The Dhammapada

The most important Buddhist scriptures

300 BCE Siddhartha Gautama | 2007 Eknath Easwaran and Juan Mascaró

5 Stars
Photo by Jamie Street

The ultimate guide to self-realization

When you start reading The Dhammapada, you are not only introduced to the holy scriptures, but also to the truly impressive life of Siddharta Guatama. The book starts by engulfing you with a mesmerizing storyline, only to continue with fantastic explanations of the scriptures themselves. Each chapter prepares you for the more symbolic texts that follow. It truly helps you to understand the deeper meaning.

Again, this is an absolute must-read for people that want to follow the right path in life.

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  • 2%If the Upanishads are like slides, the Dhammapada seems more like a field guide.
  • 2%And the third of these classics, the Bhagavad Gita, gives us a map and guidebook. It gives a systematic overview of the territory, shows various approaches to the summit with their benefits and pitfalls, offers recommendations, tells us what to pack and what to leave behind. More than either of the others, it gives the sense of a personal guide. It asks and answers the questions that you or I might ask – questions not about philosophy or mysticism, but about how to live effectively in a world of challenge and change.
  • 3%if everything else were lost, we would need nothing more than the Dhammapada to follow the way of the Buddha.
  • 3%the Dhammapada is a sure guide to nothing less than the highest goal life can offer: Self-realization.
  • 3%the Rig Veda, whose oldest hymns go back at least to 1500 B.C.
  • 4%We are what our deep, driving desire is. As our deep, driving desire is, so is our will. As our will is, so is our deed. As our deed is, so is our destiny.
  • 5%The method these sages followed in their pursuit of truth was called brahmavidya, the “supreme science,” a discipline in which attention is focused intensely on the contents of consciousness. In practice this means meditation.
  • 5%the sages of the Upanishads took a different track from conventional science. They looked not at the world outside, but at human knowledge of the world outside. They sought invariants in the contents of consciousness and discarded everything impermanent as ultimately unreal, in the way that the sensations of a dream are seen to be unreal when one awakens.
  • 5%when everything individual was stripped away, an intense awareness remained: consciousness itself. The sages called this ultimate ground of personality atman, the Self.
  • 5%An ancient saying declares that ahimsa paramo dharma: the essence of dharma, the highest law of life, is to do no harm to any living creature.
  • 5%the world capricious. Nothing in it happens by chance – not because events are predestined, but because everything is connected by cause and effect. Thoughts are included
  • 6%karma and pain. In this view, no divine agency is needed to punish or reward us; we punish and reward ourselves. This was not regarded as a tenet of religion but as a law of nature, as universal as the law of gravity.
  • 6%For the Upanishadic sages, however, the books of karma could only be cleared within the natural world. Unpaid karmic debts and unfulfilled desires do not vanish when the physical body dies. They are forces which remain in the universe to quicken life again at the moment of conception when conditions are right for past karma to be fulfilled.
  • 6%at death the mind is the sum of everything we have done and everything we still desire to do. That sum of forces has karma to reap, and when the right context comes – the right parents, the right society, the right epoch – the bundle of energy that is the germ of personality is born again.
  • 6%moksha, freedom from the delusion of separateness; yoga, complete integration of consciousness; nirvana, the extinction of the sense of a separate ego.
  • 7%The sixth century B.C. was a time of creative spiritual upheaval in most of the major civilizations of antiquity. Within a hundred years on either side we have Confucius in China, Zoroaster in Persia, the pre-Socratic philosophers of ancient Greece, and the later prophets of Israel.
  • 7%The encounter between India and Greece when Alexander the Great reached the Indus river, 326 B.C., invites comparison between these two civilizations and gives us in the West a familiar benchmark.
  • 7%India, with its decimal system and the potent creation of zero, dominated mathematics as Greece did geometry, and in medicine and surgery both led the ancient world.
  • 7%It is probably no coincidence that the Buddha, whose language is occasionally that of a physician, arose in a land with the world’s greatest medical schools.
  • 8%the Buddha, though he broke with the rituals and authority of the Vedas, stands squarely in the tradition of the Upanishads.
  • 8%Siddhartha Gautama was born around 563 B.C., the son of a king called Shuddhodana who ruled the lands of the Shakya clan at the foot of the Himalayas, along what is today the border between India and Nepal.
  • 10%“Everything is change,” he thought; “each moment comes and goes. Is there nothing more, nothing to the future but decline and death?”
