(Photo by Sven Hoppe via Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo by Sven Hoppe via Wikimedia Commons)

By Dan Wilcock

Many of life’s transformations occur gradually, drop by drop into a bucket. We don’t get to choose the nature of the bucket’s overall contents by deciding the fate of any one particular drop. If the bucket is full of badness, that can only be changed with time and persistence. We may have several buckets, some full of clear water and others filled with slime. Most people have a mix.

For me, this is one of the best metaphors for the process of developing virtue/s and improving life. By no means my original thought, this metaphor is attributed to the Buddha. It can be found in the Dhammapada, which records the Buddha’s teachings in poetic verse. Verses 121 and 122, as translated by Gil Fronsdal, read:

Don’t disregard evil, thinking

“It won’t come back to me!”

With dripping drops of water

Even a water jug is filled

Little by little,

A fool is filled with evil

*

Don’t disregard merit, thinking

“It won’t come back to me!”

With dripping drops of water

Even a water jug is filled

Little by little,

A sage is filled with merit

These phrases are a nice microcosm of the entire poem, which uses contrast and repetition creatively to teach the reader about alternatives and causality. What I like about the metaphor is its positive assumption (yes, we can direct our lives and change our outcomes), tempered by realism (the process is as slow, and the mechanism can go up, down, or possibly sideways).  It makes a lot of sense to me, and inspires me to make incremental changes to improve life knowing that results won’t appear for a long time.

Here’s are a few riffs on the theme that come to mind:

Dripping drops

  • build more financial resilience and pay down debts
  • keep extra pounds from accumulating on bodies
  • form meaningful social connections
  • make equanimity possible
  • increase people’s capacity to help others

Of course sometimes life kicks over the bucket. A car crash. Getting fired. Unpredictable disease. And no matter how well a life is lived, the drops that contribute to aging and dying accumulate as well. For younger people, the metaphor is kinder. Time is on their side. For older people, it’s harder to change the mix but not impossible.

2 thoughts on “Dripping drops

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