Book Excerpt : The Dhammapada

[ This is the first time I have commented on an excerpt. Here’s why – these are holy Buddhist verses. Quite powerful verses, I must say, but you should know a little history before you read them. Whenever you look up The Dhammapada or Buddha, it seems everyone is at great pains to say these verses were written several hundred years before Christ, probably because some of Jesus’ teachings can find antecedents in these verses. But several hundred years before these verses were written, the Psalms were written. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 147:4 says, “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them.” And even earlier, several more hundreds of years earlier, Moses says, “Behold, to the Lord your God belong the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it,” in Deuteronomy 10:14. These, and many other biblical passages, are antecedents to what Buddha was seeking. Not antecedents really, but the answer he sought. Buddha was on the right path, but he stopped before he reached his destination. He knew there was a source of perfect love and happiness, “harmony” he called it. He said it could be found within us. But God is external to us; He supersedes us. And He is the only source of harmony. It is one of our greatest foibles that we believe the answers are within our power to control, even to find. Only when we accept God’s gift, salvation through his perfect son, does His Spirit dwell within us. Only then do we know there is no perfect love and happiness without Him. Any other path to harmony ends in futility. ]


What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow; our life is the creation of the mind.
If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that draws the cart.

What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow; our life is the creation of the mind.
If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, joy follows him as his own shadow.

“He insulted me, he hurt me, he defeated me, he robbed me.” Those who think such thoughts will not be free from hate.

“He insulted me, he hurt me, he defeated me, he robbed me.” Those who think not such thoughts will be free from hate.

For hate is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal.

Many do not know that we are here in this world to live in harmony. Those who know this do not fight against each other.

He who lives only for pleasures, and whose soul is not in harmony, who considers not the food he eats, is idle and not the power of virtue – such a man is moved by MARA, is moved by selfish temptations, even as a weak tree is shaken by the wind.

He who lives not for pleasures, and whose soul is in self-harmony, who eats or fasts with moderation, and has faith and the power of virtue – this man in not moved by temptations, as a great rock is not shaken by the wind.

If a man puts on the pure yellow robe with a soul which is impure, without self-harmony and truth, he is not worthy of the holy robe.

But he is who is pure from sin and whose soul is strong in virtue, who has self-harmony and truth, he is worthy of the holy robe.

Those who think the unreal is, and think the Real is not, they shall never reach the Truth, lost in the path of wrong thought.

But those who who the Real is, and know the unreal is not, they shall indeed reach the Truth, safe on the the path of right thought.

Even as rain breaks through an ill-thatched house, passions will break through an ill-guarded mind.

But even as rain breaks not through a well-thatched house, passions break not through a well-guarded mind.

He suffers in this world, and he suffers in the next work: the man who does evil suffers in both worlds. He suffers, he suffers and mourns when he sees the wrong he has done.

He is happy in this world and he is happy in the next world: the man who does good is happy in both worlds. He is glad, he feels great gladness when he sees the good he has done.

He sorrows in this world, and he sorrows in the the next world: the man who does evil sorrows in both worlds. “I have done evil,” thus he laments, and more he laments on the path of sorrow.

He rejoices in this world, and he rejoices in the next world: the man who does good rejoices in both worlds. “I have done good,” thus he rejoices, and more he rejoices on the path of joy.

If a man speaks many holy words but he speaks and does not, this thoughtless man cannot enjoy the life of holiness: he is like a cowherd who counts the cows of his master.

Whereas if a man speaks but a few holy words and yet he lives the life of those words, free from passion and hate and illusion – with right vision and a mind free, craving for nothing both now and hereafter – the life of this man is a life of holiness.


The mind is wavering and restless, difficult to guard and restrain: let the wise man straighten his mind as a maker of arrows makes his arrows straight.

Like a fish which is thrown on dry land, taken from his home in the waters, the mind strives and struggles to get free from the power of Death.

