Bob Schwartz

Tag: Dhammapada

Thinksgiving

Dhammapada. One of the most popular and best-loved Buddhist texts. It consists of 423 verses divided into 26 sections arranged according to subject matter. In practice it is a sort of anthology of verses from various books of the canon.
A Dictionary of Buddhism

3. MIND

As the fletcher whittles
And makes straight his arrows,
So the master directs
His straying thoughts.

Like a fish out of water,
Stranded on the shore,
Thoughts thrash and quiver.
For how can they shake off desire?

They tremble, they are unsteady,
They wander at their will.
It is good to control them,
And to master them brings happiness.

But how subtle they are,
How elusive!
The task is to quieten them,
And by ruling them to find happiness.

With single-mindedness
The master quells his thoughts.
He ends their wandering.
Seated in the cave of the heart,
He finds freedom.

How can a troubled mind
Understand the way?
If a man is disturbed
He will never be filled with knowledge.

An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgments,
Watches and understands.

Know that the body is a fragile jar,
And make a castle of your mind.
In every trial
Let understanding fight for you
To defend what you have won.

For soon the body is discarded.
Then what does it feel?
A useless log of wood, it lies on the ground.
Then what does it know?

Your worst enemy cannot harm you
As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.
But once mastered,
No one can help you as much,
Not even your father or your mother.

The Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha
A Rendering by Thomas Byrom

Laughing at Swallowing a Flaming Iron Ball

Dhammapada - Juan Mascaro

This morning I laughed at a few translated lines from a great and serious spiritual classic. The Dhammapada is a brief (423 verses in 26 chapters) collection of the sayings of the Buddha. For over two thousand years, there may have been no more succinct summary of the heart of Buddhism.

As with the Bible, there are many translations of the Dhammapada from Pali into English, each with its own character. I keep a number of different translations handy, and given that chapters are short, it is possible to easily compare.

I was reading Chapter 25, called variously The Monk, The Practitioner, The Seeker, The Bhikku. In the very loose and poetic translation by Thomas Byrom, the chapter begins:

Master your senses,
What you taste and smell,
What you see, what you hear.

In all things be a master
Of what you do and say and think.
Be free.

You are a seeker.
Delight in the mastery
Of your hands and your feet,
Of your words and your thoughts.

It is at verse 371 that I got my laugh. There the worthy translation by Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya reads:

Do not allow your heart to whirl in the pleasures of senses.
Do not swallow a flaming iron ball and then,
As you burn, cry out, “Oh, that hurts!”

I can’t explain, exactly, what is funny about that last line. It just is. Compared to the other translations of what you might say swallowing this hot iron ball (“This is woe!”, “This is pain!”, “This is suffering!”, “No more!”), “Oh, that hurts!” just tickled me.

Note: Some other translations of the Dhammapada worth looking at:

Juan Mascaro (The first I ever read, excellent, and an awesome bargain as an ebook: $.95 v. $6.38 for the paperback.)

Gil Fronsdal

Glenn Wallis

John Ross Carter

How to Change Your Mind

Floral Chair

The phrase “how to change your mind” is, as are many English expressions, simple and complex:

“How to” as in which method.
“How to” as in which direction.
“Change your mind” as in making a different decision.
“Change your mind” as in transforming it.

Sorting through all that begins with an example.

There is a big colorful overstuffed chair. The fancy fabric is maybe striped or covered with big flowers or designs.

You look at it and think it is beautiful or ugly. You sit in it and think it is comfortable or uncomfortable.

Someone else looks at it and thinks it is beautiful or ugly. Sits in it and thinks it comfortable or uncomfortable.

You two discuss the chair, your thoughts and feelings about it. One may try and explain to the other why one view or experience is better or worse, right or wrong. You might talk about the construction and style relative to the current market for chairs or the historic evolution of chairs.

Yet there it just is. An object with four legs, to keep you sitting up from the floor. There it just is.

You might change your mind about the chair by engaging in the discussion about it, or by sitting in it a few more times.

Or you might realize that it is just that chair. About which your mind is fundamentally changed. Whether the chair is plain wood or elaborately upholstered. Whether you think about it or look at it or sit in it or not.

That is one way to change your mind.

MIND is the forerunner of all actions.
All deeds are led by mind, created by mind.
If one speaks or acts with a corrupt mind, suffering follows,
As the wheel follows the hoof of an ox pulling a cart.

Mind is the forerunner of all actions.
All deeds are led by mind, created by mind.
If one speaks or acts with a serene mind,
Happiness follows,
As surely as one’s shadow.

“He abused me, mistreated me, defeated me, robbed me.”
Harboring such thoughts keeps hatred alive.
“He abused me, mistreated me, defeated me, robbed me.”
Releasing such thoughts banishes hatred for all time.

From the Dhammapada, translated by Ananda Maitreya.

Treasure Again

Dhammapada

How could I know
When I first read this treasure
How I would wander away
This way and that.
Make no mistake that others
Had value
Like other food that feeds well
Medicine that soothes ills.
But all along there it stood
Waiting for me to look again
And see its simplicity.
No time wasted
Here it is.

It is easier than we might think to lose track of things that once inspired us, the way a match is lost once we use it to light a fire.

This verse refers to my turning back to the Dhammapada. It is the brief, most basic, and most widely-read collection of wisdom from the Buddha, whose recollected discourses fill volumes. Depending on which Buddhist trails you follow, just as with Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc. trails, you will have read and heard plenty of excellent teaching from plenty of excellent teachers along the way. But there is something extraordinary about revisiting the first thing seen, the first coin from the treasure, which for many on the Buddhist way is The Dhammapada.

If you are curious to explore the Dhammapada, try this translation by Thomas Byrom or this one by Gil Fronsdal, both from Shambhala Publications.