Coyle's Reviews > The Dhammapada

The Dhammapada by Gautama Buddha
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
433617
's review
Dec 11, 09


Interesting to read from a Christian/Western perspective. As an amateur reading his first Buddhist text, this is fairly interesting. I've heard it said that Eastern thought is basically asking the same questions that pre-Socratic Greek thinkers were asking, but is lacking a Plato or a Christ to give answers to those questions. I didn't see anything in this text that disproved that claim, but this is also pretty short and only representative of one Eastern tradition.

These seem to be some of the key points:
-aristocratic: Particularly offensive to a modern American, the Dhammapada is unashamedly aristocratic. Only the select "few" are raised above the mob. To be fair, the picture of the aristocrat (or "Brahman") is much more generous than we're used to when we think of something like the Hindu caste system- "Brahmanism" is achieved only by hard work and virtue, not simply by being born into the right family.

-pacifism: "A man is not one of the Noble (Ariya) because he injures living creatures; he is so called because he refrains from injuring all living creatures." (#270)

-achieving Nirvana: This is the goal of the ethical life as laid down in the Dhammapada. The way to achieve Nirvana (though I may not have gotten all of the steps down) are
1) study
2) discipline
3) the mortification of desires
This last one seems to be the most at odds with Christian and Western values. The Dhammapada teaches that desire leads to suffering, and that to avoid suffering desire must be eliminated. This includes all kinds of desires: love (including for family), hunger, thirst, guilt, etc.
So, #284 says "So long as the love, even the smallest, of man towards woman is not destroyed, so long is his mind in bondage..." And #294 "A (true) Brahman goes scatheless, is free from sorrow and remorse though he have killed father and mother, and two kings of the warrior caste, though he has destroyed a kingdom with all its subjects."
This elimination of desires leads to the true delight of Nirvana (though, presumably, one is not permitted to desire this delight).

To its credit, the Dhammapada recognizes the problem of evil and the desperate need for change in the individual, but the solution it offers does not actually solve the human dilemma, as it mistakes the symptom (wrongly-focused desires) for the disease (evil). Desires are not inherently bad, they merely reflect the evil within us. As evil beings, we either desire the wrong things, or the right things in the wrong way. The way to correct this is not to eliminate desire (which would do nothing to remove the evil), but to fix the broken person. What we need is not to not feel guilt over the terrible things we have done, but to be forgiven for them, to know that justice has been satisfied. What we need is not the elimination of desires, but the re-setting them upon Him for whom they were intended. What we need, in other words, is the redemptive work of Christ.
2 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Dhammapada.
sign in »

No comments have been added yet.