The mind is fickle and flighty, it flies after fancies wherever it likes: it is difficult indeed to restrain. But it is a great good to control the mind; a mind self-controlled is a source of great joy.

Invisible and subtle is the mind, and it flies after fancies wherever it likes; but let the wise man guard well his mind, for a mind well guarded is a source of great joy.

Hidden in the mystery of consciousness, the mind, incorporeal, flies alone far away. Those who set their mind in harmony become free from the bonds of death.

He whose mind is unsteady, who knows not the path of Truth, whose faith and peace are ever wavering, he shall never reach fullness of wisdom.

But he whose mind in calm self-control is free from the lust of desires, who has risen above good and evil, he is awake and has no fear.

Considering that this body is frail like a jar, make your mind strong like a fortress and fight the great fight against MARA, all evil temptations. After victory guard well your conquests, and ever for ever watch.

For before long, how sad! this body will lifeless lie on the earth, cast aside like a useless log.

An enemy can hurt an enemy, and a man who hates can harm another man; but a man’s mind, if wrongly directed, can do him a far greater harm.

A father or a mother, or a relative, can indeed do good to a man; but his own right-directed mind can do to him a far greater good.

– The Dhammapada translated by Juan Mascaro


The Dhammapada is available from

My Little Princess

Part of Your World

Princess Ariel and Prince Eric

Pucker Up



I’ve heard the songs from The Little Mermaid hundreds of times. And not just from watching the Disney movie over and over again when my kids were kids. No, my daughter was Ariel in the Cypress Academy of Performing Arts’ (CAPA) production of the musical. We heard the songs so many times around our house that our son decided to try out for the play and why not, he definitely knew the songs. But even though I knew the songs by heart, too, I was not prepared for what I saw and heard when my baby, my 12 year old daughter performed on stage. My wife has called her a princess from the day she was born. Now she IS Princess Ariel. Photographs do not do her performance justice. You would have to have seen her take command of the stage and heard her voice rising through the theater to have any inkling of what Daddy felt.


Read Old Books

Read old books.
They take us to places
We can’t go any more.
They transport us through time
To worlds we don’t remember.

Read old books.
They reveal the beginnings of ideas
We take for granted.
They unfold again for us the ideas
We’ve forgotten to believe in.

We live in a world of the new.
We believe in a world that changes.
But it is a trick of time.
The world is still the same.
Men are still the same.
And what we believe in now
Are only the accessories.

So, read old books.
Make sure your children see you.
And perhaps when they grow old
They, too, will
Read old books.

© 2011 Wasted Space Publishing

A Loss of Memory

“Watch now, Paul,” Grandpa told me. We were on a winding bit of highway outside Texarkana. Grandpa was showing me how to drive for the first time, and I watched intently so I wouldn’t crack up when I got my chance behind the wheel. We were in Grandpa’s old ’64 Ford Fairlane. The old car didn’t have air conditioning and Grandpa hadn’t put in the new automatic engine yet. So he showed me how to change gears on the 3-speed transmission with the clutch in the floorboard and the gearshift on the steering column.

“First gear is down here,” Grandpa said, demonstrating. “Like this.”

My eyes were so wide, he didn’t have to ask if I was listening now and trying to understand so I could do it just the way he was doing it.

“When you want to change gears, you push in the clutch down here by the brake. You bring the shift up to neutral. See neutral, here, where it’s kind of loose. And all the way up to the top into second gear.”

I was itching to get behind the wheel, but I knew Grandpa wouldn’t let me until he told me how to handle everything the right way. I was sweating bullets even though the windows were down. It was late August and everything was brown, except for the pine trees on both sides of the highway. There was a pony drinking water from a bird bath on the small farm across the road. The colt had to stretch its head through the fence rails to get to the water. I had seen the mare do the same thing when I came down this road the year before, when Grandpa took me shooting for the first time. Now the mother stood in the shade along the fence and watched the colt. If Grandpa would only let me drive soon, we could get the 4/40 A.C. going – four windows down at forty miles per hour.

