Skillful

Doing no evil,
Engaging in what’s skillful,
And purifying one’s mind:
This is the teaching of the Buddha.

Dhammapada v. 183, translated by Gil Fronsdal

This may be the most widely quoted verse in the Dhammapada. It is said to be the most succinct summary of the Buddha’s entire teaching, capable of bringing a person from ignorance to complete awakening, the permanent eradication of the unwholesome roots of greed, hatred and delusion. Kind of breath-taking, no?

When the Buddha used this shorthand, he was speaking to a group of people (monks and nuns) who had developed a context to understand his words. The monastics were already well-practiced in refraining from acting on their unwholesome impulses and in pursuing skillful activities. Purifying the mind refers to the whole family of meditation practices, from the most austere and reclusive to everyday mindfulness.

Because the verse encompasses (in brief) the whole teaching, I think it is worth bearing in mind that the path the Buddha pointed out leads all the way to total freedom. At the same time, it’s up to us to figure out which parts of it we can act on now.

The first two lines say “Doing no evil, Engaging in what is skillful”. These are not individual activities but the accumulation of all the little actions of our days. Refraining from harming others, protecting life and being gentle with people; being careful not to take anything not explicitly on offer; directing our sexual energies in ways that don’t harm anyone; being truthful and skillful with our words; keeping our mental energy as clear and focused (on the present) as possible – in all these ways we build the foundation for awakening, and accumulate inner peace as a by-product.

May each of us fulfill our highest potential.

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