Mind Is All A Commentary On The DhammapadaMind Is All A Commentary On The Dhammapada

History of the Dhammapada

The Dhammapada is not a transcription of a single talk by Gautama the Buddha. Rather, it is a collection of his words on the most important subjects for those seeking Nirvana. It was compiled only three months after his passing away by his enlightened disciples (arhats), who gave it the name Dhammapada, which means "Portions of the Dharma" or "The Way of Dharma." The Dhammapada consists of four hundred twenty-three Pali verses that were gleaned from about three hundred discourses of the Buddha. It is a distillation of forty-five years of teaching.

What is the mind?

"Mind precedes its objects. They are mind-governed and mind-made." (Dhammapada 1)

What is the mind? The language of Buddha, as well as Pali, in which his complete teachings are set down, was based on Sanskrit, so we can get some understanding by looking at the Sanskrit terms from which the Pali was derived. (In fact, we may get a better understanding than if we rely on the Pali commentaries and their explanations, considering that they were begun exactly five hundred years after the death of Buddha, who had stated that in five hundred years the dharma he was preaching would begin to be lost.) Sanskrit and Pali have the same word for mind: mana. Mana comes from the root verb man, which means "to think." However, mind takes in more territory than the intellect; it includes the senses and the emotions, because it is in response to feelings and sensory impressions that thoughts arise in the attempt to label and understand them. Evolved minds have the capacity to think abstractly and to determine what shall be experienced by the senses or the feelings. That is, in lesser evolved minds these impressions precede thought, but in higher evolved minds thought becomes dominant and not only precedes those impressions but also determines them. Undoubtedly this is progress, but like everything in relative existence it has a down side, and that is the capacity of the mind to "create reality" rather than simply respond to it or classify it. Perception is not a matter of exact and undistorted experience. Perception itself is learned and is therefore extremely subjective. People born blind who have gained their sight in later childhood or even in adulthood have said that it took them weeks to tell the difference between circles, squares, triangles, and other geometric shapes-as well as the difference between many other kinds of visual impressions. This tells us that we do not just perceive spontaneously through the senses. We learn perception-it is not just a faculty. In other words, the senses do not perceive; it is the mind alone that perceives even though it uses the impressions of the senses as its "raw material" for those perceptions. Objectivity in human beings is virtually impossible. We might even hazard the speculation that objectivity is impossible outside of enlightenment.

All of the foregoing might worry us greatly-indeed, the insight into this truth about the nature of the mind may well be the seed of paranoia, for it is well-known that the Eastern description of the enlightened mind and personality is closely akin to what modern psychiatry calls paranoid schizophrenia. Some might say they are identical, but they would be wrong, for the enlightened respond to their vision with positive behavior, peacefulness of mind, and lovingkindness towards others. The mentally ill, on the other hand, respond with anxiety, fear, hostility, and mistrust of others. The sage has profound self-understanding, whereas the paranoid schizophrenic has almost no self-realization at all. (More than one psychiatric nurse has told me that they often took their problems to the paranoic schizophrenics in their charge, who gave them remarkably insightful and wise advice. But regarding themselves, those same patients were just plain crazy and without a clue. This is a terrible and cruel dichotomy.)

The understanding to be gained from all this is that our life experiences are a training film, an exercise in the development of consciousness with the mind as its main instrument. We are to look and learn. The question of "Is it real?" is almost irrelevant, "Is it comprehensible?" being more vital. There is a sense in which the individual alone exists and all that he experiences is but the shifting patterns of the movies of the mind-but for a purpose: insight that leads to freedom from the need of any more movies. Then the liberated can rest in the truth of his own self.

The problem is that those who have only an intellectual idea about the relation of experience to reality-ourselves-will come to erroneous conclusions that may result in very self-destructive thought and behavior. And those observing them will rightly consider them either fools or lunatics. Only right experience garnered from right meditation and right thought (which is based on meditation) can clear away the clouds of non-perception and misperception and free us.

The demarcation between "out there" and "in here" must become clear to us in a practical sense. We must also come to understand that "real" and "unreal" have both correct and mistaken definitions, that all our perceptions are interpretations of the mind and never the objects themselves. Our perceptions may be more or less correct as to the nature of the outside object, but how can we know? The enlightened of all ages have told us that a stage of evolution can be reached in which the mind is no longer necessary, a state in which we can go beyond the mind and enter into direct contact and communication with "out there" and then perceive objects as they truly are-or at least as they momentarily "are." The knowledge of temporality or eternality is inseparable from that state, so confusion cannot arise regarding them.

In our childish way we always think of perfection as consisting of all our good traits greatly increased and our bad traits eradicated. (If we are "good" enough children to admit we have bad traits, that is.) We think of God as being just like us, but with His goodness expanded to boundless dimension, and badness impossible to Him. In the same way we think of eternity as time without end rather than a state that transcends time. Our ideas of eternal life are pathetic since we have no idea what life is, much less eternity. It only follows, then, that our ideas of enlightenment and liberation are equally puerile and valueless. This is why the wise center their attention on spiritual practice rather than theology and philosophy. Experience- Right Experience-will make all things clear or else enable us to see that they do not exist.

At the moment we can say that we do not know just what the mind is, but we are working on knowing it. So let us again set forth the opening words of the Dhammapada.

Mind-the source

"Mind precedes its objects. They are mind-governed and mind-made."