“At about thirty miles an hour you need to change it to third gear. You just push the clutch in again and pull the shift back down into neutral and on into third. Don’t try to force it. Just pull it the way it wants to go and you don’t have to worry about going back into first.

“You ready to give it a try, Boy?”

Grandpa slid over to the middle of the seat and I crawled over him. I was almost twelve years old: I thought I was a big boy, but I had to sit on the edge of the seat to reach the pedals on the floor and I had to look between the steering wheel and the dashboard to see the road.

“Push the clutch all the way in with your left foot and put your right foot on the brake. Now make sure the car’s in neutral.”

Grandpa handed me the keys and I started the car.

“Pull it down into gear and take your foot off the brake. Let the clutch out slow and when the car starts to fall forward, give it a little gas.”

I tried to do everything just the way Grandpa showed me. I started lifting my foot off the clutch and the car rolled forward, and I stepped on the gas and we lurched ahead. “Push in the clutch and move it up to second gear, and let the clutch back out.” I did what Grandpa said without looking at my hands or feet, and I kept my eyes on the road. I was scared to death that someone might drive up behind me or pass me coming the other way. The car started to strain a bit in second gear. “Bring it back down to third the same way you shifted to second.” I went into third gear as we hit the first curve in the road. The turn made it feel as if we were really picking up speed. The 4/40 A.C. was going full blast. “I told you there weren’t nothing’ to it.” Grandpa was right. He was sitting right next to me, but this time I was driving.

A few years later, when I was in high school, Grandpa would give me the old Ford. It was the same ’64 Fairlane, but it had changed. Grandpa had put in an air conditioning unit, one of those old jobs that went under the dash. Grandpa also put an automatic engine in the car. It was a rebuilt 1965 Mustang engine, a 289 V-8. The best engine Ford ever made. That was the best car I would ever have.

“Pull over to the side here. Push in the clutch and put it into neutral. Start using the brake a little.”

I stopped in a patch of gravel that was the beginning edge of the only other farm on that stretch of the highway. I would get to drive again when we got through hunting. Now Grandpa drove across the highway down a dirt road where we always went shooting. I didn’t want to drive down that narrow road anyway. It snaked through the woods and crossed the creek on bridges that were only two precarious boards, spaced so cars could cross.

“I could never make it across those bridges,” I said.

“Sure you could,” Grandpa answered. “Put the left wheel on the left board and the rest of the car follows right along.”

We finally pulled over in a wide space in the road and got out. Grandpa reached over the seat and got the .22 rifle. I opened the glove compartment and got a box of shells. I was an old pro at this. Last year Grandpa had taught me how to shoot the way he taught me how to drive this year. He showed me the right way to hold the gun and to aim, even how to load the shells. Then he handed me the rifle and a handful of bullets, knowing there was nothing he hadn’t told me. Before we went into the woods, we went to a place where people dumped trash. There were hundreds of bottles. We each picked up three or four unbroken ones for shooting practice. We carried the bottles to a bluff that overlooked the creek. Grandpa handed me the rifle and tossed several of the bottles into the current. I loaded the gun and started shooting at the half-submerged bottles as they meandered with the current down the creek. Most of the shooting we did at bottles like that, either the ones Grandpa threw in the creek or the ones he saved to put on the broken ends of tree branches to shoot at. If I saw a bird or squirrel I’d shoot at it, but I’d rarely hit it.

Later, when I was sixteen, Grandpa would bring the shotgun, a double-barreled 20-gauge. We looked for rabbits and squirrels when we took that gun. They were easier to hit then, the cartridge spraying a pattern of shot that engulfed them. I can still remember how fire leapt out of the barrel and how the helpless animal slid through the underbrush.

“It’s getting late, Paul. We better start heading back before Nanny gets through fixing dinner, or she might not let us in the house.”

