Walking Along the Dhammapada — Chapter 18: Corruption

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.


This chapter has two key focuses:

  1. There is an apparent ease to the corrupt path, but this overlooks the ongoing samsaric suffering of such an approach to life.
  2. Focus on your own efforts – it’s easy to see the faults in others and to hide your own from yourself, and moreover – your goodness is achieved through your own efforts, so focus on purifying yourself.

So what does one purify? It’s come up multiple times throughout the previous chapters, but let’s take a moment to look at three passages that line out everything regarding these two points.

Easy is life
For someone without conscience,
Bold as a crow,
Obtrusive, deceitful, reckless, and corrupt.

Difficult is life
For someone with conscience,
Always searching for what’s pure,
Discerning, sincere, cautious, and clean-living

The Dhammapada, 244-245, trans. Fronsdal

This speaks to both points – it seems like life is easy for someone who selfishly does for him or herself, but ultimately (as is emphasized in other lines and in all the other chapters), it is not. This chapter doesn’t necessarily elucidate this well, but we might think here of Plato’s discussion of the tyrant in the Republic. When taken to the ad absurdum, someone who acts with impunity in life moves into a path of obsession of self-protection and protecting his/her possessions. It’s a life of paranoia and clinging. This is perhaps a good transition into our next passage, as it emphasizes exactly what ails the mind of one who lives that life:

There’s no fire like lust,
No grasping like hate,
No snare like delusion,
No river like craving.

The Dhammapada, 251, trans. Fronsdal

More pithy poetic examples could certainly be provided, but the point is that a life of apparent selfish ease is actually a life full of samsaric pain.

However, we’re then counselled not to judge the faults of others. In a sense it’s the bad faith (as from Sartre) of Buddhist practice. It’s easy to look outward and just miss the efforts that oneself must make.

It’s easy to see the faults of others
But hard to see one’s own.
One sifts out the faults of others like chaff
But conceals one’s own,
As a cheat conceals a bad throw of the dice.

If one focuses on others’ faults
And constantly takes offense,
One’s own toxins flourish
And one is far from their destruction.

The Dhammapada, 252-253, trans. Fronsdal

As elsewhere in The Dhammapada, the emphasis is on self-mastery and that the path to Nirvana depends on your own efforts. Perhaps the simplest game to avoid that difficult path (the difficult path of continually searching for what’s pure from our first quote above) is to find fault in others, while hiding your own, thereby appearing to shine and not need any effort. However, this is simply a mild version of the grasping of hate and the snare of delusion.

As such, let’s close with one of the most poetic passages in this chapter as our focus for purification:

As a smith does with silver,
The wise person
Gradually,
Bit by bit,
Moment by moment,
Removes impurities from herself.

The Dhammapada, 239, trans. Fronsdal

May this inspire the ongoing purification of mindfulness of self and world that is practice and purification.

Gassho!

Showing Up

I had an interesting experience today that felt quite meaningful.

With depression in recent months, I’ve felt absolutely worthless and meaningless much of the time. In the worst days, I feel like I don’t even deserve to live. It’s hard to find value in those moments, and the greatest self-care I’ve had is showing up to help others, especially those close to me.

I gave thorough directions for how to drive in the snow to a friend, so she could make it back from housesitting to her apartment, but today, when she started driving through the icy side streets of her neighborhood, she became overwhelmed by the uncleared ice and texted me that she couldn’t make it home.

I was sitting at home, feeling tired, drained, and more or less empty. I responded with a few questions and directions but quickly understood that she wasn’t going to be able to get past this herself, so I told her I would bundle up and come her way. I did a few Zen chants to prepare (a New Year’s resolution), put my coat and cowl on, and left. I showed up.

