The Living Message of the Dhammapada

Bhikkhu Bodhi

Buddhist Publication Society
Bodhi Leaves BL 129
 The Dhammapada is a work familiar to every devout Buddhist and to
 every serious student of Buddhism. This small collection of 423
 verses on the Buddha's doctrine is so rich in insights that it
 might be considered the perfect compendium of the Dhamma in its
 practical dimensions. In the countries of Theravada Buddhism the
 Dhammapada is regarded as an inexhaustible source of guidance and
 spiritual inspiration, as the wise counselor to which to turn for
 help in resolving the difficult moral and personal problems
 inescapable in daily life. Just as the Buddha is looked upon as
 the human kalyanamitta or spiritual friend par excellence, so the
 Dhammapada is looked upon as the scriptural kalyanamitta par
 excellence, a small embodiment in verse of the boundless wisdom
 and great compassion of the Master.
 To draw out the living message of any great spiritual classic, it
 is not enough for us merely to investigate it in terms of
 questions that might be posed by scientific scholarship. We have
 to take a step beyond scholarly examination and seek to make an
 application of those teachings to ourselves in our present
 condition. To do this requires that we use our intelligence,
 imagination and intuition to see through the limiting cultural
 contexts out of which the work was born, and to see into those
 universal features of the human condition to which the spiritual
 classic being studied is specifically addressed. With these
 stipulations in mind we will examine the Dhammapada in order to
 discover what this ancient book of wisdom regards as the
 fundamental and perennial spiritual problems of human life and to
 learn what solutions it can propose for them that may be relevant
 to us today. In this way we will uncover the living message of the
 Dhammapada: the message that rings down through the centuries and
 speaks to us in our present condition in the fullness of our
 When we set out to make such an investigation, one difficulty that
 we meet at the outset is the great diversity of teachings
 contained in the Dhammapada. It is well known that during his
 teaching career the Buddha always adjusted his discourses to fit
 the needs and capacities of his disciples. Thus the prose
 discourses found in the four main Nikayas display richly
 variegated presentations of the doctrine, and this diversity
 becomes even more pronounced in the Dhammapada, a collection of
 utterances spoken in the intuitive and highly charged medium of
 verse. We even find in the work apparent inconsistencies, which
 may perplex the superficial reader and lead to the supposition
 that the Buddha's teaching is rife with self-contradiction. Thus
 in many verses the Buddha commends certain practices to his
 disciples on the ground that they lead to heaven, while in others
 he discourages disciples from aspiring for heaven and praises the
 one who takes no delight in celestial joys. Often the Buddha
 enjoins works of merit, yet elsewhere in the work he enjoins his
 disciples to go beyond both merit and demerit.
 To make sense out of such contrary statements, to find a
 consistent message running through the Dhammapada's diversified
 pronouncements, let us begin with a statement the Buddha makes in
 another small but beautiful book of the Pali Canon, the Udana:
 "Just as the great ocean has but one taste, the taste of salt, so
 this doctrine-and-discipline has but one taste, the taste of
 freedom." Despite their variety in meaning and formulation, the
 Buddha's teachings all fit together into a perfectly coherent
 system which gains its unity from its final goal. That goal is
 freedom (vimutti), which here means spiritual freedom: the
 liberation of the mind from all bonds and fetters, the liberation
 of our being from the suffering inseparable from wandering in
 samsara, the cycle of rebirths. But while the Buddha's teachings
 fit together harmoniously through the unity of their final goal,
 they are addressed to people standing at different levels of
 spiritual development and thus must be expressed in different ways
 determined by the needs of the people to be taught. Here again
 water provides a fitting analogy. Water has one essence --
 chemically, it is a union of two hydrogen atoms with one oxygen
 atom -- but it takes on the different shapes of the vessels into
 which it is poured; similarly, the Dhamma has a single essence --
 deliverance from suffering -- but it assumes varying expressions
 in accordance with the dispositions of those who are to be
 instructed and trained. It is because the different expressions
 lead to a single end, and because the same end can be reached via
 teachings that are differently expressed, that the Dhamma is said
 to be sattha sabyañjana, "good in meaning and good in
 To make sense out of the various teachings found in the
 Dhammapada, to grasp the vision of human spirituality expressed by
 the work as a whole, I would like to suggest a schematism of four
 levels of instruction set forth in the Dhammapada. This fourfold
 schematism develops out of three primary and perennial spiritual
 needs of man: first, the need to achieve welfare and happiness in
 the present life, in the immediately visible sphere of human
 relations; second, the need to attain a favorable future life in
 accordance with a principle that confirms our highest moral
 intuitions; and third, the need for transcendence, to overcome all
 the limits imposed upon us by our finitude and temporality and to
 attain a freedom that is boundless, timeless, and irreversible.
