Dec 10, 2021
Jenny Hall

Verses from The Dhammapada 83

Within happiness lies the seed of sorrow, pleasure being a fleeting experience. When we open ourselves up to sorrow however, the inherent joy of the heart naturally reveals itself. 


Image by Dominic Kearne

“The wise walk on, clinging to nothing. They are neither elated by happiness nor cast down by sorrow.”

This verse points to the seventh link in the Twelve-Linked Chain of Dependent Arising: feeling/sensation. It arises from the previous link: contact, meaning sensory contact from which the delusion of ‘I’ derives feelings of pain or pleasure.

‘The wise walk on, clinging to nothing.’ A recent report from City University of Hong Kong revealed that many people are so attached to their smartphones that being parted from them for even a short period gives them feelings of deep anxiety. There seems to be a growing dependency on sending and receiving streams of visual images of ‘me’ and ‘my’ life, in the constant hope that they will elicit approval in the form of ‘likes’.

The delusion of ‘I’ is actually made up of similar mental pictures. Those we ‘like’, we cling to and attempt to replicate. We try to obliterate the painful ones. We only have to open a newspaper or turn on the TV to witness a maelstrom of anger, desire and fear. Much of our entertainment contains a similar outpouring – perhaps serving as vicarious relief from our own emotional turmoil. Zen training points to another way. It encourages us to give ourselves wholeheartedly to whatever arises in each moment. If we can achieve this, then ‘choiceless awareness’ opens – a quality borne by ‘the wise’ in the quote above. This awareness is alert and spacious. It is not occluded by my thoughts, mental pictures and wishes. It can take in the situation as-it-is.

I once attended a party at a large mansion set in extensive, well-manicured grounds. The conversation turned to the National Lottery. Our hostess exclaimed that she’d love to win. One of the guests remarked that she already appeared to possess everything she could ever possibly need, and asked what she’d do with the money. The hostess paused for a moment, and replied: “Oh, I’d buy the view!”

The Buddha taught that we are never satisfied. The ‘view’ arouses emotion in us. The word ‘emotion’ itself comes from the word emovere, meaning ‘to disturb’. We feel emotion because, unlike the ‘wise’, we are isolated from all and yearn to be united. We attempt to stifle such suffering by pursuing pleasure.

They are neither elated by happiness …’ Anna Pavlova, the ballerina, once remarked: “Happiness is like a butterfly that appears and delights us for one brief moment, but soon flits away.” When we seek happiness by acquiring more and more, it evades us. Every pleasurable emotion contains the seed of pain, because everything is constantly changing. (This is the Second Noble Truth.) The day I heard from a publisher that a book I had written had been accepted, I was elated. Six months later, the publisher went bankrupt and the contract was cancelled.

‘… nor cast down by sorrow.’ Why do we seek happiness at all? While we run from sorrow by pursuing the next pleasure, we are avoiding precious opportunities for training. 

On my grandparents’ wall was a huge, golden dragon’s head. To a child, it appeared as if its scarlet, flame-like tongue was burning the flowers on the wallpaper. also  In Zen training, we learn to greet and suffer the churning and burning of emotional energy. When we allow this hot emotional energy to burn us away, then only the single eye of the heart remains, which sees things as they really are. We can thus discover joy, completely independent of circumstances.

There was once an accomplished thief who liked to steal only the most exquisite jewels. One day, he saw a merchant buy a beautiful diamond. The thief followed him onto a train, and entered the same compartment. The journey lasted three days, and all the while the thief tried to pick the merchant’s pocket. By the end of the journey, he had had no success. The merchant got off the train, and the thief followed. But he could contain himself no longer: he confessed to the merchant that he had used all his skills in an attempt to steal the diamond, but had failed. The merchant replied that he had hidden it in a place the thief would never think to look. 

He then pulled the diamond out of the thief’s own pocket. 

The open heart is already within us. From moment to moment, its warmth and compassion partake in the joys and sorrows of all. 

© Jenny Hall

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