“Our life is the creation of our mind.”

“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 our mind.”

This one’s a translation of the first verse of the Dhammapada, or at least the first half of the first verse. It’s from the Juan Mascaró translation, published by Penguin, which happens to be the first translation I ever encountered. When I read this verse I realized that I was a Buddhist — although I have to say that I now think it’s a terrible translation.

As a minor point, the words “yesterday,” “today,” and “tomorrow” are not in the Pali. “Yesterday,” “today,” and “tomorrow” would be acceptable translations for the terms “past,” “present,” and “future,” taken poetically. So I wouldn’t have ruled this out of the basis of that language alone. As I said those terms aren’t in the original, but you’d have to look at the original to know that.

But “our life is the creation of our mind” is very, very far from what’s in the original, which could be translated very literally as “All experiences (or mental states) are preceded by mind, they have mind as their master, they are produced by mind.” And it’s very far from being similar to anything the Buddha taught.

“Mental states” or “experiences” (dhamma could also be translated as “mental phenomena”) and “life” are very different things, and that’s a much deeper distortion of the text, and of the Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha didn’t seem to hold any view that our life was the creation of our mind.

To me the term “life” is far too broad. An extreme interpretation of “life is the creation of our mind” would be that the external world (“life”) is nothing more than an illusory projection of our own consciousness. And in fact this solipsistic position is found in certain strands of Hinduism. For example, “For the enlightened, all that exists is nothing but the Self” (Īśã Upaniṣad).

Our “experience” being the creation of the mind is much narrower. The Buddha, as I understand the teachings of the Pāli canon, never argued that the external world was illusory (māyā), but merely that our experience of it is simply distorted (vipallāsa).

Since Mascaro was influenced by Hinduism, I think he was misinterpreting the text in line with his own religious beliefs.

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4 thoughts on ““Our life is the creation of our mind.””

  1. when we study abhidhamma in deep ,
    citta vithi; it says that all we hear, see,taste or feel (including thoughts-(arammana)) are the results of the old karma. only the javana are what we do now.and javana will cause to our karma for future.

    according to the old karma, mind makes our world as we see it now.

    things that we see/hear/feel/think can differ according to the karma of each person.

    all the worlds are mind created including heavens and hells.because mind create it.

    so our life is a creation of our mind

    1. That sounds a bit of a stretch, Waruna. If the Abhidhamma contradicts the suttas, as it does in this case, I’m going to stick with the suttas, which are far closer to the Buddha’s teaching. In any event, even some of the commentarial tradition appears to have taken the rather sensible view that kamma was only one of the forms of conditionality affecting us, and outlined five niyamas, of which kamma was but one.

      1. abhidhamma is a buddhas teaching which is not popular among most of the buddist. buddha taught the abhidhamma to gods in the heaven.
        it was 3 monts long sermon.
        so buddha choose the heaven to do the sermon rather than human world.(9 min in heaven)
        but when buddha came to have his meals to the himan world he taught the abhidhamma to sariputta thero in short.
        but due to his wiseness sariputta thero understood the abhidhamma and he taught it to his 500 fellow theros.
        so it is still buddhas teaching that explains the things clearly that sutta cannot explain clearly itself.

        when i started to learn abhidhamma i understood that it is the heart of buddisam.

        it clearly explain mind and nibbana.

        it will give you a precise idea about anichcha. or every thing is subjected to change fast , and the speed of that is unimaginable.

        further more please refer purana / nawa kamma sutta which will tell you more about kamma.

        so could you please have a draft look at abhidhamma which will help you a lot in the way of attain nibbana faster.

        1. I’m afraid I don’t believe for one moment that the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma, Waruna. While some Abhidhamma analysis is interesting or useful, I prefer to focus on investigating the suttas, since this is the closest we’re going to get to how the Buddha expressed himself, and that in turn is the closest we’re going to get to how he saw things. And I believe it’s by understanding more closely how the Buddha saw things (and not necessarily how the monks who compiled the Abhidhamma saw things) that Awakening is most likely to arise.

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