Studying the Dhammapada: Verses 1-2

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The Meditation Circle of Charleston has a new schedule that began this week, moving our regular Tuesday meeting to every Monday. We’ve also expanded the meeting time, adding an optional half-hour session from 5:30 to 6 p.m., featuring Qigong moving meditation and a new weekly study of verses from the Dhammapada, a book of the Buddha’s essential teachings. Meditation follows from 6 to 7 p.m., with two rounds of sitting meditation, with a short period of standing or walking meditation in between.

So, we begin with our Dhammapada study during the 5:30 to 6 p.m. timeframe on Monday, Sept. 6. We’lll be using Gil Fronsdal’s book “The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic With Annotations.”

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We will start with verses 1-2 for our Sept. 6 meeting:

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a corrupted mind,
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.
All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind, Made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind,
And happiness follows
Like a never-departing shadow.

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For a little background on The Dhammapada, here is a portion of Jack Kornfield’s introduction to the Fronsdal translation:

These verses of the Dhammapada sum up in the simplest language the core teachings of the Buddha. Memorized and chanted by devoted followers for thousands of years, these words remind all who hear them of the universal truths expounded by the Buddha: Hatred never ends by hatred. Virtue and wise action are the foundation for happiness. And the Buddha’s teachings offer the possibility of a thoroughly unshakable peace and liberation of heart for those who follow the way of the Dharma and free themselves from clinging.

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And here is an excerpt by Fronsdal himself, from his preface to his translation:

The Dhammapada was first introduced to the non-Buddhist modern world during the second half of the nineteenth century. It has come to be recognized as a great religious classic, one bearing an uncompromising message of personal self-reliance, self-mastery, and liberation.

The major audience for the Dhammapada historically has been the ordained Buddhist community. Thus a number of the verses understandably address issues of monastic life. However, many of these verses can apply to anyone who seeks a life dedicated to dharma practice.

The challenge for lay practitioners is to discover how to appropriately incorporate into lay life the renunciation and purity that characterize monastic life. I have taken them that way for myself. When verses 9 and 10 state that the monastic form is useless unless the monk or nun is virtuous, self-controlled, and honest, I translate that for myself as saying that the lay life is similarly worthless without these qualities. Anyone who lives in this way may figuratively be called a monastic, as is done in verse 142.

The second issue—whether the text has a world-rejecting message—is more challenging, perhaps because the text was meant to challenge our relationship to the world. An initial reading of a number of the verses seems to reveal a negation or an aversion to the world (in fact, some English translations seem to translate the entire text based on this impression) …

While initial appearances may sometimes suggest a world-negating message, I believe that the issue in the Dhammapada is neither negating or affirming the world. The issue is becoming free of clinging to the world. For those who take on this challenge, the resulting freedom helps us live in the world as wisely as possible, which includes experiencing joy.

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