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Selections from The Dhammapada by Eknath Easwaran, founder and director of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, copyright 1985. Reprinted by permission of Nilgiri Press, Tomales, California. All rights reserved.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.
 


"Why did the Buddha take such pains to communi- cate his lofty meaning to masses of people who would probably never have time or means to practice meditation?"

Eknath Easwaran, The Dhammapada, Part Two

Why can't a person just pass by the easy road and take "the one less traveled by" if it leads to permanent happiness? The obstacle is the mind. It is one's mental state that determines which of these possibilities a person will act on. The mind can be said to be a product of the human being's evolutionary drive to look out for himself first. Its natural response to any situation is to take the easiest, least unpleasant course to personal fulfillment. The Buddha calls this swimming with the current, taking the easy path traveled by the many. To find happiness, one has to go against the current, against every selfish impulse.

Here one can see the dilemma the Buddha faced as a teacher: how will anyone believe that the hard way really leads to the happiness that all seek? In his experience of enlightenment, he had seen for himself that eternal principles operate in human affairs; hatred, for example, cannot put an end to hatred no matter what the circumstances or pretext (5). But how could he motivate others to act on these principles unless they experienced the truth for themselves? Like Jesus, the Buddha had to find ways to make things and events that everyone was familiar with reverberate with the power of what he had understood in the depths of meditation.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the Dhammapada, where deep, subtle truths take on the garb of common village scenes familiar to the audiences the Buddha addressed. One can imagine his using verses like 13-14 to explain the real causes of a village quarrel, or even of a war. Everyone would have known that a poorly thatched roof will leak during the monsoon rains. Now they could understand how conflicts arise when hostile thoughts leak into an untrained mind.

To the Buddha, of course, training the mind meant meditation: the regular discipline of concentrating the mind and making it one-pointed at will. Even in the Dhammapada that is, even for his lay followers the Buddha emphasizes the practice of meditation above all else. But meditation is a terribly difficult discipline. Why did the Buddha take such pains to communicate his lofty meaning to masses of people who would probably never have time or means to practice meditation? The answer is that the Buddha was an incorrigible optimist. "I am confident," he once said, "confident with the highest of confidence." When writers call him a "spiritual democrat," they mean he felt sure he could go anywhere in India and find that needle in the haystack, the person who would come up after the sermon and say, "I want to know more about how to prevent hostile thoughts from arising. Please teach me." The serious student is what every teacher seeks, and the Buddha found enough of them in these crowds to build a movement that has had a powerful and enduring effect on people's hearts and lives for centuries.

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