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Dhammapada - the oldest anthological treatise

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 dogmatism.

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 wickedness".

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".


Updated: 21-8-2001

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