The Dhammapada exploration – part 22: Nirayavagga

It’s Dhammapada-time again! This time we talk about Nirayavagga, the Abyss, the state of woe. In your typical carrot-and-stick duality, you would call this something like hell. Also, there’s some stuff about rebirth.

Again, rebirth is not understood as physical reincarnation by all brands of Buddhism. There is significant disagreement about this. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of physical rebirth (I sure as hell am), rebirth is also be defined as the reconstruction of your illusion of self that happens from any moment to the next.

At any one time your brain holds a certain pattern and a synaptic configuration and whatnot, and that configuration makes you think you are you. But this structure is always changing. Your consciousness gets its image of itself and its surroundings from the sense organs in small snapshots, but it also stores (not like a tape recorder) a memory of many of the past configurations. That means that from moment to moment, you are reborn. The you that was a moment ago has given rise to the you that is now you in a series of interdependent events that started when your brain developed in utero. You will never be that you again. In that sense you are reborn every moment.

By your actions you can influence this rebirth. That’s also part of what all that kamma talk is about. Want some more about self as illusion? Watch Sam Harris give an explanation.

Buddhist philosophers figured that shit out millenia ago, and today’s science is also curious about some of those topics. Topics like free will is an illusion, the self is an illusion, time is an illusion, it’s all very trippy stuff and it’s no wonder that a bunch of ancient monks, bored silly by staring at walls for hours every week, dug into this first.

But now, let’s descend into hell!

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 22: Nirayavagga”

The Dhammapada exploration – part 21: Miscellaneous

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.
Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 21: Miscellaneous”

The Dhammapada exploration – part 20: The path

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!

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 20: The path”

The Dhammapada exploration – part 19: The just/the judge

It’s Sunday, so it’s time to catch up on our Dhammapada reading! Buddhism gives some advice on judging, and as we’ve learned earlier, prejudice is particularly frowned upon. But Buddhism never goes into the “hey man, don’t judge!” hippie territory either. Instead, you should reflect on the proper things and in the proper way before reaching judgment on something or someone.

Now what are these proper ways? Let’s have a look.

256. Not by passing arbitrary judgments does a man become just; a wise man is he who investigates both right and wrong.

257. He who does not judge others arbitrarily, but passes judgment impartially according to the truth, that sagacious man is a guardian of law and is called just.

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 19: The just/the judge”

The Dhammapada exploration – part 18: Impurities

This chapter mostly stresses the importance of removing impurities. These mostly come in the form of temptation to let yourself go a bit too much. Don’t give in to them! How this is done, that differs between each Buddhist practice, but it’s mostly reflection and observation of mind-phenomena (as usual, if you’ve been reading this series you should begin to see a pattern here).

235. Like a withered leaf are you now; death’s messengers await you. You stand on the eve of your departure, yet you have made no provision for your journey!

236. Make an island for yourself! Strive hard and become wise! Rid of impurities and cleansed of stain, you shall enter the celestial abode of the Noble Ones.

237. Your life has come to an end now; You are setting forth into the presence of Yama, the king of death. No resting place is there for you on the way, yet you have made no provision for the journey!

At the moment of your death, death-god Yama (who looks kick-ass with his swollen face and skull-crown, by the way, grarrrrgh) takes you, and lo, you don’t have anything. You’re not prepared! You didn’t do the right things, you never reflected, you were sloppy, you have no provisions! Feel silly now, eh?

238. Make an island unto yourself! Strive hard and become wise! Rid of impurities and cleansed of stain, you shall not come again to birth and decay.

You can escape the wheel of Samsara, and this tiny concise sentence basically tells you all you need to know about how that’s done. Too bad the real challenge lies in the doing.

239. One by one, little by little, moment by moment, a wise man should remove his own impurities, as a smith removes his dross from silver.

240. Just as rust arising from iron eats away the base from which it arises, even so, their own deeds lead transgressors to states of woe.

The latter at least can be observed first-hand. The impurities are at the heart of what causes this rust, and the rust eats away at you. If you remove the source of it, you will be better off. Remove the source of your anger, your impatience, your greed and your intolerance. That way, their negative effects cannot manifest themselves.

241. Non-repetition is the bane of scriptures; neglect is the bane of a home; slovenliness is the bane of personal appearance, and heedlessness is the bane of a guard.

The guard they mean here is really a guard, a person you hire to guard your house.

242. Unchastity is the taint in a woman; niggardliness is the taint in a giver. Taints, indeed, are all evil things, both in this world and the next.

Hmm, okay, now this one seems a bit mixed up to me. Thanissaro Bhikku, to the rescue! It’s alternative translation time:

In a woman, misconduct is an impurity. In a donor, stinginess. Evil deeds are the real impurities in this world & the next.

Oh. Okay. That’s slightly better.

243. A worse taint than these is ignorance, the worst of all taints. Destroy this one taint and become taintless, O monks!

Not just ignorance in general, but specifically also ignorance about the truth of suffering, the causes of suffering and the path to the cessation of suffering.

244. Easy is life for the shameless one who is impudent as a crow, is backbiting and forward, arrogant and corrupt.

245. Difficult is life for the modest one who always seeks purity, is detached and unassuming, clean in life, and discerning.

Yeah, ever wondered why that is so? The next few verses at least offer some sort of consolation.

246-247. One who destroys life, utters lies, takes what is not given, goes to another man’s wife, and is addicted to intoxicating drinks — such a man digs up his own root even in this world.

248. Know this, O good man: evil things are difficult to control. Let not greed and wickedness drag you to protracted misery.

I like the simile of “digging up one’s own root”.

249. People give according to their faith or regard. If one becomes discontented with the food and drink given by others, one does not attain meditative absorption, either by day or by night.

250. But he in who this (discontent) is fully destroyed, uprooted and extinct, he attains absorption, both by day and by night.

You can take this even further if you like. You can be content no matter what. In pouring rain or when being forced to wait 20 minutes for the next bus or when the cafeteria ran out of nigger heads again and you have to settle for a tartelette aux cerises. And it’s not about controlling all your emotions, crushing them like a tank. It’s about observing them as they arise and not letting them take hold of you.

I know you, Mara!

251. There is no fire like lust; there is no grip like hatred; there is no net like delusion; there is no river like craving.

These awesome similes again. They had a knack for good images back in the day.

252. Easily seen is the fault of others, but one’s own fault is difficult to see. Like chaff one winnows another’s faults, but hides one’s own, even as a crafty fowler hides behind sham branches.

The crafty fowler! I’m in simile heaven!

253. He who seeks another’s faults, who is ever censorious — his cankers grow. He is far from destruction of the cankers.

254. There is no track in the sky, and no recluse outside (the Buddha’s dispensation). Mankind delights in worldliness, but the Buddhas are free from worldliness. [19]

255. There is no track in the sky, and no recluse outside (the Buddha’s dispensation). There are no conditioned things that are eternal, and no instability in the Buddhas.

 

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.

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.

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 16: Affection/dear ones”