Riches mostly ruin the foolish,
but not those who seek the beyond.
Just as they dismiss the well-being of others and cause harm,
fools also ruin themselves.
Dhammapada v. 355
Wealth can generate great benefit; it can also cause considerable harm. The Buddha referred to wealth as an intoxicant. As with power, wealth can be an opportunity for bringing increased goodness in the world, or it can inflate a sense of self-importance, making us deaf to those who might otherwise be genuinely helpful to us. The intoxicating effect of wealth tends to cause us to believe we can afford to listen only to those who give us praise. Such arrogance leads to further greed and the only thing that increases is foolishness.
Beware of devious thinking
and be aware of all that you dwell upon.
Renounce all unruly thought
and cultivate that which is wholesome.
Dhammapada v. 233
It takes a certain subtlety of attention to see how the thoughts that we harbour give shape to our character. It is obvious that what we do and say has an effect, but here the Buddha is cautioning that what we think also matters. Elsewhere he helpfully advises that in order to be able to let go of unruly thinking, we should pay close attention to the painful consequences of getting lost in it. To ignore the effect of being caught up in unruliness is similar to operating a computer without security; we shouldn’t be surprised if we get hacked, that is, taken over. When we indulge in mental heedlessness we make ourselves susceptible to increased suffering. The opposite also applies: paying close attention to the beneficial consequences of letting go of unruliness naturally nourishes well-being, generating a sense of safety..
If you find a good companion
of integrity and wisdom,
you will overcome all dangers
in joyous and caring company.
Dhammapada v. 328
Where might we turn when our heart needs uplifting? Spiritual community is one place we could go. If we don’t feel we have a spiritual community, it might be wise to go looking for one. Just as we would register with a local doctor before we actually fell ill, so it is good to be aware of the spiritual communities available. And both physical and virtual communities can serve the purpose. What matters is that we find the kind of companionship which helps us rise above the way the world would define us. Age, nationality, gender, wealth, do not determine who we are. It is our effort to awaken to reality – to Dhamma – that matters most. The essence of spiritual community is the harmonious resonance of shared aspiration. Attuning to that spirit can be joyous and uplifting.
Hasten towards doing what is wholesome.
Restrain your mind from evil acts.
The mind that is slow to do good
can easily find pleasure in evil-doing.
Dhammapada v. 116
We are familiar with the teachings that caution us against unwholesomeness. And we already know that it takes effort to be restrained. But here the Buddha is making a point which might not have occurred to us before: if we are tardy to do good, we are more likely to fall for the allure of the not-good; unwholesomeness increases its appeal. If we truly understand this, we see the wisdom of cultivating wholesomeness and the protection we are afforded.
Resembling a withered leaf,
you have the messenger
of death at your side.
Although a long journey lies ahead,
you have still made no provision.
Dhammapada v. 235
We all know that death is the inevitable consequence of having been born, and you would think that we would want to make provision for such a significant event. However, the daunting fear of uncertainty that death generates means we readily default to the pursuit of distractions. If we do wish to make mindful preparation for the inevitable, it is wise to strengthen our confidence in the law of kamma. The Buddha taught to trust in the cultivation of that which is wholesome and the relinquishment of that which is unwholesome. We don’t know the future, but it is not helpful to waste a lot of time worrying about it. Mindful preparation is very different from compulsive worrying. This very moment is the only reality to which we have direct access, so it makes sense to emphasise the quality of attention we bring to this moment, and to trust in that effort. Developing such a trusting disposition is not avoiding responsibility, it is making an intelligent choice.
This reflection seems so appropriate considering the nature of the Manchester terrorist attack…..
Becoming lost in enjoyment brings sorrow;
becoming lost in enjoyment brings fear.
Being free in your experience of enjoyment means sorrow ceases,
so how could there be any fear?
Dhammapada v. 214
Is it possible to truly live with all the pleasure and pain of life and at the same time remain free from suffering? Clearly, our confidence in the Buddha’s Awakening means we trust freedom from suffering is possible. Such confidence is a powerful motivator and contributes to the foundation on which we build our spiritual practice. And from a practice perspective, we are not just interested in what we experience, but also in the way we meet all our experiences. Out of unawareness we readily become lost in experiences; the joyous, the utterly intolerable and everything in-between. But when awareness is well-cultivated there is the possibility of receiving all experience without becoming lost; without obstructing freedom.
Just as a sweet-smelling and beautiful lotus
can grow from a pile of discarded waste,
the radiance of a true disciple of the Buddha
outshines dark shadows cast by ignorance.
Dhammapada v. 58-59
Perhaps there are times when we look at all the garbage we find stored in our minds and feel disheartened. This ‘discarded waste’ is the consequences of previous unawareness. But we can choose how we are going to view these consequences – the regrets, embarrassments and resentments to which we are still clinging.
We are not obliged to assume it must always be that way. Before he was the Buddha, Siddarttha Gotama struggled; the Teachers we all look up to have struggled; and we too all struggle when we are not seeing clearly.
What matters, here and now, is what we do with the struggle. The Buddha’s Awakening offered the world a vision of that which is possible. Our task as disciples of the Buddha is to uncover the possibilities within us; not to assume that the detritus of ignorance which we encounter inside ourselves is what defines us. When compost is properly processed, it transforms into valuable nutriment.