Avoid all evil

Posted by:

G Sakamoto

The Dhammapada is a collection of verses that most likely originated with the Buddha. The collection is made up of 423 verses in 26 books. There are several of these verses in our Dharma School service book. There are many translations of the Dhammapada both in print and online. In the Fourteenth Book, the fifth verse reads: “To avoid all evil, to cultivate good,
and to cleanse one’s mind —
this is the teaching of the Buddhas.” When Bai Juyi (772 – 846), an important poet from the middle of the Tang Dynasty, met the Bird’s Nest monk for the first time he asked for the essence of Buddhism. The monk replied, “Do no evil. Practice kindness”. Bai said, “Even a three year old child know this.” To which the monk said, “A three year old may know this but an eighty year old may not be able to practice this.” The monk’s response to Bai’s question expresses the same instructions of the Dhammapada: “To avoid all evil, to cultivate good and to cleanse one’s mind.” The Buddhadharma is not complex it is simply about addressing the difficulties we cause and experience. However, to begin to cultivate the mind that recognizes and resolves the conditions that give rise to difficulties may take a life time of diligent effort. Yuien, a student of Shinran, recalls in the Tannisho: “Among Master Shinran’s words were: I know nothing at all of good or evil. For if I could know thoroughly, as Amida Tathagata knows, that an act was good, then I would know good. If I could know thoroughly, as the Tathagata knows, that an act was evil, then I would know evil. But with a foolish being full of blind passions. In this fleeting world – this burning house – all matters without exception are empty and false, totally without truth and sincerity. The nembutsu alone is true and real.” CWS, p 679 From Buddhism’s earliest beginnings we have been encouraged to engage in activities that do not result in harm, that do not cause difficulties. The approach to this is recognizing that difficulties arise from how we see and engage the world. To recognize that we see the world through a narrow lens of our own expectations and prejudice. To begin to see the world, simply as it is, requires practice and discipline. In Jodo Shinshu we realize that the depth of our prejudices are tremendous. The more I try to address the narrowness of my views and concerns, the more prejudices are uncovered. It is in away preferable to simply ignore the consequences of my blindness and move through life caring about and doing things that interest me. But the Buddhadharma is about resolving the difficulties that result from my actions, thought and speech. To ignore is to not see, it is to be oblivious to the effects of my actions. To see clearly, without prejudice, without expectation or assumption is difficult. Amida assures us of the resolution of difficulties. Regardless of how we understand Amida, whether as abstract, historical or mythological, that assurance allows us to look at ourselves more openly. To see both good and bad as a matter of my prejudices. To begin to see the consequences of my prejudices is the beginning of awakening.