Knowing this body to be like a clay pot,
Establishing this mind like a fortress,
One should battle Mara with the sword of insight,
Protecting what has been won,
Clinging to nothing.
All too soon this body
Will lie on the ground,
Cast aside, deprived of consciousness,
Like a useless scrap of wood.
Dhammapada v 40-41, translated by Gil Fronsdal
I like the images of a clay pot and a scrap of wood; they are earthy metaphors for our bodies. Of all the experiences we have, experiences involving the body are the ones we most take to be “me” or “mine”. Who else could this body belong to? This is where simple logic would lead us; but wisdom is not the same as simple logic. Is it possible that the body is ultimately ownerless? Is there anyone who can stop the body changing, decaying, and dying? It’s just doing what all living things do: be born, grow, decay, and die, as naturally as any flower, insect or planet. It’s all quite ordinary until we start to think, “But I can’t die! Not me!” – that’s where the trouble begins.
If we see this troubling development, we automatically turn our attention from the body to the mind. The sword of insight is the right tool to cut through the delusion (Mara) and see things as they are. When we finally do see the (larger) situation clearly, we will cling to nothing, a description of complete freedom.
Most of us are somewhere between complete ignorance and complete understanding. We can only start where we are and move in the direction of non-clinging as best we can. This is why I generally bring the conversation back around to choosing wholesome actions and words. The activity of refining our own actions is always a possibility.
The second verse is an encouragement to seize the day, to understand that our time is limited and we must make the best use of it TODAY. This verse is sometimes used at Buddhist funerals, encouraging everyone to see that identifying with the body is a fruitless effort.