Editor’s note: A few commentaries of the Mother on selected verses from the Dhammapada are presented here. She explains the true meaning of goodness, need to stay vigilant over one’s feelings and thoughts and how one may be happy by having no sense of possession. A few formatting revisions have been made for easier online reading, with no alteration in the text.
Do Not Treat Evil Lightly, Do Not Treat Good Lightly
- Hasten towards the good, leave behind all evil thoughts, for to do good without enthusiasm is to have a mind which delights in evil.
- If one does an evil action, he should not persist in it, he should not delight in it. For full of suffering is the accumulation of evil.
- If one does a good action, he should persist in it and take delight in it. Full of happiness is the accumulation of good.
- As long as his evil action has not yet ripened, an evildoer may experience contentment. But when it ripens, the wrong-doer knows unhappiness.
- As long as his good action has not yet ripened, one who does good may experience unhappiness. But when it ripens, the good man knows happiness.
- Do not treat evil lightly, saying, “That will not touch me.” A jar is filled drop by drop; even so the fool fills himself little by little with wickedness.
- Do not treat good lightly, saying, “That will not touch me.” A jar is filled drop by drop; even so the sage fills himself little by little with goodness.
- The merchant who is carrying many precious goods and who has but few companions, avoids dangerous roads; and a man who loves his life is wary of poison. Even so should one act regarding evil.
- A hand that has no wound can carry poison with impunity; act likewise, for evil cannot touch the righteous man.
- If you offend one who is pure, innocent and defenceless, the insult will fall back on you, as if you threw dust against the wind.
- [. . .]
Of God, Universe, Good and Evil
The Mother Explains
People have the habit of dealing lightly with thoughts that come. And the atmosphere is full of thoughts of all kinds which do not in fact belong to anybody in particular, which move perpetually from one person to another, very freely, much too freely, because there are very few people who can keep their thoughts under control.
When you take up the Buddhist discipline to learn how to control your thoughts, you make very interesting discoveries. You try to observe your thoughts. Instead of letting them pass freely, sometimes even letting them enter your head and establish themselves in a quite inopportune way, you look at them, observe them and you realise with stupefaction that in the space of a few seconds there passes through the head a series of absolutely improbable thoughts that are altogether harmful.
You believe you are so good, so kind, so well disposed and always full of good feelings. You wish no harm to anybody, you wish only good—all that you tell yourself complacently. But if you look at yourself sincerely as you are thinking, you notice that you have in your head a collection of thoughts which are sometimes frightful and of which you were not at all aware.
For example, your reactions when something has not pleased you: how eager you are to send your friends, relatives, acquaintances, everyone, to the devil! How you wish them all kinds of unpleasant things, without even being aware of it! And how you say, “Ah, that will teach him to be like that!” And when you criticise, you say, “He must be made aware of his faults.” And when someone has not acted according to your ideas, you say, “He will be punished for it!” and so on.
You do not know it because you do not look at yourself in the act of thinking.
Sometimes you know it, when it becomes a little too strong. But when the thing simply passes through, you hardly notice it—it comes, it enters, it leaves. Then you find out that if you truly want to be pure and wholly on the side of the Truth, then that requires a vigilance, a sincerity, a self observation, a self-control which are not common. You begin to realise that it is difficult to be truly sincere.
You flatter yourself that you have nothing but good feelings and good intentions and that whatever you do, you do for the sake of what is good—yes, so long as you are conscious and have control, but the moment you are not very attentive, all kinds of things happen within you of which you are not at all conscious and which are not very pretty.
If you want to clean your house thoroughly, you must be vigilant for a long time, for a very long time and especially not believe that you have reached the goal, like that, at one stroke, because one day you happened to decide that you would be on the right side. That is of course a very essential and important point, but it must be followed by a good many other days when you have to keep a strict guard on yourself so as not to belie your resolution.
Read a Story on Vigilance from Our Archives:
The Parable of the Snake and the Rat
- Among those who hate, happy are we to live without hatred. Among men who hate, let us live free from hatred.
- Among those who suffer, happy are we to live without suffering. Among men who suffer, let us live free from suffering.
- Among those who are full of greed, happy are we to live without greed. Among the greedy, let us live free from greed.
- Happy indeed are we who own nothing. We shall feed upon delight like the radiant gods. [. . .]
The Mother Explains
One of these verses is very beautiful. We could translate it like this: “Happy is he who possesses nothing, he will partake of the delight of the radiant gods.” To possess nothing does not at all mean not to make use of anything, not to have anything at one’s disposal.
“Happy is he who possesses nothing”: he is someone who has no sense of possession, who can make use of things when they come to him, knowing that they are not his, that they belong to the Supreme, and who, for the same reason, does not regret it when things leave him; he finds it quite natural that the Lord who gave him these things should take them away from him for others to enjoy.
Such a man finds equal joy in the use of things as in the absence of things.
When you have them at your disposal, you receive them as a gift of Grace and when they leave you, when they have been taken away from you, you live in the joy of destitution. For it is the sense of ownership that makes you cling to things, makes you their slave, otherwise one could live in constant joy and in the ceaseless movement of things that come and go and pass, that bring with them both the sense of fullness when they are there and, when they go, the delight of detachment.
Delight! Delight means to live in the Truth, to live in communion with Eternity, with the true Life, the Light that never fails. Delight means to be free, free with the true Freedom, the Freedom of the constant, invariable union with the Divine Will.
Gods are those that are immortal, who are not bound to the vicissitudes of material life in all its narrowness, pettiness, unreality and falsehood.
Gods are those who are turned to the Light, who live in the Power and the Knowledge; that is what the Buddha means, he does not mean the gods of religion. They are beings who have the divine nature, who may live in human bodies, but free from ignorance and falsehood.
When you no longer possess anything, you can become as vast as the universe.
On Bad Will and Impurity
Another point to remember from our reading concerns impurity and the Dhammapada gives the example of bad will and wrong action. Wrong action, says our text, is a taint in this world as well as in others.
In the next verse it is said that there is no greater impurity than ignorance, that is to say, ignorance is considered as the essential, the central fault, which urgently needs to be corrected, and what is called ignorance is not simply not knowing things, not having the superficial knowledge of things, it means forgetting the very reason of our existence, the truth that has to be discovered.
. . . you must not cherish the illusion that if you want to follow the straight path, if you are modest, if you seek purity, if you are disinterested, if you want to lead a solitary existence and have a clear judgment, things will become easy…. It is quite the contrary!
When you begin to advance towards inner and outer perfection, the difficulties start at the same time.
I have very often heard people saying, “Oh! now that I am trying to be good, everybody seems to be bad to me!” But this is precisely to teach you that one should not be good with an interested motive, one should not be good so that others will be good to you—one must be good for the sake of being good.
It is always the same lesson: one must do as well as one can, the best one can, but without expecting a result, without doing it with a view to the result. Just this attitude, to expect a reward for a good action—to become good because one thinks that this will make life easier—takes away all value from the good action.
You must be good for the love of goodness, you must be just for the love of justice, you must be pure for the love of purity and you must be disinterested for the love of disinterestedness; then you are sure to advance on the way.
~ Design: Beloo Mehra
~ Research volunteer: Shraddha Gour Mohanti