Photo: Khunkay/Wikimedia Commons

This will be the first in my attempt to provide some brief reflections on multiple sacred texts from various religious traditions from around the world. I should offer warning beforehand that the lens in which I will be surveying and offering commentary on said texts will be of that coming from the perspective of the Latter-day Saint tradition; hence the name. These reflections will be appreciative rather than critical in nature. My purpose is not to make judgement on the various truth-claims held therein but rather to share with the members of my own faith community the benefits that can come by supplementing their own Gospel studies with an active investigation into other beliefs and worldviews. In this, I aim in equipping them with several practical tools and perspectives that can augment their spiritual experiences and insights as they do so. An oft-quoted verse from within the Latter-day Saint canon exhorts members to

…seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:118

and a manner in which I interpret this goes to including both secular and religious studies as part of my personal endeavor in seeking learning and wisdom. By doing so, I can wholly attest to the advancement and merits it has brought upon my own testimony, and not through the arrogant afterthought of “Aagh! Look just how lost and deceived these –insert faith tradition of your choosing here- are! I am so glad and blessed for the light of the Restored Gospel in my life!” much like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. Rather, my study of other faiths and worldviews has attested to me the validity of the universal truths taught both within my faith and in the faiths of others; that God surely does inspire, enlighten, and guide all those who seek after Him and His Truth, regardless of the lot that has befallen them in mortality; that he truly is no respecter of persons. 

As promised, my remarks and analysis will be kept briefer than I probably would like. I am aspiring to take on a more serious undertaking of such a cause when I become, hopefully, more capable in doing such, later in life. The majority of my commentary will consist in providing a quick summary on the sacred text in question, followed by the analysis of multiple verses and passages therein. Despite my commentary being more geared towards my fellow members of the LDS faith, I nonetheless invite members of other worldviews to follow and offer their own comments as they so choose. Most will find the principles I discuss relevant across many traditions and not necessarily found in Mormonism alone. I appreciate any and all feedback, and hope that this may offer a positive example of what positive interreligious study may look like.

Note: The translation of the Dhammapada I will be drawing from stems from Max Müller’s 1870 text, republished now through a variety of sources, though for my purposes I will be utilizing my own SkyLight Illuminations version which provides added commentary by Jack Maguire. Hence any reference to that small volume will contained in brackets. [1] When drawing from the text of the Dhammapada itself, direct chapter and verses will be given.


An Introduction to the Dhammapada

The Dhammapada is best described in the analysis of its etymology through the compounding of the two words Dhamma -meaning the law, doctrine, or Eternal Truth of the Buddha-  and pada -meaning literally foot or in this context path or way. Thus the translated name of the text provides the reader with the essential, and traditionally held as original, teachings of the Buddha. (Ibid. xix-xx)

Originally stemming from early Indian Buddhist communities just after the time of the Buddha himself, the Dhammapada was first adapted into written form around the transition into the Common Era. (Ibid. xix) Indeed, says Wallis, a contemporary Buddhist scholar, that “by distilling the complex models, theories, rhetorical style and sheer volume of the Buddha’s teachings into concise, crystalline verses, the Dhammapada makes the Buddhist way of life available to anyone…In fact, it is possible that the very source of the Dhammapada in the third century B.C.E. is traceable to the need of the early Buddhist communities in India to laicize the ascetic impetus of the Buddha’s original words.” [2] It is for this reason among others that the Dhammapada remains one of the most popular and widely renowned Buddhist texts today.

In light of my own experience in reading the collection of verses that make up the body of the Dhammapada, the most direct comparison and designation I can give them to scriptural styles found within the Latter-day Saint and wider Judeo-Christian traditions are that of the Wisdom Literature found in the Bible such as in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and many of the Psalms. These contain many proverbial sayings and practical maxims in assisting one in their daily life, the Dhammapada of course reflecting on such through Buddhist ideals and sentiments. The Dhammapada is composed of 26 chapters with self-descriptive titles such as The Wise One, Happiness, The Way, and The Elephant; in total containing 422 verses, making it roughly comparable to the size of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. With such in mind, let us embark on seeing how such correlates with similar teachings contained in the Standard Works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Analysis

We will begin in the first chapter of the Dhammapada, The Twin Verses, designated as such due to pairing of statements, done first in the negative and followed after by its reciprocal in the positive. It begins by expounding in verses 1-2 that,

1 All that we are is the result of what we have thought:

it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.

If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him,

as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage

2 All that we are is the result of what we have thought:

it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.

If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him,

like a shadow that never leaves him.

