Better than a thousand

Better than a thousand meaningless statements
Is one meaningful word,
Which, having been heard,
Brings peace.

Better than a thousand meaningless verses
Is one meaningful line of verse
Which, having been heard,
Brings peace.

Better than reciting a hundred meaningless verses
Is one line of Dharma
Which, having been heard,
Brings peace.

Dhammapada, v.100-102, translated by Gil Fronsdal

These classic verses start a section of the Dhammapada usually called “The Thousands”.

For those of us living in English-speaking countries in 2012, how are we to understand these verses? I think there are two important layers of meaning. The first is simply that most of us talk too much and don’t consider the effects of our words enough. The second is that even memorizing and reciting meaningful texts may just be a distraction. Again, the value of the words depends on their effect, including our readiness to take in the message.

Many of the Dhammapada verses have the effect of bringing my mind to a state of peace, of relaxation, of acceptance, including the verses above; they make my internal chatter stop, if only for a moment. When the Buddha reminds us that friendships with the wise make up the most important element of “the holy life”, I really get it, and it brings me peace. When I remember the four noble truths, something inside me recognizes that there’s no point in denying them or fighting them.

I remember a conversation with a friend I’ve since lost touch with. After I described what I thought was a difficult relationship with a family member, she responded by asking, “Is there love?” After some consideration, I said, “Yes”. She then said, “Just go with the love.” It was perfect, and I often remember her words when faced with difficulties. Rather than trying to get my point across, if I just go with the love, everything works out better. Her words have often brought me peace.

Usually, we can’t predict when our words will bring peace to others. Different situations call for different remedies, often involving more listening than talking. But when we’ve said exactly the right thing, and it has the desired effect of relieving suffering, it brings joy.

There are two sides to this principle:
What are the words, from texts or from other people, that bring us peace?
And what is the effect of our words on others?

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
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One Response to Better than a thousand

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this one Lynn. I love your friend’s wise question! I’ll do my best to incorporate that into my “default repertoire” from now on.

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