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Buddhism for Everyone with JoAnn Fox

Feb 7, 2022


The Buddha sometimes spoke in metaphor to convey very deep and complex truths. In this episode, we examine a beautiful verse that describes how we can attain freedom from suffering and difficulties. In particular, the episode is devoted to understanding the meaning of eternalism and nihilism. This refers to avoiding the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. This wisdom of the Middle Way avoids the extremes of thinking things exist inherently or eternally (i.e., the way things normally appear to us) as well as the other extreme of thinking nothing exists (nihilism). We begin by examining emptiness, which describes how our reality does exist. Emptiness means that nothing exists inherently, eternally, concretely, independently of its causes, conditions, name, etc. The practical application of this is to not readily accept how things appear to us— good, bad, fortunate, unfortunate. Things in our reality don’t exist in a fixed way. We don't fall under the spell of believing that the experiences and people in our life are inherently good or bad.


But things do exist! Buddhism teaches us to avoid a nihilistic view that thinks nothing exists. We do exist, with a name, a body, and ways that we function. Our self and all things exist in dependence upon causes and conditions. Understanding that things are empty, we can change the label we give something, and it changes. We can change the label from “They are a BAD person” to “they are a suffering person,” and the person appears very different. We can also change the way things function. As a person, we can start to function more compassionately, more kindly, or with more integrity, and the ways things appear to us will also change. Because our whole reality is empty, we can change the label of things in our lives or the way we function, and the things that appear in our lives will change. Changing the way we function will greatly impact the names others give us too, HA!


Buddha spoke these words 2,500 years ago:


Having killed 

Mother, father, 

Two warrior kings, 

A kingdom and it's subjects

The brahmin, undisturbed, moves on. (295)* 


Having killed 

Mother, father, 

Two learned kings, 

And a tiger, 

The brahmin, undisturbed, moves on. (295)* 

--Buddha,The Dhammapada 


If we insert the meaning of the metaphors, it roughly means:

Having killed 

Craving, conceit 

Views of eternalism and nihilism

And doubt

The spiritual person, undisturbed, moves on from all suffering. 


According to Gil Frondsdale, the translator of the Dhammapada we are referencing:


 “Mother” refers to craving, “father” to conceit. “ The two warrior kings to metaphysical views of eternalism and nihilism, the kingdom to the twelve sense spheres (āyatana), and the subjects of the kingdom to the passion for pleasure dependent on the sense spheres. “A tiger” is a translation of veyyagghapañcamaṃ, literally, “with a tiger as fifth” or “that of which its fifth element pertains to tigers.” The DhpA commentary describes this as referring to either the five hindrances (sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and anxiety, and doubt) or just to the fifth hindrance, doubt.”


References and Links


Buddha.The Dhammapada. Translated by Gil Fronsdale. (Kindle). Shambala, Boston and London, 2011, pp. 75-76 and glossary 295* (Link)


Buddha (1986).The Dhammapada: Verses and Stories. Translated by Daw Mya Tin, M.A. (Website). Edited by Editorial Committee, Burma Tipitaka Association Rangoon. Courtesy of For free distribution only, as a gift of dhamma.