- 1 Introduction
- 2 Dhammapada
There are many different translations of the Dhammapada into English. Since Pali is a radically different language than English, and since shades of meaning are often lost to time, translators have a wide array of choices to make in every verse. Some translations attempt to convey the age and wisdom of the original text by using archaic English. Others try to maintain the poetic form by focusing on preserving the structure, assonance, and repetition of the original. Still others paraphrase the work in order to make it more approachable to a modern audience. The Dhammapada can serve many roles: as poetry, as anthropological description, as philosophical teaching, and as a guide for ethical living, just to name a few.
This translation does not attempt to be the most scholarly, the most literal, or the most poetic translation available. Instead, we have focused on making the words of the text applicable to daily life. Words and structures were chosen to be as useful as possible, rather than focusing on other aspects of the work. For example, verses will often indicate "When a person [acts in a certain way]", and this is usually rendered in this translation as "When I [act in this way]", in order to make the translation more specific to the reader. We hope that the text has not been strained unduly in making this translation, and all errors are of course our own.
Relatively few English translations of the Dhammapada are free of copyright restrictions. In order to facilitate the widespread use and understanding of the teachings of the Buddha, we have waived all copyrights on the translation. It is hoped that the reader will profit from the wisdom contained herein.
Customs used in this translation
Sanskrit and Pali are closely related languages used in ancient India. It is widely assumed that Gautama Buddha would have used Pali in day-to-day conversation, while Sanskrit was used in scholarly texts or for texts designed to be widespread. We have chosen the Pali versions of words, instead of the Sanskrit terms, merely out of familiarity and custom. The choice of Pali vs. Sanskrit terms has become a sectarian disagreement, and our use of Pali should not be seen as an advocation of either side of this debate. Whenever a Pali word is used, the Sanskrit word is listed beside it in parentheses.
There are two competing traditions regarding the numbering of verses. In one tradition, all 423 verses are numbered in order, regardless of chapter. In the other, each chapter begins a new numbering of verses. In this way, the second verse in the third chapter can be listed as Dhammapada 34 or as Dhammapada 3:2. We have listed both numbering systems in this translation, with the chapter:verse nomenclature first, and the single verse number in parentheses.
Chapter 1: The twin-verses
The mind is the basis for everything.
Everything is created by my mind, and is ruled by my mind.
When I speak or act with impure thoughts, suffering1 follows me
As the wheel of the cart follows the hoof of the ox.
The mind is the basis for everything.
Everything is created by my mind, and is ruled by my mind.
When I speak or act with a clear awareness, happiness stays with me.
Like my own shadow, it is unshakeable.
"I was wronged! I was hurt! I was defeated! I was robbed!"
If I cultivate such thought, I will not be free from hatred.
"I was wronged! I was hurt! I was defeated! I was robbed!"
If I turn away from such thoughts, I may find peace.
In this world, hatred has never been defeated by hatred.
Only love2 can overcome hatred.
This is an ancient and eternal law.
Everything will end.
When I understand this, all quarrels fade away.
As the wind topples a brittle tree
So will temptation3 topple me
If I am lazy, unrestrained, apathetic, seeking only endless pleasure.
The wind cannot uproot a mountain.
Temptation cannot uproot me
If I am alert, self-controlled, devout, unmoved by pleasure and pain.
The saffron robe4 is perfectly clean
But I am not ready to wear it
When I have not cleansed my spirit,
When I disregard truth and neglect to practice self-control.
When I have removed all defilements,
When I am filled with self-control and truthfulness,
Then I am truly worthy to wear the saffron robe.
When I see the truth as false,
When I believe illusion to be reality,
I am unable to find the truth.
I must see the essential reality as real,
And discard illusion.
Only then can I find the truth.
As heavy rain will penetrate a poorly-thatched roof,
So passion creeps into an unreflecting mind.
The rain will not penetrate a well-thatched roof.
Passion does not enter a tranquil and reflecting mind.
I grieve now, and I grieve in the future.
When I do wrong, I am doubly-grieved.
I mourn and suffer when I see the results of my actions.
I rejoice now, and I rejoice in the future.