 These three needs give rise to four levels of instruction by
 distinguishing two levels pertaining to the third need: the level
 of path, when we are on the way to transcendence, and the level of
 fruit, when we have won through to transcendence.
 Now let us examine each of these levels in turn, illustrating them
 with citations of relevant verses from the Dhammapada.
 1. The Human Good Here And Now
 The first level of instruction in the Dhammapada is addressed to
 the need to establish human welfare and happiness in the
 immediately visible domain of personal relation. The aim at this
 level is to show us the way to live at peace with ourselves and
 our fellow human beings, to fulfill our family and social
 responsibilities, and to remove the conflicts which infect human
 relationships and bring such immense suffering to the individual,
 society and the world as a whole.
 The guidelines appropriate to this level of instruction are
 largely identical with the basic ethical injunctions proposed by
 most of the great world religions. However, in the Buddha's
 teaching these ethical injunctions are not regarded as fiats
 imposed by an all- powerful God. Rather, they are presented as
 precepts or training rules grounded upon two directly verifiable
 foundations: concern for one's own personal integrity and
 considerations for the welfare of those whom one's actions may
 The most general advice the Dhammapada gives is to avoid all evil,
 to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's own mind; this is said to
 be the counsel of all the Enlightened Ones (v. 183). More specific
 directives, however, are also given. To abstain from evil we are
 advised to avoid irritation in deed, word and thought and to
 exercise self-control over body, speech and mind (vv. 231-234).
 One should adhere scrupulously to the five moral precepts:
 abstinence from destroying life, from stealing, from sexual
 misconduct, from lying and from intoxicants (vv. 246-247). The
 disciple should treat all beings with kindness and compassion,
 live honestly, control his desires, speak the truth, and live a
 sober upright life. He should fulfill all his duties to parents, to
 immediate family, to friends, and to recluses and brahmins (vv.
 A large number of verses pertaining to this first level are
 concerned with the resolution of conflict and hostility. From
 other parts of the Sutta Pitaka we learn that the Buddha was a
 keen and sensitive observer of the social and political
 developments that were rapidly transforming the Indian states he
 visited on his preaching rounds. The violence, hatred, cruelty and
 sustained enmity that he witnessed have persisted right down to
 the present, and the Buddha's answer to this problem is still the
 only answer that can work. The Buddha tells us that the key to
 solving the problem of violence and cruelty is the ancient maxim
 of using oneself as the standard for deciding how to treat others.
 I myself tremble at violence, wish to live in peace and do not
 want to die. Thus, putting myself in the place of others, I should
 recognize that all other beings tremble at violence, that all wish
 to live and do not want to die. Recognizing this, I should not
 intimidate others, harm them, or cause them to be harmed in any
 way (vv. 129-130).
 The Buddha saw that hatred and enmity continue and spread in a
 self-expanding cycle: responding to hatred by hatred only breeds
 more hatred, more enmity, more violence, and feed the whole
 vicious whirlpool of vengeance and retaliation. The Dhammapada
 teaches us that the true conquest of hatred is achieved by
 non-hatred, by forbearance, by love (v. 5). When wronged by others
 we must be patient and forgiving. We must control our anger as a
 driver controls a chariot; we must bear angry words as the
 elephant in battle bears the arrows shot into its hide; when
 spoken to harshly we must remain silent like a broken bell (vv.
