The Dhammapada: Sayings of Buddha

Here are 20 selected passages from my three favorite translations of The Dhammapada, which compiles the wisdom of Buddha. This concise, spiritually potent book was my doorway to Buddhism decades ago, and it remains one of my most treasured sacred texts.

Prayer flags. Photo by JT

Prayer flags at Buddhist stupa, Nepal

We are
what we think,
having become
what we thought.

We are but guests
visiting this world,
though most
do not know this.
Those who see
the real situation
no longer feel
inclined to quarrel.

Perform those actions
you will never regret:
actions that will ripen into
future joy and delight.

The fragrance of holiness
travels even against the wind.
The influence of the holy ones
extends everywhere.

One who drinks deeply of the Dharma
with a clear and open mind
rests well.

On the air they rise
and fly an invisible course,
gathering nothing, storing nothing. …
Joyous and clear like the lake,
still as the stone at the door,
(they are) free from life and death.

Speak gently, and they will respond.
Angry words hurt, and rebound on the speaker.
Nirvana: when the agitated mind is
as still as a broken gong.

Sad is the man who in his youth
loved loosely and squandered his fortune—
sad as a broken bow,
and sadly is he sighing after
all that has arisen and has passed away.

The world is in darkness.
How few have eyes to see!
How few the birds who escape the net
and fly to heaven!

Greater than having universal powers,
is the fruit of Entering the Stream.

The rain could turn to gold,
and still your thirst would not be slaked.
Desire is unquenchable
or it ends in tears.

He who shelters in the way,
and travels with those who follow it,
comes to see the four great truths
concerning sorrow, the beginning of sorrow,
the eightfold way, and the end of sorrow.
Then at last he is safe.
He has shaken off sorrow.
He is free.

Not ever grasping at pleasure,
you will never be bound by its chains.

You are like a yellow leaf.
The minions of the Lord of Death await you:
You stand in the jaws of death
with no provisions for your journey.
Make of yourself an island—
quickly become vigorous and wise.
Clear away your impurities and faults,
and you will reach the heavens of the saints.

Beings are caught in
the strands of desire and attachment;
they are caught like spiders in their own webs.
The wise cut through these bonds and …
slip out of all their suffering,
without a backward look.

If you subdue desire,
your sorrows shall fall from you
like drops of water from a lotus flower.

The disciples of Gautama are always awake,
day and night thinking of the Dhamma.
The disciples of Gautama are always awake,
day and night thinking of the Sangha.
The disciples of Gautama are always awake,
day and night thinking of disciplining the body.
The disciples of Gautama are always awake,
day and night delighting in compassion and love.
The disciples of Gautama are always awake,
day and night delighting in pure meditation.

Make the boat light, bhikku!
Emptied, it will travel swifter.
Cast away passion and hate;
the road to Nirvana will be easier.
Cut off the five:
egoism, doubt, false holiness, lust, and hatred.
Destroy these five fetters,
and you will have crossed the stream of life.

Never possessing anything,
how wonderful our lives become—
nourished by the same food of joy
as the gods of light.

The seeker who
sets out upon the way
shines bright over the world.
Like the moon,
come out from behind the clouds!


About The Dhammapada: “The Dhammapada is the best known and most widely esteemed text in the Pali Tipitaka, the sacred scriptures of Theravada Buddhism. … This slim anthology of verses constitutes a perfect compendium of the Buddha’s teaching, comprising between its covers all the essential principles elaborated at length in the forty-odd volumes of the Pali Canon.”

A.   Dhammapada: Translation of Dharma Verses with the Tibetan Text, Translated into Tibetan from the Pali by dGe-‘dun Chos-‘phel; translated into English from the Tibetan by Dharma Publishing Staff, Berkeley, CA, Dharma Publishing, 1985.

B.   Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha, tr. Thomas Byrom (Shambhala Publications, 1993).

C.  The Dhammapada, tr. P. Lal (Farrar, Straus & Giroux Publishers, 1967)

1.     #1, tr. P. Lal, Farrar, Straus & Giroux Publishers, 1967
2.    1:6, Dharma Publishing
3.    5:8-9, , Dharma Publishing
4,    4:11, Dharma Publishing
5.    6:4, Dharma Publishing
6.    7:3, 4, and 6, Byrom, Shambhala
7.    #133-134, P. Lal, translated from the Pali
8.    11:11, Dharma Publishing
9.    13:8, Byrom, Shambhala
10.  13:12, Dharma Publishing
11.  14:8, Byrom, Shambhala
12.  14:12 and 13, Byrom, Shambhala
13.  16:3, Dharma Publishing
14.  18:1 and 2, Dharma Publishing
15.  24:14, Dharma Publishing
16.  24:3, Byrom, Shambhala
17.  #297-301, P. Lal
18.  #369-370, P. Lal
19.   15:4, Dharma Publishing
20.  25:23, Byrom, Shambhala


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