Thursday, November 5, 2009

Malavagga: Impurities

I’ve mentioned before that there is unresolved anger within me, which contributes to my quick flares of rage usually over the stupidest things. Driving really triggers most of these incidents. It comes down to my inability to be patient: someone cuts me off or is driving too slow. But there is also an arrogance within me that feeds this anger. I get in these moods when I delude myself with how superior I am to others: a better driver, or whatever. This anger, impatience and arrogance are all impurities, and impurity is what chapter 18 of the Dhammapada is all about.

What I like about the Malavagga is that you can take just about any set of the verses and contemplate them on their own. For example:

“Just as rust
— iron’s impurity —
eats the very iron
from which it is born,
so the deeds
of one who lives slovenly
lead him on
to a bad destination.”

That’s a powerful image, likening one’s careless and heedless deeds to rust on iron, slowly eating away at the core. It’s a slow process, but destructive nonetheless.

This set of verses is among my favorites:

“Life’s easy to live
for someone unscrupulous,
cunning as a crow,
corrupt, back-biting,
forward, & brash;
but for someone who’s constantly
scrupulous, cautious,
observant, sincere,
pure in his livelihood,
clean in his pursuits,
it’s hard.”

Being truly aware of my actions at all times is very difficult! Now consider being truly aware of all my thoughts! Wow, that seems impossible! Despite the suffering that it brings, being heedless of what I am thinking, saying or doing is really the easy way out. It can be a very easy existence until I wind up doing something really stupid that brings immediate and severe consequences.

“Whoever kills, lies, steals,
goes to someone else’s wife,
& is addicted to intoxicants,
digs himself up
by the root
right here in this world.

So know, my good man,
that bad deeds are reckless.
Don't let greed & unrighteousness
oppress you with long-term pain.”

The Five Precepts are clearly laid out here for us, as well as the consequences for not keeping them. The metaphor is that failing to keep the precepts leads to complete disruption in your life, so much so it is as if you had uprooted yourself, and an uprooted plant withers and dies.

This verse I really like as well:

There’s no fire like passion,
no seizure like anger,
no snare like delusion,
no river like craving.”

Passion is like a fire in many ways. Yes, passion burns hot like a fire, but just as fire does, passion consumes; it consumes you and it consumes the object of your passion.

Anger truly is like a seizure. When in the throes of a seizure, you have no ability to think, you are often unaware of what is going on, what you are doing, or even how it all started. Anger so easily turns into pure reckless action. It’s a complete loss of control. And like a seizure, it leaves you spent.

There is no snare like delusion, and there are many who know this all to well, as they prey upon the delusions of others.

Craving, like a river, creates its own inertia; once it begins, it just continues to roll on and on until like a large river it becomes an unstoppable torrent of desire. But also like a river, with water in constant flow, our craving never stops once it gets what it seeks. In fact, it hardly pays attention to the object of desire because as soon as it is grasped, craving’s attention is on a new target.

And so what is the impurity in all of these that brings such sorrow and woe, such dissatisfaction and uneasiness?

It’s ignorance.

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