 222, 320, 134).
 According to the Dhammapada, the qualities distinguishing the
 superior human being (sapurisa) are generosity, truthfulness,
 patience and compassion. By following these ideals we can live at
 peace with our own conscience and in harmony with our fellows. The
 scent of virtue, the Buddha declares, is sweeter than the scent of
 flowers and perfume; the good man or woman shines from afar like
 the Himalayan mountains; just as the lotus flower rises up in all
 its beauty above the muck and mire of the roadside refuse heap, so
 does the disciple of the Buddha rise up in splendor of wisdom
 above the masses of ignorant worldlings (vv. 54, 304, 59).
 2. The Good in Future Lives
 The basic emphasis in the first level of teaching in the
 Dhammapada is ethical, a concern which arises from a desire to
 promote human well-being here and now. However, the teachings
 pertaining to this level give rise to a profound religious
 problem, a dilemma that challenges the mature thinker. The problem
 is as follows: Our moral intuition, our innate sense of moral
 justice, tells us that there must be some principle of
 compensation at work in the world whereby goodness meets with
 happiness and evil meets with suffering. But everyday experience
 shows us exactly the opposite. We all know of highly virtuous
 people beset with every kind of hardship and thoroughly bad people
 who succeed in everything they do. We feel that there must be some
 correction to this imbalance, some force that will tilt the scales
 of justice into the balance that seems right, but our daily
 experience seems to contradict this intuition totally.
 However, in his teachings the Buddha reveals that there is a force
 at work which can satisfy our demand for moral justice. This force
 cannot be seen with the eye of the flesh nor can it be registered
 by any instruments of measurement, but its working becomes visible
 to the supernormal vision of sages and saints, while all its
 principles in their full complexity are fathomed by a Perfectly
 Enlightened Buddha. This force is called kamma. The law of kamma
 ensures that our morally determinate actions do not disappear into
 nothingness, but rather continue on as traces in the deep hidden
 layers of the mind, where they function in such a way that our
 good deeds eventually issue in happiness and success, our evil
 deeds in suffering and misery.
 The word kamma, in the Buddha's teaching, means volitional action.
 Such action may be bodily or verbal, when volition is expressed in
 deed or speech, or it may be purely mental, when volition remains
 unexpressed as thoughts, emotions, wishes and desires. The actions
 may be either wholesome or unwholesome: wholesome when they are
 rooted in generosity, amity and understanding; unwholesome when
 they spring from greed, hatred and delusion. According to the
 principle of kamma, the willed actions we perform in the course of
 a life have long-term consequences that correspond to the moral
 quality of the original action. The deeds may utterly fade from
 our memory, but once performed they leave subtle impressions upon
 the mind, potencies capable of ripening in the future to our weal
 or our woe.
 According to Buddhism, conscious life is not a chance by-product
 of molecular configurations or a gift from a divine Creator, but a
 beginningless process which repeatedly springs up at birth and
 passes away at death, to be followed by a new birth. There are
 many spheres besides the human into which rebirth can occur:
 heavenly realms of great bliss, beauty and power, infernal realms
 where suffering and misery prevail. The Dhammapada does not give
 us any systematic teaching on kamma and rebirth. As a book of
 spiritual counsel it presupposes the theoretical principles
 explained elsewhere in the Buddhist scriptures and concerns itself
 with their practical bearings on the conduct of life. The
 essentials of the law of kamma, however, are made perfectly clear:
 our willed actions determine the sphere of existence into which we
 will be reborn after death, the circumstances and endowments of
 our lives within any given form of rebirth, and our potentials for
 spiritual progress or decline.
