The Dhammapada: Verses and Stories
Courtesy of For free distribution only, as a gift of dhamma.
Dhammapada is one of the best known books of the Pitaka. It is a
collection of the teachings of the Buddha expressed in clear, pithy
verses. These verses were culled from various discourses given by the
Buddha in the course of forty-five years of his teaching, as he
travelled in the valley of the Ganges (Ganga) and the sub-mountain tract
of the Himalayas. These verses are often terse, witty and convincing.
Whenever similes are used, they are those that are easily understood
even by a child, e.g., the cart’s wheel, a man’s shadow, a deep pool,
flowers. Through these verses, the Buddha exhorts one to achieve that
greatest of all conquests, the conquest of self; to escape from the
evils of passion, hatred and ignorance; and to strive hard to attain
freedom from craving and freedom from the round of rebirths. Each verse
contains a truth (dhamma), an exhortation, a piece of advice.
Dhammapada verses are often quoted by many in many countries of the
world and the book has been translated into many languages. One of the
earliest translations into English was made by Max Muller in 1870. Other
translations that followed are those by F.L. Woodward in 1921, by
Wagismara and Saunders in 1920, and by A.L. Edmunds (Hymns of the Faith)
in 1902. Of the recent translations, that by Narada Mahathera is the
most widely known. Dr. Walpola Rahula also has translated some selected
verses from the Dhammapada and has given them at the end of his book
“What the Buddha Taught,” revised edition. The Chinese translated the
Dhammapada from Sanskrit. The Chinese version of the Dhammapada was
translated into English by Samuel Beal (Texts from the Buddhist Canon
known as Dhammapada) in 1878.
In Burma, translations have been made into Burmese, mostly in
prose, some with paraphrases, explanations and abridgements of stories
relating to the verses. In recent years, some books on Dhammapada with
both Burmese and English translations, together with Pali verses, have
also been published.
The Dhammapada is the second book of the Khuddaka Nikaya of the
Suttanta Pitaka, consisting of four hundred and twenty-three verses in
twenty-six chapters arranged under various heads. In the Dhammapada are
enshrined the basic tenets of the Buddha’s Teaching.
Verse (21) which begins with “Appamado amatapadam” meaning
“Mindfulness is the way to Nibbana, the Deathless,” is a very important
and significant verse. Mindfulness is the most important element in
Tranquillity and Insight Meditation. The last exhortation of the Buddha
just before he passed away was also to be mindful and to endeavour
diligently (to complete the task of attaining freedom from the round of
rebirths through Magga and Phala). It is generally accepted that it was
on account of this verse on mindfulness that the Emperor Asoka of India
and King Anawrahta of Burma became converts to Buddhism. Both kings had
helped greatly in the propagation of Buddhism in their respective
In verse (29) the Buddha has coupled his call for mindfulness with a
sense of urgency. The verse runs: “Mindful amongst the negligent,
highly vigilant amongst the drowsy, the wise man advances like a race
horse, leaving the jade behind.”
Verses (1) and (2) illustrate the immutable law of Kamma, under
which every deed, good or bad, comes back to the doer. Here, the Buddha
emphasizes the importance of mind in all our actions and speaks of the
inevitable consequences of our deeds, words and thoughts.
Verses (153) and (154) are expressions of sublime and intense joy
uttered by the Buddha at the very moment of his Enlightenment. These two
verses give us a graphic account of the culmination of the Buddha’s
search for Truth.
tell us about the Buddha finding the ‘house-builder,’ Craving, the
cause of repeated births in Samsara. Having rid of Craving, for him no
more houses (khandhas) shall be built by Craving, and there will be no
Verses (277), (278) and (279) are also important as they tell us
about the impermanent, unsatisfactory and the non-self nature of all
conditioned things; it is very important that one should perceive the
true nature of all conditioned things and become weary of the khandhas,
for this is the Path to Purity.
Then the Buddha shows us the Path leading to the liberation from
round of rebirths, i.e., the Path with eight constituents (Atthangiko
Maggo) in Verse (273). Further, the Buddha exhorts us to make our own
effort in Verse (276) saying, “You yourselves should make the effort,
the Tathagatas only show the way.” Verse (183) gives us the teaching of
the Buddhas. It says, “Do no evil, cultivate merit, purify one’s mind;
this is the teaching of the Buddhas.”
In Verse (24) the Buddha shows us the way to success in life, thus:
“If a person is energetic, mindful, pure in thought, word and deed, if
he does everything with care and consideration, restrains his senses;
earns his living according to the Dhamma and is not unheedful, then, the
fame and fortune of that mindful person increase.”
These are some of the examples of the gems to be found in the
Dhammapada. Dhammapada is, indeed, a philosopher, guide and friend to
This translation of verses is from Pali into English. The Pali text
used is the Dhammapada Pali approved by the Sixth International
Buddhist Synod. We have tried to make the translation as close to the
text as possible, but sometimes it is very difficult, if not impossible,
to find an English word that would exactly correspond to a Pali word.
For example, we cannot yet find a single English word that can convey
the real meaning of the word “dukkha” used in the exposition of the Four
Noble Truths. In this translation, wherever the term “dukkha” carries
the same meaning as it does in the Four Noble Truths, it is left
untranslated; but only explained.
When there is any doubt in the interpretation of the dhamma concept
of the verses or when the literal meaning is vague or unintelligible,
we have referred to the Commentary (in Pali) and the Burmese translation
of the Commentary by the Nyaunglebin Sayadaw, a very learned thera. On
many occasions we have also consulted the teachers of the Dhamma
(Dhammacariyas) for elucidation of perplexing words and sentences.
In addition we have also consulted Burmese translations of the
Dhammapada, especially the translation by the Union Buddha Sasana
Council, the translation by the Sangaja Sayadaw (1805-1876), a leading
Maha thera in the time of King Mindon and King Thibaw, and also the
translation by Sayadaw U Thittila, an Ovadacariya Maha thera of the
Burma Pitaka Association. The book by the Sangaja Sayadaw also includes
paraphrases and abridgements of the Dhammapada stories.
Summaries of the Dhammapada stories are given in the second part of
the book as it is generally believed that the Dhammapada Commentary
written by Buddhaghosa (5th century A.D.) is a great help towards a
better understanding of the Dhammapada. Three hundred and five stories
are included in the Commentary. Most of the incidents mentioned in the
stories took place during the life-time of the Buddha. In some stories,
some facts about some past existences were also retold.
In writing summaries of stories we have not tried to translate the
Commentary. We have simply culled the facts of the stories and have
rewritten them briefly: A translation of the verses is given at the end
of each story.
It only remains for me now to express my deep and sincere gratitude
to the members of the Editorial Committee, Burma Pitaka Association,
for having meticulously gone through the script; to Sayagyi Dhammacariya
U Aung Moe and to U Thein Maung, editor, Burma Pitaka Association, for
helping in the translation of the verses.