  • 13%In a world of sleepwalkers, how many would listen to someone returning from a world they would probably never see, coming to say that love always begets love and violence only breeds more violence?
  • 13%Everyone desires an end to suffering and sorrow. To those who will listen, I will teach the dharma, and for those who follow it, the dharma itself will set them free.”
  • 13%people gathered about him and asked, “Are you a god?” “No.” “Are you an angel?” “No.” “What are you then?” The Buddha smiled and answered simply, “I am awake”
  • 13%the literal meaning of the word buddha, from the Sanskrit root budh, to wake up.
  • 13%“The First Truth, brothers, is the fact of suffering. All desire happiness, sukha: what is good, pleasant, right, permanent, joyful, harmonious, satisfying, at ease. Yet all find that life brings duhkha, just the opposite: frustration, dissatisfaction, incompleteness, suffering, sorrow. Life is change, and change can never satisfy desire. Therefore everything that changes brings suffering.
  • 14%“The Second Truth is the cause of suffering. It is not life that brings sorrow, but the demands we make on life. The cause of duhkha is selfish desire: trishna, the thirst to have what one wants and to get one’s own way. Thinking life can make them happy by bringing what they want, people run after the satisfaction of their desires. But they get only unhappiness, because selfishness can only bring sorrow.
  • 14%“There is a Third Truth, brothers. Any ailment that can be understood can be cured, and suffering that has a cause has also an end. When the fires of selfishness have been extinguished, when the mind is free of selfish desire, what remains is the state of wakefulness, of peace, of joy, of perfect health, called nirvana.
  • 14%“The Fourth Truth, brothers, is that selfishness can be extinguished by following an eightfold path: right understanding, right purpose, right speech, right conduct, right occupation, right effort, right attention, and right meditation. If dharma is a wheel, these eight are its spokes.
  • 14%deal with the mind. Everything depends on mind. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.
  • 15%“Right meditation is the means of training the mind. As rain seeps through an ill-thatched hut, selfish passion will seep through an untrained mind. Train your mind through meditation. Selfish passions will not enter, and your mind will grow calm and kind.
  • 17%There is no need to take to the monastic life, he told them, in order to follow dharma. All the disciplines of the Eightfold Path, including meditation, can be followed by householders if they do their best to give up selfish attachment.
  • 17%“Every human being has the capacity to overcome suffering.”
  • 21%first meditative state, where the mind, though not quite free from divided and diffuse thought, experiences lasting joy.
  • 21%second meditative state quite free from any wave of thought,
  • 21%third meditative state, becoming conscious in the very depths of the unconscious.
  • 21%fourth meditative state, utterly beyond the reach of thought,
  • 22%Throughout the first dhyana the centrifugal force of the thinking process is gradually absorbed as attention is recalled.
  • 23%To descend through the personal unconscious, we need concentration that cannot be broken by any sensory attraction or emotional response – in a word, mastery over our senses and our likes and dislikes.
  • 23%The concentration it requires will bring success in any field, along with a deep sense of well-being, security, and a quiet joy in living.
  • 24%The thinking process is slowed until you can almost see each thought pass by, yet instead of one thought following another without rhyme or reason, the mind has such power that the focus of concentration is not disturbed.
  • 24%A thought is like a wave in consciousness; between two thoughts there is no movement in the mind at all. Consciousness itself is like a still lake, clear, calm, and full of joy.
  • 25%There must be no taint of “I” or “mine” in what you do, no self-interest, only your best effort to see yourself in all. One way to explain this is that karma has to be cleared before you can cross the wall.
  • 25%Beyond this, words are useless. Time stops with the mind, and many physiological processes are almost suspended. But there is an intense, unbroken flood of joy to which even the body and nervous system respond.
  • 26%In the third dhyana the conditioned instincts of the mind are stilled but not destroyed.
  • 27%Each moment is now, and it is the succession of such moments that creates the sense of time.
  • 27%The mind is the thoughts, and only the speed of thinking creates the illusion that there is something continuous and substantial.
  • 27%That is how the Buddha describes personality: a blend of five skandhas or “heaps” of ingredients like these piles of spices in their banana-leaf wrapper. These ingredients are rupa, form, vedana, sensation or feeling, samjna, perception, samskara, the forces or impulses of the mind, and vijnana, consciousness. Without reference to an individual self or soul, the Buddha says that birth is the coming together of these aggregates; death is their breaking apart.
