Home > Mind is All A Commentary on the Dhammapada

Mind is All A Commentary on the Dhammapada

by Swami Nirmalananda

History of the Dhammapada

The Dhammapada is not a transcription of a single talk by Gautama the Buddha.
Rather, it is a collection of his words on the most important subjects for those
seeking Nirvana. It was compiled only three months after his passing away by his
enlightened disciples (arhats), who gave it the name Dhammapada, which means
“Portions of the Dharma” or “The Way of Dharma.” The Dhammapada consists of
four hundred twenty-three Pali verses that were gleaned from about three hundred
discourses of the Buddha. It is a distillation of forty-five years of teaching.

What is the mind?

“Mind precedes its objects. They are mind-governed and mind-made.”
(Dhammapada 1)

What is the mind? The language of Buddha, as well as Pali, in which his complete
teachings are set down, was based on Sanskrit, so we can get some understanding
by looking at the Sanskrit terms from which the Pali was derived. (In fact, we may
get a better understanding than if we rely on the Pali commentaries and their
explanations, considering that they were begun exactly five hundred years after the
death of Buddha, who had stated that in five hundred years the dharma he was
preaching would begin to be lost.) Sanskrit and Pali have the same word for mind:
mana. Mana comes from the root verb man, which
means “to think.” However, mind takes in more territory than the intellect; it
includes the senses and the emotions, because it is in response to feelings and
sensory impressions that thoughts arise in the attempt to label and understand
them. Evolved minds have the capacity to think abstractly and to determine what
shall be experienced by the senses or the feelings. That is, in lesser evolved minds
these impressions precede thought, but in higher evolved minds thought becomes
dominant and not only precedes those impressions but also determines them.
Undoubtedly this is progress, but like everything in relative existence it has a down
side, and that is the capacity of the mind to “create reality” rather than simply
respond to it or classify it. Perception is not a matter of exact and undistorted
experience. Perception itself is learned and is therefore extremely subjective. People
born blind who have gained their sight in later childhood or even in adulthood have
said that it took them weeks to tell the difference between circles, squares,
triangles, and other geometric shapes-as well as the difference between many other
kinds of visual impressions. This tells us that we do not just perceive spontaneously
through the senses. We learn perception-it is not just a faculty. In other words, the
senses do not perceive; it is the mind alone that perceives even though it uses the
impressions of the senses as its “raw material” for those perceptions. Objectivity in
human beings is virtually impossible. We might even hazard the speculation that
objectivity is impossible outside of enlightenment.

All of the foregoing might worry us greatly-indeed, the insight into this truth about
the nature of the mind may well be the seed of paranoia, for it is well-known that
the Eastern description of the enlightened mind and personality is closely akin to
what modern psychiatry calls paranoid schizophrenia. Some might say they are
identical, but they would be wrong, for the enlightened respond to their vision with
positive behavior, peacefulness of mind, and lovingkindness towards others. The
mentally ill, on the other hand, respond with anxiety, fear, hostility, and mistrust of
others. The sage has profound self-understanding, whereas the paranoid
schizophrenic has almost no self-realization at all. (More than one psychiatric nurse
has told me that they often took their problems to the paranoic schizophrenics in
their charge, who gave them remarkably insightful and wise advice. But regarding
themselves, those same patients were just plain crazy and without a clue. This is a
terrible and cruel dichotomy.)

The understanding to be gained from all this is that our life experiences are a
training film, an exercise in the development of consciousness with the mind as its
main instrument. We are to look and learn. The question of “Is it real?” is almost
irrelevant, “Is it comprehensible?” being more vital. There is a sense in which the
individual alone exists and all that he experiences is but the shifting patterns of the
movies of the mind-but for a purpose: insight that leads to freedom from the need
of any more movies. Then the liberated can rest in the truth of his own self.

