The Dhammapada: A Brief Overview
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The Dhammapada is a collection of rules and observations about how people should live. As such, the content of this work centers predominantly around matters of doctrinal and ethical matters.
“Those who thing the unreal is, and think the Real is not, they shall never reach the Truth, lost in the path of wrong thought.” (#11) Doctrinally, this encourages followers to understand the world on a metaphysical level. The unreal is this world of dukkha and samsara, that is, impermanence and rebirth. The Real is the unseen truth that comes with enlightenment. Ethically, it points out that those who do not seek the Real, those who believe the unreal exists, will never see the Truth. Hence, the purpose of trying to see the Real is to see the truth.
“If a man speaks many holy words but he speaks and does not, this thoughtless man cannot enjoy the life of holiness: he is like a cowherd who counts the cows of his master.” (#19) Doctrinally, this stresses the need for Buddhists to practice what is taught in the holy texts, rather than simply preaching the words found in them. If one preaches but does not practice the teachings, then one is not living properly. This life is compared to that of a cowherd who counts another mans cows. The cows represent virtue and the cowherd is the preacher who does not act. The cows do not belong to the cowherd in the same way the virtue of good deeds do not belong to the man who only talks about them.
“Watchfulness is the path of immortality: unwatchfulness is the path of death. Those who are watchful never die: those who do not watch are already as dead.” (#21) Doctrinally, this stresses the need for constant vigilance in the face of temptation and desire. If one is conscious of such things and always on the lookout for them, then one will never stray from the path and, in so doing, attain enlightenment, escaping the cycle of rebirth and never dying. However, if one fails to be wary, then one falls into desire and will not escape the cycle of rebirth. Therefore, one who is not vigilant is trapped in the cycle of rebirth and is as good as dead. Ethically, this demonstrates the need for watchfulness. Without this virtue, one cannot expect to attain enlightenment.