 At the second level of instruction found in the Dhammapada the
 content of the message is basically the same as that of the first
 level: it is the same set of moral injunctions for abstaining from
 evil and doing good. The difference lies in the viewpoint from
 which these precepts are issued and the purpose for which they are
 taken up. At this level the precepts are prescribed to show us the
 way to achieve long-range happiness and freedom from sorrow, not
 only in the visible sphere of the present life, but far beyond
 into the distant future in our subsequent transmigration in
 samsara. Despite the apparent discrepancy between action and
 result, an all-embracing law ensures that ultimately moral justice
 triumphs. In the short run the good may suffer and the evil may
 prosper. But all willed actions bring their appropriate results:
 if one acts or speaks with an evil mind, suffering follows just as
 the wheel follows the foot of the draught-ox; if one acts or
 speaks with a pure mind, happiness follows like a shadow that
 never departs (vv.1-2). The evil-doer grieves here and hereafter;
 he is tormented by his conscience and destined to planes of
 misery. The doer of good rejoices here and hereafter, he enjoys a
 good conscience and is destined to realms of bliss (vv. 15- 18).
 To follow the law of virtue leads upwards, to happiness and joy
 and to higher rebirths; to violate the lead leads downwards, to
 suffering and to lower rebirths. The law is inflexible. Nowhere in
 the world can the evil-doer escape the result of his evil kamma,
 "neither in the sky nor in mid-ocean nor by entering into mountain
 clefts" (v. 127). The good person will reap the rewards of his or
 her good kamma in future lives with the same certainty with which
 a traveler, returning home after a long journey, can expect to be
 greeted by his family and friends (v. 220).
 3. The Path to the Final Good
 The teaching on kamma and rebirth, with its practical corollary
 that we should perform deeds of merit with the aim of obtaining a
 higher mode of rebirth, is not by any means the final message of
 the Buddha or the decisive counsel of the Dhammapada. In its own
 sphere of application this teaching is perfectly valid as a
 preparatory measure for those who still require further maturation
 in their journey through samsara. However, a more searching
 examination reveals that all states of existence in samsara, even
 the highest heavens, are lacking in genuine worth; for they are
 all impermanent, without any lasting substance, incapable of
 giving complete and final satisfaction. Thus the disciple of
 mature faculties, who has been prepared sufficiently by previous
 experience by previous experience in the world, does not long even
 for rebirth among the gods (vv. 186- 187).
 Having understood that all conditioned things are intrinsically
 unsatisfactory and fraught with danger, the mature disciple
 aspires instead for deliverance from the ever-repeating round of
 rebirths. This is the ultimate goal to which the Buddha points, as
 the immediate aim for those of developed spiritual faculties and
 also as the long-term ideal for those who still need further
 maturation: Nibbana, the Deathless, the unconditioned state where
 there is no more birth, aging and death, and thus no more
 The third level of instruction found in the Dhammapada sketches
 the theoretical framework for the aspiration for final liberation
 and lays down guidelines pertaining to the practical discipline
 that can bring this aspiration to fulfillment. The theoretical
 framework is supplied by the teaching of the Four Noble Truths,
 which the Dhammapada calls the best of all truths (v. 273):
 suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering,
 and the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of
 suffering. The four truths all center around the problem of dukkha
 or suffering, and the Dhammapada teaches us that dukkha is not to
 be understood only as experienced pain and sorrow but more widely
 as the pervasive inadequacy and wretchedness of everything
 conditioned: "There is no ill like the aggregates of existence;
 all conditioned things are suffering; conditioned things are the
 worst suffering (vv. 202, 278, 203). The second truth points out
 that the cause of suffering is craving, the yearning for pleasure,
 possessions and being which drives us through the round of
 rebirths, bringing along sorrow, anxiety and despair. The
 Dhammapada devotes an entire chapter (ch. 24) to the theme of
 craving, and the message of this chapter is clear: so long as even
 the subtlest thread of craving remains in the mind, we are not
 beyond danger of being swept away by the terrible flood of
 existence. The third noble truth spells out the goal of the
 Buddha's teaching: to gain release from suffering, to escape the
 flood of existence, craving must be destroyed down to its subtlest
 depths. And the fourth noble truth prescribes the means to gain
 release, the Noble Eightfold Path, which again is the focus of an
 entire chapter (ch. 20).
