10th September 2000
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The Dhammapada gems of the Buddha's teachings

By Upali Salgado
The Dhammapada is to Buddhists what the Holy Bible is to Christians, the Bhagavath-Gita to Hindus and the Holy Quran to Muslims. The Dhammapada is associated with Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha, the Great Teacher who showed the path to happiness for all mankind. His pragmatic thinking on the ills of man, gave way to a glorious dharma which concerns righteous living. 

The collection of Gotama Buddha's discourses is called the Tripitaka (the Three canons which have 31 volumes). Amongst them, the Dhammapada belongs to the Khuddaka Nikaya. The word Dhammapada means "the location of the Doctrine". 

This valuable document contains 423 verses preached by Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha on over 300 occasions, all of moral and spiritual value. In the commentary written in Pali by Buddhaghosa Thera, (who came from North India to Sri Lanka in the 5th century and resided at the Brazen Palace, Anuradhapura) there are anecdotes which describe the incidents referred to in verse preached by the Great Teacher. They are all considered "gems" of the Buddha's teaching. 

The verses of the Dhammapada have been compiled into 26 Vaggas (or groups) and refer to the ethical life of ordinary men and also to the spiritual life of Arahants. The Buddha is known to have used numerous methods to put across His teaching; often differing in method of delivery, according to His audience. He did not generally, rely on the performing of miracles to convince those of other faiths, but performed miracles only on two occasions, when challenged by Mahavira, the Jain Leader. 

One method used by Him to propagate His Dharma was the use of similes. For example, verse No.13 of the Dhammapada (English translation) says, "Even as rain penetrates on ill-thatched roof, so does lust penetrate on undeveloped mind." 

Of the 26 vaggas (or chapters) of the Dhammapada seven chapters 2,9,15,16,17,18 and 24 refer to the qualities of heedfulness (Appamada), evil (Papa), happiness (Sukha), affection (Piya), Anger (Krodha), impurities (Mala) and Craving (Tanha). 

In the context that, there has been no peace in our land with the ongoing war in the North and East, verse (1) of Jana Vagga appears meaningful. 

"What is laughter (hasa) what is joy (anando)
When the world is even burning
Shrouded by darkness, would you not seek a light?" 

The Dhammapada gives us an insight into the mysteries and true nature of life, and emphasises how one becomes bogged down in the morass of attachment, craving and desire, the foremost ills which all Buddhists strive to be rid of. 

Verse (3) of the Bala Vagga section says:- 

'Sons have I, wealth too have I
Thus, is the fool worried
Verily he himself is not his own
Whence Sons? Whence wealth?" 

The Maha Vagga verse (15) says:-

"To the doting man with mind set on 
Children and cattle, death seizes
and carries away like a great
flood, the sleeping village." 

On the transience of body, verse 2-3 of the Jana Vagga says:-

"Behold this beautiful body, a heaped 
(lump), a pile-up infirm, much
thought of which nothing lasts, 
nothing persists." 

On self and the body that many pamper with sandalwood powder, perfumes and cosmetics, the Vagga Verse 146 says:-

"Behold the image, mind has made
Heaps of sores by bone is raised
Malady, as such by many is thought
with a stability, that is nought." 


This figure that is in decay, 
Nest of ills perishing away
Putrid body which does rend, 
Life indeed has death at end


Here and there they remain thrown,
As the Autumn gourds white and long, 
These bones that are dull off white
On seeing them, what is the delight?


A citadel that is bones erected
In flesh and blood is plastered, 
Decay and death is does contain
Pride and slander hidden remain. 


Adorned regal cabs indeed rot away, 
This body too, it does contain decay. 
Righteous dhamma does not fade away
So the virtuous to each other do say. 


Man who has not learnt a lot,
He keeps decaying like an Ox. 
In him, flesh doth increase
In wisdom, he does decrease

After attachment, there is transience of life, and the need to be pure in thought, word and deed. Verse (3) of the Maha Vagga states:- 

"Transient are all conditioned things
When with this wisdom one discerns
Disgusted then, is one will ill
This is the Path to Purity." 

Verse (6) says...

"Sorrowful are all conditioned things, 
When this written wisdom one discerns, 
disgusted then is one with ill
This is the Path to Purity." 

Verse (7)...

"Soulness is everything that is 
When this with wisdom one discerns
disgusted, then is one with ill-
This is the Path to Purity." 

When one realises the futility of attachment, that everything is transitory in nature (anicca), taking refuge in the Buddha and in His teachings, will bring peace and happiness. He who seeks refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, he who seeks with right knowledge and understanding the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eightfold Path which leads to the cessation of sorrow, will surely be released from sorrow (Dukkha) (Buddha Vagga verse 13-14).

The Dhammapada is today considered a priceless gem. it has been translated into English, German, Spanish, Thai, Burmese, Chinese, Taiwanese etc. These publications have influenced the lives of millions, the world over. The sayings have been an enduring guide to noble living. 

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