The Dhammapada exploration – part 9: Evil

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.

Ho boy, this week it’s all about evil! But didn’t I write earlier that Buddhism is non-dualistic? So why does it have an idea of evil? The key perhaps is that Buddhism doesn’t have any absolute good and evil. It’s all a gradient. Most things are. So let’s see what they wrote about this:

116. Hasten to do good; restrain your mind from evil. He who is slow in doing good, his mind delights in evil.

If you have an intention to do good, follow the impulse, immediately. If you think “hmm, I’ll give this beggar five bucks, it’s not gonna hurt me”, don’t dwell on it until you think “hey, maybe I can keep the five bucks and instead buy more video games on Steam for myself”.

It’s a stupidly trivial example, but you get the idea: When an impulse to do good arises, do not slow it down, do not overthink it. Act.

117. Should a person commit evil, let him not do it again and again. Let him not find pleasure therein, for painful is the accumulation of evil.

Accumulating evil will not make your life happier. You might think that keeping the change every time you buy croissants for the office with the pooled money is fine, and you do it again, stealing a sizeable sum in the end. This sum makes you happy, and it’s a victimless crime, none of the guys, girls and genderqueer at the office would miss this money. Right?

But even small evil like this is evil, and evil accumulates over time, just like good does.

118. Should a person do good, let him do it again and again. Let him find pleasure therein, for blissful is the accumulation of good.

119. It may be well with the evil-doer as long as the evil ripens not. But when it does ripen, then the evil-doer sees (the painful results of) his evil deeds.

120. It may be ill with the doer of good as long as the good ripens not. But when it does ripen, then the doer of good sees (the pleasant results of) his good deeds.

The ripening is a basic concept of kamma that is sometimes misunderstood. Kamma is not a result in itself, you cannot earn good kamma. What you earn is the fruit of the kamma. Kamma itself is only action, leading to the ripening of the fruits of kamma. Those fruits can then be very bad or very good indeed.

For more on kammic fruition, read Kamma and its Fruit by Nyanaponika Thera.

121. Think not lightly of evil, saying, “It will not come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the fool, gathering it little by little, fills himself with evil.

122. Think not lightly of good, saying, “It will not come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little, fills himself with good.

As above, know that both good and evil accumulates. If you see no immediate fruit of your good kamma, don’t get nervous, don’t get impatient. If you see no immediate punishment of your evil deeds, don’t feel like you got away with something.

123. Just as a trader with a small escort and great wealth would avoid a perilous route, or just as one desiring to live avoids poison, even so should one shun evil.

124. If on the hand there is no wound, one may carry even poison in it. Poison does not affect one who is free from wounds. For him who does no evil, there is no ill.

The poison and the trader are great similes, I think. It shows that if you are vigilant, careful and wise, you can avoid the dangerous routes. I’m not sure I would try to carry a handful of poison even with a healthy hand. You never know; some theories say that fucking deadly frog poison can seep right through the pores. But the simile still holds: Poisonous, evil thoughts and deeds are more likely to affect you if you already have an evil disposition.

125. Like fine dust thrown against the wind, evil falls back upon that fool who offends an inoffensive, pure and guiltless man.

Picture Nelson from The Simpsons going “hah-hah!” at the fool

126. Some are born in the womb; the wicked are born in hell; the devout go to heaven; the stainless pass into Nibbana.

Another translation of the last part is “the unpolluted wholly cool”. Sign me up, I wanna be cool and unpolluted! The womb of course is a womb of rebirth

127. Neither in the sky nor in mid-ocean, nor by entering into mountain clefts, nowhere in the world is there a place where one may escape from the results of evil deeds.

128. Neither in the sky nor in mid-ocean, nor by entering into mountain clefts, nowhere in the world is there a place where one will not be overcome by death.

You can run, but you can’t hide. The results of your deeds will find you, as surely as death will take you.

Cheerful lot, those Buddhists, eh?

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