Aug 7, 2021
Jenny Hall

Verses from The Dhammapada 70

Many religions hand down ‘Laws’ to be obeyed. In Buddhism however the 'Law' is ever changing, and if we are to be abide by it we must become familiar with the delusion of ‘I’.

Urochloa mosambicensis leaf blade


Harry Rose from Dungog, Australia, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

‘Though a man should eat his food with a blade of grass, yet he is not worth the smallest part of those who live by the Law.’

A letter appeared on a newspaper’s problem page recently. It was from a woman who was worried about her husband newly retired from a very demanding job. He showed no interest in starting new hobbies or travelling. All he wanted to do was keep to a simple routine at home. She, however, was determined to pack as many new experiences possible into their few remaining years together. 

There were two opposing ‘answers’ to her dilemma. One suggested she went ahead and planned new projects and pursuits and then invited her husband to join her. The other suggestion told her to recognise that he perhaps was only too relieved to relax for a while into a simple way of life, (as the verse expresses it, ‘eat his food with a blade of grass.’) The verse, however, suggests there is a third option which leads to happiness. It is discovered by ‘those who live by the Law.’

This ‘Law’ has nothing to do with not parking on double yellow lines but involves obeying the Dharma. The Dharma is ‘the way things really are.’ The word ‘obey’ comes from the Latin ‘to hear’. Obeying the Dharma involves listening to situations as they arise. 

Venerable Myokyo-ni once asked me if I would be joining a sesshin (Zen retreat). It was just at the time my husband’s health started to deteriorate and he couldn’t be left alone at night. When I told Venerable Myokyo-ni, she said ‘Have your own sesshin at home. Obey your husband in everything!’ At the time I was rather shocked, but what she was saying was ‘Empty out your own wants. Listen to your husband’s needs. Listen to the situation’. 

The Buddha taught that ‘I” am incapable of listening in this way. ‘I’ am actually made up of my own ideas, driven by craving and hate. These ideas distort reality. 

The wife’s belief that her husband needed more excitement (which she believed she also wanted), prevented her from seeing that he needed to rest. Not only was she blind to the situation, she was attempting to impose herself on it.

There is a famous Zen story about the Dharma’s function being cause and effect.

A monk asked the master of a monastery if a liberated ‘man of the way’ was above cause and effect? The master answered ‘Yes’. The result was that he, the master, turned into a fox for five hundred lives. Finally, he returned to human form and went to ask the great Master Hyakujo the same question. ‘Is a liberated man of the way free from the Law of cause and effect?’ The master said ‘He does not obscure it.’

What is a ‘liberated man of the Way?’ The Buddha taught that the delusion of ‘I’ needs to be emptied out and then ‘choiceless awareness’, liberated from ‘me’, listens and responds in kind. In this way the Dharma functions freely and is not obstructed or resisted. The Zen training shows us how to empty out. It involves wholeheartedly giving ‘myself’ away into whatever is arising. Then there are no ideas of an exciting life or ‘eating with a blade of grass.’ These are all my ideas. As choiceless awareness responds in each moment, the Way is revealed. This is a ‘beggar’s life.’ Everything is provided at the right time. Tosui in the following story illustrates this trust.

There was once a Zen teacher called Tosui. He decided to leave his disciples. No-one knew where he had gone. One day one of his followers discovered him in Kyoto living under a bridge with beggars. The disciple was overjoyed to find Tosui. He pleaded with him to teach him. Tosui was reluctant to allow him to stay. Finally, he agreed that he could stay on the condition that the disciple did exactly what he did for a couple of days. So, the disciple dressed as a beggar. The next day one of the beggars died. At midnight Tosui and the disciple buried the body on the mountainside. They returned to the bridge to sleep under it. However, the disciple tossed and turned the rest of the night. In the morning Tosui said that the beggar who had died had left some food. It would be unnecessary to beg for more that day. The disciple was unable to eat any of it. Tosui said that he knew that the disciple was unable to join him in this life he led. He told him to leave.

The disciple was still clinging to himself. Emptied out, Tosui was in harmony with the Dharma. 

Venerable Myokyo-ni said that this is what the human heart really wants, to be re-linked with that harmony which pervades everything and in which it has its roots.

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