The problem is that those who have only an intellectual idea about the relation of
experience to reality-ourselves-will come to erroneous conclusions that may result
in very self-destructive thought and behavior. And those observing them will rightly
consider them either fools or lunatics. Only right experience garnered from right
meditation and right thought (which is based on meditation) can clear away the
clouds of non-perception and misperception and free us.

The demarcation between “out there” and “in here” must become clear to us in a
practical sense. We must also come to understand that “real” and “unreal” have both
correct and mistaken definitions, that all our perceptions are
interpretations of the mind and never the objects themselves. Our
perceptions may be more or less correct as to the nature of the outside object, but
how can we know? The enlightened of all ages have told us that a stage of evolution
can be reached in which the mind is no longer necessary, a state in which we can go
beyond the mind and enter into direct contact and communication with “out there”
and then perceive objects as they truly are-or at least as they momentarily “are.”
The knowledge of temporality or eternality is inseparable from that state, so
confusion cannot arise regarding them.

In our childish way we always think of perfection as consisting of all our good traits
greatly increased and our bad traits eradicated. (If we are “good” enough children to
admit we have bad traits, that is.) We think of God as being just like us, but with His
goodness expanded to boundless dimension, and badness impossible to Him. In the
same way we think of eternity as time without end rather than a state that
transcends time. Our ideas of eternal life are pathetic since we have no idea what
life is, much less eternity. It only follows, then, that our ideas of enlightenment and
liberation are equally puerile and valueless. This is why the wise center their
attention on spiritual practice rather than theology and philosophy. Experience-
Right Experience-will make all things clear or else enable us to see that they do not

At the moment we can say that we do not know just what the mind is, but we are
working on knowing it. So let us again set forth the opening words of the

Mind-the source

“Mind precedes its objects. They are mind-governed and mind-made.”

First there is the mind. Let us go deeper than we have so far. It is possible to view
“mind” as both the perception machinery we have been talking about and the
consciousness which perceives the perception, the consciousness that is
unconditioned and permanent-in other words, the spirit, the eternal self. (“The Self
is ear of the ear, mind of the mind, speech of speech. He is also breath of the
breath, and eye of the eye”-Kena Upanishad 2.) From this higher aspect of Mind all
things proceed-in both the macrocosmic and the microcosmic sense. From the Mind
of God all things are projected that are found in the cosmos; and from the mind of
the individual are projected all that are distinctive to his life. We are all co-creators
with God, even though we have long ago forgotten that and attributed everything
that goes on in our life as acts of God. From this delusion erroneous religion has
arisen-religion that thinks it necessary to pray to and propitiate God in order for the
“good” to come to us and the “bad” to be eliminated from our life. It is this religion
and its false God that Buddha adamantly rejected and from which we must be freed
if we are to gain any true understanding of what is really happening to us from life
to life. On the other hand, we need true religion-the conviction and aspiration for
the uniting of the finite consciousness with the Infinite Consciousness in eternal
Being. The call of the self to the Self is the essence of true religion, and in that
sense those who would turn from death to life must be thoroughly religious. Any
god that is separate from us is a false god; the true God is the very Self of our self.
Though distinct from us, He is not separate. We are eternally one with Him. But we
have to realize that-not intellectually only, but through direct experience. And that
experience is only possible in meditation.

All right: mind precedes its objects, which are themselves governed and made by
the mind. This has profound implications.

1) Karma is the creation of the mind-is simply the mind in extension. Karma need
not be worked out or fulfilled; the mind need only be changed, or better yet brought
into complete abeyance. Then karma is no more and its attendant compulsions-
including birth and death-no longer exist.

2) Our entire life experience is but a mirroring of the mind. If something is not
already within our mind it cannot be projected outward as a (seemingly) external
factor or experience of our life. So our life is our mind in motion! By observing it we
can come to know what is in our mind. If we do not like what is happening in our
life, the solution is to alter our mind. People who like to tell of how cruel, selfish,
dishonest, and disloyal others habitually are to them are merely telling us how cruel,
selfish, dishonest, and disloyal they are. “Victims” are only victimizers
in a down cycle. The moment the upswing comes in their life rhythms they will go
back to victimizing others. Action and reaction are purely psychological matters, the
film in the projector-the light and sound on the screen being only its projection.
Change the film and you change the experience. Since objects come from the mind
they can only be compatible with the mind and therefore express and reveal its

3) All the factors of “life” are really only thought, attitude, and outlook in

4) Study your life and thereby know your mind.

