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The Dhammapada - The path of the Dhamma

The Dhammapada (Pali, sometimes translated as Path of the Dharma. Also Prakrit Dhamapada, Sanskrit Dharmapada) is a Buddhist scripture, containing 423 verses in 26 categories. According to tradition, these are verses spoken by the Buddha on various occasions, most of which deal with ethics. A fourth or fifth century commentary attributed to Buddhaghosa includes 305 stories which give context to the verses.

The Dhammapada is a popular section of the Pali Tipitaka and is considered one of the most important pieces of Theravada literature. Although the Pali edition is the most well known, a Gandhari edition written in Kharosthi and a seemingly related text in Sanskrit known as the Udanavarga have also been discovered. Despite being a primarily Theravada text, the Dhammapada is read by many Mahayana Buddhists and remains a very popular text across all schools of Buddhism.

The Dhammapada - The path of the Dhamma

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Excerpt from the Dhammapada

Contrary Ways

  1. 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. 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.
  2. He insulted me, he hurt me, he defeated me, he robbed me. Those who think such thoughts will not be free from hate.
  3. For hate is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal...

(Translation by Juan Mascaro)

Check your mind,
Be on your guard,
Pull yourself out,
As an elephant from mud. — xxiii.8


Buddhism, along with Christianity and Islam, is one of the three major religions in the world. Like Christianity and Islam, it is spread throughout the world but also has a geographical center, Asia, where it predominates. Unlike Christianity and Islam, it has no absolutely fixed canon of scriptural writings—with the exception, of course, of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the original Buddha—but rather consists of a veritable mountain of writings and teachings; some Buddhists accept all these writings as "canonical," while others enforce a hierarchy on them, while others reject some or most of these writings and teachings. Growing up in a Christian or Jewish community as we have (even if we happen not to be Christian or Jewish), it is hard for us, as Westerners, to comprehend the size and openness of the Buddhist Scriptures; potentially, anybody who achieves enlightenment could add to the canon of the Buddhist scriptures, an idea that most of us, with our ideas of a final and fixed body of religious "scripture," would find alien.

As daunting as the sheer size and number of Buddhist sects and teachings seem for any student approaching it for the first time might be, all Buddhist sects essentially share one set of writings in common: the teachings of the Buddha. Far and away the most crucial of these writings is The Sermon at Benares, or more standardly, the Dhammacakkappavattanasutra ("The Turning of the Wheel of Dharma"); this sermon is in Buddhist religion what "The Sermon on the Mount" is to the Christian religion: both the first teachings and the most central. The text of this sermon is reproduced in your textbook on page 65. The sayings of the Buddha were extracted out of the stories of Buddha's life to form The Dhammapada, which means "the path of dharma." This book consists of 423 sayings of the Buddha, grouped into 26 categories. One must take the title of the book with utmost seriousness; the sayings of the Buddha were not meant to be a fixed, static, unchanging doctrine, but rather a path which anyone can follow.

Your textbook contains a life of Siddhartha Guatama, the young prince who, out of a sense of infinite compassion for the sufferings of humanity, undertook to free humanity from the endless cycles of birth and rebirth (samsara ) and the suffering (duhkha ) incumbent to these cycles. Finding that austerity and absolute asceticism was not the answer, Siddhartha turned to a moderate existence, the "middle way," which formed the basis of meditation into the heart of existence. Meditation released him from all concern for his individual self or ego; at the moment his "self" as a particular, discreet entity faded from existence, he entered into Nirvana, which means "extinction" and is the only escape from the sufferings of the world and the cycles of birth and death. At this point, Siddhartha was buddha , the "awakened one," for he had awakened from the fleetingness of life into the permanence of the divine. Moved by compassion for his fellow human beings, however, he slipped back into the ordinary run of things in order to teach humans how to attain this state of extinction outside of suffering, death, and decay. He came down and delivered the his first sermon in the Deer Park in Benares; this speech was the pivotal moment in human history, the point at which the divine came in contact with the human world, and set off "the wheel of dharma (the path)," which continues to turn until the end of time.


Read these selections and "The Turning of the Wheel of Dharma" (in your textbook) very carefully. Human beings desire one thing in the thought of the Buddha: pleasure (sukha ). They find instead "suffering" or "pain" (duhkha ). The cause of that suffering is selfishness or self-centeredness (trishna ). If this selfishness and self-centeredness is totally extinguished (nirvana ), then all suffering and pain cease. To extinguish such selfishness and self-centeredness is, however, a long and difficult process. At the foundation of the Buddha's world view and the process of enlightenment or awakening is the idea of karma, which are all the effects which spin out endlessly from previous causes and previous thoughts in this life and the infinity of lives which preceded. What does this mean? If you do or think anything, there will be a reciprocal effect: reward for virtue, or retribution for sin. This reciprocal effect, if it does not appear in this world, will surely appear in some other existence. All that happens to you, all that you think, all that you do, is in some way a reciprocal effect of what has happened to you in the past, what you thought in the past, or what you did in the past. Hence the near impossibility of getting off this endless round of cause and effect; existence becomes this kind of perpetual motion machine. The most important cause in this universe for the Buddhist is thought (see Dhammapada 1)

Your translation is taken from The Dhammapada , translated from the Pali by F. Max Müller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1881). The Tibetan mandalas are from the Rossi collection (©Rossi estate) and are reproduced courtesy of the Rossi people; the Shakyamuni Buddha image is from the Asian Art pages reproduced with their gracious permission.

The Dhammapada - The path of the Dhamma

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The Dhammapada — Ven. Acharya Buddharakkita.

Translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita and with an introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi. The Dhammapada is the best known and most widely esteemed text in the Pali Tipitaka, the sacred scriptures of Theravada Buddhism. The work is included in the Khuddaka Nikaya ("Minor Collection") of the Sutta Pitaka, but its popularity has raised it far above the single niche it occupies in the scriptures to the ranks of a world religious classic. Composed in the ancient Pali language, this slim anthology of verses constitutes a perfect compendium of the Buddha's teaching, comprising between its covers all the essential principles elaborated at length in the forty-odd volumes of the Pali Canon.


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