This twin-style perfectly illustrates what is termed as “The Law of the Harvest” within the LDS tradition, expressly that “whatsoever a man soweth, the same shall he reap.” (Galatians 6:7) This universal law of cause and effect, especially in lieu of one’s actions and their subsequent consequences, is common to many faiths and is often ( although somewhat incorrectly) known by Westerners as the Law of Karma (which conveys essentially the same concept though varying in doctrinal interpretation depending on the religion in question.) Found also in the Doctrine and Covenants, many Latter-day Saints remember that, There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:20-21) Other similar instances include:

  • “…For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” – Luke 6:38
  • “…He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” -2nd Corinthians 9:6
  • “The wicked worketh a deceitful work: but to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward… He that diligently seeketh good procureth favour: but he that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him.” –Proverbs 11:18, 27
  • “And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.” -Alma 32:40-41

Indeed the Gospel principle all of these idealize is simply that eventually all good is exchanged for good, and all bad exchanged for bad. The Dhammapada then goes to continue on to covering the notion of extinguishing hatred. Let’s compare the text of Matthew 5:43-48 with that of Chapter 1, verses 3-6 of the Dhammapada:

43 ¶Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust

 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

 47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

and

 3. ‘He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,’–in those who harbour such thoughts hatred will never cease.

 4. ‘He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,’–in those who do not harbour such thoughts hatred will cease.

 5. For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an eternal law.

6. The world does not know that we must all come to an end here;–but those who know it, their quarrels cease at once.

This equally expressed concept that hatred should not be returned with hatred is an example of the Higher Law that both Christ and the Buddha called their disciples to observe. Indeed, it is the same law as it is a Gospel Law, an eternal law as the Dhammapada puts it, that all members of humanity are called to live in order to work towards global peace, understanding, and goodwill; what would be characterized within Christianity as the establishment Kingdom of God on earth, or as Mormons often know it, the City of Zion. Both the Sermon on the Mount and the Twin Verses speak to this effect.

Next as we read, we can be often reminded of the concept of a sure foundation held within Mormonism. The Dhammapada next, in verses 7 and 8 of the first Chapter, instructs the reader as to the importance of rightly living and the protection and stability it can afford one in life. It says,

7 He who lives looking for pleasures only, his senses uncontrolled, immoderate in his food, idle, and weak, Mâra (the tempter) will certainly overthrow him, as the wind throws down a weak tree.

   8 He who lives without looking for pleasures, his senses well controlled, moderate in his food, faithful and strong, him Mâra will certainly not overthrow, any more than the wind throws down a rocky mountain.

To myself, this reminds me of the similar concept found in the powerful message of Helaman 5:12 in the Book of Mormon:

12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. 

If there is any individual in my life, that perfectly represents and signifies the values of living without looking for pleasure, of self-discipline and obedience, of moderation, faith, and strength, it is in Christ Jesus. It is my belief and testimony that the more we stand upon the foundation He represents, the better our lives will be, and the less effect that the Adversary/Tempter’s winds will have on us.

Finally, as I do wish to keep this brief enough, a section within the Twin Verses that spoke to me while reading was the following on the concept of outward religiosity vs. inward conversion and change. The Dhammapada, in closing the chapter of the Twin Verses, says in verses 19 and 20:

19. Thoughtless ones, even if they can recite many sacred verses but do not follow them, have no claim to a religious life, but are like cowherders counting the cows of others.

20. Thoughtful ones, even if they can recite only a few verses but do follow the law and, forsaking lust, hatred, and delusion, possess true knowledge and peace of mind- they, clinging to nothing in this world or the next, have indeed a claim to a religious life. 

How similar is this to Jesus’ frequent condemnation of the blatant religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, powerfully expressed in Matthew chapter 23, verses 1-33?

 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He says in the 23rd verse, “for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

Likewise the Doctrine and Covenants directs, in Section 41:5 “He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you”

Finally, this is clearly illustrated in the first chapter of the Epistle of James, verses 22-27.

 22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

 26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Religion doesn’t make you a good person. Being religious has no meaning if it hasn’t changed the way you live for the better. This is a principle that Christ and the Buddha both teach. The Gospel isn’t supposed to make your life filled with meaningless practices, it is supposed to fill and change the individual’s heart, and by direct consequence, their lives. Religion in this way, can be a highly efficient vessel in the teaching of said truths to its adherents, with the final goal of transforming their lives, the lives of those around them, and finally the world. It can be a powerful tool when rightly used, and a divisive poison when wrongly abused. In my life, it is the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ that I have found best instructs and radically changes me for the better, and I will leave each individual to determine the same for themselves.

This is my testimony, reaffirmed and strengthened by both the teachings of my faith, and that of the Buddha. I believe in these truths, I follow these truths, and I know them to be True. May we all strive to live and be changed by the Light and Truth afforded to followers of both faiths. These things I say, in the name of Christ, Amen.


Stay Tuned for Part Two in the coming weeks! As you see, the Dhammapada will afford me much to talk about and as always, I would love any feedback, questions, or constructive criticism on what I discussed.

Works Cited

  1. Muller, F. Max. Dhammapada: Annotated & Explained: Annotation by Jack Maguire Translation by Max Muller. Woodstock Vt.: SkyLight Paths Pub., 2002. Print.
  2. Tr Glenn Wallis. Modern Library, New York, 2004 pg. xi
Advertisements

One thought on “Brief Reflections: A Mormon Reads the Dhammapada Pt. 1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s