One who does evil is tormented in this life,
Tormented in the next,
Is tormented in both worlds.
Here he is tormented, knowing, “I have done evil.”
Reborn in realms of woe, he is tormented all the more.
One who makes merit is delighted in this life,
Delighted in the next,
Is delighted in both worlds.
Here she is delighted, knowing, “I have made merit.”
Reborn in realms of bliss, she delights all the more.
Dhammapada 17-18, translated by Gil Fronsdal
These verses are almost a repetition of the last ones, though being “tormented” replaces “grieving” and being “delighted” replaces “rejoicing”. The theme of our actions bearing fruit in this life and the next is amplified by naming the realms of bliss and woe.
In the early teaching of the Buddha, there is a lot of repetition, sometimes with slightly different words. Why would the texts do this? The most likely reason is that when lessons are transmitted verbally (as these verses originally were), the things repeated most often will be remembered better. In this case, we are reminded that our actions, words, and thoughts will have results that affect us and others, for good or ill.
I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related to my actions, abide supported by my actions. Whatever actions I do, whether good or evil, of that will I become heir. (from the Anguttara Nikaya 5.57)
It is easy to look away from this truth, but we will miss an important point. What in this world do we have control over? The circumstances of our birth? Our level of intelligence? Our relatives? The actions of any other living being? The weather? Political situations? No, no, no and no. We can control, to some degree, our own actions, words, and thoughts. We can re-direct these into ever more wholesome (or even wise) ways of thinking, speaking and doing. However, to perform this re-direction, we first have to be alert to what we’re doing and what effect it’s having on others and ourselves.
These verses point to a heightened awareness, every day and in all situations, to this phenomenon, and so lead us into the activity of mindfulness. For our purposes, we can think of mindfulness as a type of heedfulness, giving attention to what we are doing and to our intentions, in a lively, flexible and continuous way. A helpful hint to make this type of awareness easier is to focus more on causes and effects, and less on the story line in our minds about what kind of person we are. Creating and maintaining our stories (for ourselves or others) drags our awareness away from simple mindfulness.
We all have our own collections of evil and meritorious habits. What does your ledger look like? [Investigate.]