The Buddha's Way of Virtue, by W.D.C Wagiswara and K.J. Saunders, , at sacred-texts.com
1, 2. These stanzas contain two ideas which are of the very warp and woof of Buddhism:
The Chinese Commentary illustrates both these ideas: Two merchants listened to the Buddha's preaching; one was delighted, the other angry: men hear what they are prepared to hear. Soon after one was killed, the other became King: so potent is thought!
8. Cf. Luke vi, 48.
9, 10. The Buddha often used a play upon words to arrest men's attention and help their memory. The Pali of these stanzas contains a pun of this kind, which cannot be imitated in English: Kāsāvam means either the yellow robe of the mendicant, or impurity, stain, sin.
11, 12. The work of Gautama as a preacher lay largely in this directing of men's efforts: the great reality is character; this and this alone is man's business upon earth.
All else are "shadows" not worth pursuing. Cf. St. John's words: "Little children, flee idols" (i.e. "shadows"), 1 John v, 21. So St. Paul speaks of covetousness as "idolatry"—the pursuit of the great "shadow," Mammon (Col. iii, 5).
When the Buddhist puts on the yellow robe, he symbolises his belief that "virtue is the truest wealth": the gold of character is alone worth striving after. (Cf. Dhammapada, 75 and note.) On the day of his ordination (upasampadā) the candidate adorns himself with all the jewellery he can obtain, and doffs it only to don the yellow robe.
15-18. Here and Hereafter: i.e. in this birth and the next. Man may be reborn upon earth, or in one of the
hells or in one of the heavens. A demon who does well may become a man or a god: a god who lives unworthily may become a man or a demon.
Tormented when he goes to hell. The Buddhist Temples are full of frescoes of these torments: men who have killed animals are being slowly devoured by them; other sinners are being forced by demon torturers to climb spiky trees, or burnt in fires most realistically drawn, or made to swallow balls of red-hot iron; low-caste men who have offended the high castes are being crushed by great rocks!
The Buddha's own discourses contain minute detail of such torments. It is not clear whether he was using an argumentum ad hominem, or really believed in a hereafter of physical torment. In any case his moral code has been strangely perverted in modern Buddhism.
18. The reward for virtue is twofold—the approval of conscience and a good rebirth.
19. Cf. Matt. xxiii, 2; John x, 12.
20. The holy ones: Arahats, those who have attained. The sentence means: "he is on his way to Nirvāna."
21. Amatapadam: lit. "The endless or deathless state" (Fausböll). Nirvāna is defined by many such phrases in the Dhammapada—sometimes negative, as here; sometimes positive, as in 23—"highest freedom." Whatever the Supreme Bliss be, it is unlike all human experience save that of the Arahat.
Rhys Davids translates "ambrosia, or nectar."
As it were dead: i.e. spiritually or morally dead. Cf. "Let the dead bury their dead," Matt. viii, 22, and "The life of the fool is worse than death," Ecclus. xxii, 11.
22. The lot of the Noble. The word "Aryo" meant in Gautama's day Nobleman, or Aryan. He defined the nobleman anew, making nobility consist not in birth, but in conduct. Then he developed the meaning till it stood for Arahats—the experts in his system, those who have attained.
23. Meditation: jhānam—that ecstatic contemplation in which the mind, rapt from the sounds and sights of the
ordinary world, concentrates itself upon some single object or idea; this leads to serenity and a unique bliss, anticipation of Nirvāna.
Highest freedom. Nirvāna is complete freedom from: (1) The body and suffering; (2) Desire and other taints.
25. An island: i.e. Nirvāna.
Self-control, temperance. Buddhism makes much of the "cardinal virtues."
26. The Buddhist motto may be said to be "Strive without ceasing."
27. The joy which is born of meditation plays a great part in Buddhist psychology and ethics. (Cf. Rhys Davids' Early Buddhism, pp. 62-5.)
28. Contrast this somewhat Epicurean attitude with St. Paul's exhortation "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Rom. xii, 15).
