The Dhammapada may be defined as the Buddhist Path to Perfection, or Nirvana, as depicted by a collection of 423 short homilies. Although most are straightforward, I am sure at least some carry more meaning the longer they are thought over, or are not as easy to live by as they first sound. Perhaps the best example of what I am trying to say is the story related by the editor in the Introduction.
“It is said that once a man of arms undertook a long journey to see a holy follower of Buddha, and asked if the message of Buddha could be taught to him.
The answer was ‘Do not what is evil. Do what is good. Keep your mind pure. This is the teaching of Buddha.’
‘Is this all?’ asked the man of arms. ‘Every child of five knows this!’
‘It may be so, but few men of eighty can practice it’, he was told. page 21-22
There is naturally a similarity with the teachings of Christ in how Buddha asks us to deal with others to encourage a safe and harmonious society. However more strongly presented are the themes of self-improvement, including watchfulness, self-control, moderation, truth and harmony.
Key tenets include:
- Hate can only be overcome by love.
- Since our thoughts build our future, thoughts free of the feelings of hurt and defeat will be free of hate.
- Freedom from desires provides joy. Transient pleasures, passions and cravings lead to sorrows, for to want but not obtain these pleasures causes sorrow.
- Think not of the faults of others, but of your own failings
- Life is dear to all creatures therefore man should not kill or cause to kill.
Rather than providing further inadequate summary here after my brief first exposure to this religion, I have copied out a greater number of quotes below than is my usual practice – not necessarily representative of the whole but those which resonated with me as I read. The Penguin copy I read (ISBN 0140443847) was only about ninety pages, and a third of that was the introduction by Juan Mascaro, in which he makes many links to Christianity and other spiritual literatures.
The mind is fickle and flighty, it flies after fancies wherever it likes; it is difficult indeed to restrain. But it is a great good to control the mind; a mind self-controlled is a source of great joy.
As the bee takes the essence of a flower and flies away without destroying its beauty and perfume, so let the sage wander in this life.
Better than a thousand useless words is one single word that gives peace.
Neither in the sky, nor deep in the ocean, nor in a mountain-cave, nor anywhere, can a man be free from the evil he has done.
How can there be laughter, how can there be pleasure, when the whole world is burning? When you are in deep darkness, will you not ask for a lamp?
It is easy to do what is wrong, to do what is bad for oneself; but very difficult to do what is right, to do what is good for oneself.
Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Confidence is the greatest friend. Nirvana is the greatest joy.
Speak the truth, yield not to anger, give what you can to him that asks : these three steps lead you to the gods.
In days gone by this mind of mine used to stray wherever selfish desire or lust or pleasure would lead it. Today this mind does not stray and is under the harmony of control, even as a wild elephant is controlled by its trainer.
Personal rating: As a pleasurable experience to read : 6/10.
Next : From Buddhism to Hinduism. The Manusmriti (Laws of Manu)