The Dhammpada is a true gem of the ancient Buddhist scriptures (the Pali Canon) of Theravada Buddhism and probably one of the oldest Buddhist texts, dating back to the third century B.C.
It is also the first Buddhist text to be translated into a Western language and one of the widest read Buddhist works in general.
And, on aside note, it is also one of those texts from which many of the (fake) Buddhist quotes are derived that you encounter everywhere nowadays.
The word Dhammapada is difficult to translate. Dhamma means as much as ‘ultimate phenomena’, ‘reality’ or ‘universal truth’ and refers specifically to the teachings of the Buddha. Pada means as much as ‘foot´ but in this context can mean ‘path’, ‘words’ or ‘verses’. A reasonable translation of Dhammapada, especially considering it’s clear and down to earth teachings, could therefore be something simple like ‘verses of wisdom or ‘path of truth.
The Dhammapada contains 423 verses in 26 chapters. Each chapter has it’s own underlying theme. According to the great Buddhist scholar and commentator Buddhaghosa, author of the Visuddhimagga, each of the sayings of the Dhammapada arose in the mind of the Buddha in response to a unique situation. In the commentaries to the Dhammapada each of the situations leading up to a verse is given in detail.
Here we will give a selection of verses from each chapter to give the reader a general impression of the work. For this selection we limited ourselves to a symbolic 108 verses, one for each bead on a Buddhist mala. This comes down to 4 verses per chapter and 4 extra verses for those chapters where choosing was the hardest.
We hope that this yields just the right balance between conciseness while still demonstrating the depth of the Dhammapada as a whole.
In the end the selection process remains, of course, a purely personal choice, and we can only hope that the reader will feel inspired to delve into the complete work.
For a complete English translation with a great introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi we can heartily recommend The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom by Acharya Buddharakkhita, from which the following English translations stem as well.
Chapter 1: Pairs
1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.
5. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.
13. Just as rain breaks through an ill-thatched house, so passion penetrates an undeveloped mind.
14. Just as rain does not break through a well-thatched house, so passion never penetrates a well-developed mind.
Chapter 2: Heedfulness
23. The wise ones, ever meditative and steadfastly persevering, alone experience nibbāna, the incomparable freedom from bondage.
24. Ever grows the glory of him who is energetic, mindful and pure in conduct, discerning and self-controlled, righteous and heedful.
25. By effort and heedfulness, discipline and self-mastery, let the wise one make for himself an island which no flood can overwhelm.
27. Do not give way to heedlessness. Do not indulge in sensual pleasures. Only the heedful and meditative attain great happiness.
Chapter 3: The Mind
33. Just as a fletcher straightens an arrow shaft, even so the discerning man straightens his mind — so fickle and unsteady, so difficult to guard.
35. Wonderful, indeed, it is to subdue the mind, so difficult to subdue, ever swift, and seizing whatever it desires. A tamed mind brings happiness.
41. Ere long, alas! this body will lie upon the earth, unheeded and lifeless, like a useless log.
42. Whatever harm an enemy may do to an enemy, or a hater to a hater, an ill-directed mind inflicts on oneself a greater harm.
43. Neither mother, father, nor any other relative can do one greater good than one’s own well-directed mind.
Chapter 4: Flowers
46. Realizing that this body is like froth, penetrating its mirage-like nature, and plucking out Mara’s flower-tipped arrows of sensuality, go beyond sight of the King of Death!
50. Let none find fault with others; let none see the omissions and commissions of others. But let one see one’s own acts, done and undone.
51. Like a beautiful flower full of color but without fragrance, even so, fruitless are the fair words of one who does not practice them.
52. Like a beautiful flower full of color and also fragrant, even so, fruitful are the fair words of one who practices them.
Chapter 5: The Fool
63. A fool who knows his foolishness is wise at least to that extent, but a fool who thinks himself wise is a fool indeed.
71. Truly, an evil deed committed does not immediately bear fruit, like milk that does not turn sour all at once. But smoldering, it follows the fool like fire covered by ashes.
73. The fool seeks undeserved reputation, precedence among monks, authority over monasteries, and honor among householders.
75. One is the quest for worldly gain, and quite another is the path to nibbāna. Clearly understanding this, let not the monk, the disciple of the Buddha, be carried away by worldly acclaim, but develop detachment instead.
Chapter 6: The Wise
80. Irrigators regulate the rivers; fletchers straighten the arrow shaft; carpenters shape the wood; the wise control themselves.
81. Just as a solid rock is not shaken by the storm, even so the wise are not affected by praise or blame.
82. On hearing the Teachings, the wise become perfectly purified, like a lake deep, clear and still.
83. The good renounce (attachment for) everything. The virtuous do not prattle with a yearning for pleasures. The wise show no elation or depression when touched by happiness or sorrow.
Chapter 7: The Arahant or Perfect One
91. The mindful ones exert themselves. They are not attached to any home; like swans that abandon the lake, they leave home after home behind.
93. He whose cankers are destroyed and who is not attached to food, whose object is the Void, the Unconditioned Freedom — his path cannot be traced, like that of birds in the air.
