Feb 12, 2022
Jenny Hall

Verses from The Dhammapada 336

When ‘I’ like something ‘I’ chase after it, when I dislike something ‘I’ tend to avoid it. It’s from this starting point that we can learn to let go of our suffering. Jenny Hall investigates.


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‘Suffering falls from the man who overcomes craving, even as water from the lotus leaf.’

This verse points to craving, the eighth link in the 12 Linked Chain of Dependent Arising. When ‘I’ like or dislike something ‘I’ attempt to get it or avoid it. 

In the Repentance Sutra we acknowledge ‘beginningless greed’. At various times in life craving arises in different forms. As children we desire to be like everyone else. Our peer group may dictate the sort of school bag we carry. Hearing a Led Zeppelin track may immediately carry us back to all the longings and dreams of adolescence. As we mature perhaps a new smartphone, a relationship, accomplishment or ideology attracts us.

These objects become intrinsically linked with ‘self-esteem’.

Like children crying in a supermarket because their desire for sweets has been thwarted, we often crave what is forbidden. When cigarette manufacturers displayed the dangers of smoking on the packets, many smokers found the contents even more enticing. 

We also long for the impossible. 

After my father died the more I wished he were still with me, the more memories of other losses welled up to feed the idea of ‘poor me’. 

Sometimes we long for an unsuitable object. A man coveted a small convertible sports car. He spent many months looking at pictures in glossy car magazines. He visited garages to compare models and prices. Eventually he chose a shiny red one and arranged a test drive. He announced to his wife that this was the car for him. They were both tall and she remarked that it seemed rather small. ‘No’, he said ‘it’s perfect’. 

That afternoon they went to the garage for the test drive. It was necessary to bend almost double to enter the car. The husband’s head was touching the roof and his knees the steering wheel. When his wife pointed this out he said, ‘I’m sure we’ll get used to it!’ Now he was unusually sensitive to rattles and creaks. As soon as he started up the car, it was obvious that it had a much noisier engine than his own. Returning to the garage he told the salesman that they hadn’t quite made up their minds. A few days later he announced to his wife that perhaps they would keep their current car a little longer. It was quiet, roomy and practical. 

To be attracted to a beautiful landscape or repelled by an act of cruelty is quite natural. It is the constant stream of thinking after the initial stimulus that creates the idea of ‘me’. 

The Zen training shows us that it is only by recognising and meeting the energy behind these thoughts that the link of craving can be broken, and with it the delusion of ‘I’. 

This is illustrated by the story of Ulysses, the hero of Greek mythology. He was making a sea voyage home to Greece after the Trojan War. On the way his ship had to pass a very dangerous area where beautiful maidens, known as sirens, lived. 

It was well known that their call was unbearably seductive. When sailors heard their voices they were unable to resist them. In pursuit of them, they would steer their boats onto the rocks and drown. Despite this knowledge however, Ulysses wanted to hear their beguiling song. There was a prediction that if anyone heard the voices of the sirens but didn’t sail towards them, then the sirens would lose their power and wither away. As his boat sailed towards his homeland, Ulysses instructed his crew to fill their ears with wax and tie him tightly to the mast. He told them on no account to release him until they were well away from the sirens.

The crew obeyed his orders. Ulysses bore all the discomfort and got through. 

We also have to bear ‘the call of the sirens’ in order to awake from the dream of ‘I’. When we invite  the energy of desire to burn away the delusion of ‘I’, what the sage Krishnamurti called ‘choiceless awareness’ opens. Then it can be seen that there are no objects to pull towards or push away from us. Nothing is separate. Nothing is lacking.

There was once a girl who lived in an old house on top of a hill. Opposite that house was another house on top of another hill. The girl thought that the house opposite was the most beautiful house she had ever seen because it had golden windows. She longed to live in such a house. One day she decided to climb the hill to explore it. The hill was steep. Her legs ached but she persevered. She knocked on the door but there was no answer. Tentatively she opened the door and climbed the stairs. She entered a bedroom and looked through the window. A huge smile spread across her face. She saw the windows of her own house shining golden in the light.

Text copyright of Jenny Hall

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