5) You are always in control, even though that control may be on an unconscious

6) Change your mind and you change your life. (Do not forget that “mind” includes

7) Mary Baker Eddy was right: All is Mind and Mind is All.

Action and reaction

“To speak or act with a defiled mind is to draw pain after oneself, like a wheel
behind the feet of the animal drawing it.” (Dhammapada 1) Suffering is inevitable
for the person with a defiled mind, for it is impossible not to act or think (speak
inwardly, even if not outwardly). “Good” or meritorious acts done by a person with a
defiled mind will bring suffering-perhaps not as much as evil acts, but still the
suffering will not be avoided. This is imperative for us to comprehend: Action
is not the determining factor in our life-Mind is! And mind alone. This why in
the Bhagavad Gita Krishna describes how bad people do good in a bad way and thus
accrue more misery to themselves.

It is so important to understand this fact, since we tend to mistakenly assume that
“good” acts produce “good” karma, etc., when in reality the actions mean nothing-it
is the condition of the mind that determines their character and therefore their
consequences. (Buddha was very insistent on this.) Selfish people do “unselfish”
deeds to either cover up their selfishness or to get merit for themselves so they can
enjoy this or a future life. Their intentions defile the actions and no good accrues to
them whatsoever. Instead their selfishness and pettiness is compounded! This is the
plain truth. False religion gets rich on such persons with false promises of merit and
remission of sins. And even after death the deception goes on as their relatives and
friends offer prayers and almsdeeds that supposedly will mitigate their negative
karmas and alleviate-or even eliminate-the after-death consequences of their
defiled thoughts and deeds. It is common to hear patently evil people excused on
the grounds of “all the good” they do along with their evil actions. The truth is plain:
evil minds can only produce evil actions that produce evil results.

How then can a negative person break the pattern of negativity and escape it? By
thinking and acting with the intention to change from negative to positive. The
admission of negativity and the resolution to turn from it can produce positive
thoughts and deeds when the intention is to change the consciousness, not just the
consequences. Without the desire for real change nothing worthwhile can take place
in the life.

Unavoidable good

Buddha then repeats his statement about the nature of objects and then continues:
“To speak or act with a pure mind, is to draw happiness after oneself, like an
inseparable shadow.” (Dhammapada 2)

What is defiled and what is pure? Buddha is speaking of something much more than
good and bad thoughts and deeds in the ordinary sense. Instead, he is speaking of
defiled and pure minds. What is a defiled mind? One that is smudged and clogged
with egotism and its demon attendants: selfishness, greed, jealousy, spite, hatred,
and materiality. A pure mind is free from all these things, including the root of
egotism. Further, a defiled mind is outward-turned and a pure mind is inward-
turned. One roves through the jungle of illusion and delusion that is the world of
man’s making, and the other rests in the truth and perfection of its immortal self. A
person who is spirit-oriented cannot but produce peace and happiness for himself.
It is as inevitable as the suffering of the matter-oriented person. It is a matter of
polarity of consciousness.

Again we see that suffering and happiness are matters of the mind alone.

Swami Nirmalananda Giri is the abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram, a traditional
Hindu monastery in the small desert town of Borrego Springs in southern
California. He has written extensively on spiritual subjects, especially about [http://www.atmajyoti.org/meditation.asp]meditation and
about the [http://www.atmajyoti.org/spirwrit.asp]inner, practical
side of the world’s religions. More of his writings may be found at the
Ashram’s website, [http://www.atmajyoti.org/]http://www.atmajyoti.org