Natural Dhamma

from Thomas Cleary’s translation and commentary:

“Over centuries, even millenia, countless ways to inner peace were tested, adopted, adapted, and abandoned.  Vast literatures, at first orally transmitted, then later written, developed out of this immemorial quest. 

One of the most respected of these books is called the Dhammapada, “statements of principle,” a popular collection of sayings on the journey to inner peace from discourses attributed to Gautama Buddha, who lived about five hundred years before Christ.  Gautama is believed to have attained perfect peace of mind himself, and also to have then spent forty-nine years traveling from place to place teaching others how to secure serenity and inward freedom as well.”

“Known for its simplicity and easy readability, the Dhammapada is perhaps the best primer of basic Buddhism to be found anywhere.”

High praise for this little book!  Two issues immediately present themselves.  What is “inner peace?”  And, How do we know that this (mythological?) person “attained perfect peace of mind”?  These are, as they said on Star Trek, “disturbances in the neutral zone.”  We’d better go and investigate.  Could be serious.  Engage (the mind)!  Sounds like something the Awake One would encourage, right?

All “great spiritual teachers” eventually become “perfect”–at least to their followers.  Their flaws and foibles are sometimes (though rarely) acknowledged, but most often dismissed as “a mis-reading” of the text, or a “mis-interpretation” by an “unbeliever.”  Same problem we have with the Gita, and Qur’an, and Bible and every sacred text:  Don’t ask too many questions, especially about our Hero of Faith, because that offends and hurts us and makes us very angry!

The Indian man, Gautama by name, “is believed to have attained perfect peace of mind.”  Nice.  But how did that happen (whatever that means) and what was the evidence? 

A more troubling question:  Even if HE attained this, what about the rest of us mere mortals?  Has ANYONE else ever attained the same?  If so, who?  And once again, what is the evidence of that peace and that perfection?

{Note:  I have worked closely with Buddhists for a long time, held personal and other retreats at Buddhist centers and have personal friends who are practicing Buddhists.  This is not about dumping on Buddhists.  In fact, part of my journey out of Christianism was through some Buddhist meditation and simple walking in a Zen farm.  Of all the “great spiritual teachers” Buddha probably makes the most sense, and never asked for worship or superstar status.  He was not a divine being but a human philosopher, and I may disagree with some of his “dharma” and some rituals and beliefs of his followers, but I can honor his wisdom}

*

Dhammapada Recycled:

Chapter One:  I’m going to break tradition here and say, Don’t compost the first chapter, at least right away.  Any “holy book” that begins by talking about the MIND (“Everything has mind in the lead. . .”) surprises us and invites a thoughtful reading.  Unfortunately another word creeps in a few lines later:  PURE.  Purity of mind and body dominate the chapter.  If we remember this is written primarily for monks it makes perfect sense.  Just that it doesn’t apply so much to the rest of us who aren’t interested in wearing saffron robes.  Good reminders not to be attached to negative, judgmental, “impure” thinking.  Here begins the age-old trap of the Holy Books:  It’s about MORALITY–being pure in an unpure world.  Here, the MIND is most important as the gatekeeper for our BODY and hence our MORALITY (purity) should be closely monitored.  To be “Mindful” is the beginning of an unattached morality.

In other words, use your head and don’t get caught up in “passions” that distract you from being a good, pure monk.  Nice idea, but once again, for 99.9% of us who aren’t going to be monkish, we can use our minds and be passionate as well.  Summary:  Think!

Plug in the shredder for chapter one.

Chapter Two:   summarized thusly in verse 12:  “The mendicant [wandering monk] who delights in vigilance, fearing negligence, cannot fall away, being near to nirvana already.”  OK.  This chapter introduces the fear of death, overcoming death and the attainment of something beyond death (and beyond life). . .Nirvana.  Huge concept.  Not enough time for it here.  Means nothingness anyway–pure bliss, perfection, enlightenment, heaven–something no human can fully experience (apart from Buddha and a few who claim it), so why waste time bickering or worrying over it? 

Let’s not be attached to this chapter. . .in fact, let’s not be attached to the whole text and go ahead with the recycling.   There is no guilt, so no worries about what will happen later.

Chapter Three:  Oh, that’s right.  It all went into the shredder. 

The Dhammapada is now in holy book Nirvana.  If you wish to be a monk or nun and choose to follow the detailed instructions, by all means.  The world is not worse off because people practice simple kindness and mindfulness.  Our attitude here though is:   Most of us don’t need a book to tell us to be kind or how to use our minds.  There are many books, teachers and experiences to teach us these things.  And the greatest teacher of all, Nature, is not contained in any book of any faith. 

A bow to the Dharma-walkers.

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