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.
Excerpt from the Dhammapada
- 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.
- He insulted me, he hurt me, he defeated me, he robbed
me. Those who think such thoughts will not be free from
- 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
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
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 — 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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