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Walking along the Dhammapada — Chapter 9: Evil

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 focuses on the negative consequences of unwholesome deeds: deeds driven by craving, desire, aversion, and ignorance. These are deeds that don’t aim towards peace and that don’t see the greater scope of the universe and our place in it. This chapter counsels us to act quickly in doing good deeds instead, as if one is lazy to take good action, it’s easier to fall into evil deeds.

We must remember that this all has to do with an understanding of the world and our lives as being driven by the negative cause and effect of karma. Remember the chapter on the fool: the negative results associated with an action may not seem like a big deal until they mature into full form. This is probably why it is easy to fall in the habit of doing evil: it truly seems harmless, as regret only comes much later in many instances.

However, the refrain of this chapter is that karma cannot be escaped. Evil deeds will bring unwholesome results, as will meritorious deeds bring wholesome ones. Furthermore, the bad karma of evil deeds will not only shackle one further to the cycles of birth and death, but furthermore, they’ll lead to worse rebirths: hell. Modern, Western Buddhism takes this as a psychological metaphor that one is reborn into ongoing negative experiences, painful ones, moment by moment as bad patterns strengthen through negative choices. This does fit with the shaping of mind as discussed in many chapters, especially the first, but I do think Buddhism in our Western, modernized interpretation does tend to wipe away the ancient beliefs that were part of the Buddha’s world. Perhaps the Buddha didn’t believe in such things, but I honestly doubt that, given the other literature of the early Buddhist canon. Shortened summary: I believe that these passages really do intend to say that you are reborn in a land of hell, rather than just speaking of psychological states.

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In contrast, positive deeds result in good results. This will lead slowly to better rebirths, and eventually, if we tame the mind fully and release the poisons and craving, we’ll reach Nirvana.

One of the most cryptic passages in the text so far comes in this chapter:

A hand that has no wounds
Can carry poison;
Poison does not enter without a wound.
There are no evil consequences
For one who does no evil.
-Trans. Fronsdal (124)

After reading this several times, I came to this interpretation: evil deeds wound the mind (remember the first chapter which introduces the path of training the mind and the subsequent lines that claim this is the task of the sage), and this wounded state allows the toxins to take hold. Evil deeds then cultivate a mind that continues to wound itself and at the same time open itself to the poisons which just wound it further: a vicious cycle. If a hand without wounds can carry the poisons, then a mind trained to a state of being fully healed, one well-steeped in meritorious action, will encounter the poisons (the metaphor seems to indicate they’re just there; they’re something we carry) but will not be harmed by them. They cannot take hold.

Let’s close this commentary with what I consider the best line of the chapter:

As a merchant
Carrying great wealth in a small caravan
Avoids a dangerous road;
As someone who loves life
Avoids poison
So should you avoid evil deeds.
-Trans. Fronsdal (123)


May this help you have hands that can carry the most toxic of poisons without it doing you any harm.

Gassho!

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Snippets of Wisdom from an Old Journal

I recently moved, and when I did, I came across some things that had been buried in boxes and corners. I found an old journal in which I wrote about the beginnings of my spiritual path, roughly a year and a half ago. I’ve strayed a bit and returned since then, but I was impressed to have found these thoughts and feelings at the end (because they are close to where I am now in many ways although I subsequently lost many of them) and thought I would share them here. I also shared another piece from this journal in a previous post: Control and Letting Go.


Reading through my words from the past…

8/15/2013

In any case, I am finding it very difficult to remain compassionate in the interpersonal drama of daily life. I see everyone casting about their plans, goals, and emotional hooks. In so doing, they use others as objects, as though we are all some great game of emotional physics–balls of emotional matter bouncing off one another and taking on each others’ energy. Is it any surprise that everyone else acts in turn when this is the inherently agreed upon name of the game? Some might say this is human nature or the human condition; I would say that the second is possible but only because we all make it so. I know that by the end of the retreat, I was able to step away from this game for the most part with a different perspective, and I understand why monks remove themselves from the attachment of the world now.

8/16/2013
Yesterday, I distinctly had a moment when I felt that the activities and lives of people are like so many ants, scurrying around the face of the planet, myopically thinking that their aspirations are more profound as their self-centered goals damage their very home. Of course, who am I to think I am removed from this, but I don’t think I am; I just think I am able to see it. We each think our own life is special and unique, thinking ourselves separate, and in one way, we are; however, in a larger way, all of the manifestations of separate difference are part of a greater universal whole that holds all difference in its chaotic depths, and we are merely its unfolding sway. This is where my Buddhist experiences from the retreat encounter Deleuzean difference, and I think they work together beautifully. It seems to me that Deleuze offers a metaphysical theory that resonates with the changing nothingness of Buddhist thought.
Another issue I face again and again now is the problem of balance and integration. How do I take my experiences and insights up as an ongoing practice in my life? I think that I’m doing OK with this despite my moments of being drawn into my own drama. Also, how does one balance the truths of separate individual life with that of the greater picture? This is the question I’m left with after Dōgen and after my new-found insight. I don’t know, but I find myself thinking often of ethics and self-growth over and across from trying to be a bodhisattva. This will take much more reading and meditation.

