Saturday, November 7, 2009

Maggavagga: The Path

Anyone who desires to practice Buddhism needs to have conviction; a steadfast belief that what he or she is doing will bring the desired results. Thanissaro Bhikkhu in part three of “Wings to Awakening” says this about conviction, that it has three parts:

“(S)ocial (whom to trust), intellectual (what to believe), and practical (how to act as a result). Because conviction is focused not on a descriptive proposition but on a course of action — the skillful mastery of the processes of kamma in a social context — these aspects are inextricably intertwined. The social aspect comes from the need to associate with people who have already mastered these processes, learning from their words and emulating their actions. The intellectual aspect — belief in the principle of kamma — is necessary because the development of skillfulness within the mind requires that one understand the nature of kamma, take responsibility for one's actions, and have conviction in one's ability to benefit from developing one's skills. The practical aspect is necessary, for if one does not follow through in developing skill, it shows that one's conviction in the development of skillfulness is not genuine, and that one is not fully benefiting from one's beliefs.”

It is with this in mind that I approach Chapter 20 of the Dhammapada, the Maggavagga, or The Path. Because in the Maggavagga, we get a series of verses that repeat the basic concepts of the Buddha’s teaching: The Noble Eightfold Path; the Four Noble Truths; the doctrine of anatta, or not-self (here is a delightful cartoon that explains succinctly the doctrine of not-self or no-self); the nature of dukha and the deluded mind.

“Of paths, the eightfold is best.
Of truths, the four sayings.
Of qualities, dispassion.
Of two-footed beings,
the one with the eyes
to see.”

The Buddha acknowledges that there are other paths, other doctrines, other dhamma. But he determined that the Noble Eightfold Path was the best the follow, a path focused on developing skillful thought, action and speech. By following the Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths are realized, which then leads to dispassion. With dispassion, one sees how things really are. (skipping verses again)

“When you see with discernment,
‘All fabrications are inconstant’ —
you grow disenchanted with stress.
This is the path
to purity.

When you see with discernment,
‘All fabrications are stressful’ —
you grow disenchanted with stress.
This is the path
to purity.

When you see with discernment,
‘All phenomena are not-self’ —
you grow disenchanted with stress.
This is the path
to purity.”

Just about everything we do every day is a fabrication. My job is a fabrication that is driven to create more fabrications. That does not mean my job is not real. It just means our economy only exists because as a societal group we agree to a large extent that it does exist. If our mass agreement stopped, it would be gone, it wouldn’t exist. In poker, equivalent straight flushes are ranked on the suit of each hand, so a straight flush of spades will beat an equivalent straight flush of diamonds. The concept that spades are superior to diamonds in poker is a fabrication. The concept of spades as a suit is a fabrication. A playing card is real because it's matter, but any attempt to qualify the playing card as valuable or worthless requires a fabrication of thought.

“There are no sons
to give shelter,
no father,
no family
for one seized by the Ender,
no shelter among kin.

of this compelling reason,
the wise man, restrained by virtue,
should make the path pure
— right away —
that goes all the way to Unbinding.”

Death waits for no one, and no one is exempt from death. The Buddha commented on this frequently, instilling the notion that one can use death as a motivator and even as a teacher.

So I follow the path with conviction. And each step along the way, my conviction becomes stronger. It still wavers from time to time. Maybe I skip a day of meditation. Perhaps I stray from the path, misled by another. But eventually I return. It is a path that works.


  1. OOOOOOO! White Rive Badlands formations! I love the stratigraphy and even did some mapping there!

    Many die on those paths by the way. Usually from exposure or suicides.


  2. Heyey, yes, shot that same time I was in Black Hills where I took the pic of the donkeys. If you're on Facebook, you can look me up and there are several photo albums from that trip to the Black Hills. I have a novice interest in geology. Would like to study it more.