Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Hate The Dhammapada

I hate the Dhammapada! I often read books on Buddhism where the only quotes of the Buddha are all from the Dhammapada. Get a Vesak card or a Buddhist-themed bookmark, and you can bet your life it will have a verse from the Dhammapada in it. The headings of Buddhist newsletters and the extra space at the bottom of their page, will inevitably be filled in with a Dhammapada verse. In Sri Lanka, the main English newspaper has a small ‘Thought for the Day’ section, and if it’s from Buddhism, it’s always, you guessed it, a saying from the Dhammapada. However, I should revise my opening statement. I don’t hate the Dhammapada, but rather the way it is overused. This lack of imagination and ignorance of other books from the Tipitaka, has made the Buddha’s precious words from the Dhammapada trite and commonplace. But that’s not all. The over-reliance on the Dhammapada severely limits many people’s exposure to the Dhamma. Although the Dhammapada is often thought of as being a summery of the Dhamma, it is not and was never meant to be. It was probably originally compiled as a handbook for novices and new monks. Most of its verses deal with concepts and ideas of interest to monastics, or relevant only to them. Many important aspects of the Dhamma get no mention in it at all. For example, the word metta only occurs once, and karuna is not mentioned at all. The Dhammapada is also rather poorly arranged, and in that sense is a typical Indian work. Two of the verses from the Citta Vagga are actually about the body and numerous other verses about the mind are not in the Citta Vagga. There are dozens of ‘translations’ of the Dhammapada available, a good number of these actually not translations at all but rehashes based on one or two earlier translations or rehashes. And some of these ‘translations’ are truly awful. And yet, despite the pervasiveness of the Dhammapada, and how widely it is known, spurious Dhammapada sayings are all over the place. Here are just two of about 15 I found after a few minuets on the internet.
These sayings are actually quite good, most fake Buddha sayings are, but they are not from the Dhammapada or anywhere else in the scriptures. On this subject see my post of 21th, 4, 2008, Misquoting the Buddha.
Years ago, in an attempt to encourage a boarder knowledge of the Buddha’s words, I culled 210 verses from the Tipitaka, arranged them into 20 chapters of 10 verses each, with a five verse introduction and a conclusion of five verses. I made a point of selecting verses all in the same meter (except two) so that the whole could be chanted in the same rhythm or tune. The Dhammapada verses, by contrast, are in about 10 different meters. I also made sure that metta and compassion both got a good hearing – the first occurs eight times and the second four times. I called this collection Saddhammamaniratana, the ‘Gemstones of the Good Dhamma’ and it was published by the Buddhist Publication Society with the Pali on the left hand page and the English on the right. My hope was that the Saddhammamaniratana would become popular and its verses would join those from the Dhammapada in being well-known and often quoted. It didn’t work. It has been translated into Chinese and Hindi but has generally been ignored. Well, at least I tried. Over the next few days I will post some verses from the Saddhammamaniratana.


JD said...

I have a copy of Gemstones of The Good Dhamma and love the Pali/ English translations. It's an exercise in mindfulness just trying to pronounce the Pali for me but it's nice to try. You're right, you arranged that book quite nicely and it's pocket sized for daily reflection for those that wish to carry it around. Thanks for writing it and I wish you well.

Anonymous said...

And where can those of us in the U.S. get a copy?

Holly said...

Access To Insight has it on their website:

anotherqueerjubu said...

Venerable Sir,
You cannot know that it has been ignored. You do not know whose life it may have touched and what effect it will have had on that life, or lives to follow. You cannot know what will become of the book after you are gone. Publish without attachment to results. Or royalties.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Jamie G,
The Gemstones of the Good Dhamma is available from the Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka. Look up the address on the internet.
Dear Holly,
Thanks for letting me know it is on Access to Insight. I didn’t know.
And Dear Mark,
Thanks for the encouragement. 'After I'm gone?' I'm not planning on going anywhere! Royalties? What royalties?

Ken and Visakha said...

This just arrived in our mailbox from an American Zen temple -- but perhaps the Mahayanans have a different Dhammapada?

"From: The Dhammapada:

O slave of desire,
Float upon the stream.
Little spider, stick to your web.
Or else abandon your sorrows for the way.

Abandon yesterday, and tomorrow,
And today.
Cross over to the farther shore,
Beyond life and death."

We enjoy reading the commentarial stories that are said to be the background for the Dhammapada verses. Sometimes the verses fit, othertimes, not so much, but some of the stories are gems.

Do your thoughts trouble you?

Does passion disturb you?

Beware of thirstiness

Lest your wishes become desires

And desire binds you.

Nyiti (Gabor) said...

I think this sort of effort is relatively common, to bring something new/overlooked back into the mainstream bubble. And there must had been numerous similar attempts hundreds of years ago as well, which were similarly ignored, were not managed, did not meet the conditions to gain impulse and make it to the mainstream texts.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Ken and Visakha,
The first two verses are recognizable, the first as verse 347 and the second as verse 369. Not bad, actually, as a lose poetic rendering. The third one escapes me.

Holly said...

You can also buy a copy of the book in the US from I think they carry all the titles from the Buddhist Publication Society.

Buddha said...


You are quite advanced in ur practise..but for Lay men like me , i find the Dhammapada quite attractive.It draws Lay men like me towards buddha's core teachings.

I do not understand what you mean by "The Dhammapada is also rather poorly arranged, and in that sense is a typical Indian work."?
could you pls explain.

Tom said...

very true! i hate the dhammapada almost as much as i do the kalama sutta. the sutta is brought up anytime a buddhist, especially the euro-american sort, wishes to justify doing something that is not necessarily 'kosher.'

but if you haven't already, please check out the dhammapada commentary. it is full of fun stories and is a main source of buddhist teachings for buddhists in southeast asia, especially in myanmar.

just arrived in singapore and hope to visit you soon!

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Buddha,
Very few works of Indian literature are homogeneous (written by one person). They tend to be written and then added to, subtracted from, rearranged, have appendix included, etc, sometimes over centuries, and the end results can be very untidy. Take the Mahabharata. It takes a lot of effort to follow the story line. This was what I was referring to.
And of course, I was being 'tongue in cheek, when I said I hated the Dhammapada.

Dhamma Family said...

Ven Sir,

Thank you for you generosity of the Dhamma. I am learning pali to spanish form Ven Nandisena by internet, and i use your work to practice, I am also taking to spanish yor book "The Buddha´s word of wisdom" and i am adding the pali from the Tipitaka. Your work make us able to have a more open vision of the Dhamma and not only one (about the Dhammapada).
Here i am blogging the daily translation:

May you be well and happy.

Livingwiththebarbarians said...

Venerable Sir
I came across this site while doing a search on the Dhammapada. I have been asked to teach a simple class on the Dhammapada as an introduction also to Pali and Buddhism. So I was on the lookout for different Dhammapada editions to compare ...
Saddhamma Maniratne is certainly one I will use for another clas. I didnt know of it before - perhaps I had heard of it...but nothing like tasting it as just did on Access to insight site. Beautiful.

May you be and all beings be well.

Tiraj Adikari said...

"I don’t hate the Dhammapada"
Then for heaven's sake change the misleading heading!

"This has made the Buddha’s precious words from the Dhammapada trite and commonplace."

Isn't it good that dhamma has become a commonplace in everyday life ? Only a selfish person who guards their knowledge can oppose to that!

some of these Dhammapada ‘translations’ are truly awful.

Really agree with you. Please suggest a good book for your blog readers...

Your work in Saddhammamaniratana is well appreciated. But seems as though you are trying to market it over Dhammapada. Well both are good. Please don't put One down to make your work shine.