95. There is no more worldly existence for the wise one who, like the earth, resents nothing, who is firm as a high pillar and as pure as a deep pool free from mud.
96. Calm is his thought, calm his speech, and calm his deed, who, truly knowing, is wholly freed, perfectly tranquil and wise.
Chapter 8: The Thousands
100. Better than a thousand useless words is one useful word, hearing which one attains peace.
103. Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.
110. Better it is to live one day virtuous and meditative than to live a hundred years immoral and uncontrolled.
112. Better it is to live one day strenuous and resolute than to live a hundred years sluggish and dissipated.
Chapter 9: Evil
116. Hasten to do good; restrain your mind from evil. He who is slow in doing good, his mind delights in evil.
121. Think not lightly of evil, saying, “It will not come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the fool, gathering it little by little, fills himself with evil.
122. Think not lightly of good, saying, “It will not come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little, fills himself with good.
127. Neither in the sky nor in mid-ocean, nor by entering into mountain clefts, nowhere in the world is there a place where one may escape from the results of evil deeds.
Chapter 10: Violence
130. All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
131. One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.
134. If, like a broken gong, you silence yourself, you have approached nibbāna, for vindictiveness is no longer in you.
144. Like a thoroughbred horse touched by the whip, be strenuous, be filled with spiritual yearning. By faith and moral purity, by effort and meditation, by investigation of the truth, by being rich in knowledge and virtue, and by being mindful, destroy this unlimited suffering.
Chapter 11: Old Age
146. When this world is ever ablaze, why this laughter, why this jubilation? Shrouded in darkness, will you not see the light?
147. Behold this body — a painted image, a mass of heaped up sores, infirm, full of hankering — of which nothing is lasting or stable!
153. Through many a birth in samsara have I wandered in vain, seeking the builder of this house (of life). Repeated birth is indeed suffering!
154. O house-builder, you are seen! You will not build this house again. For your rafters are broken and your ridgepole shattered. My mind has reached the Unconditioned; I have attained the destruction of craving.
Chapter 12: The Self
159. One should do what one teaches others to do; if one would train others, one should be well controlled oneself. Difficult, indeed, is self-control.
160. One truly is the protector of oneself; who else could the protector be? With oneself fully controlled, one gains a mastery that is hard to gain.
163. Easy to do are things that are bad and harmful to oneself. But exceedingly difficult to do are things that are good and beneficial.
165. By oneself is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself is one made pure. Purity and impurity depend on oneself; no one can purify another.
Chapter 13: The World
168. Arise! Do not be heedless! Lead a righteous life. The righteous live happily both in this world and the next.
170. One who looks upon the world as a bubble and a mirage, him the King of Death sees not.
174. Blind is the world; here only a few possess insight. Only a few, like birds escaping from the net, go to realms of bliss.
176. For a liar who has violated the one law (of truthfulness) who holds in scorn the hereafter, there is no evil that he cannot do.
178. Better than sole sovereignty over the earth, better than going to heaven, better even than lordship over all the worlds is the supramundane Fruition of Stream Entrance.
Chapter 14: The Buddha
180. By what track can you trace that trackless Buddha of limitless range, in whom exists no longer, the entangling and embroiling craving that perpetuates becoming?
183. To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one’s mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
185. Not despising, not harming, restraint according to the code of monastic discipline, moderation in food, dwelling in solitude, devotion to meditation — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
195-196. He who reveres those worthy of reverence, the Buddhas and their disciples, who have transcended all obstacles and passed beyond the reach of sorrow and lamentation — he who reveres such peaceful and fearless ones, his merit none can compute by any measure.
Chapter 15: Happiness
201. Victory begets enmity; the defeated dwell in pain. Happily the peaceful live, discarding both victory and defeat.
202. There is no fire like lust and no crime like hatred. There is no ill like the aggregates (of existence) and no bliss higher than the peace (of nibbāna).
204. Health is the most precious gain and contentment the greatest wealth. A trustworthy person is the best kinsman, nibbāna the highest bliss.
205. Having savored the taste of solitude and peace (of nibbāna), pain-free and stainless he becomes, drinking deep the taste of the bliss of the Truth.
Chapter 16: Affection
216. From craving springs grief, from craving springs fear. For one who is wholly free from craving there is no grief; whence then fear?
217. People hold dear him who embodies virtue and insight, who is principled, has realized the truth, and who himself does what he ought to be doing.
219. When, after a long absence, a man safely returns from afar, his relatives, friends and well-wishers welcome him home on arrival.
220. As kinsmen welcome a dear one on arrival, even so his own good deeds will welcome the doer of good who has gone from this world to the next.
Chapter 17: Anger
221. One should give up anger, renounce pride, and overcome all fetters. Suffering never befalls him who clings not to mind and body and is detached.
228. There never was, there never will be, nor is there now, a person who is wholly blamed or wholly praised.
229. But the man whom the wise praise, after observing him day after day, is one of flawless character, wise, and endowed with knowledge and virtue.
234. The wise are controlled in bodily action, controlled in speech and controlled in thought. They are truly well-controlled.
Chapter 18: Impurity
238. Make an island unto yourself! Strive hard and become wise! Rid of impurities and cleansed of stain, you shall not come again to birth and decay.
