What the Buddha Said about Purity of Heart and the Grasping Self

This passage from the Sutta Nipata of the Pali canon has very special place in many Buddhist hearts.  To me, the teaching is closely related to the beloved passage from the 9th Chapter of  the great Mahayana Diamond Sutra that I recently posted:  See: “Does a Buddha say to himself ‘I have obtained Perfect Enlightenment?‘”

I find this translation by Lesley Fowler Lebkowicz and Tamara Ditrich with Primoz Pecenko especially poetic and powerful.  To hear the Buddha describe what is finally possible inspires the student to ardently seek this purity of heart—the freedom that comes from letting go of all grasping and clinging to the fabricated and conditional.  One senses in this great victory a peace and happiness beyond all understanding.

May this passage speak to and inspire your heart to find the happiness that is beyond pain and sorrow and that is Deathless!

Purity of Heart

Someone who wants purity
and thinks to find it by gazing
at the pure
might say,
“I see something pure
excellent free of decay.
Seeing it purifies me.”

If seeing
or some intellectual process
could rid you of pain
the purifying agent would be
outside you
and you’d be left still eager to grasp.
This view describes
a grasping person
not any path to purity.

Anyone who’s free
denies there’s liberation
by another
or by what she sees
and hears,
by rules of morality,
rites and rituals
or through what
she thinks.

Neither good
nor evil affect her.
She’s given up
the grasping self.
Her action now
is neither good
nor bad.

If you abandon
one thing
just to cling to
another
you’ll never
free yourself.
You’re like
a monkey
letting go of
one branch,
grasping another.

You immerse yourself
in religious practices,
favour certain ways
of seeing things
and go up
and down.

The wise one sees
the way things are
through insight,
no longer swings
from high to low.

You need not defend yourself
against anything you see,
hear, touch, taste,
smell or think
Who can define you?
You live so openly.

You take
no theoretical position,
claiming it
as the ultimate.
All things are equal.

You’ve disentangled
the knot that used to bind you.
No longing now
for anything in the world.

You’re free.
You’ve understood
the way things are.
There’s nothing
you would grasp.

You’ve gone beyond
all limitations,
have no taste for desire
or its absence.
There’s nothing left to do.

♡♡♡

From a translation of Book IV of the Sutta Nipata
By Lesley Fowler Lebkowicz and Tamara Ditrich with Primoz Pecenko

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About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

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