ascetic_sumedha_and_dipankara_buddha
Photo: Hintha/Wikimedia Commons
Preface

Moving on with my sharing and correlating of the truth and wisdom held within the Dhammapada to that of the Restored Gospel, I wish to continue my analysis of the text. Most likely this will continue in segmented posts unless otherwise decided. For anyone new to either my Brief Reflections Series or its sub-section A Mormon Reads the Dhammapada, feel free to get more acquainted with either by visiting the two links above. This post will be dedicated to examining several key verses in Chapters 2 and 3 of the Dhammapada, titled Vigilance and The Mind and then showing how both carry principles and messages common to the Gospel of Jesus Christ within the Latter-day Saint tradition. Of course, my thoughts and opinions are my own; my purpose being in demonstrating how members of the Church can benefit in their studies of the Gospel, by seeing these same truths being made evident in faiths outside their own. That to me serves as a powerful testimony of the Light of Christ inspiring all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples. Such was similarly attested by the early Apostles Orson F. Whitney,

God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of his great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous, for any one people.

-Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1928, 59

It is statements such as these which make me grateful to be a member of a faith that claims to have no monopoly on Truth. While neither exclusive nor pluralistic in nature, Mormonism instead takes a perspective of inclusivity in regards to other religions and worldviews. This mutual appreciation of other faiths, as well as heightening interfaith cooperation over the years, warrants not a compromise of doctrine, but rather an extension of goodwill and a recognition of shared values and beliefs across denominational or philosophical lines. “The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is,” declared the Prophet Joseph Smith, “that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth” [2] and such is what has brought me such a passion for the interfaith movement, and for religious studies in general. Truth is my highest ideal, and like dear Joseph, I say let it come from whence it may. So, let us continue in seeing what truths we can glean from the next two chapters of the Dhammapada.


Analysis

Vigilance, also translated as earnestness, is the title of the second chapter of the Dhammapada and speaks along the themes of being both watchful and mindful throughout one’s daily living. This is paired well with the title of the third chapter, The Mind, which speaks more specifically to the role and affect individual’s minds can have on their behavior, choices, and emotions. The theme and emphasis on mindfulness, or the active control and awareness of one’s thoughts, is very prevalent in Eastern sacred literature, and especially within the Buddhist tradition. Therefore, it follows naturally that the Dhammapada places the first battleground for the disciple of truth, within themselves.

The first verse of the chapter- verse 21 of the entire work- begins,

Vigilance is the path to freedom beyond life and death (Nirvâna);

thoughtlessness the path of death.

Those who are vigilant do not die.

Those who are thoughtless are as if dead already.

For clarification, Nirvana (also nibbana) literally translated as extinguished is taught within the phrase “freedom beyond life and death” -much like a candle flame that has been blown out. Within Buddhism, it signifies that state of endless peace that the enlightened individual aspires to. It is imagined as a state of emptiness, or otherwise without worldly things to which one can cling to. This is achieved when one breaks the cycle of Samsara (birth, death, and impermanence) by their individual enlightenment and transcendence above the world. While perhaps the explicit doctrine of reincarnation as believed by many Buddhists would be foreign and largely incompatible with LDS theology, the aspiration of separating oneself from the material world, from the carnal man, is all too common. Verse 22 continues by adding that “those who have progressed in vigilance are happy about it, rejoicing in the wisdom of the noblest ones.” I believe it to be fully correct for Latter-day Saints to also agree that those who progress in their putting off of the natural man and rising in vigilance, will increase in happiness and likewise rejoice in the wisdom taught by noble and great ones common to our own faith; prophets, apostles, and all the saints of God.

But let’s see specifically how the Dhammapada characterizes such an individual who has progressed in this state of vigilance, verses 23-25 follow:

“23 These wise people- meditative, perserverant, always exerting power-
attain freedom from life and death, Nirvana; the highest happiness

24 When people are vigilant and exert themselves, and remain ever mindful, and always do pure deeds, and act with consideration and restraint, and live according to the law, then their glory will increase.

25 By rousing themselves, by vigilance, by temperance and self-control,
wise people make for themselves an island which no flood can overwhelm.”

and compare this to Mosiah 4:30 in the Book of Mormon:

“But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.”

 

Those who are meditative or prayerful, those who are perserverant in enduring to the end, and those who exert the power of their faith constantly, will surely as the Dhammapada says “attain freedom from life and death” and thereby inherit “the highest happiness.” Verse 24 of Vigilance and 30 of Mosiah 4 speak almost entirely along the same lines, with the former containing a positive declaration and the latter, a negative forewarning to those who fail to be watchful over themselves. As the Dhammapada says, they are as if dead already.