239. One by one, little by little, moment by moment, a wise man should remove his own impurities, as a smith removes his dross from silver.
251. There is no fire like lust; there is no grip like hatred; there is no net like delusion; there is no river like craving.
252. Easily seen is the fault of others, but one’s own fault is difficult to see. Like chaff one winnows another’s faults, but hides one’s own, even as a crafty fowler hides behind sham branches.
Chapter 19: The Just
259. A man is not versed in Dhamma because he speaks much. He who, after hearing a little Dhamma, realizes its truth directly and is not heedless of it, is truly versed in the Dhamma.
261. One in whom there is truthfulness, virtue, inoffensiveness, restraint and self-mastery, who is free from defilements and is wise — he is truly called an Elder.
264. Not by shaven head does a man who is indisciplined and untruthful become a monk. How can he who is full of desire and greed be a monk?
271-272. Not by rules and observances, not even by much learning, nor by gain of absorption, nor by a life of seclusion, nor by thinking, “I enjoy the bliss of renunciation, which is not experienced by the worldling” should you, O monks, rest content, until the utter destruction of cankers (Arahantship) is reached.
Chapter 20: The Path
276. You yourselves must strive; the Buddhas only point the way. Those meditative ones who tread the path are released from the bonds of Mara.
277. “All conditioned things are impermanent” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.
278. “All conditioned things are unsatisfactory” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.
279. “All things are not-self” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification.
282. Wisdom springs from meditation; without meditation wisdom wanes. Having known these two paths of progress and decline, let a man so conduct himself that his wisdom may increase.
Chapter 21: Miscellaneous
290. If by renouncing a lesser happiness one may realize a greater happiness, let the wise man renounce the lesser, having regard for the greater.
296. Those disciples of Gotama ever awaken happily who day and night constantly practice the Recollection of the Qualities of the Buddha.
301. Those disciples of Gotama ever awaken happily whose minds by day and night delight in the practice of meditation.
304. The good shine from afar, like the Himalaya mountains. But the wicked are unseen, like arrows shot in the night.
Chapter 22: Hell
307. There are many evil characters and uncontrolled men wearing the saffron robe. These wicked men will be born in states of woe because of their evil deeds.
309. Four misfortunes befall the reckless man who consorts with another’s wife: acquisition of demerit, disturbed sleep, ill-repute, and (rebirth in) states of woe.
311. Just as kusa grass wrongly handled cuts the hand, even so, a recluse’s life wrongly lived drags one to states of woe.
315. Just as a border city is closely guarded both within and without, even so, guard yourself. Do not let slip this opportunity (for spiritual growth). For those who let slip this opportunity grieve indeed when consigned to hell.
Chapter 23: The Elephant
325. When a man is sluggish and gluttonous, sleeping and rolling around in bed like a fat domestic pig, that sluggard undergoes rebirth again and again.
327. Delight in heedfulness! Guard well your thoughts! Draw yourself out of this bog of evil, even as an elephant draws himself out of the mud.
328. If for company you find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, you should, overcoming all impediments, keep his company joyously and mindfully.
331. Good are friends when need arises; good is contentment with just what one has; good is merit when life is at an end, and good is the abandoning of all suffering (through Arahantship).
Chapter 24: Craving
334. The craving of one given to heedless living grows like a creeper. Like the monkey seeking fruits in the forest, he leaps from life to life (tasting the fruit of his kamma).
335. Whoever is overcome by this wretched and sticky craving, his sorrows grow like grass after the rains.
336. But whoever overcomes this wretched craving, so difficult to overcome, from him sorrows fall away like water from a lotus leaf.
338. Just as a tree, though cut down, sprouts up again if its roots remain uncut and firm, even so, until the craving that lies dormant is rooted out, suffering springs up again and again.
348. Let go of the past, let go of the future, let go of the present, and cross over to the farther shore of existence. With mind wholly liberated, you shall come no more to birth and death.
Chapter 25: The Monk
362. He who has control over his hands, feet and tongue; who is fully controlled, delights in inward development, is absorbed in meditation, keeps to himself and is contented — him do people call a monk.
369. Empty this boat, O monk! Emptied, it will sail lightly. Rid of lust and hatred, you shall reach nibbāna.
372. There is no meditative concentration for him who lacks insight, and no insight for him who lacks meditative concentration. He in whom are found both meditative concentration and insight, indeed, is close to nibbāna.
373. The monk who has retired to a solitary abode and calmed his mind, who comprehends the Dhamma with insight, in him there arises a delight that transcends all human delights.
Chapter 26: The Holy Man
384. When a holy man has reached the summit of two paths (meditative concentration and insight), he knows the truth and all his fetters fall away.
385. He for whom there is neither this shore nor the other shore, nor yet both, he who is free of cares and is unfettered — him do I call a holy man.
391. He who does no evil in deed, word and thought, who is restrained in these three ways — him do I call a holy man.
401. Like water on a lotus leaf, or a mustard seed on the point of a needle, he who does not cling to sensual pleasures — him do I call a holy man.
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You yourselves must strive, the Buddhas only point the wayBuddha, Dhp 276