 At the third level of instruction a shift in the practical
 teaching of the Dhammapada takes place, corresponding to the shift
 in doctrine from the principles of kamma and rebirth to the Four
 Noble Truths. The stress now no longer falls on basic morality and
 purified states of mind as a highway to more favorable planes of
 rebirth. Instead it falls on the cultivation of the Noble
 Eightfold Path as the means to destroy craving and thus break free
 from the entire process of rebirth itself. The Dhammapada declares
 that the eightfold path is the only way to deliverance from
 suffering (v. 274). Its says this, not as a fixed dogma, but
 because full release from suffering comes from the purification of
 wisdom, and this path alone, with its stress on right view and the
 cultivation of insight, leads to fully purified wisdom, to
 complete understanding of liberating truth. The Dhammapada states
 that those who tread the path will come to know the Four Noble
 Truths, and having gained this wisdom, they will end all
 suffering. The Buddha assures us that by walking the path we will
 bewilder Mara, pull out the thorn of lust, and escape from
 suffering. But he also cautions us about our own responsibility:
 we ourselves must make the effort, for the Buddhas only point out
 the way (vv. 275, 276).
 In principle the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path is open to
 people in any walk of life, householders as well as monks and
 nuns. However, application to the development of the path is most
 feasible for those who have relinquished all worldly concerns in
 order to devote themselves fully to living the holy life. For
 conduct to be completely purified, for the mind to be trained in
 concentration and insight, the adoption of a different lifestyle
 becomes advisable, one which minimizes distractions and stimulants
 to craving and orders all activities around the aim of liberation.
 Thus the Buddha established the Sangha, the Order of bhikkhus and
 bhikkhunis, as the field of training for those ready to devote
 themselves fully to the practice of the path.
 In the Dhammapada we find the call to the monastic life resounding
 throughout. The entry way to the monastic life is an act of
 radical renunciation spurred on by our confrontation with
 suffering, particularly by our recognition of our inevitable
 mortality. The Dhammapada teaches that just as a cowherd drives
 the cattle to pasture, so old age and death drive living beings
 from life to life (v. 135). There is no place in the world where
 one can escape death, for death is stamped into the very substance
 of our being (v. 128). The body is a painted mirage in which there
 is nothing lasting or stable; it is a mass of sores, a nest of
 disease, which breaks up and ends in death; it is a city built of
 bones containing within itself decay and death; the foolish are
 attached to it, but the wise, having seen that the body ends as a
 corpse, lose all delight in mundane joys (vv. 146-150).
 Having recognized the transience and hidden misery of mundane
 life, the thoughtful break the ties of family and social
 relationships, abandon their homes and sensual pleasures, and
 enter upon the state of homelessness: "Like swans that abandon the
 lake, they leave home after home behind... Having gone from home
 to homelessness, they delight in detachment so difficult to enjoy"
 (vv. 91, 87). Withdrawn to silent and secluded places, the
 renunciants seek out the company of wise instructors, who point
 out their faults, who admonish and instruct them and shield them
 from wrong, who show them the right path (vv. 76-78, 208). Under
 their guidance, they live by the rules of the monastic order,
 content with the simplest material requisites, moderate in eating,
 practicing patience and forbearance, devoted to meditation (vv.
 184-185). Having learned to still the restless waves of thought
 and to gain one-pointed concentration, they go on to contemplate
 the arising and falling away of all formations: "The monk who has
 retired to a solitary abode and calmed the mind, comprehends the
 Dhamma with insight, and there arises in him a delight that
 transcends all human delights. Whenever he sees with insight the
 rise and fall of the aggregates, he is full of joy and happiness
 (vv. 373, 374).