The Buddhist position is in reality midway between the Epicurean and the Christian; it is stoical: the attitude to be assumed towards the "crowd" is either mettam, benevolence if (one's own salvation being certain) one can help them: or it is upekhā, detachment. "What can't be cured must be endured." Muditā, sympathy, and Karunā, pity, are also duties, but it is no use wasting those upon the blinded and foolish crowd. (Cf. 61, 64.)
30. Sakra: i.e. Indra, a high god of Hinduism whom Buddhism has relegated to the rank of an archangel, ruling the Tavatimsa heaven. He is said to have been a young Brahmin who for his zeal in doing good was reborn as Sakra. His human name was Magha. He is regarded by Buddhists as a kind of recording angel. (Childers.)
31. Bhikkhu. The "religious" of Buddhism is neither "priest" nor "monk" in the strict sense, for he offers no sacrifice, and he lives not alone, but either with one or two others, or with the "community." The word "bhikkhu" means "mendicant."
The greater and the lesser bonds: all those "trammels" which bind him to the phenomenal world; all that affects his senses.
33. In his doctrine of the mind, Gautama was no pessimist; it is by nature fickle and difficult to control: yet nurture can make it stable and obedient. (Cf. especially 40, where Gautama's optimistic attitude to the mind is thrown into strong relief by his pessimistic attitude to the body; if the body be brittle and of slight value, yet the mind may be made strong and precious.) His pessimistic attitude to the body is partly assumed with intent "to wean men from it," and this view is borne out by the genial attitude he takes towards asceticism: once a man has learnt to sit loose to the things of sense he is free to enjoy them. Gautama laid himself open to the name of worldling, and the immediate cause of his death was his courteous acceptance of the rich meal prepared for him by Cunda the smith.
34. The simile is obscure: it is apparently only intended to make one point clear—the palpitating effort needed to escape Mara.
39. Merit. The desire for merit is almost universal in Buddhist lands; yet Buddha teaches that man should act with his eye fixed not upon "merit," but upon Nirvāna. (But cf. 53.) By "merit" is meant the credit balance in the bank of character—procuring rebirth to a happy life on earth, or in a heaven.
46. The flowery shafts of Mara: the insidious advances of the King of Death. Cf. Ps. v, 9: "They flatter with their tongue."
49. The mendicant is to take what is given him by the faithful, doing them no harm, and taking nothing but what they freely give.
51. Cf. Matt. xxiii, 3: "They say and do not."
54. Natural law is not universally valid in the spiritual world!
56. Certain "rishis," having neglected cleanliness in their pursuit of holiness, were ashamed to come into the presence of the gods: "Never fear," said the gods, "our nostrils are filled with the fragrance of your good deeds"
[paragraph continues] Cf. our phrases "The odour of sanctity"; "The beauty of holiness."
61. According to Buddhism neither will profit by such companionship. (Cf. 64.)
64. Cf. Ecclus. xxii, 7: "He that teacheth a fool is as one that glueth a potsherd together."
70. i.e. extreme asceticism and religious observance are not worth a tithe of goodness.
73-4. Ambition and self-will are the besetting faults of the Brahmin.
75. Cf. "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."
76. The wise will value a candid friend.
79. A better draught than the soma juice, which led to ecstasy!
89. That leads to Arahatship. Sambōdhi (Arahatship) has seven component parts, which may be taken to represent the Buddhist ideal of character: mindfulness, wisdom, energy, joyousness, serenity, concentrated meditation, and equanimity.
Whose delight is in renunciation. Cf. Bhagavad-Gita xii:
92, 93. Whose goal is the freedom… A definition of Nirvāna. The Commentator explains the simile as expressing the mysterious freedom of Arahats in the spiritual sphere. (Cf. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound of it, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: So is every one that is born of the Spirit."—John iii, 8.)
