Introduced and Translated by Eknath Easwaran; @2007 Nigiri Press, 275 pages.
Dhammapada means “the path of truth, righteousness.” These are the teachings of Prince Siddhartha Gautama once he became the Buddha.
If you’re like me, some if this may need a bit of explaining. And since I am new to Buddhism, I will probably get some of this wrong. Just gently correct me in the comments. If you are a Buddhist, I need not tell you to be gentle. 🙂
Basically, the message is this: Life is all about suffering. Everyone/everything alive suffers. That’s a real pain. If you’d like to stop this madness, here’s how. There’s an eightfold path and four noble truths. It’s going to take some work on your part and you can do this with or without a teacher.
The Dhammapada is a map of the journey, the journey you’ll take to escape samsara, which is this continual cycle of death and rebirth that everything alive is stuck in.
Ok, Ok, so what are the four noble truths and the eightfold path?
Four Noble Truths
- All desire happiness and yet all find that life brings suffering. Life is change and change can never satisfy desire.
- Selfish desire brings suffering. Selfish desire is a desire for permanent pleasure unmixed with suffering. Selfishness can only bring sorrow.
- Any ailment that can be understood can be cured. When the fires of selfishness have been extinguished what remains is wakefulness (Buddha means awakened one), joy, peace, perfect health, i.e. nirvana.
- Selfishness can be extinguished by following the eightfold path.
- Right understanding
- Right purpose
- Right speech
- Right conduct
- Right occupation
- Right effort
- Right attention
- Right meditation
In this book the introductions are long (and interesting) and the actual verses are short.
I liked the message of this book and the philosophy, but it didn’t grab me like the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita did. Those really “spoke” to me. The core messages are very similar. There is a heavy emphasis on meditation and on right action and on respecting all life, not just human life. The more attached you are to things and even people, the greater are your chances of a return trip into another incarnation, and hence more suffering.
If you follow my blog, you already know that I have an interest in anger management and also in the psyche. This has grown over the years as I have become a caregiver for my husband and his advocate in our medical (cough, choke) system. This has given me my own strong dose of suffering and sorrow, and it has definitely been trying for my husband.
We are like two trees that have grown up together. During our lives we have wrapped around each other as we have reached toward the sky. Now one of us has fallen terminally ill and as this illness takes the unhealthy tree it leans more and more on the tree that is still vital. As time goes by they both begin to lean. The sickness for one is a sickness for the other. I don’t have the brain injury. I am not losing my mind, but to watch and bear the weight is bad in its own way. What I’m saying is that I am not unaffected.
The verses about anger resonated with me and will give you an idea of what the Dhammapada is like:
Give up anger, give up pride, and free yourself
from worldly bondage. No sorrow can befall
those who never try to possess people and things as their own.
Those who hold back rising anger like a rolling
chariot are real charioteers. Others merely hold the reins.
Conquer anger through gentleness, unkindness
through unkindness, greed through generosity, and
falsehood by truth. Be truthful; do not yield to
anger. Give freely, even if you have but little. the gods
will bless you.
Injuring no one, self-controlled, the wise enter the
state of peace beyond all sorrow. Those who are
vigilant, who train their minds day and night and
strive continually for nirvana, enter the state of peace
beyond all selfish passions.
There is an old saying: “People will blame you
if you say too much; they will blame you if you
say too little; they will blame you if you say just
enough.” No one in this world escapes blame.
There never was and never will be anyone who
receives all the praise or all the blame. But who
can blame those who are pure, wise, good, and
meditative? They shine like a coin of pure gold. Even
the gods praise them, even Brahma the Creator.
Use your body for doing good, not for harm. Train
it to follow the dharma. Use your tongue for doing
good, not harm Train it to speak kindly. Use
your mind for doing good, not for harm. Train your
mind in love. The wise are disciplined in body,
speech, and mind. They are well controlled indeed.
I have to admit that I don’t completely “get” all of the Dhammapada. I like the idea of meditating, but my Western perspective looks down on those who renounce everything and expect others to feed them. And I have a little bit of a problem with the idea that it’s ok to eat meat as long as you don’t kill it personally. There’s an inconsistency there that bothers me. Monks are supposed to take whatever is offered them and yet shun hurting other lifeforms.
I have to admit, I don’t truly understand everything here, and the Buddha would tell me to go and meditate—and I will understand more in that way.
So, I think I will. I like that idea.