Verses from the Dhammapada

Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Unsplash

Jun 1, 2020
Jenny Hall

The Dhammapada is one of the oldest collections of sayings of The Buddha. The collection of 423 verses appear in the Pali Canon and arise from specific stories during the teaching life of the Buddha.

Dhammapada 23 

‘Meditating earnestly, the wise realise Nirvana, the highest happiness.’ 

Meditation is always there like the blue sky behind the clouds. It is not something ‘I’ can achieve. ‘I’, like the clouds, has to be cleared away before the blue sky can appear. Meditation (at-one-ment with all that is) is then revealed.

Our Zen teachers constantly remind us that it’s not only on the cushion in zazen meditation that it opens. It also emerges when we give ourselves wholeheartedly into the daily life practice.

One day two people became friends. One was from the South of India the other was from the North. The Southerner was very wealthy. He invited his friend to stay at his mansion. He told him that his sons were unaware of how much money they would eventually inherit. He explained he wanted to keep them in ignorance. If they discovered the truth, they would probably not bother to complete their education. To prevent this, he had hidden his treasure under his wife’s millstone.

Seven years passed. The Northerner decided to look up his old friend. He was amazed to find that the mansion was in a serious state of disrepair. The Southerner’s wife was milling wheat for her neighbour. She looked tired and miserable. She told the Northerner that her husband had been killed by a snake bite. She was struggling to make ends meet by milling, cooking and cleaning for her neighbour. With great excitement the Northerner told her that her late husband had hidden treasure under the millstone. They quickly dug under it and discovered a hoard of golden coins.

The story points to the ‘treasure’ of meditation that is within us all. The ‘millstone’ shows that giving ourselves wholeheartedly to everyday tasks leads us to it. However, we spend much of our time distracted.

As a teacher, during the summer term some of my pupils would kindly bring small gifts before they left the school. One morning, a little girl pressed a small package into my hand during playground duty. It contained a ring shaped as a snake. Its eye was a white stone. To ‘my’ eye it looked as though it was a novelty out of a Christmas cracker. Without paying much attention, I took it home and forgot about it. A few days later, a very anxious mother knocked on my classroom door. She said her little girl had taken a very valuable ring from her dressing table. It was made of solid gold and a diamond. Fear gripped my heart as I couldn’t remember exactly where I had put it. Much to my profound relief I found it at the bottom of a drawer and the ring was returned.

Not only had I failed to look closely at the ring, but I couldn’t recall where I had put it. No doubt, when I received it, I was day dreaming about my approaching holiday when I should be released from the ’boredom’ of playground duty. Enticing ‘adventures’ and ‘new experiences’ are paraded before our eyes in the media at this time of year. We and we are encouraged to escape the everyday routine.

‘Meditating earnestly…’

The Zen path, however, also offers opportunities for ‘an adventure’. We are shown how to wholeheartedly give ourselves into whatever is arising in each moment as we go about our ordinary daily lives. From moment to moment this is the meaning of ‘meditation earnestly. 

‘… the wise realise…’

When ‘I’ am given away, then ‘the wise’ meditation opens. There is at-one-ment with all. Reality is seen clearly in the same way as the ring’s glittering gold and sparkling diamond was eventually recognised. What we may have judged as ‘boring’ or ‘mundane’ is transformed. 

‘… Nirvana…’

‘I’, made up of thoughts, problems and plans vanishes. This is ‘Nirvana’, freedom from the past and future. Everything becomes fresh and new’.

‘… the highest happiness.’

Virginia Woolf once wrote in her diary, ‘Our treasure is hid away… in such common things that nothing can touch it… a bus ride… taking the letters out of the box… sitting down after dinner. What can trouble this happiness?’

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