Friday, October 17, 2014

Dhammapada Reflection #3

Verses 6, 7 & 8:

There are those that do not realize
That one day we must all die.
But those that do realize this
Settle their quarrels.

Just as a storm throws down a weak tree,
So does Mara overpower the one who lives
For the pursuit of pleasures,
Who is uncontrolled in senses,
Immoderate in eating, indolent, and dissipated.

Just as a storm cannot prevail
Against a rocky mountain,
So Mara can never overpower the one
Who lives meditating on the impurities,
Who is controlled in his senses,
Moderate in eating, and filled
With faith and earnest effort.

 We humans are an ingenious lot. We can cure many fatal diseases, produce amazing works of art, and we can even walk in space. And yet, we can also be pretty foolish, too. We endanger our health with intoxicants, argue & inflict violence on each other, and live as if immortal, avoiding the fact of our impending demise. Such ways of living do immense damage both physically & psychologically, but Buddha suggests that we can go beyond these destructive behaviour patterns.

 A common exercise encouraged in Buddhism is to reflect on our mortality. We are mortal beings; not only do these bodies age & die, but also our minds do likewise. Indeed, it’s the nature of the human mind to change moment-to-moment in the constant flow of thoughts & feelings referred to as the stream of consciousness. Based in this fact, Buddha suggests that if we are to take any part of us to be a ‘self,’ it should be the body rather than the mind, for although the body is constantly changing, the mind morphs from one state to another much faster; it is in constant flux. Watch it for five minutes and you will see the truth of this.

Ultimately, though, Buddha advises us not to take any part of us as constituting a self, as both mind & body can be seen to be natural processes largely out of our control. Moreover, we can see that these human forms are ephemeral if we take the time to actually observe the human condition with discernment. One day, you will cease to be, and when the last day arrives, do you want to live with regret in your heart, having lived in states of animosity & conflict? Is this how you wish to be remembered: as someone who created much pain & suffering? Buddha promotes the opposite to this, for not only will you help create a better world by settling disputes fairly & swiftly, but you’ll be remembered more favourably as well.

 Mara is the Buddhist figure that represents death & ignorance; in other words, he is the antithesis of Buddha. Rather than selfless, he is selfish, rather than egoless, he is egotistic, and rather than compassionate, he is unsympathetic. Similarly, Mara personifies those aspects of ourselves that are pleasure-seeking, sense-gratifying & lazy. If we give in to these negative traits, we will be unable to realize the fruits of the Buddhist life, for we will live as followers of Mara and not Buddha. This is how Mara overpowers us, as spoken of in verse 7 of the Dhammapada quoted above. Living in such negative ways, we will surely live in conflict with others, over-competing with them, causing arguments & hatred. In giving in to these harmful modes of behaviour we are “weak trees,” as Buddha puts it, easily subject to further suffering based upon the fake identities we foolishly live from.

 Those that are heedful of Buddha’s teachings are compared to a “rocky mountain” beyond the destructive powers of any storm. He encourages us to meditate on “the impurities” which is a practice intended to reveal the real nature of our bodies. The focus of such reflection is such aspects of the body as bones, organs, membranes, fat, mucus & faeces, not to mention other distasteful stuff. Controlling our senses by not overindulging in sensual activities will also help in keeping Mara at bay. Conviction & energy with regards to being moral & meditative will give rise to the wisdom that transcends suffering & the delusion of self.

 Living from the realization of the impermanent nature of these body-minds can lead to a more positive attitude towards life, not wasting so much effort on conflictive behaviours. We’re more inclined to being tolerant & forgiving with each other if we recognize that we’re all in the same boat called ‘Impermanence’ that will disembark at the port named ‘Death.’ Being controlled in our actions and seeing the body as it truly is can lead to a letting go of sense-indulgent & self-centred activity, thus opening us up to the Dharma (the-way-things-are). All this can not only make life more tolerable for us all, but also lead to that realization of selflessness that Buddha called ‘nirvana.’

 The Dhammapada ('Verses of Dharma' or 'Path of Dharma') is an ancient Buddhist text that is said to contain some of Buddha's teachings in poetic form. The first chapter is called Yamakavagga, 'Chapter of Pairs,' and the above three verses are from this part of the book.

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