94. Even the gods. The true Buddhist is above all gods!
Charioteer. Cf. Plato's famous simile of the Charioteer Reason and the two horses of Sensibility and Spirit: one rebellious, the other docile. Cf. also "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
95. Whose patience is as the earth's: the earth does not shrink or protest whatever is laid upon it.
97. This is one of those curious enigmas or puzzles which
occur in the Buddha's teaching. It can be translated in a sense opposed to that here given: viz. "Best of men is the faithless, the ungrateful, the rebel, who has lost his chance of salvation, who has given up all hope." It was spoken by Gautama to some thirty recluses who accused Sāriputto of these faults, because he told his master not to preach to him, but to them, "I already know the truth by experience; these others need it on authority: therefore preach to them." Buddha's words express with great skill the two ways in which he and the recluses looked upon his disciple's sturdy confidence. It is of course quite impossible in an analytic language like English to reproduce the puns.
100. Cf. St. Paul: "I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue." (1 Cor. xiv, 19.)
103-5. Cf. Prov. xvi, 32: " He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty: and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city."
104, 105. Buddhist ethics make much of the truth that external forces cannot harm the true man: man cannot be hurt except by himself. (Cf. 124.)
106. Cf. 1 Sam. xv, 22: "To obey is better than sacrifice."
109. Cf. Manu, II, 121: and Asoka's Rock Edict, II: "Father and mother must be hearkened to… this leads to length of days." Cf. also the fifth commandment of the Decalogue: "Honour thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long in the land."
110, 111. Cf. the Psalmist: "One day in Thy courts is better than a thousand."
125. Gautama again and again insists that natural law holds good in the spiritual world, though there are exceptions. (Cf. 54.)
126. Go to the womb: i.e. are born upon earth.
127-8. Cf. Introduction, p. 13.
129-32. Cf. Luke vi, 31: The Golden Rule.
141. Doubt: one of the deadly sins in Buddhism. The Buddha claimed omniscience, and though he did not discourage
investigation and inquiry, from the great mass of men, who are ignorant and foolish, he demanded the plunge of faith.
Matted hair, etc. The Sumāgadhā-avadāna relates that Sumāgadhā, seeing the naked and unkempt ascetics of Brahminism, exclaimed: "O Mother, if these are saints, what must sinners be like?" (Cf. Max Müller's Dhammapada, p. 38.)
142. Buddhism—so often labelled pessimistic—is striking in the genial attitude it takes towards asceticism. It encourages fasting only as a means to self-control and concentration of mind: for the rest the only kind of fasting it urges is "fasting from sin." Even the "man of the world" may be a true "Brahmin"—though it is very difficult. (Cf. Asoka's Minor Rock Edict, I: "Even by the small man, who chooses to exert himself, immense heavenly bliss may be won.")
The Samana: lit. "the calmed" (see note on 264).
144. By faith Buddhism means the calm acceptance of all Gautama taught: after his death it ceased to be an attitude to his person and became a conviction that his claims to omniscience were well founded, and that his system is the true interpretation of the world and of human life.
But Buddhism is nothing if not psychological, and faith (saddha) came to mean a subjective state of consciousness akin to serenity (passadhi), consequent upon acceptance of Buddha's teaching.
146. Fire is for the Buddhist the synonym of suffering: all is regarded as a flux—the world dissolving "with fervent heat." There is no meaning or permanence in this world: all the more need to seek salvation. In the burning heat of India the metaphor is a very vivid one for weariness and pain.
147-51. The Body too is a poor thing: in these ways Buddhism is distinctly pessimistic as compared with Christianity, which sees in the world a potential Kingdom of God, and in the human body a "temple of the Holy Spirit": yet, be it noted, Gautama painted this lurid picture
with intent to awaken men to the powers of their mind and character.
150. A citadel of bones. There are occasional gleams of grim humour in the Buddhist books: the following story illustrates both the "law of apperception" and the Buddhist attitude to the body. The hermit Mahā-Tissa was walking near Anuradhapura meditating upon the transiency of life. A woman who had quarrelled with her husband passed him, gaily dressed and bejewelled, and smiled at him, showing her pearly teeth. When the husband, who was in pursuit, came up with him he called to him: "Reverend Sir, did you see a woman pass this way?" "I saw only a skeleton," replied the sage; "whether it was man or woman I know not" (Visuddhi-Maggai).
