The Dhammapada exploration – part 20: The path

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At some point the Buddha promised that he knows some wild tricks that could make annoyances and stupidity disappear from your life. He was talking about dukkha, but that word doesn’t have a good translation; “suffering” it ain’t. Think of dukkha more as unpleasantness, an unsatisfied state, things going not quite as they should. It is said the word comes from the sound a wagon’s wheel makes when one of its spokes is broken — dukkhadukkhadukkhadukkha. So things aren’t quite round and smooth.

Following the Buddha’s path to liberation requires treading the Noble Eightfold Path. So let’s hear how the Dhammapada advertises this cool product:

273. Of all the paths the Eightfold Path is the best; of all the truths the Four Noble Truths are the best; of all things passionlessness is the best: of men the Seeing One (the Buddha) is the best.

Of course it would be the best!

274. This is the only path; there is none other for the purification of insight. Tread this path, and you will bewilder Mara.

Mara is still our favorite tempter demon.

275. Walking upon this path you will make an end of suffering. Having discovered how to pull out the thorn of lust, I make known the path.

276. You yourselves must strive; the Buddhas only point the way. Those meditative ones who tread the path are released from the bonds of Mara.

This one’s important, and it’s stressed everywhere in Buddhist literature. There is no Buddha except you. No one else can do this work for you. You can’t blame your failings on some all-powerful deity or on your own weakness. If you are weak, recognize that you are weak and work on becoming strong. There are no excuses. Kick yourself in the ass.

277. “All conditioned things are impermanent” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

278. “All conditioned things are unsatisfactory” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

279. “All things are not-self” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.

These are nice concepts intellectually, and maybe you already understand them on that level. In a lot of Buddhist texts, “seeing” means something else, though. Sometimes also “grasping” is used. It means to understand completely and fully, to have absorbed the knowledge into your mind, to see without any doubt. To see without opening your eyes, maybe that’s a good simile.

It’s different from intellectual knowledge. And at the same time hard and easy to obtain.

280. The idler who does not exert himself when he should, who though young and strong is full of sloth, with a mind full of vain thoughts — such an indolent man does not find the path to wisdom.

281. Let a man be watchful of speech, well controlled in mind, and not commit evil in bodily action. Let him purify these three courses of action, and win the path made known by the Great Sage.

See? I told you you have to work on yourself.

282. Wisdom springs from meditation; without meditation wisdom wanes. Having known these two paths of progress and decline, let a man so conduct himself that his wisdom may increase.

I’m not sure which type of meditation was meant in this passage, but Buddhism does acknowledge at least two. One is with an empty mind, a still mind. The other much more awake, observing mind patterns as they appear, gaining insights into the true nature of reality.

It could be either, in my eyes.

283. Cut down the forest (lust), but not the tree; from the forest springs fear. Having cut down the forest and the underbrush (desire), be passionless, O monks!

284. For so long as the underbrush of desire, even the most subtle, of a man towards a woman is not cut down, his mind is in bondage, like the sucking calf to its mother.

285. Cut off your affection in the manner of a man who plucks with his hand an autumn lotus. Cultivate only the path to peace, Nibbana, as made known by the Exalted One.

286. “Here shall I live during the rains, here in winter and summer” — thus thinks the fool. He does not realize the danger (that death might intervene).

287. As a great flood carries away a sleeping village, so death seizes and carries away the man with a clinging mind, doting on his children and cattle.

He who does not cling to things will be unaffected when the things are carried away. Pride and attachment to your belongings only makes you more vulnerable to this.

288. For him who is assailed by death there is no protection by kinsmen. None there are to save him — no sons, nor father, nor relatives.

You will die. There are a few excellent passages in other Buddhist texts about how your body will rot somewhere and animals will pluck it apart and in the end you’re just a skeleton with meat on it, then a skeleton without meat on it, then a skeleton with tendons on it and then dust. That’s something you have to face. No one will be there to protect you from death. Not your friends, not your wife or husband, not your children. You are gonna die.

Cheerful, eh?

289. Realizing this fact, let the wise man, restrained by morality, hasten to clear the path leading to Nibbana.

You can achieve Nibbana even in this life. The ceasing of lust and clinging. It’s hard work, man, but it can be done.

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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