8/22/2013

I ultimately had to take a short walk to the park. Once there, I sat and meditated for a few minutes. I heard the cries of joy from nearby children and felt their lives wash over me as they experienced excitement, pain, happiness, and frustration. I heard cars go by on 33rd Ave. I saw the green of the grass and the blue of the sky as wind blew across my face. I saw people walk by, absorbed in their daily lives. I felt the universe unfolding in all the particularity of that moment, felt it unfolding again into the next and then again in the next–each just as miraculous as the last.
At the same time, I opened my heart chakra and felt that I was part of it all without separation. I was the children, the grass, the cars, the wind, and the universe. Of course, “I” is somewhat inaccurate here, and I’ll return to my placeholder about judgment from earlier. We constantly go through life labeling everything as “good” or “bad”. This is how our minds work–an apparatus for making decisions which is a separation of things into different categories. The unison of things is split apart into qualitatively different entities by the mind. This is not false. It is one aspect of existing as an embodied individual, but it is also not absolutely true as it is also true that everything is one and that the differences of separation are merely an illusion. As such, it is narrow-minded, or rather, missing the greater picture in pursuing “good” moments as special, uplifting moments of existence. Good and bad are just our own cognitive labels. Every moment is just as miraculous as every other.
In any case, my meditation allowed me to return to such a compassionate perspective, and I was able to go through the rest of the day and night with more grace and acceptance.


For more discussion of “good”/”bad” and our labeling of things, see: Love, Rebounds, and Relationships: Part 3 — Love and Metaphysics.

Love, Rebounds, and Relationships: Part 3 – Love and Metaphysics

When I first started writing these posts on love, I was confounded in part by a friend’s post. There was some shared comment about Love being everywhere with some sort of sentiment that everything is all beautiful, shiny, good. While I don’t want to vouch for negativity and be a naysayer, there was something disconnected and starry-eyed about the whole thing. It felt just as unrealistic as someone being very jaded and nihilistic. Such odd emotional feedback on my end as a reader gave me pause, and I thought about why it felt so … off. This post will examine the thoughts I came to.

In the two previous posts on Love, I’ve challenged some of the ways that the word is used and understood. Specifically, I’ve questioned the idea of Love as some sort of completion of self through the Other, and I’ve also questioned the seeming simplicity of the concept, trying to show that it’s a mysteriously deep experience for us to investigate.

To move forward with this post, I have to back-pedal just a bit. There is clearly a core to the experience of love despite the complexity that I have previously outlined. That core is a positivity. To love is to feel some sort of positive connection, a positive regard toward the loved. I think that that captures the core idea of love. From such a simple definition, hate–a negative refusal of something–is the opposite. This simple distinction is utterly familiar: Love–ultimate Good; Hate–ultimate Bad. This is one of the most basic dualities.

This is why vapidly saying that everything is Love without clarification sounds so checked out. Furthermore, I suppose that part of that feeling for me was knowing about and having received a lot of vitriol and negativity from this person regarding her life. “Everything is Love” is not the case just because you’ve turned your eyes away from the parts of existence you don’t like. Those things continue to exist.

No matter how you spin it there are numerous things in life that most would consider bad. There’s loss in its myriad guises, including death. There’s rape and murder. There are myriad diseases that eat your insides in misery like ebola or grow and slowly turn your body into a defiled ball of pain like cancer. The world is full of traffic jams, inconsiderate people, obnoxious sounds, putrid smells, headaches, natural disasters, injured pets, screaming children, petty revenge, and the dog shit you stepped in on your way to work. This list could go on much, much longer. There’s a reason that theologians have struggled with questions regarding why this is the world we have with all its pain and suffering, with all of these “bad” things if God is all powerful and all Good. This is a conundrum that shouldn’t readily be tossed aside by a simplistic usage of words.

I will do my best to address the problem. Love is indeed everywhere, but not like the relative understanding we have. Love is not everywhere in the sense of everything being positive, good things for us to like, or that are beneficial for us. It may come as a surprise, but it’s a truth you should come to terms with, and the sooner, the better: the Universe with its billions of years of existence and trillions of stars is not about you and what you like. It’s not here to make you happy, and it has no concept of good and bad that it uses to order existence. Again, to return to the point, Love is everywhere, but that’s because everything that exists does exist. If there is any animating metaphysical principle, it has brought this universe into existence out of some sort of intention, some sort of desire for it to be so. This is Love. It is an unfolding of that which wants to be, that which loves to become. This is Love without any duality of good and bad. It includes your highest moment of ecstasy and the most excruciating physical pain you’ve endured, your favorite dessert and that dog shit you stepped in. It is both far more profound and more mundane than any of the dualistic ways we think of love. From a metaphysical standpoint, we can take Aristotle’s famous culmination of his Metaphysics as the principles of the Universe being “Thought thinking itself” and change it into “Love loving itself”.

One thing that a meditation practice aims to get past is the dualistic way we see the world. With the prajna of our awakened and engaged perspective, we can get a sight of this absolute Love that is unfolding around us all the time beyond our more self-interested and relative concepts of Love–the Love of the wanting self.

May all who read this see and find Love.
Gassho


Kahir, the fifteenth-century Sufi poet, writes, “The universe is shot through in all parts by a single sort of love.” This love is what we long for. When we bring Radical Acceptance to the enormity of desire, allowing it to be as it is, neither resisting it nor grasping after it, the light of our awareness dissolves the wanting self into its source. We find that we are naturally and entirely in love. Nothing is apart or excluded from this living awareness.

Over the next few days, each time I opened deeply to the force of longing, I was filled with a refreshed and unconditional appreciation for all of life. In the afternoons I would go outside after sitting and walk in the snowy woods. I found a sense of belonging with the great Douglas firs, with the chickadees that landed and ate seeds from my hands, with the layered sounds of the stream as it flowed around ice and rocks. … When we don’t fixate on a single, limited object of love, we discover that the wanting self dissolves into the awareness that is love loving itself. — Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha pp. 154-155.

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