Whew, it’s been a while since the last Dhammapada exploration, but I relaunch it with a nice one: The awakened, the Buddha. Or you could also spell it “the buddha”. The historical Buddha, Siddharta Gotama, never claimed that he was “the” Buddha. He was a buddha. Just like you can be a buddha, an awakened one.
This isn’t some mad vision-seeing and LSD-trip-like awakening we’re talking about, either. It’s an awakening that lets you see, first-hand, the true nature of things. Nothing more and nothing less. And once you have it, will you be happy? You might, at least one of the living buddhas, Matthieu Ricard, is said to be the happiest man on this planet. Will you be glowing all day long and grinning and smiling just from achieving realization? Probably not.
I have to paraphrase something I read perhaps from Brad Warner, but it might also go back to Dōgen: Before you get enlightenment, you think it is a thing of pure gold that shines with wonderful radiance to bathe everything in glory. Once you have it, you see it’s no more than a clump of shit.
Let’s hear it from reasonably untarnished (but translated) accounts, straight from the Dhammapada:
179. By what track can you trace that trackless Buddha of limitless range, whose victory nothing can undo, whom none of the vanquished defilements can ever pursue?
180. By what track can you trace that trackless Buddha of limitless range, in whom exists no longer, the entangling and embroiling craving that perpetuates becoming?
181. Those wise ones who are devoted to meditation and who delight in the calm of renunciation — such mindful ones, Supreme Buddhas, even the gods hold dear.
Renunciation here does not mean you have to lead a monastic life. It is also renunciation in the spirit. A commitment to detachment and conquering of defilements. Some say it’s easier to do this in complete isolation, others say that someone who manages this while living in a busy city is even more worthy of praise.
182. Hard is it to be born a man; hard is the life of mortals. Hard is it to gain the opportunity of hearing the Sublime Truth, and hard to encounter is the arising of the Buddhas.
183. To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one’s mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
184. Enduring patience is the highest austerity. “Nibbana is supreme,” say the Buddhas. He is not a true monk who harms another, nor a true renunciate who oppresses others.
185. Not despising, not harming, restraint according to the code of monastic discipline, moderation in food, dwelling in solitude, devotion to meditation — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
Now here we are dropping into some monastic instruction. Buddhist scripture often includes instructions for monks and nuns.
186-187. There is no satisfying sensual desires, even with the rain of gold coins. For sensual pleasures give little satisfaction and much pain. Having understood this, the wise man finds no delight even in heavenly pleasures. The disciple of the Supreme Buddha delights in the destruction of craving.
Now this is a very succinct summary of the whole Buddhist idea. Craving creates suffering. The destruction of craving destroys suffering. Sense-pleasures and possessions create craving, but they are empty.
188. Driven only by fear, do men go for refuge to many places — to hills, woods, groves, trees and shrines.
189. Such, indeed, is no safe refuge; such is not the refuge supreme. Not by resorting to such a refuge is one released from all suffering.
190-191. He who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Teaching and his Order, penetrates with transcendental wisdom the Four Noble Truths — suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of suffering.
192. This indeed is the safe refuge, this the refuge supreme. Having gone to such a refuge, one is released from all suffering.
Just running into the monastery with your fears and doubts and chilling with the monks in there won’t liberate you. You must take in the teaching, you must walk the path yourself.
193. Hard to find is the thoroughbred man (the Buddha); he is not born everywhere. Where such a wise man is born, that clan thrives happily.
194. Blessed is the birth of the Buddhas; blessed is the enunciation of the sacred Teaching; blessed is the harmony in the Order, and blessed is the spiritual pursuit of the united truth-seeker.
195-196. He who reveres those worthy of reverence, the Buddhas and their disciples, who have transcended all obstacles and passed beyond the reach of sorrow and lamentation — he who reveres such peaceful and fearless ones, his merit none can compute by any measure.
A buddha can be born into any place and time. But it is rare, and so we’re very lucky that one managed not to die before passing on their teaching. Doubtless more buddhas appear in today’s world, but I think a modern buddha would have a hard time finding Twitter followers. We’re lucky this particular galaxy and planet had one.
On the other hand, maybe we’re unlucky that we developed a monkey-mind in the first place. Would we be happier with something below our monkey-mind? But isn’t is precisely these mental faculties that allow us to understand and enact the teaching, so we’d be worse off with a less developed brain? Oh my, such philosophy.
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.