The Dhammapada – My Reflection

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, World Religions
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1) What does the text actually say about the matters it addresses?

            The text talks about self-control.  One must master the senses and the body.  One must exercise control over the mind.  As one learns to control these things, rather than be controlled by them, they travel the path of enlightenment.  Thus, no longer trapped by the sensory, they are able to see the true reality of Ultimate reality.  This Ultimate reality is differentiated from itself in no way for it is One reality.  Everything that exists is a part of this One reality.

The reason for evil and sin and pain is because people do not realize the Oneness of all reality.  Thus, if they fail to love others or the things of this world, they fail to see the connection between themselves and the rest of all reality.  They fail to see that by not loving others they are really hurting themselves.  As one comes to realize Ultimate reality, they recognize their duty to love others.

The highest goal of meditation and duty is Nirvana.  It is the state where everything becomes One and cannot be differentiated.  Death is the anti-thesis of Nirvana because it is the greatest illusion of all.  Death keeps one bound to the “lower levels” of life, doomed to keep wandering that path until one reaches enlightenment and Nirvana.

Wisdom, described as true enlightenment, is looked upon favorably.  That is hardly a surprise.  But, the understanding of wisdom is slightly different than what one might think.  Wisdom is not simply described as how one thinks and perceives the world.  Rather, wisdom is exemplified by right and good actions.  These actions have the power to overcome the bad that has been done.

2) What does the text reveal to me about this religious tradition?

            The basic premise reflects a basic form of humanism.  In other words, within every human person there is the power of self-will to move toward “perfection.”  The goal of this particular religion is to reach Nirvana through the Dhammapada, the path of righteousness.  The way to Nirvana is by knowing Truth.  It is only through Truth that one is able to move beyond the illusory world that we often inhabit.

This suggests that Buddhism recognizes that there is something inherently wrong with our world.  There are several ways it describes this pain and evil.  It is very aware of the human problem.  However, it does not seem, in my estimation, to have a firm grasp of how entrenched humanity is in this problem.  It recognizes that we participate in the problem, but it does not affirm that humanity is in a cycle of addiction to “sin.”  As such, it seriously believes that humanity is able to make a way out of the problem by recognizing and acknowledging the true nature of all reality.

In many ways, this religion is a very consequential religion.  What one does in life is what one receives as reward.  Doing good deeds results in good consequences; bad deeds result in negative consequences (i.e., pain, death etc.).  Thus, the idea of duty makes great sense, especially if everything is connected by One reality.  Duty also becomes the way by which one finds release from the illusion.  It becomes a way to work out one’s “salvation.”

3) How does this text and the tradition it represents relate to Christianity (similarities, differences, etc.)?

            The Dhammapada is very similar to the Wisdom tradition found within the Christian Scriptures.  Many of the pearls of wisdom sound similar to Jesus’ Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.  They are very cause and effect types of teachings.  There, at least by appearances, seems to be an expectation for both Buddhists and Christians to know what is evil and to not participate in it.

The Dhammapada, however, seems to lean toward Gnosticism.  It’s all about a secret type of knowledge that may or may not be available to everyone.  Furthermore, it is about appropriate thinking and denying the base passions of the flesh, whatever form those may take.  This is similar to dualism which sees the mind or spirit as pure and the body as impure.

Having an appropriate understanding of the world, right thinking, is important for both Christianity and Buddhists.  Both believe that our perceptions of the world are often skewed and not what they should be.  Too often we live under the “illusion” that the world offers, an illusion that falls far short of true reality.  Buddhists believe that enlightenment allows one to see through the illusion to the true nature of reality.  Christianity believes that it is not simply by changing our viewpoint that we come to live rightly in the world.  Rather, Christianity affirms that God must change and transform us.  Only then can we see and understand the “illusion” of living in sin or evil.  Buddhism believes that humanity can transcend the illusion; Christianity believes that we can only do so with God’s help.

4) How does reading this text contribute to (change/confirm/challenge, etc.) the way I view this religious tradition, and the subject of religion in general?

            In many ways, reading the Dhammapada confirmed many of my previous viewpoints concerning Buddhism.  Although I would say I am more informed about it, my previous encounters with Buddhism have been substantiated by reading this ancient text.  The ideas of transcending life through meditation and recognizing all of reality as One whole was something that I have recognized in this religion before.

I had previously conceived of Buddhism as a very heady, intellectual type of venture.  It seemed like it was primarily concerned about meditation and prayers and what the mind can achieve to relieve one from this world.  However, I was also interested in the ways that this was not solely an intellectual religion.  Rather, there is emphasis placed on duty and doing what is right.

The overall emphasis on doing right and on duty surprised me.  I had not really considered this religion to be very focused on these sorts of issues.  However, upon considering the underlying assumptions and goals of Buddhism, it makes sense.  The humanism evident within this religion is played out in its ethic as well.  This sense of duty makes me aware that Buddhism is not disinterested in the “good” happening within the world.  It is not unconcerned about the problem of sin and evil.  But, it has an optimism of the human person to overcome these barriers.

The thing that I was previously unaware of was how dependent Buddhism, at least initially, was on the ideas of Hinduism.  Granted, there are some nuanced differences, but one can see a significant similarity within these two traditions.  Ideas like samsara, mara, nirvana, Brahman, and the like play important roles in both religions.  This becomes increasingly evident as one reads through both the Dhammapada and the Upanishads.  Although they differ in their form and some of their content, their connection is evident.

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  1. […] The Dhammapada – My Reflection (kingdomcruciformity.wordpress.com) Share this:FacebookTumblrTwitterDiggRedditLinkedInEmailStumbleUponPinterestPrintLike this:Like6 bloggers like this post. This entry was posted in article, life, re-posts, Uncategorized and tagged Buddhism, Concept, Intention, Karma, Nirvana, Nondualism, Saṃsāra, Samsara. […]

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