Choose your habits

Having done something evil,
Don’t repeat it,
Don’t wish for it:
Evil piled up brings suffering.

Having done something meritorious,
Repeat it,
Wish for it:
Merit piled up brings happiness.

Dhammapada v. 117-118, translated by Gil Fronsdal

These verses are from a section titled “Evil”. It’s a bit of a confronting word that we wisely hesitate to use in everyday conversation. In the Dhammapada, it is shorthand for our whole range of unwholesome inclinations, everything motivated by greed, hatred and delusion in our hearts, even quite subtle things. Merit is it’s opposite, everything we do motivated by generosity, loving kindness and clarity, even subtle things.

So, as with most of these verses, we are invited to consider: what are our specialties in these categories of negative and positive actions?

I have noticed my mind’s tendency to criticize others (internally), and I’ve gotten better at recognizing those thoughts and letting them lapse unspoken. Procrastination is a chronic lodger in my mind; and impatience lurks nearby.

On the positive side, I reflect each day on what positive actions I can take and have taken. I sometimes make lists of people to contact and tasks to complete that will in some way tidy up a situation or make someone happy. When something goes well, I hug it close as a precious positive experience that I’d like to repeat. I also make a point of reporting the positives to my nearest and dearest, e.g., “it felt really good to do X today”.

As some of the other Dhammapada verses do, the ones above emphasize that it’s the things we do on a regular basis that point us in a particular direction.

I once heard that in a happy marriage or partnership, the positive comments outnumber the negative ones by a ratio of (something like) 20 to 1. We can take criticism if we have confidence that we are valued. If not, well – things don’t go so well.

All of our interactions may follow a similar path. We can consciously accumulate happiness by doing things that have a positive effect on ourselves and others.

4 Comments

Filed under Dhammapada

4 responses to “Choose your habits

  1. John C. Kimbrough

    “Evil” here means to think, speak and act in an unskillful manner. It does not mean to act or react to others with bad intentions………..

  2. Thanks for that, John. It is good to remember that people start where they are, and some are starting with disadvantages, which makes everything more difficult — but not hopeless! If we can find just one positive in our own behaviors, or identify one “helper”, we can start to move in the direction of clarity.

  3. John C. Kimbrough

    For those who are lost and lack the guidance and warmth of wise friends or a wise and loving family, knowing what one’s options are is not always possible……And even when one knows what are good habits to seek out and have, one needs to make sure that they pursue those good habits with a degree of mindfulness and moderation. It is not easy to find a balance in life. Certainly The Dhamma of The Buddha is helpful…….

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