Dhammapada verses 153 & 154

The second of these two verses is a stock construction that appears many times throughout the Pali canon. The words apply to anyone who achieves full awakening, or Nibbana, and may be spoken by the Buddha or by the newly awakened person him/herself. It takes some explanation to identify the parts of the metaphor, but altogether, it is a (somewhat cryptic) explanation of what happens when the final breakthough takes place. 

Through many births
I have wandered on and on,
Searching for, but never finding,
The builder of [this] house. 
To be born again and again is suffering. (verse 153)

House-builder, you are seen!
You will not build a house again!
All the rafters are broken,
The ridgepole destroyed;
The mind, gone to the Unconstructed,
Has reached the end of craving! (verse 154, both translated by Gil Fronsdal)

Verse 153 describes all of us searching for the root causes of our dukkha. It includes our frustration with being unable to see things as they truly are. We think there must be something wrong with us, or with the world, or with both. 

Regarding verse 154, Gil’s note says: The commentaries explain that “house” refers to individuality, selfhood, or the body. The builder is one’s craving. The rafters are the defilements. The ridgepole is ignorance. So …

House-builder [craving], you are seen!
You will not build a house again!
All the rafters [defilements] are broken,
The ridgepole [ignorance] destroyed;
The mind, gone to the Unconstructed [Nibbana],
Has reached the end of craving!

This simply says that when we see deeply into our own minds we can find the conscious or unconscious grasping that is causing our dukkha and do what needs to be done to uproot it. The house represents our idea of a solid self that we create and re-create every day: “this is who I am.” The association is apt. We are (usually) very attached to our homes; we feel comfortable in them and it’s where we get a sense of belonging. It’s where other people can find us and (normally) where we can relax and be ourselves. Once we settle in to a home, we are reluctant to move or to make changes.

What’s wrong with being comfortable? The catch is that it’s only a superficial, temporary form of comfort we get from nesting in our usual place. We have to keep on persuading ourselves that this is as good as it gets. Walking the Buddha’s eightfold path towards awakening is work! What will motivate us to look at the uncomfortable, unsatisfactory elements of our lives if we put all our energy into ignoring them and distracting ourselves? 

Nibbana, total freedom, may seem to be an unimaginably distant goal, but as one teacher said, it can be reached in a nanosecond. It is right here if we loosen our grip on the familiar and comfortable sense of “me”. Can we try that and see how it goes?

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Causes and results, Dhammapada, Dukkha, Mindfulness, The 8-fold path, Wisdom and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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