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Laying Down the Rod by Bhikkhu Bodhi

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  • Antony Woods
    Though violence, either overt or subtle, may hold sway over the world in which we are afloat, the Buddha s path to freedom requires of us that we make a total
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 11, 2006
      "Though violence, either overt or subtle, may hold sway over the
      world in which we are afloat, the Buddha's path to freedom requires
      of us that we make a total break with prevailing norms. Thus one of
      the essential steps in our endeavor to reach the abode of safety is
      to "lay down the rod," to put away violence, aggression and
      harmfulness toward all living beings. In the Buddha's teaching
      the "laying down of the rod" is not merely an ethical principle, a
      prescription for right action. It is a comprehensive strategy of self-
      training that spans all stages of the Buddhist path, enabling us to
      subdue our inclinations toward ill will, animosity and cruelty.

      The key to developing a mind of harmlessness is found in the ancient
      maxim stated in the Dhammapada: "Putting oneself in the place of
      another, one should not slay or incite others to slay." The reason we
      should avoid harming others is because all living beings, in their
      innermost nature, share the same essential concern for their own well
      being and happiness When we look into our own minds, we can
      immediately see with intuitive certainty that the fundamental desire
      at the root of our being is the desire to be well and happy, to be
      free from all harm, danger and distress. We see at once that we wish
      to live, not to die; that we wish to be happy, not to suffer; that we
      wish to pursue our goals freely, without hindrance and obstruction by

      When we see that this wish for well being and happiness is the most
      basic desire at the root of our own being, by a simple imaginative
      projection we can then recognize, again with intuitive certainty,
      that the same fundamental desire animates the minds of all other
      living beings as well. Just as we wish to be well, so every other
      being wishes to be well; just as we wish to be happy, so every other
      being wishes to be happy; just as we wish to pursue our goals freely,
      so all other beings wish to pursue their goals freely, without
      hindrance and obstruction.

      This fundamental identity of aim that we share with all other beings
      has implications for each stage of the threefold Buddhist training in
      morality, mental purification and wisdom. Since all other beings,
      like ourselves, are intent on their welfare and happiness, by putting
      ourselves in their place we can recognize the need to regulate our
      conduct by principles of restraint that hold in check all harmful
      bodily and verbal deeds. Because afflictive deeds originate from the
      mind, from thoughts of animosity and cruelty, it becomes necessary
      for us to purify our minds of these taints through the practice of
      concentration, developing as their specific antidotes the "divine
      abodes" of loving-kindness and compassion. And because all defiled
      thoughts tending toward harm for others arise from roots lodged deep
      in the recesses of the mind, we need to undertake the development of
      wisdom, which alone can extricate the hidden roots of evil.

      Since the state of the world is a manifestation and reflection of the
      minds of its inhabitants, the achievement of a permanent universal
      peace would require nothing short of a radical and widespread
      transformation in the minds of these inhabitants — a beautiful but
      unrealistic fantasy. What lies within the scope of real possibility
      is the attainment of a lasting individual peace within ourselves, a
      peace that comes with the fulfillment of the Buddha's threefold
      training. This internal peace, however, will not remain locked up in
      our hearts. Overflowing its source, it will radiate outward,
      exercising a gentle and uplifting influence upon the lives of those
      who come within its range. As the old Indian adage says, one can
      never make the earth safe for one's feet by sweeping away all thorns
      and gravel, but if one wears a pair of shoes one's feet will be
      comfortable everywhere. One can never be free from enmity by
      eliminating all one's foes, but if one strikes down one thing — the
      thought of hate — one will see no enemies anywhere.
      From: Laying Down the Rod by Bhikkhu Bodhi
      Source: BPS Newsletter cover essay no. 18 (Spring 1991).
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