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.
Beware of contrived utterance
and be aware in all that you say.
Renounce all cunning speech
and cultivate that which is wholesome.
Dhammapada v. 232
These days perhaps more so than ever before, thanks to technology, we run the risk of being heedless in our speech. This is not to blame technology, just to notice how technology amplifies the consequences of our activity. The Buddha identified three types of activity (kamma): intentional action by way of body (kayakamma), intentional action by way of speech (vaccikamma), intentional action by way of mind (manokamma). All three have consequences, but possibly with speech we underestimate those consequences. Consider how a few ill-considered remarks can have far reaching harmful effects. And, likewise, how just a few carefully considered comments can make a world of difference to the well-being of another being.
Those who while still young
neither choose a life of renunciation,
nor earn a good living,
end up like dejected old herons
beside a pond without fish.
Dhammapada v. 155
In English we have the proverb, ‘Make hay while the sun shines’. The meaning of this saying is simple: it is wise to act while conditions are favourable. The illustration that Dhammapada verse 155 gives us goes further telling us what happens when we don’t act wisely. So long as our efforts to plan for the future are associated with whole body-mind, judgement-free awareness, we need not be concerned about losing our grounding in the reality of this present moment. We only risk becoming lost when we haven’t adequately prepared ourselves with the ability to reflect wisely.
Those who know the uncreated,
who are free and stilled,
who have discarded all craving,
are the most worthy beings.
On this Full-moon day of May, as we mark Vesakha Puja, let us consider what the Buddha held up as being most worthy of attention. We are already well informed in regards to ‘the created’ world i.e. all the conditions which we see arising and ceasing. And we have heard many times how all that is born dies, all that arises ceases, all conditioned phenomena are in a state of perpetual change. The Buddha’s realization shows us that it is possible to awaken to what he called ‘the unconditioned’, ‘the uncreated’, ‘the unchanging reality’. Realization of this reality, he taught, is what is truly dependable and therefore truly worthy of attention. So how might we arrive at this realization? One approach could be simply to keep asking the right questions: What is the uncreated? What is the unconditioned? What is the undying? We then contemplate that any condition, any idea, any sensation that arises when we ask such questions, is not it – and we keep letting go.
The sun shines by day,
the moon shines by night.
But both all day and all night
the Buddha shines in glorious splendour.
Dhammapada v. 387
There is no denying that when we look around us there is a lot of darkness. And we might well be thinking that some of ‘the Buddha’s radiance’ would be very helpful right now. But where do we imagine the Buddha’s radiance is to be found? Do our thoughts go back 2600 years to ancient India; or perhaps to the Awakened teachers dwelling in forests somewhere? The Buddha taught that this radiance which he realized already exists within the human heart when it is freed from an inflated sense of self-importance. An exaggerated sense of self-importance gives rise to greed, hatred and delusion which obstruct the natural light, clarity and kindness that is there as potential within us.