Walking along the Dhammapada — Chapter 13: The World

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.

The opening line to this chapter is the key for us to hold onto. Let’s look at it, and then I’ll go over the flow of the chapter.

Do not follow an inferior way;
Don’t live with negligence.
Do not follow a wrong view;
Don’t be engrossed in the world.
-Trans. Fronsdal (167)

I think the key word of warning here is “engrossed”. Fronsdal notes that this is a difficult word to translate as it isn’t really explained in the commentaries, seeming to mean: “something along the lines of both increasing and being attached” (Fronsdal – endnotes). Given these connotations and the ongoing message of breaking free from the shackles of clinging throughout The Dhammapada, I think that “engrossed” is a great word, and the truth is that the standard life of samsara is one of being engrossed — of clinging to worldly outcomes and possessions. It’s so deep and so all encompassing, that we generally can see no other way. In some ways, that’s precisely why the teachings regarding Dharma are so radical. One final note: being engrossed is a life of following a way that isn’t that of the Dharma, not being vigilant to waking up and maintaining the path, and having a wrong view of the world (the first three parts of this line).

I tried to make sense of the rest of the chapter’s relation to this message by summarizing each line. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Wake up!
  • Life of good conduct = a happy life
  • See the world as illusory and ephemeral (i.e. why are you clinging to it???)
  • Do not cling
  • Good action = recovery & illumination
  • Reiterated: good action = recovery & illumination
  • Most are blind to their engrossed life in the world
  • Wisdom frees from temptation/samsara (i.e. engrossment)
  • Slippery slope: breaking one precept (lying in this case) open’s one to greater unwholesome behavior
  • Generosity is a wise action
  • The path of the Dharma is greater than ruling the entire world

So, we could say that the path out of the engrossed life should begin with a focus on wise/wholesome/skillful action and an awareness that clinging is the root of our continuation of samsara. Generosity, then, is the perfect example of a wise action that counteracts clinging and illuminates the Dharma: it’s an action of not-clinging, of letting go of possessions to ease others. It’s also, although this is unstated, an exercise of interdependence — recognizing that we are not separate from the entirety of the world, and that in giving to help others, we are helping all. In a way, this reminds me of the much later Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen; we invert the power dynamics of our self-centered orbit by focusing on giving to others, thereby stepping forward on the Buddha’s path.

Compare those final ideas with the opening line again, and I believe you’ll find that this chapter, while seemingly meandering, is actually quite clear and is emphasizing a clear view of the samsaric world and how we should see it differently and act accordingly.


May this help you develop the right view, vigilance, and adherence to a superior way so that you may realize the “fruits of stream entry”.



Letting Go and Generosity: Some Tales of Buddhist Ancestors

I’ve recently finished a wonderful book by Lama Surya Das called Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be. Just before the ending of the book, he shares a couple of tales about Buddhist ancestors, letting go, and generosity. I’d like to share this passage. I’ll also write another post related to the closing chapter of the book as it fits well with some of the difficulties of growth and healing that I have been going through recently.

Patrul Rinpoche’s life exemplified generosity; whenever he was given money or offerings, he quickly handed them over to others, giving generously to the poor and the homeless. It is said that there was little that Patrul Rinpoche loved more than being able to give to others. A favorite story my teachers told concerns a man who approached the learned teacher and begged him for some money.
“Oh my poor friend,” Patrul said. “Just say to me, I don’t need any money, and I will give you some.”
The beggar thought that he had been misunderstood, so he repeated his request for money. Once again Patrul answered, “Just say to me, I don’t need any money, and I will give you some.”
Finally the man uttered the sentence Patrul had been requesting. “I don’t need any money,” he said. Patrul in turn rewarded him with a handful of silver coins.
Then Patrul told the beggar the following story about Lord Buddha.
It seems that one day as the Buddha traveled through India, a poor man came up to him and gave the Buddha the only gift he had, a single piece of milk sugar candy. As the Buddha was looking at the candy and wondering what to do with it, another man, known for his greedy inclinations, saw the candy in Buddha’s hand and asked if he could have it. The man, of course, knew that the generous Buddha never said “no” to such a request.
The man was quite surprised when the Buddha did not immediately hand over the candy. Instead the Buddha spoke to the man, saying:
“Just say to me, I don’t need this milk sweet. And then I shall give it to you.”
The man did as the Buddha requested, and he got the candy which he promptly popped into his mouth.
Later the Buddha’s disciples asked the Buddha why he wanted the man to say these words.
“Because,” the Buddha replied, “through hundreds of lifetimes this man has never even once said the words, I don’t need. By saying these few simple words, he may have momentarily experienced the feeling of needing nothing. These words undermine greed and may help plant the seeds of generosity.”


I don’t need any candy…

Padma Sambhava, the great Indian master who introduced Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century, told his disciples that when asked, they should say, “I don’t know, I don’t want, I don’t need.” I try to remember that.
This is a lesson in nonattachment and acceptance. It is a lesson in learning to love unconditionally without expecting results, rewards, or payments of any kind. It may feel counterintuitive, but acceptance does have a transformative effect. Nonattachment and acceptance have their own magic and can transform anything. Letting go is the ultimate act of generosity and faith. And every good deed is a gift to both giver and recipient.
– pp. 209-210 Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be, Lama Surya Das

Try it yourself. Say: “I don’t need …” and let the attachment slip away. An even better practice: give away some small thing (you can work up to bigger things later) that you feel attached to. Give it to someone who would be happy to have it. This is a very mindful experience of attachment and its hooks. If you can do this and say to yourself I don’t need this, you’ll find the peace of liberation after the pangs of attachment pass.

May this inspire your own ability to let go and to be generous to others.