When I got there, I talked to her, grabbed a rock pick and my windshield scraper out of my car and jumped in her car with her. We drove up the hill, through her neighborhood, and we got to the roundabout where she got stuck. Someone had put up a “Street Closed” sign, and two little old ladies were trying to wave us down the hill in another direction. I looked at the icy street, told her I was pretty sure I could manage it, and convinced her to jump out and move the sign out of our way. The little old ladies yelled at her, but I drove through without any issue, cruising slowly up the hill.

I parked close to her apartment – just a downhill icy slope of about 30 yards between us and the driveway to her parking lot. I was pretty concerned about this last piece. There were cars on either side of the single lane street, and it was all pure ice. She was adamant that she wanted to get past this last bit, so I said I’d do it if I could break up the ice in the worst parts. I took out the rock pick and spent most of half an hour breaking up clear tire tracks in the part where the ice was surrounded by cars on both sides. She was impressed at how readily I was able to do this (I kind of was too, actually!).

At some point, I told her that honestly, I don’t have that much more snow-driving experience than her. Yes, I grew up in rural mountain snowy lands, but our roads were well plowed and treated to melt ice as well. Sure – I spent 20 years in snow and understand the physics of it on a fundamental, embodied level, but I haven’t actually driven much on icy roads that haven’t been plowed or salted.

Eventually, I felt confident enough that an accident was unlikely, and I got in her car with her and slowly, slowly, slowly drove down the hill and even more slowly into her parking lot (which was at the bottom of another hill).

She kept profusely saying that I was her hero and that I continue to show up and help her so much, including a huge amount of a recent move. She made it sound like she owed me her first-born.

However, here’s the thing – showing up like this is who I am. There’s little that’s more meaningful for me, and in many ways, I consider it the simplest version of acting out the compassion of a bodhisattva vow. I hadn’t thought about it much recently until that moment, and it made me realize I do have value. My presence and efforts are meaningful. It was a great beginning to a new year, and ultimately, it makes me feel like I need to work even harder on several other goals I have in terms of things to do and finish, including writing on this blog.

Let this be an opening to a new year.


May this post inspire others to show up for those in their lives whom they can help and who need help.

Gassho!

Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way – Grief | Love | Death | Moving through Loss

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I just wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend to check that out if you find the music in this post interesting. I haven’t written many posts on the other blog, and it’s only roughly a year old, but in looking back over my experiences of the last year, I couldn’t help but feel like this post perhaps captured the mood and ambience of most of it better than any other, and it fits perfectly with this blog as well. May this resonate with others as well.


As we go through life, there will be loss. Everything composite is impermanent, and everything is composite. All falls apart, eventually. Even atoms will slowly break apart into heat death, according to thermodynamics. This inevitability of change alongside our attachment to beloved events, places, situations, and people means that there will be the pain of losing the things and people we love, and it will hurt.

One translation I love of the preeminent Zen philosopher-monk, Dogen, puts this in the most poetic light:

Therefore flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them.

Shohaku Okumura, translation of Dogen’s Genjokoan, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo, p. 1

The experiences of big losses, big loves, are some of the hardest transitions we face in life. Dealing with them, living through them, is about as human and mortal as life can be.

As such, it’s no surprise that this is a theme for exploration in post-rock. One of the most iconic songs for this is Caspian’s “Hymn for the Greatest Generation”. The title track and the following track are both seemingly about the band’s process of moving through and honoring the death of a fellow band member.

The sound in this song is gentle, intimate, riding on the picking of an acoustic guitar that builds into a fuller rock instrumentation. We feel the bittersweet moving forward of time, with an almost metronome drum, reminding of the clunky ticking of change, moving on despite loss. The song builds further into something like a celebration for all the joy and love of those we have lost, facing it head on and embracing the memories and warmth of what was. Finally the song melts down to a poignant violin and a return to the bittersweet acoustic guitar slowly going on, knowing that what was had will never be had again.