 The life of meditation reaches its peak in the development of
 insight, and the Dhammapada succinctly enunciates the principles
 to be seen with the wisdom of insight: "All conditioned things are
 impermanent ... All conditioned things are suffering ... All
 things are not self. When one sees this with wisdom, then one
 turns away from suffering. This is the path of purification" (vv.
 277-279). When these truths are penetrated by direct vision, the
 fetters of attachment break asunder, and the disciple rises
 through successive stages of realization to the attainment of full
 4. The Highest Goal
 The fourth level of teaching in the Dhammapada does not reveal any
 new principles of doctrine or approach to practice. This level
 shows us, rather, the fruit of the third level. The third level
 exposes the path to the highest goal, the way to break free from
 all bondage and suffering and to win the supreme peace of Nibbana.
 The fourth level is a celebration and acclamation of those who
 have gained the fruits of the path and won the final goal.
 The stages of definite attainment along the way to Nibbana are
 enumerated in the Pali Canon as four: stream-entry, when one
 enters irreversibly upon the path to liberation; once-returning,
 when one is assured that one will return to the sense sphere of
 existence only one more time; non-returning, when one will never
 return to the sense sphere at all but will take a spontaneous
 birth in a celestial plane and there reach the end of suffering;
 and Arahantship, the stage of full liberation here and now.
 Although the Dhammapada contains several verses referring to those
 on the lower stages of attainment, its primary emphasis is on the
 individual who has reached the fourth and final fruit of
 liberation, the Arahant, and the picture it gives us of the
 Arahant is stirring and inspiring.
 The Arahant is depicted in two full chapters: in chapter 7 under
 his own name and in chapter 26, the last chapter, under the name
 "Brahmana," the holy man. We are told that the Arahant is no
 longer troubled by the fever of the passions; he is sorrowless and
 wholly set free; he has broken all ties. His taints are destroyed:
 he is not attached to food; his field is the void and
 unconditioned freedom. For ordinary worldlings the Arahant is
 incomprehensible: his path cannot be traced, like that of birds in
 the sky. He has transcended all obstacles, passed beyond sorrow
 and lamentation, become peaceful and fearless. He is free from
 anger, devout, virtuous, without craving, self-subdued. He has
 profound knowledge and wisdom; he is skilled in discriminating the
 right path and the wrong path; he has reached the highest goal. He
 is friendly amidst the hostile, peaceful amidst the violent, and
 unattached amidst the attached.
 In this very life the Arahant has realized the end of suffering,
 laying down the burden of the five aggregates. He has transcended
 the ties of both merit and demerit; he is sorrowless, stainless
 and pure; he is free from attachment and has plunged into the
 Deathless. Like the moon he is spotless and pure, serene and
 clear. He has cast off all human bonds and transcended all
 celestial bonds; he has gotten rid of the substrata of existence
 and conquered all worlds. He knows the death and rebirth of
 beings; he is totally detached, blessed and enlightened. No gods,
 angels or human beings can find his tracks, for he clings to
 nothing, has no attachment, holds to nothing. He has reached the
 end of births, attained the perfection of insight, and reached the
 summit of spiritual excellence. Bearing his last body, perfectly
 at peace, the Arahant is the living demonstration of the truth of
 the Dhamma. By his own example he shows that it is possible to
 free oneself from the stains of greed, hatred and delusion, to
 rise above suffering, and to win Nibbana in this very life.
 The Arahant ideal reaches its optimal exemplification in the first
 and highest of the Arahants, the Buddha, and the Dhammapada makes
 a number of important pronouncements about the Master. The Buddha
 is the supreme teacher who depends on no one else for guidance,
 who has reached perfect enlightenment through his own self-evolved
 wisdom (v. 353). He is the giver of refuge and is himself the
 first of the three refuges; those who take refuge in the Buddha,
 his Doctrine, and his Order are released from all suffering, after
 seeing with proper wisdom the Four Noble Truths (vv.190-192). The
 Buddha's attainment of perfect enlightenment elevates him to a
 level far above that of common humanity: the Enlightened One is
 trackless, of limitless range, free from worldliness, the
 conqueror of all, the knower of all, in all things untainted (vv.
