Sunday, May 17, 2015

Dhammapada Reflection #6

Verses 13 & 14

Just as rain breaks through
An ill-thatched house,
So passion penetrates
An undeveloped mind.

Just as rain does not break through
A well-thatched house,
So passion never penetrates
A well-developed mind.

Raga is a key concept in Buddha’s teaching. It can be translated s ‘passion,’ ‘desire’ or ‘attachment.’ It denotes passion for things that lead to stress or suffering (dukkha). As such, it is one of the three poisons or three unwholesome roots, a basic teaching of Buddhism. The other two poisons are aversion (dosa) & ignorance (moha). A synonym found in Buddhist texts for raga is lobha, which means ‘greed.’

Recognising passion is or greed within ourselves is the crucial first step towards understanding it. When understood, passion can then be let go of. This relinquishing of passion is part of the awakening process, and when combined with the letting go of aversion & ignorance it results in the ending of suffering. This state is known as nirvana, the ‘snuffing-out’ of the three poisons, and it is the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice.

An important note here is not to confuse the term ‘passion’ when used as a translation for raga with some of the ways the English word is used in everyday life. Passion can denote enthusiasm for something such as a good cause. When warning us of passion (raga), Buddha is referring specifically to attachment to people & things that lead to suffering (dukkha). This isn’t saying that we shouldn’t have passion for helping those in need or practising Buddhism (for example); it means recognising that passionate attachment that leads to suffering and then abandoning it.

All this may seem fine in theory, but how are we to achieve letting go of passion and the other two poisons? This is where mindfulness & meditation come in. An “undeveloped is  mind” as mentioned in verse 13 above, is one that is unmindful of its workings, whereas a “developed mind” as mentioned in verse 14 is one in which mindfulness & meditation have been cultivated. It is a mind aware of passion, understanding its causes and letting go of them. The initial step in this process is to use meditation to calm the mind to the extent that its workings may be observed with a quiet dispassion. If this stable base isn’t established, it is highly unlikely that the mind will be able to observe itself without getting caught up with, and identifying with, the very passion that it is attempting to observe & understand. With such a well-trained mind, passion can then be explored & let go of using insight techniques.

Recognising & releasing passionate attachment after it has already arisen is an important development in one’s meditation practice. Such skill can be taken further, however, for when well-developed, the mind can recognise the potential causes of future passion before they cause it, avoiding its arising in the first place. Such a mind is then free of the entanglements that tie it to suffering, and can focus on deepening its insight to the point of awakening (bodhi). In this way, “passion never penetrates a well-developed mind.”

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 two verses are from this part of the book.

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