  • 28%The Sanskrit name for this is samskara, which means literally “that which is intensely done.”
  • 28%We can think of samskaras as grooves of conditioning, compulsive desires.
  • 28%Whatever the label, if we act on a samskara it becomes stronger. The conditioning is reinforced, making it more likely that we will act on that samskara the next time. Samskaras are the key to character, but their root is deep below the level of conscious awareness.
  • 28%The last skandha is vijnana, “consciousness”: the appropriation of each unit of experience to the mass of conditioning formed by the experiences of the past. Vijnana is like a river, carrying the accumulated karma of all previous thought and action.
  • 29%We don’t really experience the world, he observes; we experience constructs in the mind made up of information from the senses.
  • 29%There is no self in such events, and no real distinction between observer and observed.
  • 29%We have to be very careful of misunderstanding here, for the Buddha is not saying that the physical world is a figment of imagination.
  • 30%What the Buddha is telling us is precisely parallel to what the quantum physicists say: when we examine the universe closely, it dissolves into discontinuity and a flux of fields of energy. But in the Buddha’s universe the mind-matter duality is gone; these are fields in consciousness.
  • 30%In profound meditation, one goes beyond sensory appearance and eventually beyond the very structure of the phenomenal world: time, space, causality. Time stops; there is only the present moment. Then everything is pure energy, a sea of light.
  • 30%My relationship with you is not with you as you see yourself, but with you as I see you: a waxworks creation in my mind. As a result, two people can share the same house and literally live in different worlds.
  • 30%Both, of course, were describing the same land. “We see as we are,” and our foreign policy follows what we see. Those who see themselves surrounded by a hostile world preparing for war tend to make that vision a reality.
  • 31%Little by little, too, we change the world we live in. Even the grand earthshaking events of history have their origins in individual thought.
  • 31%Karma is stored in the mind.
  • 31%“Fly in the sky, burrow in the ground,” says the Buddha, “you cannot escape the consequences of your actions.” You can run, but you cannot hide.
  • 32%From this root ignorance arises trishna, the insistent craving for personal satisfaction. From trishna comes duhkha, the frustration and suffering that are the human condition.
  • 32%We want to gratify a process with a process. The ego cannot be satisfied, and the more we try, the more we suffer.
  • 33%When the mind is stilled, the appearance of change and separateness vanishes and nirvana remains.
  • 33%Nirvana is aroga, freedom from all illness; shiva, happiness; kshema, security; abhaya, the absence of fear; shanta, peace of mind; anashrava, freedom from compulsions; ajara, untouched by age; amata, unaffected by death. It is, in sum, parama sukha, the highest joy.
  • 33%“As irrigators lead water to their fields, as archers make their arrows straight, as carpenters carve wood, the wise shape their lives.”
  • 33%Buddhist scriptures are divided into three pitakas or “baskets.” By far the largest and most important of these is the Sutra Pitaka (in Pali, Sutta Pittaka) or “basket of discourses,” which consists mostly of talks by the Buddha or one of his direct disciples. The Dhammapada, though not considered a sutra, is included in this collection.
  • 34%Every reader knows that one book which becomes part of one’s life means more than a thousand others. The Dhammapada was meant as such a book,
  • 34%in the long run, the sweet and easy way leads to more suffering; the hard way, to nirvana.
  • 35%Even in the Dhammapada – that is, even for his lay followers – the Buddha emphasizes the practice of meditation above all else.
  • 35%For hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can. This is an unalterable law. 6 People forget that their lives will end soon. For those who remember, quarrels come to an end.
  • 36%Those who recite many scriptures but fail to practice their teachings are like a cowherd counting another’s cows. They do not share in the joys of the spiritual life. 20 But those who know few scriptures yet practice their teachings, overcoming all lust, hatred, and delusion, live with a pure mind in the highest wisdom. They stand without external supports and share in the joys of the spiritual life.
  • 36%26The immature lose their vigilance, but the wise guard it as their greatest treasure. 27 Do not fall into ways of sloth and lust. Those who meditate earnestly attain the highest happiness.
  • 37%meditation is a battle and this arrow is “the weapon of wisdom”
  • 38%an undisciplined mind not only cannot be relied on, it cannot avoid doing harm.
  • 38%Hard it is to train the mind, which goes where it likes and does what it wants. But a trained mind brings health and happiness. 36 The wise can direct their thoughts, subtle and elusive, wherever they choose: a trained mind brings health and happiness.