I never missed a meal when I went to my grandparents. Nanny thought eating was one of the principle pleasures of life. Even many years later, when Nanny couldn’t do her own cooking anymore because of a respiratory disease that made her short of breath after any kind of activity, mealtime was the foundation on which the day was built. Breakfast was always early. We usually had thick slices of homemade bread, thickly buttered and lightly toasted, with coffee for them and milk for me. During breakfast, Nanny would discuss our options for lunch. At lunch, the decision of what was for dinner was made. When I drove up from Houston to Texarkana with my parents, we would always guess what Nanny would have cooked for us when we got there. I would guess fried chicken, and more often than not I was right. The chicken was always a deep brown and delicious. From the garden Grandpa cultivated every summer, we would have fresh green beans or corn on the cob, and homemade cherry pie for dessert, from Nanny’s oven. If I stayed with Nanny and Grandpa during the summer, I helped with the garden. We’d pick the tomatoes and the beans and the black-eyed peas, and shuck the ears of corn, and pull the carrots and beets and potatoes from the cool earth under the burning summer sun. After I had helped Grandpa with the picking, Nanny would start to work shelling the peas and canning everything for the year. There was so much the fresh vegetable never ran out, at least until the next summer when I could revel again in the rich, dark earth and the smell of boiling vegetables or fresh baked pies.

The pattern of my grandparents’ life was timeless. Nanny and Grandpa had settled on a standard that was right in its enduring homespun ritual and its endless preference for things that upheld man’s belief in himself. Even when they neared the end of life they understood that doing things the right way was the only way. Grandpa had a heart attack, but he did not wither under life’s cruel, burning caprice. He had to quit eating Nanny’s fried chicken or anything that could cause his heart to rebel again, but he continued to cultivate his garden where he felt life was full. He did the right things to cheat inexorable death, the way inequitable fortune had tried to cheat him. Nanny, too, was dealt cruel cards. Time spotted her lungs with disease and she could no longer prepare the meals she planned. So Grandpa cut the thick slices of homemade bread for their toast and Nanny taught him to make the meals they decided on for lunch and dinner. I stayed with them for two months after Nanny fell and broke a hip because couldn’t keep enough air in her lungs to hold her up. It was during that stay I realized how enduring their devotion to the right things was. Grandpa still took me hunting when Nanny got stronger, and Nanny still decided whether we would have fresh corn on the cob or if Grandpa should make a cherry cobbler. They were devoted to a way of life that endured even when their lives were narrowed by time, and they demanded that time yield the best things even when life had tried to cripple their belief in the best things.

How clearly my memories invade this present purgatory. What I held on to was much less than a memory. It was a mania for doing things the right way. And as time marches men to death, I realize I had only learned half the lesson I remembered now. I planned the whole thing right, but my memory had forsaken me. I showed my friend Frankie the right way to do the wrong thing. Instead of embracing the goodness I had grown up with, I was encompassed by the half-truth of my confusion. The purity I expected from life was not there for me any more than for Nanny and Grandpa, but I lashed out against impurity with fear, the mother of violence.

“Remember everything,” I told Frankie. We were parked in the street along a dark row of houses, trading shots of Ezra Brooks from a pint bottle. It was the night before Thanksgiving and my parents had gone to Texarkana. I didn’t go with them anymore. I stayed in Houston and laughed with Frankie about how silly my grandparents were. Frankie was scared now though, so he listened really close. I was scared, too, but the fear only steeled my resolve to plunge on.

“I’ll park the car at the far end of the store and we’ll go in together.”

There was a liquor store a couple of blocks away in a poorly lit strip shopping center, and we were going to rob the place.

“When we get in, you go behind the counter and get the money. Make the guy get down on his knees and keep your gun pressed to his head. He’ll be so scared he won’t do anything but pray. I’ll look for anybody coming at the door. Tell me when you have the money and I’ll get the car and we’re gone.”

