Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Appamadavagga: Heedfulness

Things were pretty simple and straight-forward in the verses found within “The Pairs,” the first chapter of the Dhammapada. The idea that we own our outcomes is laid out pretty clearly, and with language that allows lay people to immediately grasp the lesson.

But chapter 2 of the DhammapadaAppamadavagga: Heedfulness – comes off as a bit more esoteric. The message appears to be more directed toward the monastic community, with less overt applicability for lay people. And it’s structured around a pair of terms that may appear easy enough to understand, but which nonetheless retain some ambiguity: heedfulness and heedlessness.

The Buddha made a big deal out of “heedfulness.” In fact, I think it is safe for me to presume that no one, lay person or monastic, can progress along the path without being heedful. In the Anguttara Nikaya Book of Tens, there is the Appamada Sutta where the Buddha outlines ten examples of the importance of heedfulness. Each of these examples concludes with: “In the same way, all skillful qualities are rooted in heedfulness, converge in heedfulness, and heedfulness is reckoned the foremost among them.”

What’s nice about the Appamada Sutta is that the examples the Buddha outlines to emphasize the supremacy of heedfulness come from facets of everyday life; it is a lesson for lay people using real life language lay people can understand.

But if that isn’t clear enough for you, take a look at the Upajjhatthana Sutta, which starts off with this: “There are these five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained. Which five?” The five facts the Buddha outlines are the Five Recollections, also known as the Five Remembrances. These five facts the Buddha presents are central to anyone’s practice – lay person, monastic, rich or poor. And through contemplation of these five facts, we develop a keener awareness of the results of our actions through a deeper understanding of these five basic facts of our existence. Out of this practice, out of this contemplation, arises this quality the Buddha called heedfulness. Hence, being heedful of something is more than just paying attention to it, more than just noticing it or acknowledging it: Heedfulness means you are aware of it, and upon awareness you pay attention to it, and from paying attention to it, you allow it to motivate you into skillful action.

I can be aware of all the traffic in the street, but I am only heedful of that traffic when I use that awareness to wait for a pause in traffic that will allow me to cross the street without being struck by a car.

There is something very powerful in the first verse of the Appamadavagga, and that is the notion that people who pay no heed to what is occurring around them, let alone what they do, are like the walking dead.

“Heedfulness: the path to the Deathless.
Heedlessness: the path to death.
The heedful do not die.
The heedless are as if
already dead.”

That verse alone is worth repeating to yourself everyday before and after you meditate. And not inside your head; say it out loud.

Verse 25 acknowledges that this takes effort, but the effort is rewarded.

“Through initiative, heedfulness,
restraint, & self-control,
the wise would make
an island
no flood
can submerge.”

Through initiative and being heedful, we can develop the skills to keep ourselves from being distracted and distraught by all the crap that goes on around us. We are, then, like an island that will not be flooded over by this wave of chaos called the world around us. But some may read into verse 28 a sense of condescension, and perhaps even indifference:

“When the wise person drives out
with heedfulness,
having climbed the high tower
of discernment,
he observes the sorrowing crowd —
as the enlightened man,
having scaled
a summit,
the fools on the ground below.”

There are people may read this to exemplify what some already think about those of us who follow the Theravada vehicle, and that is we are selfish and self-centered, that we would prefer to retreat from the world rather than engage within it. But this notion, to me, is another example of, as the rock band Aerosmith put it, “talk with yourself and you'll hear what you wanna know.” Let’s not forget that the next line in the song is, “gotta rise above cause below it’s only getting’ worse.”

The metaphor of the lotus flower rising out of the pits of a cesspool or swamp is instructive here, because the beauty of the lotus flower contrasted against the filth around it is what brings our attention to it. And when I encounter someone who seems to be unflustered by the world around them, someone who can move with ease within it, he or she will attract my attention. And who knows? Perhaps it will embolden me to ask, “How are you able to do that?”

1 comment:

  1. "The metaphor of the lotus flower rising out of the pits of a cesspool or swamp is instructive here, because the beauty of the lotus flower contrasted against the filth around it is what brings our attention to it."

    Ain't that the truth. Good post man!