Buddhist Proverbs

We find that the Buddhist tradition is expressed in very simple and memorable verses. Proverbs are one of the ways traditional teachings are conveyed, specially in an oral one like this. I’ll write a couple of them to give you a flavor of what these proverbs sound like. They come from the text called the Dhammapada, one of the very early collections of the Buddha’s spoken teaching.

“Not to do any evil, to cultivate good, and to purify one’s mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha.”

It seems extremely simple. I suppose if somebody told you: “Well, what’s my teaching?”. “Don’t do evil, do good”. It is hard to disagree with that. But note that little bit added at the end: “Purify your mind”. That’s Buddhist. That’s the Buddha speaking. You’ve got to find some way to purify the mind of ignorance and desire. Then you can really strike the root of the issues of evil and good.

In its simplicity it also conveys a distinctive message. Another proverb like this:

“You are your own protector. What other protector can there be? With your self fully controlled, you obtain a protection that is hard to obtain.”

We know that Buddhists are self-reliant. We know their concern about achieving Nirvana for themselves and not depending on others. This seems simply to be an affirmation of that. This word protector has a little hook in it. It is also a word you can use to refer to God. The Buddha is saying here: “You are your own god”. Strong teaching. It stands the Buddhist tradition in open opposition to what was happening in Hindu life at that time.

You get a flavor here of some of the distinctive aspects of the teaching of the Buddha.

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