You can feel both the joy and the sadness in this song. It’s utterly beautiful and unforgettable. Friends of mine have resonated with these feelings slightly differently, claiming to hear the guitarist crying in the song, and I’ve even seen memes about how heart-wrenching it is. This song displays the full beauty of having loved someone and lost them. I highly recommend sitting with it and letting it inspire the greatest affirmation within yourself for these cycles of love, loss, and grief that you will inevitably face in life. There’s perhaps no deeper spiritual experience to sit with.

Heartbreak | New Resolutions

As I said in my last post, there’s going to be a struggle to feel empowered and on top of my path forward. At times, like in the last post, that will be the driving energy. At others, my long tail of pain and existential despair from this year will have the upper hand, and I’ll have to use that strength and courage to sit as calmly as I can in the darkness. The last week since that last post has felt much more the latter than the former.

I looked back through pictures today from this last year and realized that I spent pretty much the entire year sad, depressed, and heartbroken. The worst months have been not only that but riddled with thoughts of suicide, and the worst days in that have been battling against negative self-talk about how the world wouldn’t miss me in the slightest other than my mom and some close friends. I got a response to my last post that I am strong and brave and am beginning to tap into that, but that’s the thing – I’m not beginning. I’ve weathered so much pain and feelings that I’m meaningless and pointless because I’m so incredibly strong that even when I feel like I’m worth absolutely nothing, I still show up and try to do my best and be the kindest person I can be to those I encounter – most of whom have no idea how difficult of a time I’ve been going through.

I’ve talked about the why before – this all feels like a loss not only of a relationship but of love and partnership as meaningful pursuits in my life. I’ve spent the last few months seeing who’s out there, and ultimately, that doesn’t leave me feeling any better about the future. So, I’ve been letting go of the attachment to the idea of sharing my life with someone in the future. I don’t trust love anymore. I don’t trust that there’s a good match out there for me, and furthermore, I don’t trust myself. I seem to be attracted to those who don’t seem to see me or value me, so even if I did find someone who felt like a great match, I’d thoroughly doubt my evaluation.

So, here we are, at the cusp of a New Year, and I’ve decided that I’ll stop bringing up these bad feelings by looking through who’s out there on dating apps. I’ve only really been looking for friends or casual dating, but as I’ve scrolled through 100s of profiles, I can’t help but notice that none have sparked a deeper interest. I’ll leave my profile open so that others can perhaps find me, but I’ll stop with the effort on my end as the regular reminder seems to stir those feelings of apprehension about being alone.

I’ve struggled with this set of feelings for months now. At times, I’ve even thought of it in terms of Nietzsche saying that mankind would rather will nothingness than not will – his project’s concern regarding nihilism. I’ve worried that perhaps I have a nihilistic stance towards all of this at this point. In a way, I couldn’t blame myself. I feel like some big part of me is dead, and I need to amputate that to walk on with new invigoration. I do have some deep nihilism in my heart – I feel like something I had attached a lot of meaning to is gone, and as Frankl warns us, that sense of meaninglessness in one’s life is connected to a despair and surrender to death.

I can only hope for a Nietzschean great convalescence. At times, like in the last post, I feel on the cusp of it, and I think that willing something different is key, rather than willing the negation of all that hurts. As such, I will being a philosopher bachelor. I will that facing the absurd of meaninglessness pushes me towards greater wisdom about the interconnection of all and compassion for all other sentient beings. I will letting go of love, partnership, family, and fatherhood. If they find me in the future, great, but I will no longer worry about finding or building them myself.

I recently have been reading about Zen energetic practices which led me down a rabbit hole of the embodied energetics of chanting and the bodhisattva vow. Let’s take this vow up as the resolution for the new year:

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.
Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.
The dharmas are boundless; I vow to master them.
The Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.

from Soto School Scriptures for Daily Service and Practice, as quoted in Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts by Shohaku Okumura

May the impossible nature of the above aspiration inspire patience and compassion with myself as I continue to struggle with self-mastery and as I fall short of any intentions of doing right by those I encounter in my life.


May this post act as an inspiration or companionship to those out there who need it.

Gassho!