When I am virtuous, I doubly-rejoice.
I smile and give thanks when I see the results of my actions.
I suffer now, and I suffer in the future.
When I do wrong, I suffer doubly.
It pains me to know that I have done wrong,
And it pains me even more to see the consequences.
I am happy now, and I am happy in the future.
When I am virtuous, I am doubly happy.
I am delighted to know I the good I have done,
And I am even more delighted to see the consequences.
Even if I can recite large portions of sacred texts,
If I do not put those into practice
Then I am like a shepherd counting someone else's sheep,
No closer to enlightenment5.
If I know just a little of the sacred texts,
But I put those teachings into practice,
Casting off desire, ill-will, and delusion,
Practicing wakefulness and meditation,
Free of attachments to anything, here or in the future,
Then I may become enlightened.
1 The word translated here as "suffering" is dukkha (duhkha), a central concept in the Buddha's teachings. It can also be translated as inadequacy, anguish, discomfort, distress, sorrow, or unsatisfactoriness. It is the understanding that the world as it is is not good enough and is not acceptable.
2 Love, here, is a translation of metta (maitri). Metta is not a passive, reflective emotion, but is an active verb, often translated as loving-kindness or friendliness. It is best understood as love shown through actions. For multi-cultural perspective on philosophical and spiritual dimensions of these meanings, see also discussion on the Hellenic term agape, often contrasted to erotic love.
3 Mara is temptation and illusion, the personification the of empty seductiveness of our desires. He is frequently depicted as a demon, or as a mischievous minor god. 4 The saphron robe is a symbol that one is a follower of the Buddha. Buddhist monks in some traditions wear habit dyed yellow with saffron. Being 'unready to wear the saphron robe' means that one is unready to call oneself a Buddhist.
5 The verse states that in this case, one is not ready to progress along the four stages toward sainthood. To make the text relevant to a modern audience, this is simplified to progressing toward enlightenment.
Chapter 2: Mindfulness
Mindfulness1 leads to deathlessness
Carelessness leads to death.
When I am heedful, I need not fear death
But when I am negligent, it's like I am dead already.
When I understand this, and am intent on mindfulness,
I rejoice in my awareness
And I rejoice in the awareness of others.
When I persevere in meditation,
Diligently devoting myself to concentration and insight,
I am released from the chains of attachment
And achieve True Bliss2.
If a person is energetic and mindful,
Pure in deed, acting with consideration,
Self-controlled, and following the Way of Enlightenment3,
Then he will be known and respected for his wisdom.
Through diligence and awareness,
Restraint and self-mastery,
I create a refuge which no flood can overwhelm
When I am foolish, I live carelessly and become dull.
When I am wise, I cherish my awareness.
It is my most precious treasure.
When I am negligent, I become addicted to sensual pleasures.
But when I am awake and contemplative, I find true happiness.
When my mindfulness drives away my spiritual slumber,
I climb the tower of wisdom, without attachment,
And veiw those trapped by their clinging.
Just as a person standing on a mountain gazes down at the world below,
I see without judgement those who suffer because of their delusions.
Mindful among the thoughtless,
Awake and alert among the slumbering,
I advance like a racehorse among old and crippled beasts.
Remember the story of how Maghava4, through mindfulness,
Rose to become the lord of heaven?
Mindfulness is always worthy of praise.
Heedlessness is always condemned.
When I5 delight in my awareness
And look with fear on negligence
I advance like a forest fire
Burning away all attachments, great and small.
When I delight in my awareness
And look with fear on negligence
Then I am not likely to fall.
Then I am very close to True Bliss.
1 Mindfulness is a translation of the word appamada (apramada). This complex term can be translated as awareness, vigilance, or heedfulness. It indicates non-infatuation and sanity. Its opposite, pamada (pramada) is frequently translated as carelessness, insanity, slumber, or dullness.
2 True Bliss is one way to describe nibbana (nirvana). This term is central to Buddhism, but cannot be easily rendered into a simple English word or phrase. It is the perfect cessation of desire; egolessness; deathlessness; the godlike state of being completely aware, yet unattached to the outcome. It is blissful, without suffering, ego, selfishness, or hatred. Some have translated it as "the Unbinding".
