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Dhammapada/The House of Impermanence

Meditation and Reading taken from The Dhammapada, trans by Eknath Easwaran

All other text is by Cynthia Stewart

For a historical introduction to this sacred text, see Leader Resource 1 - Historical Introduction -
Today's Themes

The impermanence of life is the theme of today’s session, and of much of the Buddha’s teachings. Every moment of life we are involved in change, and yet we are always looking for stability; every moment we are heading towards death, and yet we focus all our attention on the material things of this life. The Buddha’s call in today’s meditation to remember that the body is a mirage and death is waiting is not a call to moroseness, but rather to a remembrance that life is precious and we need to use it well. (You may wish to combine this meditation with the traditional Buddhist meditation on death found in the Dhammapada curriculum Session 2, Activity 3).

Today’s reading contains the famous “housebuilder” verses, which are said to be the first that the Buddha spoke upon arising after attaining enlightenment, and which he later repeated to his disciple Ananda. In these verses, we see where the impermanence of life and the body fall away in the sweet freedom of liberation, a liberation that the Buddha shows us is possible while still within life, within the body. It is the Buddha’s determined statement of arrival to the one who has previously barred his way.

The benediction is based on the very lovely articulation of the human condition in Chapter 21.302.


Words used in this session:

housebuilder – this is that which prevents one from realizing the dharma. It can be variously thought of as craving, ignorance or Mara, but the result is the same: that which keeps us tied to rebirth and away from the truth, life after life.

Mara (the Tempter) – the demon who tempted the Buddha with earthly pleasures during his search for enlightenment; he is used as a metaphor for all temptations that pull people away from the path of dharma

nirvana – the perfect state of being free from attachment and suffering

Call To Worship

If today the sun shines and the flowers bloom, does that make the day good?
If the rain falls and the storms come, do we call this day bad?
What will come will come, to the plants and to the earth and to ourselves,
with only our minds makings distinctions of good or bad.

In this hour, as we learn and grow and strive together,
     let us relinquish our judgments and feel peace in what is.
Remembering that life is sweet
     and that death comes for all,

let us recognize the beauty that lies beyond both.


As a flood sweeps away a slumbering village, death sweeps away those who spend their lives gathering flowers…caught in the pursuit of pleasure…

Remembering that this body is like froth, of the nature of a mirage, break the flower-tipped arrows of Mara. Never again will death touch you. 

Dhammapada 4.47-48, 46


Around the bones is built a house, plastered over with flesh and blood, in which dwell pride and pretence, old age and death. Even the chariot of a king loses its glitter in the course of time; so too the body loses its health and strength. But goodness does not grow old with the passage of time….

I have gone through many rounds of birth and death, looking in vain for the builder of this body. Heavy indeed is birth and death again and again! But now I have seen you, housebuilder, you shall not build this house again. Its beams are broken; its dome is shattered; self-will is extinguished; nirvana is attained.

Dhammapada 11.150-51, 53-54


This world of lies and truth destroys us with its cares yet binds us with its golden threads
     So hard it is to step without – so hard it is to remain within
Those we love and hate ensnare us with the joy and pain of their tempestuous presence
     So hard it is to hold them close – so hard it is to leave them behind
The peace beyond tumult and care, beyond exhaustion and pleasure, beyond torment and desire
     It waits quietly for our arrival

On that day, we understand the world of lies and truth as a dream
   On that day, we accept those we love and hate in the truth of their being

      On that day, we leave suffering behind forevermore