The Dhammapada exploration – part 16: Affection/dear ones

Coming to this chapter of the Dhammapada, I have to reiterate that it’s always good to look at multiple translations of Buddhist texts. In this series I usually use the Buddharakkhita one, but Access to Insight also hosts the one by Thanissaro Bhikku. The differences in translation can be pretty profound sometimes.

One example that fucked stuff up a little for Buddhism in the west is the difference between non-aggression and love. The Pali term metta is used for an active kind of well-feeling, loving-kindness towards others, and it’s often translated as love. Christian commentators of the new times also make use of the word “love”, but in my mind they pervert what is meant.

Even the Koine Greek word used in the New Testament that these people base their idea on, ἀγάπη (agapé), doesn’t really mean that kind of love. It’s more of an expression of moral preference, or a kind of goodwill. All this led to a lot of confusion, with some Christians misrepresenting the Buddhist notion of metta as a variation of their own misinterpreted meaning of ἀγάπη.

There is loving-kindness in Buddhism, but there is also non-aggression, non-hate. Hate is conquered by non-hate. Not by some active love-your-tormentor kind of love. The Anguttara Nikaya contains some stories that talk about non-ill-will,  non-malevolence, non-hate. These negations that sound so unwieldy in English are a typical thing in Pali, where you get a negative usually by prefixing a word with “a”. So “deathful, dying”, mara, elegantly becomes “deathless, undying, immortal”: amara.

Seeing how much there is to lose in translation, it certainly pays off to learn Pali if you’re really, really serious about studying the Buddhist texts. You can also learn Sanskrit as the later Mahāyāna texts were written in Sanskrit. Or you can do like I do, just be lazy and read several translations to form a picture of what was really meant, and focus specifically on words that often seem to be translated differently. Those are normally the things where it pays off to grasp the meaning of the original term.

But now, let’s go!

209. Giving himself to things to be shunned and not exerting where exertion is needed, a seeker after pleasures, having given up his true welfare, envies those intent upon theirs.

210. Seek no intimacy with the beloved and also not with the unloved, for not to see the beloved and to see the unloved, both are painful.

211. Therefore hold nothing dear, for separation from the dear is painful. There are no bonds for those who have nothing beloved or unloved.

That doesn’t mean you have to not love anyone. But mostly, don’t grow attached.

212. From endearment springs grief, from endearment springs fear. For one who is wholly free from endearment there is no grief, whence then fear?

213. From affection springs grief, from affection springs fear. For one who is wholly free from affection there is no grief, whence then fear?

214. From attachment springs grief, from attachment springs fear. For one who is wholly free from attachment there is no grief, whence then fear?

See, there we have it.

215. From lust springs grief, from lust springs fear. For one who is wholly free from craving there is no grief; whence then fear?

216. From craving springs grief, from craving springs fear. For one who is wholly free from craving there is no grief; whence then fear?

217. People hold dear him who embodies virtue and insight, who is principled, has realized the truth, and who himself does what he ought to be doing.

218. One who is intent upon the Ineffable (Nibbana), dwells with mind inspired (by supramundane wisdom), and is no more bound by sense pleasures — such a man is called “One Bound Upstream.”

219. When, after a long absence, a man safely returns from afar, his relatives, friends and well-wishers welcome him home on arrival.

220. As kinsmen welcome a dear one on arrival, even so his own good deeds will welcome the doer of good who has gone from this world to the next.

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.

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