Posted by: Michael Rickicki | 03/30/2021

Dhammapada Memorization: Verse 38

38. Wisdom never becomes perfect in one whose mind is not steadfast, who knows not the Good Teaching and whose faith wavers.

For those who are of unsteady mind,
Who do not know true Dharma,
And whose serenity wavers,
Wisdom does not mature. (translated by Gil Frondsal)

Let’s acknowledge that this verse describes most of us, at least some of the time. Our minds are unsteady and our serenity wavers. The Buddha is describing the goal here, not something that is easily attainable by those of us engrossed in lay life. And yet, there are things we can do to steady our minds and establish more serenity, enabling our wisdom to flourish.

One of the first handicaps we encounter is that we don’t often notice when we’re craving. If our normal state is to be trying to get something or get rid of something, then we’re unlikely to recognize the impermanent nature of our desires, whether they are being fulfilled or frustrated.

Being contacted by painful feeling, [the uninstructed worldling] seeks delight in sensual pleasure. For what reason? Because the uninstructed worldling does not know of any escape from painful feeling other than sensual pleasure. (from SN 4.36, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

This short section from the Saṃyutta Nikāya (Connected Discourses of the Buddha) suggests that there is another escape from painful feeling that is not simply seeking out pleasurable feelings. What could that be? We could start finding out by sincerely attempting to become an “instructed” worldling, that is, to learn more about the nature of human experience, at the ground level. We do that through observing the behavior of ourselves and others with an attitude of investigation (what are the causal relationships?), and through the discipline of daily meditation.

Our wisdom is also supported if we familiarize ourselves with some of the Buddha’s teachings. We might find that our attitude towards experience shifts from the me-centered world of getting and rejecting to a wider, more generous perspective. The true Dharma is the way it is, at every level, for all of us, for you, for me, for everyone. It’s not personal; it’s not about “me”; it is unfolding due to causes and conditions interacting in (sometimes) unfathomable ways.

If we want to find our way out of dukkha into wisdom, the only thing to do is to start and then continue.

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