151. Cf. "My words shall never pass away."
152. Like the ox. So the prophet Amos addresses the fat and sensual women of his day: "Ye kine of Bashan" (Amos iv, 1): "massive in body but small in mind " (c f. Deut. xxxii, 15).
153, 154. These famous words are held by Buddhists to have been those uttered by Gautama at the moment of enlightenment.
The allegory that underlies them is this: The Builder is Desire (Tanhā) the cause of rebirth: the seeker tried long to find this cause; at the moment of his enlightenment it flashed into his mind, "If desire be dead, then there is nothing to bind man to the wheel of existence." The Builder causes the body to be built: its "corner-stone" (or ridgepole) is ignorance (avijjā), and its "beams" are bad states of consciousness.
Admirably rendered by Sir Edwin Arnold:
155. Cf. "Like a pelican of the wilderness" (Ps. cii, 6).
157. This is a practice enjoined in the Books: the passage may mean also "for one of the three periods of life."
158. Cf. Matt. vii, 1-5: "Judge not, that ye be not judged," etc.
164. Bears fruit …It dies down after flowering.
166. The hedonistic note in Buddhism cannot be denied: "Ethics," says Dr. Martineau, "must either perfect themselves in religion, or disintegrate themselves in hedonism." Buddhist ethics, seeing no great social purpose being worked out in the world, fails to reconcile the claims of self-culture and benevolence, falling back upon the monastic compromise that in the long run self-culture is the highest benevolence. (Cf. Introduction, p. 14)
171. It looks gay and splendid: it is an engine of destruction; it is treacherous as a morass.
174. Cf. Matt. vii, 14: "Narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
Ps. cxxiv, 7: "Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler."
175. The East has always held that holy living gives miraculous power. Arahats were said to possess this power (jddhi) of flying through the air, or "levitation." There are still Hindus who claim these powers: but southern Buddhism does not take them seriously. I asked several Buddhists if this power were now attainable. "Possibly in Thibet," they answered. *
176. Cf. Jas. ii, 10: "Whosoever shall keep the whole
law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all." But the underlying idea in St. James, of loyalty to the King, is of course not present to the Buddhist mind.
178. Universal empire: the height of worldly ambition. Conversion: i.e. the first step towards Nirvāna, when the attention is fixed upon the Supreme Bliss. "Sotāpattti" means "entering the stream," up which the convert has to forge his way. After this ethical change he may have to undergo seven more births before he attains the goal.
182. The Buddha, being free of all taints or germs of rebirth, has no crack in his armour through which he may be wounded: i.e. he has no cause of rebirth.
183. The ideal is not, as is often said, merely negative: it is also positive and inward. Cf. St. Paul's more emphatic words: "Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good" (Rom. xii, 9).
The Buddhas. According to the Books there are many Buddhas: some in the dim past, others in the distant future. In Ceylon, Buddhists look wistfully for the coming Buddha—Metteyya or Maitri—the Loving One. In Japan they worship Amida Buddha—an ideal.
184. The word translated "fortitude" is "kantibalam," patience-strength, that blending of great qualities, passive and active, Eastern and Western, which is as rare as it is beautiful.
194. Cf. Ps. cxxiii, 1: "Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."
197-200. This section may be regarded as the Buddhist, analogue of the Beatitudes of Christ: it depicts the blessed life as a life of calm and peace; either solitary or in the company of Buddha's true followers, a man may enjoy that bliss which is the bloom upon virtue in this life: and hereafter the Rest of the Ineffable.
207. Like Jesus, Gautama offers his followers a family life whose ties are more intimate and tender than those of blood. In the Sangha they are to find their kinsfolk and a better family life than they have left. (Cf. "Who is My mother
or My brethren?… Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother and My sister and mother."—Mark iii, 35.) Yet it must be borne in mind that to enter this company a man must be a celibate: and that perfect solitude is held up as the safer ideal.