  • 39%Remember, this body is like a fragile clay pot. Make your mind a fortress and conquer Mara with the weapon of wisdom. Guard your conquest always. 41 Remember that this body will soon lie in the earth without life, without value, useless as a burned log.
  • 39%More than those who hate you, more than all your enemies, an undisciplined mind does greater harm. 43 More than your mother, more than your father, more than all your family, a well-disciplined mind does greater good.
  • 39%Do not give your attention to what others do or fail to do; give it to what you do or fail to do.
  • 40%there are two kinds of immature people: those who do not see their own mistakes as mistakes, and those who do not forgive mistakes committed by someone else.
  • 40%samsara in verse 60, which refers to the cycle of birth and death, means literally “that which is moving intensely,”
  • 40%if those who are immature have enough self-knowledge to realize that they are immature, that is the beginning of wisdom
  • 40%“All the effort must be made by you,” he says in a later verse (276). “Buddhas only show the way.”
  • 40%“seven fields of enlightenment”: mindfulness, vigor, joy, serenity, concentration, equanimity, and “penetration of dharma”
  • 41%Bodhi is not nirvana. It is a temporary stilling of the mind,
  • 41%The immature go after false prestige – precedence of fellow monks, power in the monasteries, and praise from all.
  • 42%If you see someone wise, who can steer you away from the wrong path, follow that person as you would one who can reveal hidden treasures. Only good can come out of it.
  • 42%As a solid rock cannot be moved by the wind, the wise are not shaken by praise or blame. 82 When they listen to the words of the dharma, their minds become calm and clear like the waters of a still lake.
  • 42%An arhant is that person who, having developed the fullness of humanity by attaining nirvana, now truly deserves to be called a human being.
  • 42%If life is conceived of as a school where all are training for full spiritual development, the arhant is the graduate.
  • 43%After a good deal of arduous effort, generally over many lives, the aspirant becomes a “once-returner” (sakridagamin), one who has sighted the other shore of nirvana but not yet reached it. For such a person, the crossing can be completed in just one more life.
  • 43%Those who finally reach the other shore become a “never-returner” (anagamin).
  • 45%reward and punishment issue from the self-fulfilling law of karma, which permeates every aspect of the Buddha’s teachings.
  • 45%any physical law, the law of karma operates everywhere and at every moment. It is totally impersonal, requiring no agency other than ourselves.
  • 46%It is impossible to escape the karmic result of action no matter where we may try (127). The karma must return in kind, whether good or bad, even though it may take time for the right circumstances to come around
  • 46%a large part of our experience is simply the mechanical return of the karma our previous actions have accumulated.
  • 46%If we continue to commit a mistake – say, an outburst of anger – each repetition makes it easier to make the same mistake again, so that gradually anger becomes part of our character.
  • 46%In a very real way, we are what our samskaras are: as the network of choice-pathways in us, they constitute the karmic legacy of all our previous choices.
  • 47%If you harm a pure and innocent person, you harm yourself, as dust thrown against the wind comes back to the thrower.
  • 48%a well-trained mind needs no prodding from the world to be good.
  • 50%very basis of the Hindu faith: that at the core of every creature is a divine Self (Atman) which is not different from the transcendent reality (Brahman) and is therefore utterly beyond the world of change and death.
  • 50%Depending on the context, the Sanskrit word atman can mean self in the conventional sense of “myself” and “yourself,” or it can refer to the transcendent Self of the Upanishads.
  • 50%the Buddha prompts us to plunge deep in meditation and see for ourselves what we discover.
  • 51%the human will, the only self worthy of strengthening and cultivation.
  • 51%158Learn what is right; then teach others, as the wise do.
  • 51%Before trying to guide others, be your own guide first. It is hard to learn to guide oneself.
  • 52%Don’t follow wrong laws; don’t be thoughtless; don’t believe false doctrines. Don’t follow the way of the world.
  • 53%infinite compassion, unqualified good will for all creatures in all circumstances.
  • 54%body, Buddhists would say, the nirmanakaya
  • 54%second form: the sambhogakaya, literally the “body of intense joy,”
  • 54%Third and most abstract of the Buddha’s forms is the dharmakaya, the “body of dharma.”
  • 55%Do not find fault with others, do not injure others, but live in accordance with the dharma. Be moderate in eating and sleeping, and meditate on the highest. This sums up the teaching of the Buddhas.
