A Step-by-Step Path to Spiritual Growth
A Step-by-Step Path to Spiritual Growth:
Teachings of Dhammapada
In May, we completed reading the Tao-te Ching. Decades ago, the Taoist scripture had cast a spell on me that was never quite undone. It had spoken to the deepest recesses of my heart and mind. I knew I would go back to it someday. And I did. Re-reading the incredibly effective book for 81 weeks has increased my sense of awe of nature and my capacity to progress emotionally and spiritually, albeit painstakingly slowly. How did it affect you?
We will start reading Dhammapada from June 5. The word Dhammapada may be roughly translated as “The Righteous Path of Life.” A collection of vivid Buddhist verses, it is the second book on our reading list of four Asian scriptures. The other two sacred books are the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita and the Sikh Guru Granth Sahib.
Dhammapada is comparatively easy to follow. It was not written for monks and nuns but for everyone. It contains 423 verses divided in 18 chapters. When read wholeheartedly, it can become part of our daily lives, in some cases, even transform us in many ways.
Dhammapada contains the essence of the teachings of the Buddha. Buddha taught us to know our authentic selves. He taught that nothing in our lives happens by chance, that we are our own lamps, that we make our own destiny. What we deeply desire manifests in our actions and words. It is not some divine power that punishes or rewards us; we punish and reward our own selves.
Freedom from selfish desires is one of the threads that runs through Dhammapada as it does through Tao-te Ching. These are the desires that make us restless for rewards and keep us from enjoying the present moment. Selfish desires are our downfall.
To quote from Tao-te Ching, chapter 47, “As I Understand It:”
“When we collect, gather, hoard we become addicted to ceaseless desire to possess. Our thirst for stuff never quenches. But when we decrease stuff by giving, gifting, granting we feel freedom and strengthen our link with inner self. The inner strength does not die.
Let’s try to live in this world without wanting to possess it. Let’s take pleasure in people we love, in the beauty of nature, in the sounds of music, in the fragrances and flavors. When we practice giving, donating, bestowing and become aware of our sensuous surroundings we become as free as an infant.”
The Buddha, above all else, emphasized the practice of meditation. Though a difficult discipline, meditation helps us to get in touch with ourselves. Its practice takes years–from simply breathing with attention all the way up to the fourth stage of Samadhi. Step-by-step, we descend into the depths of the unconscious. We begin to see connections between personal problems and their deeper causes. We become aware of our personal thoughts, feelings, habits, experiences and frozen memories. With this awareness we are willing to make changes in our lives. Our mind clarifies and becomes calm. When the thought process slows down we get a glimpse into a deeper consciousness. The veil of self-centeredness and selfish desires is removed. There is no fear, no guilt, regret or resentment. We realize that the world we experience is of our own making.
We can read Dhammapada, a slim volume of 18 chapters, in less than an hour but it will take us eighteen weeks to finish. However, to follow its teachings would take one a lifetime, if not more.