Night is long for one lying awake
Seven miles is long for one exhausted.
Samsara is long for fools
Ignorant of true Dharma.
Dhammapada v. 60, translated by Gil Fronsdal
Today we start on a new chapter titled “The Fool”. The opening verse is rich with layers of meaning, so we can meet it from our own starting points. I like to think that we, you and I, are not entirely ignorant of the true Dharma, or we wouldn’t be pursuing this inquiry. On the other hand, most of us are not yet free of ignorance, and so are fools at least part of the time.
It is a deep irony that those living in ignorance usually think they know everything they need to know; so the first two lines of this verse are designed to arouse a bit of doubt. The sense of exhaustion, of fighting an uphill battle, is a signal of clinging. The anxiety that sometimes keeps us awake at night drags us down, to no purpose. The question is raised: what are we clinging to? What do we fear will happen?
The Pali word (bala) here translated as “fool” originally meant a young child who is not yet able to speak. Therefore, it is sometimes translated as “childish”. To be an adult is to let go of foolish ideas and views and see things as they are.
Samsara is the beginningless and endless round of birth and death, not only in the human realm, but including the animal, heavenly and hell realms. Some of it is pleasant, for a while, but in the end, it has no meaning, and so the Buddha pointed out a way to escape into wisdom.
So what are we clinging to, what do we fear? What is it that keeps us bound inside this washing machine of samsara? We need to do our own investigations to discover what thoughts generate our most intense fears. So far, I’ve discovered that the things that make me a fool all have to do with some idea of myself, of what can and can’t happen to me, and what should be happening around me. When I can drop these ideas and just be with things as they are without grabbing at them or pushing them away, there is peace.