The Dhammapada exploration – part 26: The Holy Man

Holy people, in religions, have it easy sometimes. In some they need to really work just one day a week, they have obedient little children doing most of the heavy lifting for them during service, and if they misbehave (or behave very well) they get sent to another part of the world for free and can explore that culture.

But Buddhism isn’t a religion, it has no rich organization overseeing things and no strict hierarchies. People in Buddhism, whether holy or not, should be working all the time. “Holy man” is also a shitty translation. What the Buddhist texts mean is “brahman”, in its original sense as used in India.

A brahman, be it woman or man, is highly accomplished in inner purity and self-control. Truly better than most. This isn’t something that you can simply learn in a Catholic priest seminary and then hang on your wall in the form of a certificate of ordination. This is something you work on for years, decades, maybe all your life without even attaining it.

So let’s hear about these interesting qualities in this twenty-sixth and final chapter of the Dhammapada.

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The Dhammapada exploration – part 25: The Monk

Monks, huh? Good-for-nothing social parasites, locked up in their monasteries, cooking bland veggie food and making worthless mandalas all day long. Yeah, if you look at it from the outside, sure. But a nun’s or monk’s qualities are mostly internal, they automatically accumulate some wisdom and compassion, unless they’re bad at their job, in which case they should probably quit and move back to the real world.

But monks and nuns are also foolish and deluded, just like everyone else. They simply have a more professional and focused way of dealing with it. You don’t become automatically enlightened just because you wear a black or saffron robe, my friend, and Buddhist suttas are full of stories of stupid or silly monks who just didn’t get it. Usually there is one other person in those stories who did get it, and sometimes they make fun of the unwise one. Other times the idiot him or herself realizes they’re being thick.

All this goes to show that the position of nun or monk is in no way special. Some Buddhist sects abhor hierarchy because it creates artificial superiority between beings where there is none. In the same vein, Buddhism has always been both for laypeople and for monastics. Both can ultimately achieve the same, and there are examples of laypeople who have achieved enlightenment, such as Layman Pang.

But now let’s see what the Dhammapada has to say about it.

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The Dhammapada exploration – part 24: Craving

Ah, those Buddhists! Crazy people with their asceticism! Always fighting against craving and wanting everyone to live austere boring lives, eh? You can hopefully tell that’s a stereotype, and like all of them, there’s a grain of truth here. But it’s not nearly as bad as you might think. Let’s read what the Dhammapada has to say on the topic of craving:

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The Dhammapada exploration – part 23: Nagavagga

Long time no Dhammapada, but this article is here to fix that. If you’ve played a fantasy roleplaying game before, you’re now thinking, “Wow, ‘naga’, that surely means evil snake people! We’re going to meet the snake lords!” But I gotta disappoint you there. It seems naga also means elephant. This is still an important chapter on self control, let’s see why!

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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!

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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.
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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!

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