I had wanted to do something like this since soon after I left my parent’s house. Things had been bad when I moved out. In high school I started smoking pot and I snorted cocaine if I could get the money to buy it. By some miracle my grades didn’t fail, I was a good student, but my life started to crumble around the edges. I tried to hide my abuse but my parents found out, of course, and they didn’t know how to deal with it. After graduating from school, I would have gone to the college where my father was financial officer, if I hadn’t ruined my own chances. Mom was behind it, and she was right. I couldn’t go to college where everyone knew my father if I didn’t break my cycle of abuse before it became addiction. That was when I started to laugh about how silly everyone else was. I left home, laughing. Then things got worse. The job I scraped up landed me in an apartment house that was a barrio filled with Mexicans and Orientals and barely provided enough money to eat and buy weed. I still laughed at everyone else, but my own hardship was deathly serious and someone else’s fault. My thoughts twisted until taking the money from that liquor store became justified by what everybody else had done to me.

“I’ll leave the car running when we go in, Frankie. Don’t worry about anyone coming in while we’re doing it, everyone in this neighborhood is out of town or somewhere starting their holiday. Just do everything as quick as you can and we don’t have to worry about anything going wrong.

“You ready to go, Bud?”

Frankie nodded that he was ready and I started the car. I still had the dark blue ’64 Fairlane I had learned to drive in. It was the only thing I cared about much. I turned out the lights as we pulled to the far end of the liquor store. Nothing else on the strip was open, closed early for Thanksgiving, and it was dark.

“Remember everything and don’t get jumpy or you’ll forget what to do.”

We got out of the car and I could tell Frankie was more scared than I was.

“Calm down. We’ve gone over everything a thousand times. Just do it and you won’t have time to forget.”

Frankie pulled the black barreled .45 out of his belt as soon as he got in the store and pointed it at the guy behind the counter. I got the sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun from under my coat while Frankie went behind the counter. “Do it quick; push no sale and the drawer will pop open.” Frankie didn’t make the guy kneel down but he shoved the barrel of his gun into the back of the man’s neck. When he reached his other hand to get the money, the store owner grabbed for something under the counter. “Watch out!” Frankie pulled the trigger without even turning back to look, but the guy had already dropped to the floor. The next shot came from behind the counter and Frankie’s face became a mask of blood. I unloaded both barrels through the thick wall of the counter. I saw fire leap out of the barrel and the store owner reeled backwards into the bottles behind him. The pattern of blood engulfed his head and chest. “Jesus,” I whispered, and the image of the helpless rabbit skidding across the dried leaves invaded my nightmare. I struggled to get Frankie, but the store owner was slumped over him and neither one of them would move. I ran out to the car; it was still running. I jumped in, threw the gun into the back and took off. I could already hear sirens. I didn’t know where to go. I started toward the barrio where I lived, down a narrow two-way road with a deep ditch running along either side. Then a cop car flashed out from the neighborhood into the street with its sirens wailing. I must have been doing sixty-five per and I slammed into the passenger side of the cop’s car. The impact sent me careening into the ditch on my right and flipped the car into a culvert where I was pinned. I didn’t know if the cops were after me or just heading to the scene, but I panicked. There was about of foot of water standing in the ditch and it was flowing through the shattered windshield and filling the ceiling. The shotgun was half-submerged. I tried to reach the gun, but the frame of the driver’s side window had shot into my shoulder and the pain shocked me and stopped me from reaching the gun. One of the cops was wading through the water in the ditch toward the car. I could see his black boots pass by the empty bottle of Ezra Brooks bobbling in the current he created. The other officer was either hurt in the crash or calling in. When the first cop got closer he could see me reaching around. At the same time his flashlight found the gun. He pulled the revolver from his holster and told me to freeze, pointing the gun at me all the time. The cop left in the car must have been calling in because it didn’t take long for an ambulance to get there.

They pried me out of the car and wrapped my shoulder in a gauze sling. They hoisted me into the back of the ambulance. The cop followed me in, water dripping from his boots like my blood onto the floor. As we rushed toward the hospital I remembered a winding stretch of highway outside Texarkana where I had learned to drive, listening hard to every word my Grandpa told me.

© 2010 Wasted Space Publishing