The Dhammapada

The Dhammapada is a Pali version of one of the most popular text of the Buddhist canon. The Dhammapada, or “sayings of the Buddha”, is a collection of 423 verses that tell about the ideals and teachings of the Buddha. When taken together, these verses provide a structured form of teaching within the Buddhist religion. These verses are a kind of guiding voice to the path of true enlightenment.

The Dhammapada is a religious work that is meant to provide a certain set of religious and ethical values, as well as a certain manner of perception of life and the problems that life brings along with the solutions. Although the verses may be looked at as trying to create good or bad people, the verses are actually trying to get people to understand what is good and what is bad in the Buddhist religion. In other words, the book is trying to produce someone who will think and comprehend the ideas of the Buddha. A person who reads the text should be able to form his or her opinions about enlightenment and Nirvana. The same is true for a person who is listening to the text being read. The listener must consider and comprehend what is being spoken.
Throughout the text, images of virtue are portrayed in the figure of the bhikkhu. According to the text the Buddha describes the bhikkhu as one self-reliant, self-restrained, and one who possess integrity. In verses 360-363 the text tells of how retraining in everything can bring about freedom from all suffering. “The bhikkhu who is restrained in all [the senses], is freed from all suffering” (V. 361). The things that make this person praiseworthy can be found throughout the entire set of verses, but particularly in Chapter 25, The Bhikkhu. The bhikkhu is praiseworthy because he is one who not only studies and understands the Buddha’s sayings but one who practices the teachings of the Buddha. A bhikkhu does not envy, is without self-identification, free from hate and desire. The virtues that a bhikkhu embodies are deemed as positive and morally “wholesome” (kusala) because the bhikkhu has achieved what the Buddha has deemed to be right and the way to enlightenment.

Within the Dhammapada, the Buddha describes the bhikkhu as one who has wisdom and meditation. “There is no meditative absorption for one who lacks insight; there is no insight for one who is not meditating. In whom there is meditative absorption and insight; truly he is in Nibbana’s presence” (V. 372). This verse states that in order to gain wisdom, a bhikkhu must meditate. However one can not meditate without wisdom. This idea seems to say that the practices of the bhikkhu must include meditation and gaining wisdom. The Buddhist monks engage in these practices because it is the way of the Buddha. Within the text, it is very clear that the Buddha finds meditation of great importance. If not directly speaking about meditation, the Buddha speaks about having a disciplined mind. “It is good to restrain one’s mind, uncontrollable, fast moving, and following its own desires as it is. A disciplined mind leads to happiness” (V. 35). As well as having a disciplined mind, the mental state that the bhikkhu strives to cultivate is one that is at peace, developed, and guarded. “âÂ?¦the bhikkhu whose mind is at peace experiences a more than human joy…” (V. 373). Just the same, a mind should be guarded because a guarded mind brings happiness. “A wise man should guard his mind for it is very hard to keep track of, extremely subtle, and follows its own desires. A guarded mind brings happiness” (V. 36). Through cultivating the mind, the bhikkhu has certain effects on society and in turn society has certain obligations with respect to the bhikkhu. Because the bhikkhu leads a life without desire and hate, he becomes an example for society; showing what kusala is and what a person should strive to be. In return, it is up to society to make donations and offerings to keep the bhikkhu content.

The qualities and attainments of the bhikkhu can be found in many of the verses in the Dhammapada. However, one verse that is particularly interesting is verse 371. “Meditate, O Bhikkhu, and be not heedless. Let not your mind whirl in the strand of sensuality. Do not swallow a swallow a metal ball, being heedless, while burning; do not lament, ‘this is woe'” (V. 371). The first stanza talks about how the bhikkhu should not be careless. He should not let his mind take pleasures in the senses. This is the reason he should restrain all of his senses. The second stanza refers to the first stanza by saying that if the bhikkhu allows his mind to loiter among sensual pleasures then it will be like having iron balls forced down his throat in hell. At first it may be difficult to point out the qualities of the bhikkhu in this verse, but once a person ties this verse into all the other verses, it makes sense. The qualities that are found in this verse are self-restraint and self-control. These are found in the first stanza, when the Buddha tells of how the bhikkhu should be careful and not get distracted by worldly goods and desires.
A person may ask the question of why the Buddha decided to describe this figure in his sayings. A possible motive for mentioning the bhikkhu in the Dhammapada is so that the layperson would have someone to look up to besides the Brahmin. The bhikkhu is someone the layperson can give offerings to and this is look upon as having done a good deed. The bhikkhu in this text is describing an ideal to be venerated and an ideal to imitate. The Buddha is prescribing that the bhikkhu be given respect and be recognized as have being mentioned by the Buddha in his sayings. The bhikkhu is also one who the layperson should imitate because the bhikkhu knows the path to enlightenment. Some metaphors and other forms of figurative language that are used in the text can help depict the bhikkhu in a more poetic manner than just a straightforward description. For example, in verse 369 the metaphor that is used is that of a boat needing to have the water bailed from it. The boat is representing the mind while the water is representing hate and lust. Again a metaphor is given in verse 377 when the text talks about jasmine shedding its leaves. The jasmine is representing the mind, while the leaves are representing passion and ill-will.

The goal of the Dhammapada is ultimately to create perceptive and righteous people. With the way the text is written, it is obvious that the goal is to get readers and listeners alike to think about this text and ponder over the sayings of the Buddha. The very way the first chapter is written gives a preview of the things that should be noticed throughout the text: good verses bad, disciplined verses undisciplined, and practice verses laziness. The bhikkhu is one person who sets the right path for people to follow. The bhikkhu shows the people what virtues are positive and wholesome. The bhikkhu gives and receives from society and strives to cultivate the kind of mental state as prescribe by the Buddha.

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