Lessons Learnt II: Dhammapada
Lessons Learnt II: Dhammapada
What we think, say or do have consequences. Sooner or later they come back to us. It may take years before we see the results of our thoughts, words and actions but they do come back–both good and bad. What we are today is the result of the choices we have made.
1. Observing Life’s Impermanence
The First Noble Truth, as taught by the Buddha, is that life is suffering, it is impermanent. Happiness and sorrow follow one another like shadow follows the body. The aim of human life is not so much the worldly happiness but the end of all suffering.
We suffer because we thirst (in Sanskrit, trishna) for possessions, people and places. We constantly try to satisfy our cravings. It is fine to satisfy good desires but we must be beware of selfish desires and greed. Because when one craving is fulfilled another replaces it. Thus the cycle goes on and on. We are never satiated. Satisfying cravings is like fueling the fire of desire; more we feed it higher its flames. What are we supposed to do? We can choose to ignore the cravings. Yes, it is not easy. It is rather painful to ignore something that brings us happiness. But if we tell ourselves that this “happiness” is fleeting and ignore the cravings over and over again they will gradually and eventually dissipate. Only by NOT gratifying the desires can the thirst for things be quenched. We must understand that happiness cannot come from an outside source-from people or things. Genuine happiness is an internal state.
Deep within each one of us lays untapped source of great energy. But we are unable to dive into depths of subconscious and find it because we are busy gratifying our cravings. Once we dissipate our cravings we can access the source of energy through the Buddha’s Eightfold Path.
2. Deciding on a Path
Life is dreary for those who do not follow some spiritual path. Such people think they are already wise. However, they continue to remain ignorant but they do not notice it.
Walking a spiritual path is lonely with no immediate benefits. In order to eliminate our suffering, however, we must follow a path of our choice with an open mind. Dhammapada recommends the Buddha’s Eightfold Path.
Right View: is to follow the Eightfold Path.
Right Intent: Follow whatever path you choose single-mindedly. You may do thousand things each day but your chosen path should be constantly behind those thousand things.
Right Speech: Pay attention to the words you use. Don’t waste time in idle chatter, gossip, and insulting or abusive language.
Right Conduct: Do not kill, steal, cheat on your spouse, lie or drink intoxicants.
Right Livelihood: Your occupation must promote life, not destroy it. Earning a living is not life’s end but only its means.
Right Effort: Human will is significant. The longest strides do not take you the farthest, short steady steps, made in earnest, do.
Right Mindfulness: The Buddha credited human mind with having influence on our lives as no other teacher did. “All we are is the result of what we have thought.” Those who have disciplined their minds develop restful wakefulness and live orderly lives.
Right Concentration: The way to enlightenment is meditation. It regenerates the mind and helps the meditator to experience the world in a new way. Craving, hostility and delusion vanish. The mind reposes in its restive state, which is its true nature.
3. Making Choices
Throughout our lives we make choices. Some choices we make in such a hurry that we don’t even notice it. The world is filled with individuals who make hurried choices. They decide without taking a few moments to make their decision. Spend a minute to choose.Think before you decide to say or do something. Then make a choice you will not regret.
See the difference between a trivial choice and a vital decision keeping in mind that at times a trivial choice is as important as a vital one. Those who choose thoughtfully create a personal history of life well lived.
4. Being Wakeful
Being aware of our undesirable traits helps us eliminate them and reshape our character. This can be learnt by wakefulness.
Wakefulness is essential for making right choices that result in a well-lived life. Being vigilant about the things that matter is a powerful personal tool for shaping character. When we are vigilant our mind gains clarity. We come closer to our authentic selves.
Wise people are self-aware within and without. They listen, watch and think with clear minds. They are aware of themselves and their surroundings but they never meddle into other people’s lives. The wise can only point us towards the right direction. We must walk the path ourselves.
Anger, jealousy and delusion are powerful negative emotions. But the worst of the three is anger. When we are angry our normal feelings are replaced by hate. Patience and calm are the last things on our mind. In anger we follow our impulses and immediate responses that we won’t do if we are wakeful.
It is easier to get angry than try to control it. Angry mind is out of control. While we are angry, however, we feel in control. A few moments of anger make us feel good. Yet, after we have vented our pent up feelings we feel fragmented and hurt.
Become aware of this emotion before it takes over. Watch and guard it when it rises. As soon as you see, hear or think of something that makes you angry, do not react. Don’t let anger envelope you. Instead try to envelop it. Dissipate it by becoming aware of it, paying attention to it. Behaving in this manner helps you gain a state of mind that can handle the given situation sensibly. Such behavior has positive energy that can be used for spiritual growth.
6. Being Self-Reliant
The Buddha urged his followers to rely solely on their selves and seek no other support. He taught to plunge deep in meditation and see for our selves what we may discover within.
Beneath our constantly changing everyday life is a permanent ground of being that is unaffected by any change. This reality feels like dreaming. The vast majority of people are unaware of this inner reality. According to the Dhammapada we must remain wakeful to the reality of this world but at the same time attain an awareness of the inner reality. Trust it. It will guide us in good times as well as bad.
Unfortunately most of us are driven not with the reality within but with fear and guilt. We tend to seek reassurance from the world outside us. But when things do not stay the way we want them to, we are afraid. In this flowing river, we call life, everything changes, and no-thing is permanent. Therefore developing self-reliance, turning inward is a practical spiritual tool. The best refuge is within. This is the path to freedom from fear. The time will come when the power we think we have over others will be replaced with the inherent power we have within.
7. Preparing For the Final Journey
Whether we are in the spring, summer or fall of our lives it is never too late to ask, have I prepared for the final journey? Starting right now, we must begin to shape our behavior and eliminate the impurities of mind that taint our personality. The worst impurity of all is ignorance. Ignorance prevents us from seeing other flaws that eat us up from inside. The thought of old age and death instills fear in us long before the inevitable overtakes us. If we become aware of the fact that life is fleeting when we are younger, it would help us glide into the old age fearlessly.
No one can save us from death. In time, it is certain to arrive. It may seem odd but meditating on the inevitability of death lessens our fears and anxieties.
We avoid thinking about aging, death and the purpose of our lives until we get old. At that point it is too late. What a tragic waste! Another waste is to worry about afterlife. The Dhammapada teaches that heaven or hell are not located somewhere out there, some place where we may go after death depending on how we have lived. It is a mental state caused by the content of our own thoughts and actions.
For the Buddha nothing was more important than meditation, nothing could replace its direct experience. Meditation helps us move beyond busyness of life and overcome our emotional turmoil. If we want to know who we really are we must make the stillness of meditation our daily practice.
In the early stages of meditation unfulfilled desires and wishes churn to the surface. We become aware of the traits that make up our personalities. Even when our conscious mind is filled with disturbing thoughts the unconscious is calm. In meditation we don’t force our mind to be still but try to experience the calm that is the nature of the unconscious mind.This calm is always available to us but only in meditation.
As we continue to sit silently we begin to wage battle inside that is upsetting. But with patience and persistence the rigid patterns of our behavior dissolve. The things that upset us begin to settle down. Our mind becomes calm, our actions simplify and our attitude towards life begins to change. Benevolent feelings surge that give rise to selfless behavior. Inner calm reflects outer serenity. Our body rests and mind is alert, yet calm. Eventually our well-targeted thoughts become our weapons of wisdom.
Experience inner silence and well being through meditation. A settled mind is like a deep and silent pool. This direct personal experience is more powerful than any moral code or social pressure. It reduces stress, decreases blood pressure and slows down breathing. Let’s take our spiritual growth into our hands because genuine happiness is within.