The Dhammapada exploration – part 8: Thousands

This is a series of articles I’m doing on one of the basic Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada. Read the rest of the articles in this series.

Chapter 9 powerfully drives home the size and importance of the dhamma (the teaching, wisdom, knowledge, the true nature of reality), of the practice, of mental concentration.

100. Better than a thousand useless words is one useful word, hearing which one attains peace.

101. Better than a thousand useless verses is one useful verse, hearing which one attains peace.

102. Better than reciting a hundred meaningless verses is the reciting of one verse of Dhamma, hearing which one attains peace.

What’s funny about this is that the Buddhist canon consists of thousands upon thousands of verses itself.

Then again, you have to consider that Buddhist teaching was often phrased in a way that can be understood by anyone and everyone. There are more advanced texts, there are verses regulating monastic life, there is advice about worldly things. Not every bit of Buddhist teaching will be important or useful to everyone.

Anyhow, the core message here is that you can write a billion words, if none of them is useful, it’s a waste.

103. Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.

I totally enjoy this one. It’s indeed easier to just slap someone in the face than to must the will to overcome your own fears, insecurities, imperfections and shortcomings.

104-105. Self-conquest is far better than the conquest of others. Not even a god, an angel, Mara or Brahma can turn into defeat the victory of a person who is self-subdued and ever restrained in conduct.

We’ve seen Mara before, and Brahma was said to be the chief god of the hinduistic religions at the time of the Buddha, that’s why he appears in these texts. If you conquer yourself, nothing can undo this victory.

106. Though month after month for a hundred years one should offer sacrifices by the thousands, yet if only for a moment one should worship those of perfected minds that honor is indeed better than a century of sacrifice.

107. Though for a hundred years one should tend the sacrificial fire in the forest, yet if only for a moment one should worship those of perfected minds, that worship is indeed better than a century of sacrifice.

If you recognize the wisdom of a wisest one, an arahant, this is worth more than a thousand empty rituals.

108. Whatever gifts and oblations one seeking merit might offer in this world for a whole year, all that is not worth one fourth of the merit gained by revering the Upright Ones, which is truly excellent.

109. To one ever eager to revere and serve the elders, these four blessing accrue: long life and beauty, happiness and power.

Well, you can hope for that. But you can also see this as so much superstitious poppycock. It is also in contradiction to other Dhammapada passages where it is said that not your parents, only you yourself can make wise choices for yourself.

But choosing your own path does not have to conflict with being respectful towards elders. I’m not sure what the Pali word was that was translated as “elders” here, but some translations have it as “the worthy ones”, not the elders. I like that one much better, because just by being older one does not necessarily become wise, and I see no reason to revere a person if they are merely old but foolish.

110. Better it is to live one day virtuous and meditative than to live a hundred years immoral and uncontrolled.

111. Better it is to live one day wise and meditative than to live a hundred years foolish and uncontrolled.

112. Better it is to live one day strenuous and resolute than to live a hundred years sluggish and dissipated.

113. Better it is to live one day seeing the rise and fall of things than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things.

The rise and fall is connected to dependend origination. Something we haven’t seen too much of in the Dhammapada so far, but that is a core concept of Buddhism.

114. Better it is to live one day seeing the Deathless than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the Deathless.

115. Better it is to live one day seeing the Supreme Truth than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the Supreme Truth.

The deathless (amata, not to be confused with anatta, the non-self or non-soul) is not immortality. Instead the deathless state is one of full awareness, of getting rid of clinging, of Nibbana.Join me next time if you’ve like this, when we explore one of my favorite topics: evil!

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