The Dhammapada exploration – part 13: The world

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.

What is our relationship with the world? Not what is our purpose, I highly doubt there is one. But how do we interact with the world around us? Let’s find out some of the Buddhist views!

167. Follow not the vulgar way; live not in heedlessness; hold not false views; linger not long in worldly existence.

I’d like to also present Thanissaro Bhikku’s translation:

167. Don’t associate with lowly qualities. Don’t consort with heedlessness. Don’t associate with wrong views. Don’t busy yourself with the world.

I can’t stress enough how useful it is to use multiple different translations of these Pali texts. Pali words have a lot of nuances and the Pali spiritual vocabulary is a lot larger than the English one, so you will often find two translations that seem somewhat apart, but I guess the true meaning is always to be found in between the two.

168. Arise! Do not be heedless! Lead a righteous life. The righteous live happily both in this world and the next.

169. Lead a righteous life; lead not a base life. The righteous live happily both in this world and the next.

170. One who looks upon the world as a bubble and a mirage, him the King of Death sees not.

The world is impermanent like a bubble, it is fragile, seeing it is a mind-wrought sensation like a mirage. What is the difference between the real and the illusion? What is real? Western philosophy (specifically phenomenology but also epistemology) has a lot to say about these subjects. But it is more like a lot of talk. There is no right or wrong solution here.

If you’re interested in western philosophy as well but too lazy to read all the classics, I can recommend the YouTube channels Wireless Philsophy and School of Life. There are also other channels that touch on subjects that Buddhists could be very interested in, such as identity and non-self in Crash Course Philosophy or Kurzgesagt’s “What Are You?

The old smelly Buddhists knew not be to be overly concerned about this, they were more easy-going. Buddhist world-view already has non-self, and to realize that the world is only so much baggage is not a far step from that. Let’s continue:

171. Come! Behold this world, which is like a decorated royal chariot. Here fools flounder, but the wise have no attachment to it.

There we have it. Only an idiot would grow attached to the world and wordly things. To the delusions it presents. Opinions, ego and wealth. They are only mind-wrought things.

172. He who having been heedless is heedless no more, illuminates this world like the moon freed from clouds.

173. He, who by good deeds covers the evil he has done, illuminates this world like the moon freed from clouds.

The latter verse illustrates nicely that you can always step away from delusion. You can always become skillful in your thoughts and actions, it is never too late.

174. Blind is the world; here only a few possess insight. Only a few, like birds escaping from the net, go to realms of bliss.

175. Swans fly on the path of the sun; men pass through the air by psychic powers; the wise are led away from the world after vanquishing Mara and his host.

Mara is the tempter demon, we have read about him many times. Don’t take the whole demon thing verbatim. He’s not a demon, he is a manifestation of urges and shitty ideas in your mind. Or maybe he really is a demon, who could tell, and would it matter? So philosophical today, asking many questions and not giving any answers!

176. For a liar who has violated the one law (of truthfulness) who holds in scorn the hereafter, there is no evil that he cannot do.

177. Truly, misers fare not to heavenly realms; nor, indeed, do fools praise generosity. But the wise man rejoices in giving, and by that alone does he become happy hereafter.

If you’re a violent greedy lying jerk, nope, there won’t be any Nibbana for you. Try harder.

178. Better than sole sovereignty over the earth, better than going to heaven, better even than lordship over all the worlds is the supramundane Fruition of Stream Entrance.

Stream-entry is the very first level of awakening. When you directly see. When any wrong view in you is destroyed, when doubts about the truth of the dhamma are obliterated, when you go on your way towards realizing Nibbana.

The path towards all this varies between Buddhist schools and I encourage you to check out all of them until you find one that fits your style and world view. But it is perhaps not so wrong to say that all Buddhist practice has as one of its effects and goals stream entry and beyond, attainment of Nibbana. Although you shouldn’t strive for that goal either, that’s greedy. Confused yet?

Further background is available in a study guide on stream entry from Access to Insight. I haven’t even read that yet, so what I wrote above is probably super-inaccurate.

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