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Scripture Circle Prompts: Dhammapada 1:1-12

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This post gives an example of potential prompting questions for a Scripture Circle conversation. For my first sacred text I have chosen not a biblical passage from my own Christian tradition, but rather a key Buddhist text: the Dhammapada. As part of the Sutta Pitaka, the Dhammapada is one of the oldest Buddhist scriptures. It is a collection of sayings that condenses the essentials of the Buddha’s teaching in easily digestible and memorable form. Not surprisingly, the Dhammapada is a widely-read classic. You can learn more about it at Access to Insight.

I have reproduced the text of Dhammapada 1:1-12 according to the translation of Max Mueller as revised by Jack Maguire for Dhammapada: Annotated & Explained (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2002). Following the categorization of Michael Novelli in Shaped by the Story (Fortress Press: 2013), I have listed the prompts as either Wondering, Interpreting, or Connecting questions. Wondering questions are queries of general imagination provoked by the text. Interpreting questions reflect directly on the meaning of the passage itself. Connecting questions invite participants to reflect on the shape of their lives through their encounter with the text.

 

The Dhammapada 1:1-12

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 one speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows one, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the wagon.
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 one speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows one, like a shadow that never leaves.
3 “She abused me, he beat me, she defeated me, he robbed me”: In those who harbor such thoughts, hatred will never cease.
4 “She abused me, he beat me, she defeated me, he robbed me”: In those who do not harbor such thoughts, hatred will cease.
5 For never does hatred cease by hatred at any time. Hatred ceases by love. This is an eternal law [dharma].
6 Everyone in the world does not know that we must all come to end here; but those who do know, their quarrels cease at once.
7 One who lives looking for pleasures only – uncontrolled sensually, immoderate in diet, idle, and weak – this one Mara* will surely overthrow, as the wind blows down a feeble tree.
8 One who does not live looking for pleasures only – well-controlled sensually, moderate in diet, diligent, and strong – this one Mara will surely not overthrow, any more than the wind blows down a mountain of stone.
9 One who wishes to don the saffron robe** while still impure, intemperate, and untruthful is unworthy to do so.
10 One who has cleansed the mind and is endowed with temperance and truthfulness is indeed worthy to wear the saffron robe.
11 One who imagines the real as false and sees falsehood as reality never arrives at truth but follows vain desires.
12 One who knows reality as real and falsehood as false arrives at truth and follows worthy aspirations.

 

*Mara is a supernatural being in traditional Hindu and Buddhist cosmology who serves as a tempter. Buddhists often interpret Mara as a personification representing bondage to craving and the world of change.

** The traditional uniform of a Buddhist monk.

 

Wondering

  • Do you think it’s true that pain or suffering inevitably follows harmful words and deeds? Or that happiness comes from doing the right thing? (vv. 1-2)
  • If hatred ceases by love, how do we become loving in the first place? (v. 5)
  • This passage says one must become worthy before taking vows as a monk. Can or should it be the other way around? Do we become worthy of a certain spiritual community or practice, or do these things make us “worthy”? (vv. 9-10)

Interpreting

  • What does it mean to say we are what we have thought? (vv. 1-2)
  • What is it like to have a “cleansed mind”? (v. 10)
  • What does this passage understand to be real and what does it understand to be false? (vv. 11-12)

Connecting

  • Have you adopted specific practices to focus your thoughts? How have they benefited your life? (vv. 1-2)
  • When you remember your mortality, how does that affect the way you live? (v. 6)
  • Have you experienced a time in your life that was dominated by the pursuit of pleasure? What was that experience like, and what have you learned from it? (v. 7)
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