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!

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