Chapter Eleven: Dhammapada | Madhu Bazaz Wangu
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Chapter Eleven: Dhammapada

Chapter Eleven: Dhammapada

Chapter Eleven: Dhammapada
Old Age

146. How can there be laughter, how can there be pleasure, when the world is burning? When you are living in darkness, why don’t you ask for a lamp?

147-149. This body is a painted image, subject to disease, decay and death, full of imaginings. What joy can there be for the one who sees that his white bones will be thrown away like dried gourds at the end of the summer?

150-151. A house of bones is this body, plastered with flesh and with blood. In it dwell pride and pretence, old age and death. In the course of time even the glitter of a king’s chariot wears out, same way the body loses its strength and vigor. But the goodness and virtue never grow old.

152. A man who does not learn from life grows old like an ox: his body grows but not his wisdom.

153-154. I have gone through many cycles of birth and death, striving in vain for the builder of this body. How great is the sorrow of rebirth again and again! But now I have seen you, house builder, you shall not build this house again. Its beams are broken; its dome is shattered: self-will is extinguished; the joy of the immortal nirvana is attained.

155-156. Those who have not practiced spiritual disciplines in their youth pine away like old cranes in a lake without fish. Like broken bows, they lie in old age, sighing over the past.

As I Understand It
The Buddha said the world is on fire. It is burning. We begin to die the moment we are born. We want to remain young and vigorous forever. We don’t want wrinkles, white hair and stiff joints. Yet we refuse to pay attention to the advancing age. We prefer to remain in the dark than to confront the inevitable. This attitude is not healthy.

The Buddha deeply thought about suffering, disease, old age and death. If we think about the impermanence of life when we are younger, it would give us comfort in old age. The thought of old age and death at the back of our mind instills fear in us before the inevitable overtakes us.

We give a lot of thought and plan for the important stages of our lives such as going to college, getting married, choosing life’s vocation, having children so why not think and plan for the final life stage. If we don’t start paying attention to it now, by the time we’re old it would be too late to realize the spiritual purpose of our lives. That would be a tragic waste.

The Buddha considered human birth as the highest blessing. Only as a human being can we strive for and attain nirvana. But we must begin to seek life’s spiritual meaning while we are still young. A purely physical existence has little value. But when we take small steps towards a spiritual goal our life gets endowed with meaning.

We don’t want to think of death because we have selfish cravings. We constantly seek to satisfy these through our bodies. Aging body, however, delivers less and less and eventually is unable to satisfy our insistent cravings. At death the cravings remain unsatisfied; after death they seek physical embodiment. Thus the samsara, the cycle of birth and death continues endlessly.

The selfish craving is the builder of body and personality. But if a stop is put to it, we feel freedom from all selfish desires. Being aware of our behavior and desires, and disassembling them extinguish the fire of craving. Those who destroy selfish carvings do not go through the cycles of samsara. For them, like the Buddha, “Self-will is extinguished, the joy of immortal nirvana is attained.”

Suggested Reading:
The Dhammapada: The Path of Perfection, Translation and Introduction by Juan Mascaro, Penguin Books. 1973. Penguin Group, England.
The Dhammapada, Translated for the Modern Reader by Eknath Easwaran, Nilgiri Press. 1985. Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, California.

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