Whoever is defiled
And devoid of self-control and truth,
Yet wears the saffron robe,
Is unworthy of the saffron robe.
Whoever has purged the defilements,
Is self-controlled, truthful,
And well established in virtue,
Is worth of the saffron robe.
– Dhammapada 9-10, translated by Gil Fronsdal
The saffron robe is what monks and nuns in the Buddha’s monastic community wear if they’ve renounced worldly life to pursue awakening. A general understanding of these two verses might be: “Whether you are wearing some outward sign of being a holy person or not, it’s your behavior and intention that matter.”
The word defilements has a whole raft of meanings in the Buddha’s teaching, but every defilement can be classified as greed, hatred, or delusion. Greed (lobha) is all of our grasping, wanting behaviors, subtle or gross; hatred (dosa) is aversion or pushing away energy; delusion (moha, aka ignorance) is thinking we know the truth of how things are when we don’t. Sayadaw U Tejaniya says that unless wisdom is present, delusion is there as a default, so simply not knowing what is going on in our own minds is a form of delusion. The forms of delusion are pretty much infinite, so don’t try to fix it directly, please. Just try to cultivate wisdom.
I hasten to add that only fully awakened beings have eliminated the defilements completely, so for the rest of us, these verses can be taken to mean “NOW, if the defilements are quiescent and we are truthful and virtuous (not breaking any of the five precepts), then we are worthy of respect.”
So a practice question we could use is: “Is my current mind state free of defilements? Or is it dominated by wanting or not-wanting or muddle-headedness?” Just asking yourself the question might bring clarity and could even re-direct any defiled intentions or actions. The tricky bit is remembering to ask and re-ask yourself again and again, since every “mind moment” is a new one. There are no short-cuts as far as I know, but the “asking practice” can gain momentum if used often enough.
The translator (Gil) points out that there is a word play in Pali (same sounding-word) with “defilement” and “yellow robe”.
Lastly (for today), I want to invite you to visit the web page of a Dhamma friend, Bhikkhu Khemaratana:
The monk, Ven. Khemaratana, suggests using the Dhammapada as a daily practice. A sample of his advice: “Put the weight of your attention on those verses that you can see right away how you can relate to your own life and put into practice.” He includes links to other translations of the Dhammapada which are available on the web. You may find other parts of his site (readingfaithfully.org) useful and/or interesting.