Reflecting on the Dhammapada (9/26)

“Be quick to do good.
If you are slow,
The mind, delighting in mischief,
Will catch you.”

Perhaps here “quick” is less the word we’re looking for. “Diligent” seems a better option — one must be diligent and consistent in that diligence to develop new habits. Doing good is something we can develop the habit of doing — so long as we are diligent and consistent. Perhaps quick can work too — we have to not put it off, not delay, not procrastinate, but actually choose to do the thing in order to successfully begin the process of doing it.

“Turn away from mischief
Again and again, turn away
Before sorrow befalls you.

Set your heart on doing good.
Do it over and over again
And you will be filled with joy.”

We must consistently and consciously make the choice to turn away from that which may be easier or more pleasurable/desirable in the short term, otherwise we may cause ourselves long-term suffering. We must consistently and consciously make the choice to do good, to take right actions and speak right words, even though these things may be more difficult and not as immediately pleasurable. In the long term, right-action and right-speech will yield greater happiness and peace than any short-term ease or pleasure.

“A fool is happy
Until his mischief turns against him.
And a good man may suffer
Until his goodness flowers.”

Short-term ease and over-indulgence in hedonistic pleasures are enjoyable for the moment. If they are consistently chosen over long-term wellness and cultivation of inner stability and peace, they will ultimately lead to suffering. If one wants to indulge such things, it is my personal opinion that there is nothing wrong with this — so long as these indulgences are practiced with moderation and are not seen as the end goal in themselves but rather for exactly what they are: short-term indulgent pleasures and nothing more. Long-term wellness must still be consciously and consistently cultivated through deliberate daily practice of right action, right thought, right speech. Practice self-honestly when indulging, hold yourself compassionately accountable, and continue cultivating long-term peace and happiness that cannot be bought with short-term indulgences.

“Do not make light of your failings
Saying, ‘What are they to me?’
A jug fills drop by drop.
So the fool becomes brimful of folly.

Do not belittle your virtues,
Saying, ‘They are nothing.’
A jug fills drop by drop.
So the wise man becomes brimful of virtue.”

Well I feel called out. It does no one any good — least of all yourself — to dismiss your faults, your shortcomings, your harmful actions and speech as of no consequence. These things are always of consequence — they breed suffering in yourself and they cause harm to those around you. They should be addressed honestly, compassionately, and seriously. Reflect on the things in yourself that are problematic and accept the discomfort of doing so, for that discomfort is an indicator of growth. With care and compassion, chip away at those negative and harmful tendencies — reduce the harm you cause to yourself and to others, and replace those negative and harmful things with compassion, reflectiveness, mindfulness, and see your inner peace and contentedness grow.

Conversely it does no one any good — least of all yourself — to be dismissive of your own virtues. Be aware of those virtues, do not deny or shun them, for to do so my strange them. Embrace your virtues just as you embrace your flaws. As you learn from your flaws how to do and be better, learn how to cultivate your virtues and grow them. In so doing, you will continue to grow that inner peace and contentedness.

“As the rich merchant with few servants
Shuns a dangerous road
And the man who loves life shuns poison,
Beware the dangers of folly and mischief.”

Just as you would take care to maintain your physical safety, the safety of your loved ones, and the safety of things you hold dear and value, so too you should take care to maintain the wellness of your mind, heart, and spirit. Do this by consciously choosing right action and right speech over behaviors which are harmful and problematic.

“For an unwounded hand may handle poison.
The innocent come to no harm.
But as dust thrown against the wind,
Mischief is blown back in the face
Of the fool who wrongs the pure and harmless.”

I would argue that even to harm those who are not pure (“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone”) would still result in blow-back. Often words of violence are spoken in anger and may cause retaliation, thus propogating a cycle of cruelty and of suffering. Words of violence spoken in anger which do not cause retaliation can still, with time, cause regret and guilt. Thus the cycle of suffering is still continued. It does not matter who the recipient is or how pure of heart they may or may not have been — to do wrong to another inherently continues the cycle of suffering. The only way to break this cycle is to act and speak consciously and mindfully, aware of the humanity of others and seeking to reduce harm in all we do.

“Some are reborn in hell,
Some in this world,
The good in heaven,
But the pure are not reborn.”

The ultimate release from the cycle of suffering is a release from the cycle of reincarnation in Buddhist philosophy.

Not in the sky,
Nor in the midst of the sea,
Nor deep in the mountains,
Can you hide from your own mischief.”

The harm you perpetuate on others will find a way to blow back in your face — the cycle of suffering is perpetuated through the perpetuating of harm and so long as you are complicit in this cycle, you cannot be free from it.

“Not in the sky,
Nor in the midst of the ocean,
Nor deep in the mountains,
Can you hide from your own death.”

No one can. Such is the end of the cycle of life — no indulgence in hedonistic pleasure will deny or delay this; no fighting back will change or stop it, no violence will hold death at bay. If anything, these things may hasten the inevitability of death, so act wisely and compassionately. Act with honesty and with mindfulness, and release the desire to delay or trick Death. Such a desire can only cause suffering.

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