3 The Way of Enlightenment is an imperfect translation of dhamma (dharma). This common word is one of the most complex and untranslatable concepts in Buddhism. Roughly speaking, it refers to one's true path. It is the way that the Buddha taught: following your own inner path, and living according to the precepts of Buddhism. An in-depth discussion of the meaning of dhamma is beyond the scope of this text.
4 According to Indian mythology, a man named Maghava devoted his life to helping the poor. When he died, he was made into Indra, king of the gods.
5 The original text in this verse and the next refers to a monk who has taken a voluntary vow of poverty.
Chapter 3: The mind
My mind1 is trembling and unsteady,
Difficult to guard and difficult to restrain.
I straighten my thoughts
Like a fletcher straightening arrows.
Just like a fish thrashes about
When taken from its home in the water and thrown on dry land,
So my mind trembles and twists,
When taken from the world of illusion2 into meditation.
My mind is difficult to control.
Flighty and wild, it lands wherever it likes.
It is wonderful to control my mind,
Because a well-tamed mind brings happiness.
My mind is difficult to detect.
Very subtle, it slips away to wherever it likes.
When I am wise, I guard my mind,
Because a guarded mind brings happiness.
My thoughts wander far and wide, traveling alone,
Bodiless and naked, sheltering in a cave within me.
When I master my thoughts,
I will be freed from the bonds of illusion.
When my thoughts are unsteady,
When I forget the Way of Enlightenment,
When my dedication wavers,
Then my wisdom can not grow.
When my thoughts are free from passions,
Free from covetous thoughts and ill-will,
When I abandon judgements of right and wrong,
Then, ever-watchful, I will have no fear.
My body is as fragile as an earthen jar.
I secure my mind like a fortified city,
And fight temptation, using discernment as my sword.
I then guard what has been won,
But without laying claim to any of it.
Soon my body will be laid on the ground,
Dead and useless,
Discarded like a rotten log.
Enemies will hate each other.
Foes will harm each other.
But my own mind can harm me much worse.
My mother, my father, my friends and relatives
Can love and assist me.
But my own mind can help me much more.
1 The word citta (also spelled citta in Sanskrit) is translated here as mind. It can also be seen as thoughts or consciousness, in the sense of being conscious of things going on around you.
2 Here the Pali phrase refers to the realm of Mara. Mara, translated sometimes as "illusion" and sometimes as "temptation", is explained above in footnote 3 of chapter 1.
Chapter 4: The flowers
An expert garland-maker chooses just the right flower for his composition
But who can truly understand his or her own self?
Who understands every mysterious power1 in this world?
Who can discern the path toward enlightenment2 that has been taught to us?
As a dedicated disciple3, I am learning to understand myself.
I strive to understand every power in this world.
I am learning to discern the path toward enlightenment,
As expert garland-maker choosing just the right flower.
My body is as impermanent as foam.
Its true nature is as a mirage.
Realizing this, I pluck out the flowers of illusion
And pass beyond death's sight4
A great tidal wave may wash away
An entire village, caught unawares.
If I am distracted by the flowers of pleasure,
I, too, may be washed away.
If my mind is distracted,
If I become addicted to the flowers of pleasure,
Death will take me long before my desires are satisfied.
A bee collects pollen and then leaves, never harming the flower.
Neither the color nor the fragrance are diminished in any way.
In this way, I travel through life.
Instead of focusing on the faults of others,
The wrongs they have done, the good they have failed to do,
I look clearly at my own acts,
What I do, and what I leave undone.
Like a beautiful and colorful blossom that has no scent
Are words of wisdom spoken by one who does not practice them.
Like a beautiful blossom with a rich, sweet scent
Are words of wisdom spoken by one who puts them into practice.
Many different kinds of garlands can be made
With the same heap of flowers.
Many different kinds of good deeds
Can be done between my birth and death in this world.
The scents of flowers cannot blow against the wind.
Neither can the perfumes of jasmine, sandalwood, or clove.
But the fragrance of virtue radiates in every direction.
Jasmine, sandalwood, lotus, and clove:
The fragrance of vitue far surpasses all of these.
