When we appreciate fully
the benefit of our own pure deeds
we are filled with joy;
here and hereafter
there is a celebration of joy.
For most of us, our critical faculties are already well-developed. The Buddha encourages us to also exercise our faculty for appreciation. When we shine the light of appreciative awareness on the pleasant consequences of skilful actions, the result is joy. Wholesomeness is enhanced when consciously appreciated.
Knowing the Way for oneself
walk it thoroughly.
Do not allow the needs of others,
to bring about distraction.
When our heart is at ease we can feel as if all is well in the world. But we know that even when it feels that way to us, for others life is an intense struggle where it definitely does not feel as if all is well. So is it appropriate that we put time and effort into developing an inner sense of contentment, or does having empathy mean always remaining aware of the suffering of others? When the Buddha warns against allowing the needs of others to distract us, he is pointing to where the priority lies. The fact is that when we lose connection with deep inner well-being, we more easily become caught in the forces of delusion. In practice it is wise to learn how to walk so that the way can regularly refresh and renew us; thus when we encounter the forces of delusion, we will be able to enquire into them without being dragged down. To be in possession of such strength is to have something truly valuable to share.
Let go of the past.
Let go of the future.
Let go of the present.
With a heart that is free,
cross over to that shore
which is beyond suffering.
Dhammapada v. 348.
The ‘other shore’ to which the Buddha is referring, that place which is beyond suffering, already exists. It is not as if we have to create the other shore; not as if we have to create Dhamma. Even the Buddha didn’t create Dhamma, he realized it. Our efforts in practice need to be aimed at seeing that which is already here, now. The encouragement to let go of images of the past, present and future suggests that we are paying too much attention to ideas we have about reality and not enough attention to that which is actually in front of us.
It is always a pleasure
not to have to encounter fools.
It is always good to see noble beings,
and a delight to live with them.
Dhammapada v. 206
We may or may not be blessed with the good fortune of living with noble beings, but we can all make the effort to cultivate noble mind states. Mind states are similar to living beings: when they are wholesome it is a joy to have them; when they are foolish, they can be very hard work indeed. If we establish such qualities as gratitude, forgiveness, kindness and discernment in our minds, we will be able to dwell in delight even when external conditions are difficult.
Do not ignore the effect of right action,
saying, “This will come to nothing.”,
Just as by the gradual fall of raindrops
a jar is filled
so in time the wise
become replete with good.
Dhammapada v. 122
The enormity of what appears to lie ahead can at times feel overwhelming. But this is only the case when awareness is dominated by what we imagine lies ahead. Of course we don’t really know the future. We have an amazing facility for imagining and extrapolating, but the Buddha says we are wise to include in awareness an appreciation for the reality happening right now. When we are in touch with the here-and-now reality we are more likely to remember those things that we can do that immediately make a difference: slow down; steady attention; feel the ground beneath your feet; expand the sense of space which you occupy; simply receive this moment without taking sides for or against. Remember to not become lost in speculation.
A healthy mind is the greatest gain.
Contentment is the greatest wealth.
Trustworthiness is the best of kin.
Unconditional freedom is the highest bliss.
Dhammapada v. 204
We might assume that the perfect realization of unconditional freedom is some way off, but we can already plant the seeds of the possibility in our hearts. The conditions of the world keep changing: at times quite wonderful, at other times challenging and often something in-between. How do we stay stable with such instability? We orient our hearts toward true principles, Dhamma. Establishing an initial understanding of true principles gives our hearts direction. Contemplating these principles is nurturing the seeds. As to when they will bear fruit is not something we can control. In the meantime cultivating trust in the possibility of unconditional freedom is something we can do.
By renouncing unworthy ways
and by not living carelessly,
by not holding to false views,
we no longer perpetuate delusion.
Dhammapada v. 167
The way our senses work we find it easy to look outside at that which is wrong with the world – indeed, there is plenty we would wish was otherwise. When the mind is trained with wise reflection, we remember that we can also turn our attention around and look at what can be done to help; we don’t just dwell on the deluded conduct of others. In this short teaching the Buddha is indicating how it is always possible to make a wholesome contribution. It is good to know that we are not powerless and our situation is not hopeless.