208. The cold clear moonlight of this simile is symbolic of the Buddhist ideal.
212, 213. Buddhism teaches benevolence to all, attachment to none. It is a monastic ideal, and may be paralleled from such books as the Imitatio Christi. Cf. Bk. I, chap. viii: "We must have charity towards all, but familiarity is not expedient."
There is, however, a vital difference: the Buddhist Bhikkhu is to shun society that nothing may mar his self-culture: the Christian monk that he may be "familiar with God alone, and with His Angels." When Prince Siddhartha (afterwards the Buddha) heard of the birth of his son Rahula, and they tried to bring him back, he is said to have remarked: "That is one more bond to be cut." The "Great Renunciation" involved no less than this.
218. The Ineffable. The Buddha describes Nirvāna probably from his own experience of that ecstatic joy which is said to be the reward of deep meditation.
This word "ineffable" is one used all by who have known this experience. Cf. Myers' St. Paul:
and St. Paul's words of his own experience in 2 Cor. xii, 2-4.
Against the stream. The fight for character is one against long odds. Nature has at times to be "pitchforked." (Cf. Mrs. Rhys Davids' Buddhist Psychology, p. lxvii.) Man is not at the mercy of the "stream" of natural impulse; but swimming against it is hard work. (Cf. 244, 245.)
221. Phenomenal existence: Pali namā rupa, " name and form," i.e. things mental and material.
227. Atula: according to the Commentator, one of Gautama's disciples: he is not mentioned elsewhere. If we read "atulam" the meaning is "an incomparable saying."
241. Disuse…mantras: i.e. if the words are not used they are forgotten.
251. Lust… hatred… folly. The three inveterate foes of the good life. Buddhism sees that man has in him ape, tiger, and ass. (Cf. Introduction, p. 15.)
252. Or "as the fowler hides his snare."
254, 255. We have followed the Sinhalese scholar, Mr. James D’Alwis, in this translation: he is supported by the Commentary. Another possible rendering is: "No one outside the Buddhist community can walk through the air, but only a samana" (Fausböll). But this taxes the construction too severely, and as Professor Max Müller says, Buddha did not encourage the display of miraculous power.
264. Cf. Imitatio Christi, bk. I, chap. xvii: "The habit and the shaven crown do little profit: but change of manners, and perfect mortification of passions make a true religious man."
Samano, before Gautama's day, meant "ascetic," being derived from the root "sram"—to work hard, to do penance. He gave a new derivation and a new significance to the word—sam, meaning "calm."
264-9. These stanzas contain a play on the words: Gautama is giving new definitions of current terms. It is hardly possible to render these in English: perhaps in 264-5 the use of the word "religious" as both noun and adjective is a fair analogy from Christian monasticism. The pun in 270 is only to be permitted as illustrating the spirit of the section.
268-9. So Asoka says of impiety and piety: "The one course avails me for the present life, the other avails me also for the life to come." (Pillar Edict, III); and Thomas
á Kempis, quoting Phil. iii, 8: "He is truly prudent, that regards all earthly things as dung, that he may gain Christ."
270. Meekness is the true heroism: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth"; "Fight the good fight." As in mediaeval Europe, so in ancient India, all "nobles" (Aryans) were, warriors. Gautama gives a new definition of the true knight. (Cf. the history of the words "chivalry," "gentle," and "generous," under Christian influences.)
273. The four truths: suffering: its cause: its cure: the eightfold path of escape.
The seer: cakkhumā, the man who has the eye for truth: the man of insight.
274. The "seeing of Purity." The phrase may mean equally well the "purification of vision." The man of insight is the pure man; to one who ventured to dispute Gautama's judgment he exclaimed: "Shall he whose mind is dominated by passion surpass the Blessed One in wisdom?" (Cf. Christ's words: "My judgment is just, because I seek not Mine own will.")
