The Dhammapada exploration – part 21: Miscellaneous

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The old masters probably had some pretty smart verses that wouldn’t fit neatly into any of the chapters they’d laid out for the Dhammapada, so in the end they thought “screw it, let’s just put them all in a chapter titled ‘Miscellaneous’ and be done with it”. You’d think this would become a boring chapter, but it contains some real gems. Let’s read!

290. If by renouncing a lesser happiness one may realize a greater happiness, let the wise man renounce the lesser, having regard for the greater.

Chasing after worldly delights, clinging to money, fame, the ego, getting extremely drunk, partying all weekend, amassing Italian luxury sports cars (that break down every time you drive them), those are examples of lesser happiness. You might think they make you happy, but the rest of the Buddhist literature explains why this is a delusion. Soon after buying that Lambo, you find out it can’t fill the hole in you. And then you want another Ferrari. But guess what? That Ferrari won’t plug what’s missing either. This type of craving for belongings is a never-ending cycle that can only be stopped by avoiding it in the first place, by recognizing what it is.

So renounce these things. Once you know that this craving does not lead to happiness, you can deal with it, you become truly happy. In its most extreme form this can be experienced in monastic life. You just have food, clothes, some books perhaps. But you are happy as a clam and feel better off than the guy with the seven Maseratis ever will.

291. Entangled by the bonds of hate, he who seeks his own happiness by inflicting pain on others, is never delivered from hatred.

The pain and unhappiness you dish out just creates, you guessed it, pain and unhappiness in people. This will come back to you. Keep in mind that these things mostly apply to people with a sane mind. A clinically insane mass-murdering psychopath might just get genuine joy from murdering and slaughtering.

292. The cankers only increase for those who are arrogant and heedless, who leave undone what should be done and do what should not be done.

I like the “undone” part. Buddhism is a philosophy of action. The whole meaning of “kamma” is action. Of course intention is also of prime importance, but you must also act. Reading ten thousand books on meditation (as we’ve seen in the chapter “Thousands”) won’t give you the same results as meditating ten thousand times. Thinking of those poor people in Syria won’t do shit for them. Donating to the UNHCR so they can deliver thermal blankets and cooking gear to the refugee camps, that will accomplish something.

293. The cankers cease for those mindful and clearly comprehending ones who always earnestly practice mindfulness of the body, who do not resort to what should not be done, and steadfastly pursue what should be done.

294. Having slain mother (craving), father (self-conceit), two warrior-kings (eternalism and nihilism), and destroyed a country (sense organs and sense objects) together with its treasurer (attachment and lust), ungrieving goes the holy man.

This one is powerful because it explains that the middle and balance is the ultimate goal. It also attacks the idea that Buddhism is nihilistic. It is not. It simply rejects both the eternalism that some religions advertise and the nihilism explored by philosophers.

295. Having slain mother, father, two brahman kings (two extreme views), and a tiger as the fifth (the five mental hindrances), ungrieving goes the holy man.

We’ve talked about those before, but just in case, here’s more about the five mental hindrances.

296. Those disciples of Gotama ever awaken happily who day and night constantly practice the Recollection of the Qualities of the Buddha.

297. Those disciples of Gotama ever awaken happily who day and night constantly practice the Recollection of the Qualities of the Dhamma.

298. Those disciples of Gotama ever awaken happily who day and night constantly practice the Recollection of the Qualities of the Sangha.

299. Those disciples of Gotama ever awaken happily who day and night constantly practice Mindfulness of the Body.

300. Those disciples of Gotama ever awaken happily whose minds by day and night delight in the practice of non-violence.

301. Those disciples of Gotama ever awaken happily whose minds by day and night delight in the practice of meditation.

And this happiness is not the kind of wide-grinning happiness you’d imagine with the face of the Joker from Batman. It’s a serene contentedness. I don’t know what the Pali word is that is used in place of “happiness”, but I suspected it’s not actually “happiness”, and indeed Thanissaro Bhikku’s translation comes to the rescue once again: he says “always wide awake” instead of happy. So it’s about being fully realized.

302. Difficult is life as a monk; difficult is it to delight therein. Also difficult and sorrowful is the household life. Suffering comes from association with unequals; suffering comes from wandering in samsara. Therefore, be not an aimless wanderer, be not a pursuer of suffering.

303. He who is full of faith and virtue, and possesses good repute and wealth — he is respected everywhere, in whatever land he travels.

Here again we see that it’s not about abstinence and asceticism. Not at all. Buddhism doesn’t have a problem with wealthy people. Wealth can be a catalyst for goodness and a wealthy one can be glorious and wise.

304. The good shine from afar, like the Himalaya mountains. But the wicked are unseen, like arrows shot in the night.

Well, you’d just hope this would be the case. I think this is a bit of wishful thinking. Look at how many crooked politicians or greedy CEOs are destroying society and the planet. Look at religious leaders calling for jihad or for exorbitant donations to an already rich television church. Today, the wicked don’t go unseen anymore.

305. He who sits alone, sleeps alone, and walks alone, who is strenuous and subdues himself alone, will find delight in the solitude of the forest.

You shouldn’t go and isolate yourself based on this sentence. But it means that if you do everything correctly and practice right thought, action, mindfulness and all the rest, you can be perfectly fine even all alone in a forest.

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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