Whoever has cut all that tethers
and found fearlessness,
who is beyond attachments
I recognize as a great being.
Dhammapada v. 397
To be able to abide in the state of fearlessness sounds attractive indeed, but how might we reach such an abiding? Fearlessness is to be found in the very same place as that in which we feel fear. We do not need others to stop behaving the way that they do; nor do we need to go someplace else. We do, however, need to look more deeply into the reality of the fear that we are already experiencing, and to do so can be very frightening. The temptation to turn away from that which frightens us can be strong. This is why the Buddha wanted us to develop our spiritual faculties: mindfulness, sense restraint, and wise reflection. When our heart is buoyed up with the wholesome sense of self-confidence which arises when the spiritual faculties are well-developed, we won’t be so intimidated by fear; instead, we will be interested in what fear has to teach us.
There is no tension
for those who have completed their journey
and have become free
from the distress of all binding ties.
Dhammapada v. 90
Whatever is happening around us, let’s not forget that the more important journey is that which leads to freedom from all distress. We might be feeling distressed over what we see or hear on the outside, but the greater distress is that which we feel in our hearts. Materialist cultures are mostly unaware of the spiritual journey and mostly invest is acquiring more things and more experiences. The Buddha wants us to invest in training our attention so we learn to recognize the true causes of distress and acquire the skill of letting go.
One who transforms old and heedless ways
into fresh and wholesome acts
brings light into the world
like the moon freed from clouds.
Dhammapada v. 173
It would be a great pity if we viewed all our ‘old and heedless ways’ merely as troublesome tendencies that we had to get rid of. Just as recycling of material objects is sensibly recognized as more skilful than casually throwing things away, likewise a lot of wisdom and goodness can be found in that which previously caused us to suffer. Arrogance is always offensive, but once purified and no longer held as who and what we are, can be transformed into self-confidence. Stubbornness is always unattractive, but once purified and not seen as ‘self’, can manifest as resolute determination.
It is wisdom
that enables letting go
of a lesser happiness
in pursuit of a happiness
which is greater.
Dhammapada v. 290
There is no denying that happiness can be found in the realm of the senses. However, the Buddha discovered that a more dependable and lasting happiness can be found within cultivated awareness. So long as awareness remains uncultivated, generally we won’t see beyond the happiness that comes with gratifying sense desires. When awareness is cultivated, then we see the limitations inherent in such pursuits and come to know the happiness of contentment. Being continually caught up in desire is actually painful, but we can only see this once we have some perspective on the true nature of desire. Desire is a movement taking place in a larger reality. Appreciation of that larger reality is an expression of wisdom.
If you walk the path
you will arrive at the end of suffering.
Having beheld this myself,
I proclaim the Way
which removes all thorns.
Dhammapada v. 275
It is not necessary to move through life perpetually afraid of being skewered by the barbs of painful human interaction. All beings, including the Buddha himself, are subject to the eight worldly winds: praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and pain, honour and insignificance. However, awakened beings are so completely transparent, so completely free from resistance, that they are always able to accord with it. They live unobstructed in their relationship with everything and everybody. Having walked the path to its end, they know beyond all doubt that to cling is to suffer. Wisdom shows them how to hold to life without creating pain, without spoiling it.
The fragrance of virtue
surpasses by far
the fragrance of flowers
Dhammapada v. 55
The simple but significant message of this Dhammapada verse is that we need to take care to not be overly impressed by outer forms, or the material dimension of things. Certainly the fragrance of wild roses can be very beautiful, but the heart’s ability to let go of resentment and forgive, even when it is difficult to do so, is more beautiful.
Better than ruling the whole world,
better than going to heaven,
better than lordship over the universe,
is an irreversible commitment to the Way.
Dhammapada v. 178
In which direction do we look when we seek security? For some it is towards greater happiness. Others look for an increased sense of sovereignty or control. The Buddha’s advice is to establish oneself in an irreversible commitment to Truth. To have reached a stage of awakening which is irreversible, known as Stream Entry, the Buddha says offers incomparable security; better than any level of conventional happiness or state of worldly power.