As a sweet-smelling lotus
Pleasing to the heart
May grow in a heap of rubbish
Discarded along the highway,
So a disciple of the Fully Awakened One
Shines with wisdom
Amid the rubbish heap
Of blind, common people.
Dhammapada v. 58-59, translated by Gil Fronsdal
This is the last verse in the “Flowers” section of the Dhammapada. The central image is repeated elsewhere in the Pali canon: the clean, untainted lotus emerging from the muck of a pond. It suggests having our roots in the earth but maintaining a type of independence, of freedom from all the clinging around us.
The disciple of the Fully Awakened One (the Buddha) here refers to an actual follower of the historical Buddha, a person who most likely has a high degree of discernment and doesn’t live the way most people do. It asks us to turn our attention to the question: is developing wisdom a priority for us? If yes, what are we doing it about it?
In the verses, the wisdom of the disciple is glowing, but for most of us, wisdom is a sometimes thing. Do we recognize the type of understanding the Buddha described, in ourselves or others? Are we alert to its absence?
An example of each:
The other day, I was driving in very thick traffic. At an intersection I found myself speaking to the driver two cars ahead of me, “Just go! You can turn now! What are you waiting for?”. Luckily s/he couldn’t hear me, because if the turn had been made when I suggested, the car would have been flattened by a truck. I recognized and regretted my ignorance in that moment and reflected on how easily I fell into this type of blindness. I affirmed my intention to try to see the larger picture in future situations. Can I be wise enough to prevent my perceived needs from clouding my mind?
Recently, a family member has been creating a little tempest. This person has a chronic mental illness which flares and subsides. Although it is difficult and sad, I find that I am able to accept the situation and the person as they are. I no longer feel that “if only” my advice were heeded, the problem would go away. By far the biggest burden is borne by the person, not by me or any other family members. I remember that many families cope every day with physical or mental disabilities and have learned to accept things as they are, with compassion.