After expounding on the qualities that abide in one who is vigilant, the Dhammapada then, as it often does, speaks to their opposite; those who it describes as foolish in following after the lusts of their own hearts. Verse 26 states that “Fools follow after vanity, men of evil wisdom. The wise man keeps earnestness as his best jewel.” which is not all to different than what is contained in Proverbs 14:24 “The crown of the wise is their riches: but the foolishness of fools is folly.” The Septuagint has rendered riches as denoting “wisdom” or “a clever man” rather than material affluence, which for our purposes we will also adopt.

The progression in wisdom and vigilance is illustrated in verse 28 by evoking imagery of the “terraced heights” which for thousands of years have been carved or erected into the hillsides of Asia for agricultural purposes. As an individual advances step by step in their personal development, they will increase in their enlightenment and vigilance. For a Latter-day Saint, this is highly reminiscent of the doctrine of ones Eternal Progression as they grow and develop to eventually become like their Heavenly Father, as we receive grace for grace in our discipleship if Christ. (D&C 93:20)

Moving on to cover some passages within The Mind, we will look at ways that we can specifically control our thoughts and emotions, and why such is necessary. This chapter employs multiple metaphors when speaking about the mind, including arrows, fish, fortresses, and an animal needing to be bridled. The latter stands as the most universal of the mix, spanning many cultures and faiths as a common metaphor.

The chapter begins with verses 33 and 34:

(33) As fletchers make straight their arrows, wise ones make straight their trembling, unsteady minds, which are difficult to guard, difficult to hold back.

(34) Like a fish taken from the water and thrown on the dry ground, our mind quivers all over in its effort to to escape the dominion of Mara. (the Tempter)

We are under constant subjection to the influence of Satan throughout our lives, but we can find relief and freedom in Christ. Often we may feel like a fish out of water when attempting to avoid sinful thoughts and behavior, but through the influence of the Spirit as a constant companion, we can exhibit control over our minds. A common metaphor in the Latter-day Saint tradition is for our minds to be compared to a stage, an ourselves, the stage manager. To this, the Prophet Ezra Taft Benson said,

“You are the stage manager—you are the one who decides which thought will occupy the stage. Remember, the Lord wants you to have a fulness of joy like His. The devil wants all men to be miserable like him. You are the one who must decide which thoughts you will accept. You are free to choose—but you are not free to alter the results of those choices. You will be what you think about—what you consistently allow to occupy the stage of your mind.” –March, 1989 Ensign “Think on Christ”

To this the Dhammapada includes that “a tamed mind brings happiness” (v.35) and to those who bridle their minds that they will be “free from the bonds of Mara.” (v. 37) The reason this stands to be important is seen in verses 38-40.

   38. If a man’s thoughts are unsteady, if he does not know the true law, if his peace of mind is troubled, his knowledge will never be perfect.

39. If a man’s thoughts are free from lust, if his mind is not perplexed, if he has ceased to think of good or evil, then there is no fear for him while he is watchful.

40. Knowing that this body is fragile like a clay jar, and making one’s mind firm like a fortress, one should attack Mâra (the tempter) with the weapon of knowledge/wisdom. One should never cease to be vigilant, even when the Tempter is conquered

This is very similar to the exhortation given by the Resurrected Savior in the New World, in 3rd Nephi 18:15, in which he says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him.” It is our thoughts which have a direct effect on our perceptions, emotions, and behavior. If we take the first step by recognizing toxic, negative, or sinful thoughts as they enter our mind, by inviting the Spirit and controlling just how long we allow them to remain on “stage,” we can reduce their harmful and potentially dangerous consequences.

I will close with sharing from Phillipians 4:8 which says,

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report;
if there be any virtue,
and if there be any praise,
think on these things.

Positive thinking is a universal principle that leads to greater happiness. Both the sacred texts of the Restored Gospel and Buddhism speak to this truth. By striving to police our thoughts, by keeping watch over our minds, and by bridling our passions and emotions, we can experience more stability and added control over one of the most difficult parts of life to discipline. As Latter-day Saints, we are exhorted to let “virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45) as it is our words, thoughts, and actions that will condemn us before God. (Alma 12:14) Mormons and Buddhist both then can benefit from these shared values of aspiring after controlled minds and thoughts, and I imagine both can readily agree with Jacob in the Book of Mormon when he says,

…Remember, to be carnally-minded is death,
and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal…
(2 Nephi 9:39)

It stands as my own experience in life that as we seek to purify our thoughts, words, and actions alike, we can experience greater freedom and joy. This is my testimony, and it is one benefited by studying the shared teachings of the Restored Gospel and the Dhammapada alike, and so I close these things in the name of Christ, amen.


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. Letter from Joseph Smith to Isaac Galland, Mar. 22, 1839, Liberty Jail, Liberty, Missouri, published in Times and Seasons, Feb. 1840, pp. 53–54; spelling and grammar modernized.
  3. Ezra Taft Benson, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1989/03/think-on-christ?lang=eng
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