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Walking along the Dhammapada — Chapter 4: Flowers

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 title for this one and its associated metaphor are striking. I tried my best to succinctly unpack the meaning of this metaphor to encapsulate the meaning of this particular chapter. This is what I came up with: “flowers” is related to properly viewing and acting in the world. As a skilled gardener selects a flower, a follower of the Buddha who has caught sight of nirvana will select a well-taught Dharma-teaching. In other words, an insight of the goal of the end of suffering will lead to proper living in this world.

One who does not see things clearly will simply try to gather as many flowers as possible, which is lusting after sensory pleasures and clinging to them. Such people waste their lives, and continue along the samsaric path of further death and rebirth.

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In contrast, one who sees that the body is ephemeral will live wisely and will not be drawn to Mara’s flowers — cutting them away, thereby becoming undetectable to Death. This undectability repeats in the chapter, and yet again, we have a great simile for how transitory the body is: it is like foam.

Instead of clinging obsessively to sensory pleasures, one with such wisdom doesn’t cling — moving from experience to experience, and living life with the skill of simply engaging. Our example: we should move like a bee moves from flower to flower, gently gathering nectar without harming the flowers.

All of this so far more or less reiterates the messages of the first 3 chapters. Where this chapter furthers and expands the teaching thus far is from lines 50 to 59.

Do not consider the faults of others
Or what they have or haven’t done.
Consider rather
What you yourself have or haven’t done.
-Trans. Fronsdal (50)

Here, we’re not only reminded that our efforts alone are the key to walking the path and realizing nirvana, but it’s further stated that in becoming a walker of the path, one should let go of the judgments of others’ shortcomings. This is the positive corollary of letting go of the hatred of victimhood in the first chapter:

“He abused me, attacked me,
Defeated me, robbed me!”
For those carrying on like this,
Hatred does not end.

“She abused me, attacked me,
Defeated me, robbed me!”
For those not carrying on like this,
Hatred ends.
-Trans. Fronsdal (3-4)

Furthermore, in focusing on your efforts, the chapter then lines out that not only your mind and your actions should be in alignment, as in other chapters, or your mind and your speech — your speech and your actions should be in alignment. Early Buddhist teachings focus on purifying mind, speech, and action, and that’s exemplified here.

Like a beautiful flower,
Brightly colored but lacking scent,
So are well-spoken words
Fruitless when not carried out.

Like a beautiful flower,
Brightly colored and with scent,
So are well-spoken words
Fruitful when carried out.

Just as from a heap of flowers
Many garlands can be made,
So, you, with your mortal life,
Should do many skillful things.
-Trans. Fronsdal (51-53)

Well-spoken words should lead to associated well-done actions. Otherwise, the words are empty, lifeless, and life in itself is empty, as it doesn’t amount to anything but another cycle of death and rebirth, lacking the beautiful scent of the garlands of the noble path.

There’s one more passage that is worth highlighting directly with a quote because it is simply beautiful, one of the most artful, poetic, and inspirational in the text so far. It is the closing lines of the chapter. We too shall close this commentary with them, pointing out only that once again we have the emphasis that nirvana can be found in the daily mess of the life we’re already in: even when surrounded by the common clinging and delusion, wisdom can grow and flourish.

As a sweet-smelling lotus
Pleasing to the heart
May grow in a heap of rubbish
Discarded along the highway,
So a disciple of the Fully Awakened One
Shines with wisdom
Amid the rubbish heap
Of blind, common people.
-Trans. Fronsdal (58-59)


May this help you grow wise amidst the challenges of delusion.

Gassho!

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Life’s Vicissitudes — Letting Go

The “Memories” feed in Facebook brings back interesting moments that may otherwise fade. A couple days ago, a status from a few years back jerked me back into one of the most awful days of my life. Reading it, thinking back, and looking at the comments all left me with strong gratitude that things have changed, yet I could go back in my mind and in my feelings and remember how difficult it was to let go at the time and let change happen.

Other events in the last couple days bring the same to mind. All composite things are impermanent — and that means every experience we have in our lives and every aspect of our world, our bodies, and our minds will change. All of it. Things end even when they’re hard. Even when it hurts. However, what I’d like to share in looking back and at looking at other changes from afar is that there’s beauty in that as well. Even in something that seems sad or tragic, it can be a change that lets go of pain, hopelessness, or perceived meaninglessness.

To take a familiar metaphor from mythology — if fate is a thread that is weaved into a story, the end of a fated thing is the cutting of a thread, and that cut may hurt or be perceived as a violent stop — all endings are, in a way. However, it’s only in that end that the tapestry, the full story and beauty, can be completed, and sometimes that’s actually better than a thread that’s stretched so hard and thin that it’s fraying.

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May this provide you perspective to accept the ups and downs of life’s vicissitudes.

Gassho!

The River of Life–on Existence and “Separation”

Here’s another set of Morning Pages philosophical thoughts. Enjoy!


Floating through–a bubble on the surface of a river. The fragility of it and the shining beauty–yet not separate from muck and refuse also floating by in the water. Separate? Does such a word make any deep sense? Of course the bubble is distinct from the banks of the river, but where does the bubble end and “the river” begin? Also, could one truly be without the other? You may say that the river could, but it would be a different river, and would either be without the banks? What is separation?

This image is a metaphor for life, and the last point stands to remind us that “my” life as separate, as independent, is equally implausible. The universe would not be the same without me in it, but we usually stop there and make this into some sort of grand creed of the ego–“My existence is of universal importance!!!” Thus do we beat our chests at the confusion and existential anguish of the questions: “Why am I here? What is the point of it all?” Thus do we cover over our fear of death and nonexistence, trying to overlook how that bubble could so easily pop and that we cannot begin to understand or conceive of what it would be like to dissolve from bubble into river–to have the “I” dissolve into whatever it may become when this body pops in its own way.

We must not stop with this roar at the uncertainties of our embodied, impermanent life. The other point was that I am not separate from the universe. The bubble would not be, if not for floating along on the water. Words deceive here. It is not the river, and yet it is the river. It flows differently than the water around it, but it is composed of the same water and shows us merely a different way that all the particulars of the river’s flow can manifest, albeit briefly, as one possible occurrence in the ever-changing flow of flux.

Bubbles floating on a river...

Bubbles floating on a river…

Here is the mystery. Here is Tao, shunyata, Source, or the divine spark. Here is what you should spend your time observing. The universe universes the universe, right here, right now–right everywhere, right always–and “I” am not a separate, “independent” observer. I am that unfolding splendor in one tiny, localized manifestation, clearly not the whole yet not separate from the whole. Such mystery cannot be adequately represented in words, only indicated, only shownLook.

May All be happy.
May All be healthy.
May All be at peace.
May All live with ease.


May this bring you insight and inspire you to look deeply at all you encounter.

Gassho!