The following verse from the Dhammapada relates to any who claim to be spiritual and even teach others, not just monastics.
“The man who wears the yellow-dyed robe but is not free from stains himself, without self-restraint and integrity, is unworthy of the robe. But the man who has freed himself of stains and has found peace of mind in an upright life, possessing self-restraint and integrity, he is indeed worthy of the dyed robe” (Dhammapada 9, 10).
Buddha is making a play on words. The word for robe and stain (of passion) are very similar, the only difference being in the pronunciation of a single vowel.
Free from stain
Although the bhikkhu (monk) may wear cloth that is dyed, his mind should be free from the stains of anything external.
“When the heart is made pure by that yoga, when the body is obedient, when the senses are mastered, when man knows that his Atman is the Atman in all creatures, then let him act, untainted by action. The illumined soul whose heart is Brahman’s heart thinks always:
‘I am doing nothing.’ No matter what he sees, hears, touches, smells, eats; no matter whether he is moving, sleeping, breathing,speaking, excreting, or grasping something with his hand, or opening his eyes, or closing his eyes: this he knows always: ‘I am not seeing, I am not hearing: it is the senses that see and hear and touch the things of the senses.’…The lotus leaf rests unwetted on water: he rests on action, untouched by action” (Bhagavad Gita 5:7-10).
There are two ways to be in the stainless condition: to always keep our consciousness immersed in the Transcendent through yoga, and to become incapable of being stained by any thing. This latter is the state of the liberated being, but those of us struggling toward liberation can manage the former if we really try. Of course we also have to work at ridding ourselves of the stains (samskaras–past life conditionings) accumulated in the past. And always we must remain aware that, however pure we may make ourselves, we are “stainable” until fully liberated.
Worthy & Self-restrained
Unworthy is he that is “without self-restraint.” Animals, infants, children, and unworthy men and women are instinctual rather than rational. However intelligent they may be, and capable in other areas of life, they do not restrain themselves–usually because they do not wish to.
Others, approaching worthiness, would like to restrain the instinctual impulses that lead them back into pre-human patterns of behavior, but do not know how. For a while they struggle against the forces of their lower nature and then fail, falling into despair, denial, or hypocrisy. These unhappy souls are especially victimized by two vicious kinds of people:
- the libertines who assure them that “repression” is negative and harmful, and urge them to indulge their chaotic instincts and even expand and elaborate on them, and
- the “righteous” who attempt to show them how “bad” they are and how “displeasing to God” are their impulses and actions, instilling fear and self-disgust in them, but offering no real practical solution to their dilemma and frustration. Both of these types are degraders and destroyers of their victims.
It is rare indeed to encounter a third type: those who, like Buddha, can not only reveal the cause of their problems, but can also show the means to eliminate both cause and effect. They can show the practical way out of the labyrinth of confusion, not relying on the whimsy of any force external to the seeker, but on his innate nature which he can awaken and unfold according to an exact and verifiable methodology.
This latter point is essential, because Buddha says the worthy are self-restrained, not ruled by another. Trading the bondage of our lower nature for the ideas and demands of an “authority” is merely trading one form of enslavement for another. Right Meditation enables us to awake, arise, and free ourselves.
High ideals or worthy ideals?
One thing our reluctant egos like to do is torment us with ideals so high that they cannot be attained. “You should not need to…Only once should be sufficient…If it was real…Well, if it was…If you were…” etc., etc., etc. Buddha is speaking to people who are not perfect and who should accept that and work onward. The ego likes to condemn us for even needing discipline or restraint (“What kind of a person…?”), but that is a ploy to maintain its hold over us.
By telling us that self-restraint is needed, Buddha is acknowledging that he is not speaking to bodiless beings of perfect knowledge. He does not condemn us for needing his teaching, and neither should we.
It is easy to think a worthy person is one who cannot be touched by the impulses or desires of lower nature, but Buddha sees it differently. He who masters himself must have something to master. He who is purified must have once been impure. Krishna tells us: “Desire flows into the mind of the seer but he is never disturbed. The seer knows peace” (Bhagavad Gita 2:70).
There we have it. Even the sage may experience the impulse of negativity, but he is unmoved by it. So being tempted or “hard pressed” by evil or folly is no fault in itself. Yes, we shall grow beyond these impulses in time, but until then we can remain untouched.
Regarding this Swami Yukteswar Giri, the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda, wrote a song in which he says: “Desire, my great enemy, with his soldiers surrounding me, is giving me lots of trouble…. That enemy I will defeat, remaining in the castle of peace.” Here, again, the simile of the lotus leaf unwetted, afloat on the water, is apt.
Further Reading from Buddha’s Wisdom:
- Why to Become Free from Hatred
- The Mind as the Source of Suffering and Happiness
- Four Ways to Be Happy