From the first time I ever heard it until today, “everybody does it” seems to me one of the most moronic and irrelevant–not to say almost always untrue–things anyone can say, especially if it is meant to justify some thought or action. So when I came across a similar section to this in one of the Pali sutras, I commented to other members of our ashram that it might be good to recite it every day to remind us that running with the herd is not an option for those seeking higher consciousness.
Happy indeed we live who are free from hatred among those who still hate. In the midst of hate-filled men, we live free from hatred” (Dhammapada 197).
Thanissaro Bhikkhu: “How very happily we live, free from hostility among those who are hostile. Among hostile people, free from hostility we dwell.”
The world seems to run on hate and anger–all we need do is look at history and see that humanity is a bundle of conflicts. That is the way things are, and we should accept it but not approve of it. Rather than waiting for a “better day” when hatred will be abolished–something that absolutely will never happen–we should determine to live without hatred or hostility ourselves, even when encountering those who do hate, and who may hate us for not hating. It is foolish to wait for “everyone to do it” before doing it ourselves. Waiting for a more congenial time or environment to practice virtue is a great folly. After all, it may be our friendliness (metta) and peaceful response to others that will help them be the same. But do notice that Buddha does not say that we shall attempt to change others and get them not to hate, for they have to put forth their own will to change themselves, just as we are doing.
The principle set forth in this verse applies as well to the ultimate activity of hatred: war. Rather than engaging in futile “peace efforts” that are usually embittered and violent–not to speak of being impractical and unreasonable–we must settle our hearts in peace. I have met many good men and women of peace who were saddened at the prevalence of war, and who strove to live lives of peace themselves. But I have met no “peaceniks” that were not narrow, hateful, and devoid of peace in mind and heart, and politically uninformed and bigoted. Blaming others for war, they did not see that they were contributing to the universal vibrations of anger and spite.
Fundamentally, this and subsequent verses teach us that each person must determine to follow the path of right thought and action and let others alone. Over a hundred years ago a wise man wrote an article on spiritual life entitled: Others May, You Cannot. That is a good rule to remember.
“Happy indeed we live who are free from disease among those still diseased. In the midst of diseased men, we live free from disease” (Dhammapada 198).
Thanissaro Bhikkhu: “How very happily we live, free from misery among those who are miserable. Among miserable people, free from misery we dwell.”
Narada Thera comments that the disease spoken of here is “the disease of passions.” It is strange but true that a great many people continually stir themselves up, deliberately choosing to live in a state of constant ferment, upset, and misery. Oftentimes this is because nothing else goes on in their life. Many neighborhoods have their local grouch whose only purpose in life is complaining and making trouble for others. This often includes complaints to the police and other authorities for petty “crimes” on behalf of others, especially regarding parking in front of their property. Children and adults are equal targets for their frustration and malice. When growing up I knew three of these bitter people, all of whom were old, ill, and without family or friends. Their ways were inexplicable. But one of them came out differently. She had done some nasty, spiteful thing to an aunt of mine, and her son retaliated with some prank. The old lady did not know who did it, but my cousin began to feel really bad about what he had done. So he went to her house and apologized and asked her forgiveness. The poor woman nearly passed out in shock, since for years everyone had despised her. She was so moved she hugged and kissed him and apologized for being such a grouch. The result was she became friends with my aunt’s family and soon was friends with all the neighbors. This is the power of goodness, even if belated.
Living amongst the passion-ridden, we can be passion-free and at peace.
“Happy indeed we live who are free from worry among those who are still worried. In the midst of worried men, we live free from worry” (Dhammapada 199).
This must be an ambiguous verse in the Pali original, for Harischandra Kaviratna renders it: “Blessed indeed are we who live among those who are yearning for sense delights, without yearning for such things; amidst those who are yearning for sense delights, let us dwell without yearning.” Narada Thera agrees in his translation, but Thanissaro Bhikkhu has it: “How very happily we live, free from busyness among those who are busy. Among busy people, free from busyness we dwell.”
Whichever it is, we can profitably resolve to put away, worry, desire, and obsession with externals from our minds and live at rest in our hearts.
Happy with nothing
“Happy indeed we live who have nothing of our own. We shall feed on joy, just like the radiant devas” (Dhammapada 200).
This can be followed in two ways. The first is the obvious one of living in blessed simplicity without the burden of many things. A friend of mine used to take stock of everything in her house about every six months, and get rid of everything she did not really need. She had realized that the habit of possession creeps up on all of us, and each time she made her inventory, sure enough her own weakness had begun tripping her up. The second way is to live happily in the realization that absolutely nothing is ever really ours, that everything, including our body, eventually dissolves away. And besides, it is all just a dream which must end in time. This is the key to really enjoying things, for they are not hanging around our necks demanding that we look after them, guard them, protect them, and identify with them. To be possessed by possessions is misery, but freedom from them is the happiness of the gods.
“A victor only breeds hatred, while a defeated man lives in misery, but a man at peace within lives happily, abandoning up ideas of victory and defeat” (Dhammapada 201).