  • 56%To try to hold on to anything – a thing, a person, an event, a position – merely exposes us to its loss. Anything that changes, the Buddha concluded, anything in our experience that consists of or is conditioned by component sensations – the Buddha’s word was samskaras – produces sorrow, not joy.
  • 56%duhkha from duh, a prefix meaning something wrong or evil, and kha, empty space.
  • 56%Once we know for certain what cannot give joy, we are ready for nirvana, the highest joy (203).
  • 56%When the mind is stilled through meditation, one drinks the joy of dharma, which lies beyond the scope of anything conditioned (205).
  • 57%Conquest breeds hatred, for the conquered live in sorrow. Let us be neither conqueror nor conquered, and live in peace and joy.
  • 58%we never really experience the world; we experience only our own nervous system.
  • 58%All the dualities of human experience – pleasure and displeasure, praise and blame, success and defeat – produce suffering if we cannot face them with equanimity:
  • 59%Selfish desires give rise to anxiety; selfish desires give rise to fear. Be unselfish, and you will be free from anxiety and fear.
  • 60%Give up anger, give up pride, and free yourself from worldly bondage. No sorrow can befall those who never try to possess people and things as their own.
  • 60%Injuring no one, self-controlled, the wise enter the state of peace beyond all sorrow.
  • 61%three basic kinds of impurity: greed, hatred, and infatuation.
  • 61%If we do nothing to remove impurities from our character, the habits they foster will grow stronger. Eventually they cannot help outstripping our will,
  • 62%Resentment and fixation on others’ faults is a perfect example of how a heady ashrava can brew in the unconscious until a person reels under its influence, losing control whenever a situation or person provokes him.
  • 62%Light the lamp within; strive hard to attain wisdom. Become pure and innocent, and live in the world of light.
  • 62%Make your mind pure as a silversmith blows away the impurities of silver, little by little, instant by instant.
  • 63%But when one keeps dwelling on the faults of others, his own compulsions grow worse, making it harder to overcome them.
  • 64%One is not noble who injures living creatures. They are noble who hurt no one.
  • 66%Guard your thoughts, words, and deeds. These three disciplines will speed you along the path to pure wisdom.
  • 66%Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.
  • 67%Don’t try to build your happiness on the unhappiness of others. You will be enmeshed in a net of hatred.
  • 68%Hell in Buddhism really is educative, not vengeful, and it is not the sentence of a wrathful deity but the natural, unavoidable result of actions that violate dharma.
  • 70%No animal can take you to nirvana; only a well-trained mind can lead you to this untrodden land.
  • 70%It is better to be alone than to live with the immature. Be contented, and walk alone like an elephant roaming in the forest. Turn away from evil.
  • 72%the desire for sense pleasure (kama-trishna), the desire for birth in a world of separateness (bhava-trishna), and the desire for extinction (vibhava-trishna).
  • 72%Any craving for an experience that one thinks will add to personal pleasure, comfort, or happiness is an expression of kama-trishna,
  • 72%Bhava-trishna is the urge to go on upholding and strengthening one’s individuality, in pursuit not only of wealth, fame, and power but also of beliefs, opinions, and dogmas.
  • 72%Trishna has no self-limiting principle; the more it is fed, the higher it will flame. It cannot be terminated just by satisfying the desires of one lifetime.
  • 72%According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, these desires remain in consciousness at death. Because of their power, they condition the choice of a new context for another life,
  • 72%The third kind of selfish desire, vibhava-trishna, is the craving to end existence, the very opposite of the drive to go on experiencing and self-building. But this is far from the desire for nirvana, the release from the cycle of birth and death.
  • 73%Vibhava-trishna, by contrast, is the oppressive desire for self-oblivion or self-destruction, prompted in Buddhist psychology by the revulsion with life that comes as the fruits of selfishness turn rotten or bitter.
  • 74%Meditate deeply, discriminate between the pleasant and the permanent, and break the fetters of Mara.
  • 76%He is a true bhikshu who follows the dharma, meditates on the dharma, rejoices in the dharma, and therefore never falls away from the dharma.
  • 78%That one I call a brahmin who does not hurt others with unkind acts, words, or thoughts. Both body and mind obey him.
  • 79%That one I call a brahmin who is never hostile to those who are hostile toward him, who is detached among those who are selfish and at peace among those at war.
  • 80%Brahmins have reached the end of the way; they have crossed the river of life. All that they had to do is done: they have become one with all life.