The Dhammapada

The Dhammapada, arguably the most popular Buddhist literature in the world, consists of 423 verses — part poetry, part philosophy, and a exemplary and beneficial guide for growing and strengthening our practice of Dhamma.

There are numerous (exceeding 50) translations from Pali into English, and many more into other languages. Gil Fronsdal’s translation is exceptional for us because his purpose aligns with mine which strives to translate and understand Buddha’s instruction(s) accurately and in a way “that enables the practitioner to deepen their wisdom in the here and now.”

With the above in mind I present you with The Dhammapada:

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.

In his footnote the author explains that “preceded by mind” is sometimes translated as “impelled by mind”, allowing the imagery more force. Yet our minds don’t compel us to do act in any particular way; we choose how to act, “whether consciously or subconsciously motivated.” If the mind is habitually angry or selfish or confused, our actions are likely to be the reflective of the same. Yet, if our thoughts are basically kind, generous, and uses wisdom, then our actions are likely to reflect the same, again.

We can examine our experience and our words and actions using this question: “What made me think that?” or “Why did I behave that way?” We can look into the causes and conditions within this human system, including our bodies and minds, to unveil our motives and intentions. The investigation itself will help us understand how thought becomes action, with whatever results follow.

It’s no accident that this pair of verses sits in the opening position. They introduce two important themes. The first is that we, and no one else, are responsible for our actions of body, speech, and mind. We all influence each other to different degrees, “but the ultimate choices lie within us.” We could think of the tired but true metaphor that we don’t choose the cards we are dealt, but we do choose how to play those cards.

The second important theme is that actions have consequences; that what we do matters. When we treat ourselves and each other with respect and kindness, we are making a better world both internally and externally. If we are dishonest, even if we think no one can see, we ourselves can see; we know that we are diminishing our worth.

It would be wise to practice observing ourselves as if from another person’s perspective. Do we behave in ways that we criticize in others? Do we turn away from the responsibility of serious reflection? There is no “time off” from karma; we only have now.

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