All that we are
is the result of what we have thought
The Dhammapada, a collection of 423 verses in 26 chapters, has been a source of daily inspiration to many people, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike who are attracted to the grand and unequivocal moral teaching of the Buddha.
The trust of the book is on living a morally-pure life in a mental state of steadfast mindfulness.
The opposite and sorry condition is to be asleep, ignorant and unaware.
Despite its high calling, the Dhammapada (also spelt Dharmapada) is full of simple work-a-day illustrations and examples that the Buddha uses in driving home his lessons.
In Chapter 4, Flowers, for instance, the Buddha says, "As a bee gathers the nectar of a flower and flies away without destroying its beauty or fragance, so let the sage wander in this life. Think not of the faults of others, of what they have done or not done. Think rather of your own misdeeds and negligences." (v.49, 50)
Who is the sage but one "who for himself or for others, wishes not for sons or for power or wealth. And if he wishes not for success above righteousness, then he is good, wise and virtuous." (v.84)
The Dhammapada can be read and re-read throughout life. Each reading brings spiritual renewal, stirs the reader to pursue the path of light, and strengthens him to fight the temptations of worldly pleasures.
Time and again the reader is exhorted to avoid evil deeds "as a merchant who carries much wealth but with a small escort avoids a dangerous road, or as a man who values his life avoids poison." (v.123)
In Chapter 7, achieving sainthood (an Arhat), the Buddha says: "The gods envy him whose senses have been subdued like horses well-broken in by the driver; such a person who does his duty in life is enduring like the earth, firm as a pillar, clear as a lake without mud, and free forever from the wheel of birth and rebirth." (v.94, 95)
The Dhammapada goes into great length on the practical difficulties of moral living. It talks about anger, thoughtlessness, strong drinks, lying, mischief-making, corruption, sexual pleasure, meanness, and scores of other vices. Even the dull repetition of sacred verses is a taint on a man's character!
"But the greatest of all taints is ignorance. Cast of this taint," urges the Buddha, "and become pure." (v.242) Ultimately, the worse possible sin is deliberate ignorance of the truth.
But as the Buddha points out, "As rain does not break through a well-thatched house, so passion does not break through a well-guarded, reflecting mind." (v14)
Read then the Dhammapada and experience the joy of spiritual awakening, knowledge and self-discipline.
Even on his deathbed the Buddha gives this practical advice to Ananda, one of his most faithful disciples:
"You must be your own lamp and refuge. Take refuge in nothing outside yourself. Hold firm to the Truth as a lamp and a refuge, and do not look for anything as refuge besides yourself. A monk becomes his own lamp and refuge by continually looking on his body, feelings, perceptions, moods and ideas in such a manner that he conquers the cravings and depressions of ordinary men, and is always strenuous, self-possessed and collected in mind.
"Whoever among my disciples does this, either now or when I am dead, if he is anxious to learn, will reach the summit."
The verses are from a notebook I've kept since 1971, where I'd copied the verses in a free English rendering from various published translations.
Note: The advice to Ananda is from a separate text, the Mahaparinibbana Sutta.
– Francis Chin
Dhammapada selected verses 1 | 2 | 3 |