Thanissaro Bhikkhu: “Winning gives birth to hostility. Losing, one lies down in pain. The calmed lie down with ease, having set winning and losing aside.”
Humans have an awful drive to be in control, to be ahead of others. “Alpha dogs” are bad enough, but alpha people are really a source of unhappiness–to themselves and others. The Lion in Winter gives a vivid picture of people who just have to be “one up” on others, everything being a competition in which someone outwits another. There are people who would rather make one dollar by fooling or cheating someone than make ten dollars by selling them something worthwhile at a just price. This is sometimes a cultural thing in which an entire society lives just to prove their cleverness by deception and dishonesty. How terrible to see everyone as either a victim or a potential victimizer. “It’s a dog eat dog world” is their philosophy. But who wants to be a dog?
The wise never look at life in terms of “I win, you lose” or vice versa. They live their life as a serious opportunity to advance in understanding rather than a game to play “gotcha” all day along.
“There is no fire like desire. There is no weakness like anger. There is no suffering like the khandhas. There is no happiness greater than peace” (Dhammapada 202).
This is quite plain. The khandas (skandas) are the five components of “human nature” in which the individual is trapped. Since he mistakes them for himself, he suffers at their changes and damages and losses, feeling a pain than cannot possibly be his. This is a terrible illusion, indeed.
“Hunger is the supreme disease. Mental activity is the supreme suffering. When one has grasped this as it really is, Nirvana is the supreme happiness” (Dhammapada 203).
Regarding hunger, Narada Thera says: “Ordinary diseases are usually curable by a suitable remedy, but hunger has to be appeased daily.” By “mental activity” is meant the running around of an uncontrolled and unsteady mind. Nirvana is the only permanent ending of these sources of suffering. When we really grasp the way things are, we seek for Nirvana.
“Health is the supreme possession. Contentment is the supreme wealth. A trustworthy friend is the supreme relation. Nirvana is the supreme happiness” (Dhammapada 204).
Health is necessary for unimpeded spiritual practice.
“After enjoying the taste of solitude and the taste of peace, one is freed from distress and evil, as one enjoys the taste of spiritual joy. It is good to meet with the saints. Living with them is always sweet. By not meeting fools one can be happy all the time” (Dhammapada 205, 206).
There are two forms of solitude and peace: outer and inner. The outer is a means to the inner, for it is the inner solitude and peace that is needed. Those who possess them are happy whatever the outer conditions of stress may be.
The word translated “saints” is really ariya (arya). So we need not wait to meet supremely great souls, but should seek out the company of those who, like us, are aspiring after a higher mode of life. In India this is called satsang–company with Truth–for such persons are living truthfully. To live with other seekers is a great advantage, which is why Paramhansa Yogananda put such emphasis on the formation of spiritual communities. The company of other yogis can be the difference between success and failure, for Yogananda also said: “Company is greater than will power.” One of his fellow disciples told me that whenever his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, gave instruction in yoga to someone he would ask if they knew anyone who also practiced that form of meditation. If they said they did, he would tell them: “Good. Then make them your only friends and meditate with them as much as possible.”
Just as important as company with other aspirants is the avoidance of fools. Fools come in many flavors, but Yogananda defined a fool as one who is not seeking God. That pretty well covers it all. Buddha is not exaggerating: By not meeting fools one can be happy all the time. I know know this by experience, living in a solitary ashram devoted solely to the purpose of the evolution of its members, and keeping the doors and gate closed to idlers and dabblers who have no interest in devoting their life totally to the quest for Liberation. Blessed peace!
Fools: a great evil
“A man who keeps company with a fool, will suffer for it a long time. It is always painful to live with fools, like with an enemy, but a wise man is good to live with, like meeting up with relatives” (Dhammapada 207).
Now here we have the right attitude. Fools are poison. Some kill slowly and some quickly, but they both kill. That is, by their presence they kill peace of mind and heart, and radiate destructive vibrations. This is especially true when they are not vegetarians, but radiate the vibrations of the dead bodies they have eaten and assimilated. They are ghouls, feasting on the dead, and their bodies are graveyards. If they also ingest alcohol and nicotine they are the embodiments of spiritual defilement. They are their own enemies as well as the enemies of others. Behaving like the animals they eat (serious studies are being conducted on this), they disrupt the life of human beings–those who seek liberation.
On the other hand, the wise are our true “kin.”
Seek him out
Now Buddha tells us the kind of people to associate with.
“Therefore, if he is a man of understanding and penetration, learned and habitually moral, devout and noble, one should cultivate the company of that just and wise man, in the same way as the moon keeps to a path among the stars” (Dhammapada 208).
Now we know the way to happiness and the way to avoid unhappiness. And it is very simple.
Next article in the Dhammapada for Awakening: Preference
Chapters in the Dhammapada for Awakening:
- The Twin Verses
- The Mind
- The Fool
- The Wise Man
- The Enlightened
- The Thousands
- The Rod
- Old Age
- The Self (Atta Vagga)
- The World
- The Buddhas
- Impurities (Taints)
- The Righteous (Dharmic) One
- The Way
- A Woeful State
- The Elephant
- The Bhikkhu
- The Brahmin
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