276. Blessed Ones: Tathāgatā, "those who have arrived," or reached Nirvāna.
277-9. "All is passing": one of the leading tenets of Heraclitus and the Orphists, who belong to the same century as the Buddha (sixth century B.C). Their teaching, so far as it has survived, has many points of similarity with his.
"All is passing… all is sorrow… all is unreal." The words ring out again and again like the solemn tolling of some cloister bell, summoning men away from the pursuit of shadows, to that only worthy object "the path of Purity"—Nirvāna.
283. Vanam means either "lust" or a "forest": English cannot reproduce the play upon words.
284. Even married love is regarded by Buddhism as an "entanglement" of this kind.
286. Cf. the parable of the Rich Fool, and St. James: "Go to now, ye that say to-day or to-morrow we will go into the city, and spend a year there… whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow " (iv, 13, 14).
294. The Commentator explains this curious verse as follows: The Mother is lust: the Father self-will: the Kings are heresies—two extremes on either side of the middle path (cf. Introductory Note, § xx); the Kingdom is sensuality (cf. 97).
295. The five roads are lust, hatred, disturbance of mind, sloth, and doubt.
301. The principal objects of meditation.
302. Hard is the community life: reading samānasamvāso with Max Müller and the Chinese version, instead of ’samānasamvāso (= asamānasamvāso) with Fausböll and the Sinhalese.
The wanderer in the world: i.e. the layman.
307. Suffering is the blight upon sin.
310. Therefore… Cf. the simple authority of the seventh commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," and of Christ's words to the woman taken in adultery, "Go and sin no more."
311. "Corruptio optimi pessima."
324. Dhānapālako: i.e. guardian of wealth.
340. The streams: sensations.
The creeper: passion.
344. The pun on the word vanam (forest and lust) is repeated here: "tangle" perhaps expresses both meanings.
353. Spoken, according to the Commentary, when the Buddha was on the way to Benares, and the Brahmin Upaka sceptically asked him who was his Teacher, and what the cause of his serenity and joy. Here Gautama claims omniscience: elsewhere he claims to be the only Teacher: " Non seulement Çākyamuni est source de verité, mais il est la source unique" (De la Vallée Poussin, Bouddhisme, p. 138). (Cf. Mahāvagga i, 6, 8.)
356-9. As weeds spoil a good harvest, so these passions
spoil the good harvest of character. Seed sown in clean soil is fruitful: so are gifts to the Noble.
370. The five bonds to be cut are egoism, doubt, false asceticism, lust, and hatred. The five to be left off are longing for higher states of birth, for still higher ones, self-will, want of purpose, and ignorance. The five to be taken are faith, manliness, mindfulness, deep meditation, and wisdom. (Commentary.)
"He who has crossed the flood" = Oghatinna.
Take five more. Man is destined to be yoked, if not by sin, then by duty. (Cf. "Whose service is perfect freedom.")
373. Divine pleasure: the joy of the unified will.
384. Meditation may be either special or general: i.e. upon any of the forty objects which lead to Samādhi, or upon the transiency, sorrow, and unreality of things.
For he knows… Cf. " Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free" (John viii, 32).
385. Lit. "In whom is found neither near bank nor far": i.e. neither noticing external objects by attending to them, nor letting his desires go out to seek them. (Commentary.)
387. The face of the seer is said to shine.
388. Deriving Brāhmano from the root vah—or bah—to put away.
394. Cf. Luke xi, 39; Matt. xxiii, 27.
398. The cable is Dōsa, hatred; the chain with its links is Tanhā, desire in all its forms; the bolt is Mōha, infatuation, or folly.
395. This stanza seems to have a Brahminical origin: unless we lay all the stress on meditating.
405. Fixed or moving creatures, according to the Sinhalese Commentary, refers either to men or to animals. In a metaphorical sense, fixed creatures are Arahats, moving ones are common men. In a literal sense fixed creatures may be such things as molluscs.
93:* "The Buddhist," vol. i, No. 9, contains an account by an eye-witness of a self-levitated lāma.