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”

The Dhammapada exploration – part 15: Happiness

So we talked about death earlier, and you know you’re gonna die, you’re already dying right this very minute. A cheerful thing to know. But there you thought Buddhism is all about serenity and happiness. “What use is this Buddhism crap if it doesn’t make me happy?”

An excellent question. The Buddhism crap is useful, but only in order to realize that you produce your own suffering. So stop doing that, and you will be happy. Here’s how:

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 15: Happiness”

The Dhammapada exploration – part 14: The awakened

Whew, it’s been a while since the last Dhammapada exploration, but I relaunch it with a nice one: The awakened, the Buddha. Or you could also spell it “the buddha”. The historical Buddha, Siddharta Gotama, never claimed that he was “the” Buddha. He was a buddha. Just like you can be a buddha, an awakened one.

This isn’t some mad vision-seeing and LSD-trip-like awakening we’re talking about, either. It’s an awakening that lets you see, first-hand, the true nature of things. Nothing more and nothing less. And once you have it, will you be happy? You might, at least one of the living buddhas, Matthieu Ricard, is said to be the happiest man on this planet. Will you be glowing all day long and grinning and smiling just from achieving realization? Probably not.

I have to paraphrase something I read perhaps from Brad Warner, but it might also go back to Dōgen: Before you get enlightenment, you think it is a thing of pure gold that shines with wonderful radiance to bathe everything in glory. Once you have it, you see it’s no more than a clump of shit.

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 14: The awakened”

The Dhammapada exploration – part 13: The world

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.

What is our relationship with the world? Not what is our purpose, I highly doubt there is one. But how do we interact with the world around us? Let’s find out some of the Buddhist views!

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 13: The world”

The Dhammapada exploration – part 12: The self

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.

Last time we talked about death, so let’s go to a more cheerful subject: self. Or is it more cheerful? We’ll see!

157. If one holds oneself dear, one should diligently watch oneself. Let the wise man keep vigil during any of the three watches of the night.

The three watches are childhood, youth and old age. Those who cultivate virtue can better take care of and protect the self through all these stages.

158. One should first establish oneself in what is proper; then only should one instruct others. Thus the wise man will not be reproached.

If you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t dispense it as wisdom.

159. One should do what one teaches others to do; if one would train others, one should be well controlled oneself. Difficult, indeed, is self-control.

Practice what you preach. This is such deeply wise advice and it works for any situation. Recently I’ve read that companies led by people who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk perform even more poorly than companies led by people who are themselves bad at work, but who are at least honest with their employees about that. Of course teams where the team leader was honest and hard-working turned out to also become honest and hard-working.

So this stuff works.

160. One truly is the protector of oneself; who else could the protector be? With oneself fully controlled, one gains a mastery that is hard to gain.

You can’t charge others with protecting you. If you have an alcohol problem, you can’t say “friends, please don’t allow me to drink at tonight’s party, I know I will lose control and be fucking drunk as hell and I’ll be insulting the host and trying to sleep with his husband”.

This control has to come from you. That’s why it’s self-control, duh.

161. The evil a witless man does by himself, born of himself and produced by himself, grinds him as a diamond grinds a hard gem.

Evil and unwise actions you perform will hafe an effect on you, sooner or later.

162. Just as a single creeper strangles the tree on which it grows, even so, a man who is exceedingly depraved harms himself as only an enemy might wish.

This is awesome. By not being skillful you strangle your own development. You’re your own worst enemy, you are able to be worse to yourself than even your worst enemy could be.

163. Easy to do are things that are bad and harmful to oneself. But exceedingly difficult to do are things that are good and beneficial.

No one said it’s gonna be easy to cultivate wisdom and right action. And this verse again tells you so. No easy peasy marching into paradise simply by believing in some savior or some prophet’s visions. The path is as difficult as it is wonderful.

164. Whoever, on account of perverted views, scorns the Teaching of the Perfected Ones, the Noble and Righteous Ones — that fool, like the bamboo, produces fruits only for self destruction.

If you speak out against the wisdom from a position of ignorance or perhaps even ill will, that will not benefit you. You foolish bamboo.

165. By oneself is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself is one made pure. Purity and impurity depend on oneself; no one can purify another.

This might ring a bell if you know humanism (in the sense of secular humanism). Buddhism is very much a human-centered philosophy. Everything is your responsibility and your responsibility alone. No interventionist gods, no shifting responsibility to your family.

Remember an earlier verse where it was said that you can’t even hold your own parents responsible for your fate? It’s like that. Some find it scary to have to rely only on yourself. Some call it egoistic, but is it egoistic to be self-reliant and responsible or is the inverse true? By being that way, you place no burden on anyone else. I find that to have nothing to do with egoism.

Of course we’ve already learned that according to Buddhist the ego, the self does not exist, we are non-self, anatta.

166. Let one not neglect one’s own welfare for the sake of another, however great. Clearly understanding one’s own welfare, let one be intent upon the good.

Thanissaro Bhikku has this as “Don’t sacrifice your own welfare for that of another.” Some interpretations take “welfare” to mean spiritual progress. So make sure your own progress is unhindered first, before helping others.

I interpret this also as taking care of your own life, a decent income and living quarters first before attempting to establish the same for others. If you’re struggling to pay the rent, even if your intentions are good, donating to the poor might not be a good idea at that point. It might be uplifting in the short term, but the next month you’ll have less, and before you know it you yourself will be in need of help from others.

Instead those who have already established stable conditions for themselves should share. There’s also nothing wrong with getting filthy rich (through decent means, of course) and then sharing a lot of that, even if you end up building factory after factory or office building after office building and if you are greatly successful. You share your own fortune by creating jobs, by keeping the cash flowing.

If you just buy yacht after yacht to feed your greed and indulge in many sense-pleasures, that would not be in the sense of the word in my opinion. But even being stinking filthy rich, you can be beneficial to society.

Look at Elon Musk, for example. I wouldn’t want to look too closely at how he established his fortune, but no one can deny that he creates a lot of jobs and has invested a great deal of money in furthering the advancement of the human race, he’s doing his share of attempting to save the planet.

Now you can say “But oh, what about all the displaced people from Eritrea, what about the hungry in refugee camps in Syria, how has Elon helped them? He hasn’t!” and you might be right, even though we don’t know if he donates to Médecins Sans Frontieres. This still does not diminish the value of his positive intentions.

Just like the Gates family with their Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It might be true that the foundation exists also to funnel donated money into primarily US companies by clever stock market trading. Thereby shareholder value is increased and it maybe drives this or that greedy CEO to orgasms. That might all be true. But Bill also seems to have a genuine interest in defeating malaria and in making sure a further ebola outbreak does not wipe out half the human race.

At least these parts of those intentions are good. They bear good kammic fruit. If shady means are utilized, well, then those bear bad kammic fruit. But I didn’t actually want to go there, I just wanted to give some examples of how egoism and selflessness are not always aligned in the way we commonly think.