“Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightning, like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?”

Sanjiv Desai passed this one on to me today. I’d never seen it before, although it seems it’s everywhere…

“Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightening, like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?”

I thought that one might come from Thomas Byrom’s kinda-made-up “translation” of the Dhammapada, or from Jack Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book.” It turns out it’s a bit of both.

Byrom has:

Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
You too shall pass away.
Knowing this, how can you quarrel?

This is meant to be a translation of verses 5 and 6 of the Dhammapada, which in Buddharakkhita’s quite literal translation is:

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.

Byrom’s version is actually pretty accurate by his standards. A lot of the time he just wrote his own poetry, more or less ignoring what the Pali text actually says.

Jack Kornfield, in his Buddha’s Little Instruction Book (page 19), turned Byrom’s loose translation into:

“Life is as fleeting as a rainbow, a flash of lightning, a star at dawn. Knowing this, how can you quarrel?”

Then in “A Lamp in the Darkness,” Jack altered this further to:

“Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightening (sic), like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?”

The imagery almost certainly comes from another text altogether: the Mahayana Diamond Sutra.

So you should view this fleeting world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

So it’s an interesting conglomeration, this one! It embodies things the Buddha said (and even though the Diamond Sutra was composed long after the Buddha’s death, the concluding verse is similar to some things he’s recorded in the Pali scriptures as having taught).

For example this:

“Just as a dewdrop on the tip of a blade of grass quickly vanishes with the rising of the sun and does not stay long, in the same way, brahmans, the life of human beings is like a dewdrop.”

Or this:

Form is like a glob of foam;
feeling, a bubble;
perception, a mirage;
fabrications, a banana tree;
consciousness, a magic trick —
this has been taught
by the Kinsman of the Sun.
However you observe them,
appropriately examine them,
they’re empty, void
to whoever sees them
appropriately.

But despite these similarities, “Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightening, like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?” is definitely not a direct quotation.

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