I see she has passed the test and been accepted.” “Baba,” replied Mother with emphasis, “the only test that matters is the last test.” In a few weeks the daughter was back home, having lost interest.
We, too, often congratulate ourselves on the fact that we are “trying,” but in time we get bored with the spiritual dressing up and play-acting, tired of looking at ourselves in the mirror of our egos, or the mirror of other people’s egos as they observe us, and we get “disillusioned” or realize we Don’t Really Need To Do All That. It is a great marvel that Buddha was able to resist and conquer Mara, but it may be an even greater marvel that he got to the point of development where Mara needed to appear.
Instead of “resolute” some other translations are: “energetic,” “with initiative,” “with great perseverance,” “has roused himself,” and “exerts himself.” The idea is clear.
Yet, Buddha does not want us to be charging along heedlessly, mistaking sheer energy output as the desideratum.
Stephen Leacock, the Canadian humorist, wrote in one of his satires about a man who “jumped on his horse and rode off wildly in all four directions.” This is not the way.
As a workplace sign says: “Would you rather work harder–or smarter?” Intelligence must prevail, and that is only in a calm and balanced mind. So “recollected” is the second item of Buddha’s list. It can also be translated: “mindful,” “aware,” and “thoughtful.” “Self-possessed” is a very good Victorian term that is rarely heard nowadays and even more rarely seen.
Through meditation alone can the mind be put into shape and kept there. It is the meditational mind that is able to see how to act and how to gauge the status of the present moment in the context of the intended future. The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita gives a very full description of exactly the state of mind needed to successfully navigate our way across the sea of samsara.
Keeping the goal in mind is no small thing. The greatest of all Christian monks, Saint Arsenius the Great, wrote in large letters on the wall of his hut in the Egyptian desert: “Arsenius, why did you come here?” Each day he considered that challenge in order to maintain the original intention and perspective which had brought him to that place.
It is very easy to get so caught up in the journeying that we forget or ignore our purpose in starting out and wander into byways and even regress. “I have been on the Path for many years” is usually an admission of just such forgetfulness and wandering.
This article is an excerpt from The Dhammapada for Awakening: A Commentary on the Buddha’s Practical Wisdom, by Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke). We are in the process of having the book printed, and it should be available in the early part of the summer.
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