First there is the mind. Let us go deeper than we have so far. It is possible to view "mind" as both the perception machinery we have been talking about and the consciousness which perceives the perception, the consciousness that is unconditioned and permanent-in other words, the spirit, the eternal self. ("The Self is ear of the ear, mind of the mind, speech of speech. He is also breath of the breath, and eye of the eye"-Kena Upanishad 2.) From this higher aspect of Mind all things proceed-in both the macrocosmic and the microcosmic sense. From the Mind of God all things are projected that are found in the cosmos; and from the mind of the individual are projected all that are distinctive to his life. We are all co-creators with God, even though we have long ago forgotten that and attributed everything that goes on in our life as acts of God. From this delusion erroneous religion has arisen-religion that thinks it necessary to pray to and propitiate God in order for the "good" to come to us and the "bad" to be eliminated from our life. It is this religion and its false God that Buddha adamantly rejected and from which we must be freed if we are to gain any true understanding of what is really happening to us from life to life. On the other hand, we need true religion-the conviction and aspiration for the uniting of the finite consciousness with the Infinite Consciousness in eternal Being. The call of the self to the Self is the essence of true religion, and in that sense those who would turn from death to life must be thoroughly religious. Any god that is separate from us is a false god; the true God is the very Self of our self. Though distinct from us, He is not separate. We are eternally one with Him. But we have to realize that-not intellectually only, but through direct experience. And that experience is only possible in meditation.

All right: mind precedes its objects, which are themselves governed and made by the mind. This has profound implications.

1) Karma is the creation of the mind-is simply the mind in extension. Karma need not be worked out or fulfilled; the mind need only be changed, or better yet brought into complete abeyance. Then karma is no more and its attendant compulsions- including birth and death-no longer exist.

2) Our entire life experience is but a mirroring of the mind. If something is not already within our mind it cannot be projected outward as a (seemingly) external factor or experience of our life. So our life is our mind in motion! By observing it we can come to know what is in our mind. If we do not like what is happening in our life, the solution is to alter our mind. People who like to tell of how cruel, selfish, dishonest, and disloyal others habitually are to them are merely telling us how cruel, selfish, dishonest, and disloyal they are. "Victims" are only victimizers in a down cycle. The moment the upswing comes in their life rhythms they will go back to victimizing others. Action and reaction are purely psychological matters, the film in the projector-the light and sound on the screen being only its projection. Change the film and you change the experience. Since objects come from the mind they can only be compatible with the mind and therefore express and reveal its character.

3) All the factors of "life" are really only thought, attitude, and outlook in manifestation.

4) Study your life and thereby know your mind.

5) You are always in control, even though that control may be on an unconscious level.

6) Change your mind and you change your life. (Do not forget that "mind" includes consciousness.)

7) Mary Baker Eddy was right: All is Mind and Mind is All.

Action and reaction

"To speak or act with a defiled mind is to draw pain after oneself, like a wheel behind the feet of the animal drawing it." (Dhammapada 1) Suffering is inevitable for the person with a defiled mind, for it is impossible not to act or think (speak inwardly, even if not outwardly). "Good" or meritorious acts done by a person with a defiled mind will bring suffering-perhaps not as much as evil acts, but still the suffering will not be avoided. This is imperative for us to comprehend: Action is not the determining factor in our life-Mind is! And mind alone. This why in the Bhagavad Gita Krishna describes how bad people do good in a bad way and thus accrue more misery to themselves.

It is so important to understand this fact, since we tend to mistakenly assume that "good" acts produce "good" karma, etc., when in reality the actions mean nothing-it is the condition of the mind that determines their character and therefore their consequences. (Buddha was very insistent on this.) Selfish people do "unselfish" deeds to either cover up their selfishness or to get merit for themselves so they can enjoy this or a future life. Their intentions defile the actions and no good accrues to them whatsoever. Instead their selfishness and pettiness is compounded! This is the plain truth. False religion gets rich on such persons with false promises of merit and remission of sins. And even after death the deception goes on as their relatives and friends offer prayers and almsdeeds that supposedly will mitigate their negative karmas and alleviate-or even eliminate-the after-death consequences of their defiled thoughts and deeds. It is common to hear patently evil people excused on the grounds of "all the good" they do along with their evil actions. The truth is plain: evil minds can only produce evil actions that produce evil results.

How then can a negative person break the pattern of negativity and escape it? By thinking and acting with the intention to change from negative to positive. The admission of negativity and the resolution to turn from it can produce positive thoughts and deeds when the intention is to change the consciousness, not just the consequences. Without the desire for real change nothing worthwhile can take place in the life.

Unavoidable good

Buddha then repeats his statement about the nature of objects and then continues: "To speak or act with a pure mind, is to draw happiness after oneself, like an inseparable shadow." (Dhammapada 2)

What is defiled and what is pure? Buddha is speaking of something much more than good and bad thoughts and deeds in the ordinary sense. Instead, he is speaking of defiled and pure minds. What is a defiled mind? One that is smudged and clogged with egotism and its demon attendants: selfishness, greed, jealousy, spite, hatred, and materiality. A pure mind is free from all these things, including the root of egotism. Further, a defiled mind is outward-turned and a pure mind is inward- turned. One roves through the jungle of illusion and delusion that is the world of man's making, and the other rests in the truth and perfection of its immortal self. A person who is spirit-oriented cannot but produce peace and happiness for himself. It is as inevitable as the suffering of the matter-oriented person. It is a matter of polarity of consciousness.

Again we see that suffering and happiness are matters of the mind alone.

by Swami Nirmalananda
References and Bibliography

Swami Nirmalananda Giri is the abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram, a traditional Hindu monastery in the small desert town of Borrego Springs in southern California. He has written extensively on spiritual subjects, especially about meditation and about the inner, practical side of the world's religions. More of his writings may be found at the Ashram's website, http://www.atmajyoti.org

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