 179, 180, 353). The sun shines by day, the moon shines by night,
 the warrior shines in his armor, the brahmin shines in meditation,
 but the Buddha, we are told, shines resplendent all day and all
 night (v. 387).
 This will complete our discussion of the four basic levels of
 instruction found in the Dhammapada. Interwoven with the verses
 pertaining to these four main levels, there runs throughout the
 Dhammapada a large number of verses that cannot be tied down
 exclusively to any single level but have a wider application.
 These verses sketch for us the world view of early Buddhism and
 its distinctive insights into human existence. Fundamental to this
 world view, as it emerges from the text, is the inescapable
 duality of human life. Man walks a delicate balance between good
 and evil, purity and defilement, progress and decline; he seeks
 happiness, he fears suffering, loss and death. We are free to
 choose between good and evil, and must bear full responsibility
 for our decisions. Again and again the Dhammapada sounds this
 challenge to human freedom: we are the makers and masters of
 ourselves, the protectors or destroyers of ourselves, we are our
 own saviors and there is no one else who can save us (vv. 160,
 165, 380). Even the Buddha can only indicate the path to
 deliverance; the work of treading it lies with the disciple (vv.
 275- 276). In the end we must choose between the way that leads
 back into the world, to the round of becoming, and the way that
 leads out of the world, to Nibbana. And though this last course is
 extremely difficult, the voice of the Buddha speaks words of
 assurance confirming that it can be done, that it lies within our
 power to overcome all barriers and to triumph even over death
 The chief role in achieving progress in all spheres, the
 Dhammapada states, is played by the mind. The Dhammapada opens
 with a clear assertion that the mind is the forerunner of all that
 we are, the maker of our character, the creator of our destiny.
 The entire Buddhist discipline, from basic morality to the
 attainment of Arahantship, hinges upon training the mind. A
 wrongly directed mind brings greater harm than any enemy; a
 rightly directed mind brings greater good than any relative or
 friend (vv. 42-43). The mind is unruly, fickle difficult to
 subdue, but by effort, mindfulness and self-discipline, one can
 master the mind, escape the flood of passions, and find "an island
 which no flood can overwhelm" (v. 25). The person who conquers
 himself, the victor over his own mind, achieves a conquest that
 can never be undone, a victory greater than that of the mightiest
 warriors (vv. 103-105).
 What is needed most to train and subdue the mind, according to the
 Dhammapada, is a quality called heedfulness (appamada).
 Heedfulness combines critical self-awareness and unremitting
 energy in a process of constant self-observation in order to
 detect and expel the defilements whenever they seek an opportunity
 to come to the surface. In a world where we have no savior except
 ourselves, and where the means to deliverance lies in mental
 purification, heedfulness becomes the crucial factor for ensuring
 that we keep straight to the path of training without deviating
 due to the seductive lure of sense pleasures or the stagnating
 influences of laziness and complacency. The Buddha declares that
 heedfulness is the path to the Deathless, and heedlessness the
 path to death. The wise who understand this distinction abide in
 heedfulness and attain Nibbana, "the incomparable freedom from
 bondage" (vv. 21-23).
 Bhikkhu Bodhi, 1993
Source: Access-to-Insight, Copyright © 1993 Buddhist Publication Society For free distribution only. You may print copies of this work for your personal use. You may re-format and redistribute this work for use on computer networks, provided that you charge no fees for its distribution or use. Otherwise, all rights reserved. Buddhist Publication Society P.O. Box 61 54, Sangharaja Mawatha Kandy. SRI LANKA Barre Center for Buddhist Studies 149 Lockwood Road Barre, MA 01005. USA This electronic edition was transcribed from the print edition in 1995 by Joseph Crea under the auspices of the DharmaNet Dharma Book Transcription Project, with the kind permission of the Buddhist Publication Society.