Illuminating the world

Whoever recovers from doing evil
By doing something wholesome
Illuminates the world
Like the moon set free from a cloud.

Whoever replaces an evil deed
With what is wholesome
Illuminates the world
Like the moon set free from a cloud.

Dhammapada v. 172-173, translated by Gil Fronsdal

These verses contain a deeply traditional image, the moon becoming visible after the passing of a cloud. It’s said that awakening is like this – not the direct result of some great effort, but the lifting of a veil which obscured reality.

And here we are told that simply doing a good deed, either as an apology for, or to balance out, a bad deed, is all it takes to illuminate the world. Who would have thunk it?

I understand “recovering from” and “replacing” bad deeds as more general than specific. Sometimes we might behave really badly, recognize it, and then do something big to make amends. More commonly, we are careless and cause damage that we may or may not notice, and therefore should keep our intentions moving in the direction of doing things that heal and help ourselves and others.

A few “good deeds” that we can do anytime are meditation, cleaning, cooking, contacting someone who would welcome notice, deferring to others in public places, driving as if everyone else mattered, or doing whatever else sets us up to feel calm and act wisely.

Recently, I was reminded by a Buddhist nun that the most important thing, especially when faced with challenges, is to set the intention “may all of my actions (and words) be for the maximum benefit of all beings (affected)”, sincerely and often. If that intention is firm, then the decisions and actions that come from it can be trusted. This had been an irregular practice with me, but now I remember it several times a day, and it feels entirely wholesome. You are welcome to try setting this intention as well; it doesn’t require special training.

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