On happiness

The following chapter is from the Dhammapada (literally, The Way of Truth) which is a collection of aphorisms attributed to the Buddha.

The Dhammapada is a fascinating text. It’s in very archaic Pali, and yet seems to have been one of the later Buddhist texts to have been written down after the period when all Buddhist teachings were passed on as an oral tradition. So there’s a bit of a paradox here, with a late text being in an ancient form of the language.

This paradox might relate to a split in the monastic community, where some monks lived austere lives in the forest, concentrating mainly on meditation, and not being concerned much with scholastic learning. These monks probably just recited a few verses as inspiration. The other monks lived in organized monasteries, and were concerned with the preservation of the “texts” (which would initially have been oral).

Possibly what happened was that after the settled monastics had committed their oral texts to writing, they discovered that the forest-dwelling monks had small snippets of teachings of their own, that they attributed to the Buddha. So these too were collected and became the Dhammapada.

But why would the Dhammapada be in an older form of Pali? The Dhammapada is written in verse, and one of the peculiarities of verse is that you can’t easily change the vocabulary without destroying the meter. So these verses were stuck in a kind of time warp. Most of the longer teachings — passed on by the settled monastics — were in prose, and as the language evolved, so the suttas were updated into the contemporary tongue.

This particular chapter is about happiness. Both the worldly happiness of family and wealth, and the spiritual happiness of renunciation and simplicity are valued and praised — although obviously spiritual happiness is seen as preferable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.