Selecting a training

Who will master this world
And the realms of Yama and the gods?
Who will select a well-taught Dharma teaching,
As a skilled person selects a flower?

One in training will master this world
And the realms of Yama and the gods.
One in training will select a well-taught Dharma teaching,
As a skilled person selects a flower.

Dhammapada v. 44-45, translated by Gil Fronsdal

A note: “the realms of Yama and the gods” means both the unfortunate realms (hell and the realms of the hungry ghosts, jealous demi-gods and animals) and the heavenly realms.

So, it would be a good thing to master the upper and lower worlds, and by analogy our selfish, angry impulses as well as our intoxications and escapism, since the underlying meaning is complete freedom from anything that might buffet us or that we might cling to.

The emphasis in these verses is on selecting a training, as one might select a flower from many beautiful flowers. I love the image of choosing, since we are always choosing what we will pay attention to, what we will value, how we will spend our time and with whom. It’s just these choices that we are invited to consider.

“One who is in training” is one who has oriented him- or herself towards the goal of awakening, one who understands the consequences of ignorance, laziness and choosing the wrong (unwholesome) goals. Whichever direction we’re pointing in, that’s where we’ll end up (if we continue in that trajectory). So by choosing our direction, our guidelines, our hopes for the future with a seriousness of purpose, we become “trainees”.

Even if you think that awakening from greed, hatred and delusion is an unrealistic goal, what could be the harm in pointing ourselves in this direction? All it really means is to investigate our actions and words and try to make them as wholesome as possible, as often as possible, and to seek out teachings that support and guide us in this journey. Generosity, wholesome friendships, non-harming activities, truthfulness – how could these lead to a bad destination?

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