Saturday, October 24, 2009

Panditavagga: The Wise

After covering fools in the Balavagga, it makes sense that the Buddha would next bring up the wise, which he does with the Panditavagga, a word that is almost as fun to say as Balavagga. What I find nice in this chapter of the Dhammapada is how I am able to recognize within these verses facets of the Buddha’s teaching in other suttas, particularly the verses pertaining to friends and friendship.

The first pair of verses, while talking about a sage or teacher, can easily be applied to how one ought to select his or her friends.

“Regard him as one who
points out
the wise one who
seeing your faults
rebukes you.
Stay with this sort of sage.
For the one who stays
with a sage of this sort,
things get better,
not worse.

Let him admonish, instruct,
deflect you
away from poor manners.
To the good, he’s endearing;
to the bad, he’s not.”

And the next verse is more explicit.

“Don’t associate with bad friends.
Don’t associate with the low.
Associate with admirable friends.
Associate with the best.”

What these verses call to mind for me is the Sigalovada Sutta (DN 31), also known as the Layperson’s Code of Discipline. In this sutta, the Buddha guides a young householder on how to identify the four types of harmful friends – “foes in the guise of friends” – and the four types of good friends – “warm-hearted friends.” The company we keep is critical to the level of skillfulness we are able to attain, and if you feel that something is holding back your progress, take a look first at the people you associate with; your hindrance just might be another person.

A sense of stoic resolve is also described in the Panditavagga as being a characteristic of the wise: the wise are like a deep and calm lake; like a rock that won’t budge in the wind. But this steadfastness is not apathy, or even descriptive of someone who doesn’t know how to have fun. Rather, it is a quality of consistency, of having a lack of caprice.

“Everywhere, truly,
those of integrity
stand apart.
They, the good,
don’t chatter in hopes
of favor or gains.
When touched
now by pleasure,
now pain,
the wise give no sign
of high
or low.”

So what this tells me is that it’s not that the wise don’t experience pain or pleasure – they do. It’s just when these experiences occur, the wise aren’t like a chatty Cathy, running around telling everyone about it and drumming up the intensity like a drama queen. It’s not always an easy thing to do, retaining that sense of equanimity in the face of any extreme. We are, after all, human beings filled with the capacity of experiencing emotion. And things happen that can overwhelm us. Of course, at the root of this are all our attachments.

“There he should wish for delight,
discarding sensuality —
he who has nothing.
He should cleanse himself — wise —
of what defiles the mind.

Whose minds are well-developed
in the factors of self-awakening,
who delight in non-clinging,
relinquishing grasping —
their effluents ended:
they, in the world,
are Unbound.”

In our mundane lives, this “relinquishing grasping” is no small feat. I am by no means a fool, but I am far from wise. It wasn’t easy for me to say goodbye to Benny at O’Hare, knowing he was leaving and not coming back. Attachments can be a positive in our life, provided that what we hook ourselves up to enhances our skillfulness, supports our happiness and leaves us a better person. But we must remember that even this will pass because all phenomena – people, places, things, events – are impermanent.

It does help a little bit when I recite each time after I meditate: “All that is mine, beloved and pleasing will change and vanish.” It helps prepare me for the eventual, but this thing called samsara can be a real bitch at times.

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