Dhammapada - the oldest
anthological treatise Lakehouse
Colombo -- Every Buddhist must
have a copy of the Dhammapada at home, as its guiding light illuminates the mind to lead a
virtuous life. He must read it and understand it, to achieve the best results.
The Dhammapada is a compendium of 423
verses abridged from the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka (one of the divisions of the
Three Pitakas). The Sutta Pitaka contsists mainly of discourses delivered by the Buddha,
during his 45 years of ministration. In addition, there are also few discourses delivered
by some of his distinguished disciples, such as Ven. Sariputta, Moggallana and Ananda.
The Sutta Pitaka is divided into five
divisions, i.e., the Digha Nikaya (collection of long discourses), Majjhima Nikaya
(collection of discourses of medium length), Samyutta Nikaya (collection of cognate
sayings), Anguttara Nikaya (collection of discourses in numerical order) and Khuddaka
Nikaya (collection of smaller discourses).
The Khuddaka Nikaya consists of Khuddaka
Patha (shorter texts), Dhammapada (the Way of Truth), Udana (paeons of joy) Iti Vuttaka
('Thus said' discourses), Sutta Nipata (collected discourses), Vimana Vattu (stories of
celestial mansions), Peta Vattu (stories of 'petas' born in awful states), Theragatha
(psalms of the brethren), Therigatha (psalms of the sisters), Jataka (birth stories),
Niddesa (expositions), Patisambhida (analytical knowledged), Apadana (lives of arhants),
Buddhavamsa (chronicle of the Buddha) and Cariya Pitaka (modes of conduct).
The Tripitaka of the Buddhist canon
consists of Buddha's teachings, divided into three sections, viz: The Vinaya Pitaka (Code
of Discipline), the Sutta Pitaka (Discourses) and Abhidhamma (the Ultimate Doctrine). To a
deep thinker, the last is the most important Pitaka, because it contains the profound
philosophy of the teachings of the Buddha, in contrast to the illuminating but simpler
discourses of the Sutta Pitaka.
The Dhammapada, comprised of 26 'vaggas'
(chapters), has expressions blended with exhortations so fascinating with its terse
eloquence, so unusual and so inspiring, that the book can be considered the oldest
anthological treaties in the world. It is a gospel with a timeless message, and has
appealed to the human mind, for more than 2,500 years. It has enlightened the minds of
many western scholars and intellectuals who held the view that it was one of the most
sacred books of the East.
In 1855, the Dhammapada was translated
into Latin by the erudite German scholar Fausboll. In 1870, Prof. Max Muller translated it
into English, which received such publicity among the westerners, that it had to be
reprinted many times. In 1914, the Pali Text Society, reprinted the Dhammapada, and F. L.
Woodward rendered it into English in 1921. The educated westerners, irrespective of their
religious convictions, studied the Dhammapada for spiritual emancipation, so that they
could purify themselves from the dross of ignorance, both by example and by precept.
Today, there are many Europeans who have embraced Buddhism, having realised the truth sans
The Dhammapada was not preached by the
Buddha, in its present form. Three months after Buddha's demise (Maha Parinibbana) in BC
543, his disciples, who assembled at the First Buddhist Council, to rehearse the Dhamma,
collected some of his golden utterances, expounded on different occasions, and arranged
them in the present form, to suit the temperaments of the readers and listeners.
A valuable commentary on Dhammapada has
been translated by E. W. Burlinghame, for the Harvard Oriental Series, with a view to make
aware of the ethical, moral and philosophical system of Buddhism. It entails the
importance of the mind as the fore-runner of all evil.
The Dhammapada is a gospel of timeless
message, with hope and good cheer to the dejected, a message of wisdom to the ignorant, a
message of caution to the unwary, a message of guidance to the sinner and a message of
appreciation and encouragement, to those who are already on the correct path leading to
Nibbana. While pointing out the dangers of an indolent irreligious life, it holds a clear
prospect and a bright picture of beauty and grandeur for the spiritual minded. Sarvapalli
Radhakrishnan, Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at the Oxford University in
England (1936-1952), says "human conduct, righteous behaviour, reflection of self and
meditation are more important than vain speculation about the transcendency. Dhammapada
has an appeal to the modern world which is crumbling under the influence of
Buddha said "Tanhaya jayati soko,
tanhaya jayati bhayam, tanhaya vippa muttassa, natti soko kuto bhayam" (Dmp. 16:216).
It means that from craving springs grief, from craving springs fear, and for him who is
holy and free from craving, there is no grief, much less fear.
Dr. Cassius A. Pereira, who became a
bhikku by the name of Kassapa, says "If I were to name any book, from the whole
Tripitaka, I would, without hesitation, choose the Dhammapada. It is the best single book
in all the wide world of literature, to bring solace either from misfortune or grief. One
never turns in vain to these verses of incomparable value, either for advice, or for the
alleviation of suffering, but for cheer and penetrating insight".