They who cover themselves with their own corrupt conduct,
Like a creeper covers a tree,
Do to themselves
What an enemy wishes for them. (translated by Gil Fronsdal)
Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Even if we have real enemies, their power to hurt us is dwarfed by our own.
How do we hurt ourselves? There are so many ways, and we each have our own specialities. Some of us push ourselves too hard with work or exercise and damage our health. Some of us are harsh in our speech to ourselves and to others. Sometimes we may become so self-obsessed that the needs and responses of others become invisible to us; we become like a bull in a china shop, thrashing around and causing damage. There was a cartoon in the New Yorker magazine recently, set in a china shop (or maybe an antique store), and there was a bull serving a customer. Two people were in the foreground and the caption said, “You were right, when I hired him his behavior changed.” We can ask ourselves, are we like a being serving others or crashing around in frustration?
Creepers are plants that persistently search out openings to grow into. If unchecked, they can destroy the fence or tree or building that they are growing over. Our own unwholesome instincts may do the same without our being aware of it. Greed or hatred can be so familiar that they feel like a necessary compulsion, almost the basis of our lives. But this is a false perception that the Buddha’s path can show us the way out of. Regardless of where we are starting from we may
…abstain from killing living beings, from taking what is not given, from misconduct in sensual pleasures, from false speech, from malicious speech, from harsh speech, and from gossip, and [we] may be uncovetous, have a mind without ill will, and hold right view. (from MN 96, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)
Like many of the verses in the Dhammapada, this one is an invitation to self-examination.