Sunday, November 1, 2009

Buddhavagga: Awakened

I’m feeling better today, albeit just slightly. There is still a lot of emotional shit I need to deal with and resolve, or at the least come to terms with. These things happen, and I am frankly very thankful that I have challenged myself to blog daily about the Dhammapada. It gives me something to focus on and pull myself out of my maudlin moods. I’ve never been called a queen, but thankfully, I resisted pulling out the Judy cds.

Reading the Buddhavagga makes me feel more optimistic (however, notice that my state of mind continues to be dependent on external stimuli, in this case, a chapter in the Dhammapada). The first set of verses inspire that optimism by reminding me that the Buddha was an enlightened being, and in his teachings I can place my unwavering trust.

“Whose conquest can’t be undone,
whose conquest no one in the world
can reach;
awakened, his pasture endless,
by what path will you lead him astray?

In whom there’s no craving
— the sticky ensnarer —
to lead him anywherever at all;
awakened, his pasture endless,
by what path will you lead him astray?”

Indeed, craving is a “sticky ensnarer.” The fact the Buddha had gone beyond that (this isn’t faith, it’s a fact) instills confidence and encourages my perseverance. Skipping a verse, I come to a set that also comfort me with the knowledge that sometimes my whining is not without justification.

“Hard the winning of a human birth.
Hard the life of mortals.
Hard the chance to hear the true Dhamma.
Hard the arising of Awakened Ones.”

The hackneyed retort of “life sucks and then you die” is more than just a sarcastic quip that has found its place in the day-to-day lexicon. It is, in fact, the truth. But understanding this doesn’t mean I cave into endless feelings of remorse or melancholy. It means that the hardships I deal with are only different in content from what everybody else deals with. We all have to deal with it, we all have the choice to act with skill or be guided by greed, hatred and delusion.

Some may say it was chance that a past boyfriend of mine introduced me to Buddhism, but I am more inclined to believe that it was my kamma. Whether it was good or ill, things that I have done in this life as well as in prior lives brought themselves together into a force of direction that led me to that Dhammasala where I met my teacher. I was made aware that the place existed, and that this monk had said something while I was visiting that stuck with me. So a year later when the bottom of my bucket fell out, I instantly knew what to do: I drove the 90 minutes back to that Dhammasala and sought out that monk.

“The non-doing of any evil,
the performance of what’s skillful,
the cleansing of one’s own mind:
this is the teaching
of the Awakened.

Patient endurance:
the foremost austerity.
the foremost,
so say the Awakened.
He who injures another
is no contemplative.
He who mistreats another,
no monk.

Not disparaging, not injuring,
restraint in line with the Patimokkha,
moderation in food,
dwelling in seclusion,
commitment to the heightened mind:
this is the teaching
of the Awakened.”

It’s easy to dismiss the above verses as pertaining only to monks, but to do so would mean missing some points that are important for laypeople as well. Such as the focus on simply the “non-doing of any evil,” and the effort on being skillful. By putting effort into these activities, which are at the heart of the Four Right Efforts, we cleanse our minds. It takes practice. I can’t call myself a Buddhist if all I do is read a lot of clever books and listen to inspiring speakers; Buddhism is a practice, a way of life. I have to live it. So I work at not disparaging others (really hard for me) and not injuring others (very easy for me as I abhor violence), and show moderation in my food and drink consumption (also quite difficult for me because I love good food and wine). To accomplish that, I occasionally, though not frequently enough, examine the Five Hindrances to see which one(s) are problematic for me at the moment, then work more diligently at cultivating the opposite.

“Not even if it rained gold coins
would we have our fill
of sensual pleasures.
they give little enjoyment’ —
knowing this, the wise one
finds no delight
even in heavenly sensual pleasures.
He is one who delights
in the ending of craving,
a disciple of the Rightly
Self-Awakened One.”

I wouldn’t mind some gold coins raining on my life, but it’s still true, a windfall would not erase my troubles, just replace my present troubles with different ones. Ah, but to experience those different troubles!

“They go to many a refuge,
to mountains and forests,
to park and tree shrines:
people threatened with danger.
That’s not the secure refuge,
not the supreme refuge,
that’s not the refuge,
having gone to which,
you gain release
from all suffering & stress.

But when, having gone
to the Buddha, Dhamma,
& Sangha for refuge,
you see with right discernment
the four noble truths —
the cause of stress,
the transcending of stress,
& the noble eightfold path,
the way to the stilling of stress:
that’s the secure refuge,
that, the supreme refuge,
that is the refuge,
having gone to which,
you gain release
from all suffering & stress.”

These verses are so inspiring for me. Granted, I tend to “seek refuge” when I’m frightened and want a bit of protection. But regardless of the motivation, it’s the right thing to do, and each time, a bit more is absorbed and brought into my life.

Skipping to the last verse, I find something of value, but something that bugs me as well.

“If you worship those worthy of worship,
— Awakened Ones or their disciples —
Who’ve transcended
& grief,
who are unendangered,
there’s no measure for reckoning
that your merit’s ‘this much.’”

First, what bugs me. “If you worship those worthy of worship …” This is a case of when I disagree with Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation, because Buddhism has got nothing to do with worshipping anything. So the translation by Acharya Buddharakkhita is more appropriate to the verse’s meaning: “He who reveres those worthy of reverence …”

What is of value here is that the verse reveals that one’s reverence need not be limited to the Buddha himself, but can be extended to his disciples. So finding a teacher that teaches the true Dhamma and is skilled with his or her own instruction is a blessing of great magnitude that should not be ignored. This reminds me of a song from “The Sound of Music,” when Julie Andrews sings, “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.”

That lyric is the essence of merit. And the fact that I was led to my teacher must mean that somewhere in my past, whether it be this life or a previous life, regardless of how wicked I might have been, I had done something worthy of merit and that led me to the Dhamma.

That is no small thing. And it can be said of all of us who have found Buddhism. We are extraordinarily fortunate to have the opportunity to learn the Buddha’s teachings and to practice them. But that’s the key, it’s just an opportunity. The rest is work we must do.

No comments:

Post a Comment