Walking along the Dhammapada — Chapter 12: Oneself

I’m taking another journey through the Buddha’s lessons on the path of the Dharma (one way you could translate the title Dhammapada). A few years ago, I wrote posts on a handful of chapters, but I didn’t go over every chapter. This time, I’m challenging myself to post on every chapter and share them here.

I wrote about this chapter last time around! Feel free to compare by reading the old one after the new one below.

The key of this chapter is that effort is up to us.* It can only be performed by oneself. This leads to the conclusion that even with a guru, the spiritual path is your journey. You’re the one who has to walk it, even though they may point out the way or walk alongside you.


This message hones the lessons on the consequences of karma that have come up in other chapters and the focus on bettering our minds, speech, and actions. This is all done by your efforts. Hence, here, we’re told to see ourselves as precious and treat ourselves as a prized treasure by watching over ourselves — our minds, speech, and actions.

This is made most clear in line 165:

Evil is done by oneself alone;
By oneself is one defiled.
Evil is avoided by oneself;
By oneself alone is one purified.
Purity and impurity depend on oneself;
No one can purify another.
-Trans. Fronsdal (165)

Another interesting corollary of this focus on our own efforts is an exhortation to master ourselves before we try to improve others. This seems doubly wise, as our own efforts are what lead to our own improvement, and in the samsaric world, we spend much time and energy worrying about the shortcomings of others, an approach that causes drama and judgment in return. Unless we have overcome the same issues in ourselves or are making great effort and progress in doing so, others will see through the hypocrisy of telling them what to do while we slack on those same issues. All of this is made clearest in line 159**:

As one instructs others,
So should one do oneself;
Only the self-controlled should restrain others.
Truly, it’s hard to restrain oneself.
-Trans. Fronsdal (159)

The inversion of the key I’ve presented is that we harm ourselves. I’m not saying this with some mystical explaining away of what happens in the worst of human interaction: violence, hatred, rape, murder, etc. Clearly, one human being harms another in these. However, the Buddha is telling us that we have the karmic choice to do the truly lasting harm to our mind by holding onto hatred, resentment, fear, and emotional anguish in reaction to the events of our lives. As we’ve outlined previously in the commentary on chapters 1 and 10, blaming others leads to an ongoing emotional malaise and mental suffering. So, this inversion of the key leads us to understand that:

Liberation comes in recognizing that you can purify yourself and then doing it.

In the final line, the Buddha tells us to focus on our own welfare, not giving it up for others, and in closing out this commentary, I wanted to point out that he’s not advocating for a dog-eat-dog system of every man for himself; rather, he’s telling you to worry about waking up — to worry about your own greatest welfare of cultivating a pure mind***.

May this lead you to see yourself as precious by recognizing your own greatest welfare and the realization that it’s up to you to reach it.


*I picked this terminology to compare this chapter with Stoicism once again, as Epictetus holds that our reactions, our mind’s take of things is up to us. In many ways, that’s precisely what we’re being shown in this chapter.

**The hypocrisy element became clearer to me in reading the story behind this line at this resource.

***If this still seems a bit off as an understanding, I’ll remind you that in the stories of the Buddha’s previous lives (whether we take them to be true or not), there’s one in which he sacrificed his very life to feed his blood to two starving tigers. This is most certainly not some call to worry about “me, myself, and mine” above others in a more casual, modern sense. Look at this as well.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. 5amt3n
    Apr 30, 2019 @ 23:09:16

    “Of the two witnesses trust the principal one.” comes to mind when I read this. In terms of my path, I can be guided by a teacher, or others may try to guide/help me, but ultimately, I am the one walking my path. Only I truly know myself. I learn to trust my own wisdom. This saying, or slogan, comes from the Indian sage, Atisha (980-1052 CE). Atisha brought the 59 lojong slogons (mind training techniques) to Tibet to guide people in awakening the open heart-mind…bodhicitta or the desire to awaken oneself to help all sentient beings and loving-kindness. These lojong slogons were the very first things I studied when I became formally involved with the monk (19 years ago…wow!) who would eventually become my teacher…just thought I’d share.

    Liked by 1 person


    • zeuslyone
      Apr 30, 2019 @ 23:11:26

      Thank you for sharing! I love the 59 slogans! I studied them for a while last year. I need to return to them at some point in the not too distant future. You’re lucky to have a great, long-term teacher as well.

      Liked by 1 person


  2. 5amt3n
    Apr 30, 2019 @ 23:38:43

    You’re welcome! You know, I kind of wondered if you might be familiar with the slogans. I think it’s kind of cool that you are. I love these little surprises in life…makes things interesting. I agree, I do feel lucky to have connected with Yeshe…truly a gift for which I am forever grateful. Be well! ❤

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Trackback: Walking along the Dhammapada — Chapter 14: The Buddha/The Awakened One | On the Way

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