The fragrances of lavish perfumes grow faint
But the fragrance of virtue stays strong.
It wafts up even to the heavens.
When I possess these virtues,
Living in mindfullness and freed by right knowlege,
Temptation5 cannot find me.
Illusion cannot follow me.
A heap of trash sits, discarded, by the side of the road
From out of it grows a beautiful and fragrant lotus flower.
In the same way, out of the rubbish of this world,
A follower of the Buddha may grow,
With wisdom shining out among the blind.
1 The verse mentions specific powers and divinities that were very familiar to the Buddha's disciples, but which would not be familiar to a modern Western audience.
2 The verse uses the word Dhammapada, the name of this text. It is assumed that the verse existed before it was collected into the Dhammapada; therefore the word is here rendered to "the path to Enlightenment" instead of being left untranslated.
3 The Pali term refers to a student who has undergone the first level of training, but still has far to go before attaining perfection.
4 or "beyond sight of the King of Death". In other words, the fear of death has no meaning for one who has attained nibbana.
5 Temptation and illusion here are personified as Mara.
Chapter 5: The fool
Long is the night for the insomniac
Long is the journey for the weary traveller
And long is the cycle of suffering1
For the fool who does not know the Way of Enlightenment.
As I travel, if I cannot walk with someone I can learn from,
And I cannot walk with one who is my equal,
Then I should steadfastly travel alone.
There is no true companionship with the fool.
"Look at all my wealth and possessions!"
The fool suffers by being attached to these things.
But he doesn't even have ownership of himself.
So where is his wealth? Whose are his possessions?
A fool who knows he is a fool
Is wise, at least to that extent.
But a fool who believes himself to be wise
Truly fits the title "fool".
A fool may be around a wise person his whole life
But that does not mean he will know the Way of Englightenment,
Any more than a spoon can know the taste of the soup it touches.
If I am perceptive and aware,
Then even if I listen to a wise person for just a moment
I will quickly recognize the Way of Enlightenment
As the tongue immediately knows the taste of the soup it touches.
Foolish people with poor understanding
Are their own worst enemies.
They plant the seeds of unethical acts2
And when the plant grows to a tree, the fruit is bitter.
When I do something but later regret it,
Weeping and mourning,
Then I should not have done it in the first place.
But when I do something
And look back on it with true gladness,
Then it was a good deed to have done.
An evil deed may seem, to a fool,
To be as sweet as honey,
But only because it has not yet ripened.
When it ripens, the fool comes to grief.
I could fast for months,
Eating only what fits on a single blade of grass
But I would not gain a fraction of the benefits
Of comprehending the true nature of things.
Unethical acts2, like milk,
Do not sour right away.
They follow the fool,
Burning like a coal smoldering within ashes.
Knowlege and skill only bring a fool to ruin.
This shallow knowlege separates him from wisdom
As if decapitating him.
1 The Pali word is Samsara (the same in Sanskrit), which refers to the endless cycle of reincarnation, of action and reaction, and cause and effect. Enlightenment is a way to end the cycle of Samsara, both in the metaphysical sense of ending reincarnation and in the more practical sense of no longer needing to continue in the many cycles of anger and suffering in our lives.
2 The verse refers to negative Kamma (Karma). Kamma is seen as a natural law in Indian philosophy, sort of a law of cause and effect that applies to ethics. According to this belief, all actions, either positive or negative, will come back to affect you in equal measure, either in this life or the next. Concepts like "punishment" and "mercy" do not apply to Kamma, any more than they do to gravity (although gravity admittedly lacks an ethical dimension).
Chapter 6: The Wise
Should one a man of wisdom meet
who points out faults and gives reproof,
who lays a hidden treasure bare,
with such a sage should one consort.
Consorting so is one enriched
and never in decline.
Let him exhort, let him instruct,
and check one from abasement.
Dear indeed is he to the true,
not dear is he to the false.
Don’t go around with evil friends,
with rogues do not resort.
Spend your time with noble friends,
and worthy ones consort.
Happy is he who Dhamma drinks
with heart that’s clear and cool.
One so wise e’er delights
in Dhamma declared by the Noble.