Introduction to the English Edition

A Book of Ethical Teachings

The Dhammapada is probably the most popular book in the Pāḷi Canon, and has had innumerable translations into most modern languages. Including those that are no longer – or never were – homes to Buddhist cultures. The timeless ethical teachings contained in these verses are still considered relevant to people’s lives, and they are a good guide to living well, and show how to reap the rewards of good living.

Together with the commentarial stories that accompany the verses – along with the Jātaka verses and stories – they have formed the backbone of the teaching of Buddhist ethics for well over 2,000 years. The verses and stories are well known in traditional Theravāda Buddhist cultures, and most born and brought up in those societies will be able to recite many of the verses, and relate the stories that go with them, even from a young age.

This is not at all surprising as the verses are often memorable, and the stories that accompany them equally so. Here the commentarial stories are only given in brief, but the complete collection in Burlingame’s translation can be found here: They provided a framework for understanding what are good and bad actions, and what the consequences of both will be, which is central to the Buddhist teaching on ethics.

The popularity of the stories can be seen from the many times they are found illustrated on the ancient monuments of India, especially around Chetiyas; they are also seen in frescoes and reliefs in temples in Buddhist countries right up to the present day, and they serve to remind and reinforce the teachings that they embody.

The collection consists of 423 verses, organised into twenty-six chapters, most of which are fairly short. As there are something like 20,000 verses in the Pāḷi Canon, Around 140 of the verses have parallels elsewhere in the Canon. this is but a very small collection and the Dhammapada is indeed one of the smallest books in the Canon. Only Khuddakapāṭha, which appears to have been added much later than the other texts, and Cariyāpiṭaka, also a late text, are shorter. Most of the verses stand by themselves, although in some cases they come in pairs, Most notably in the first chapter. and in others two or more verses are evidently joined together to form a longer unit.

The verses give instruction to the different groups that comprise the Buddhist community, including advice for the lay person and the monastic, and a number of the verses, especially towards the end, show ways for understanding who is living up to their role in the community well, and who is not. I think particularly of the Chapters on Monastics and Brahmins here.

Types of Verse

The verses I think could well be described as primitive, in the sense that they lack the refinements and elaboration of high classical Indian verse, and their directness is also part of their charm.

I have identified certain basic types of verse that have been used in the Dhammapada, and classified them according to whether they are descriptive, These often have prescriptive force in that they describe correct behaviour, without, however, saying that you should follow it. prescriptive or rhetorical verses (such as questions and so forth). Further the verses employ similes and metaphors in making their teachings memorable.

Of course the verses do not adhere strictly to one type or another, and there are some overlaps, but this does seem to summarise their contents fairly well. Below I give lists showing where these occur in the text.

Descriptive verses simple state the facts as they were understood by the Buddha, or by the early Buddhist community. An example might be the opening verse of the collection:

Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā, manoseṭṭhā manomayā,
manasā ce paduṭṭhena bhāsati vā karoti vā,
tato naṁ dukkham-anveti cakkaṁ va vahato padaṁ.

Mind precedes thoughts, mind is their chief,
their quality is made by mind,
if with base mind one speaks or acts
through that suffering follows one
like a wheel follows ox’s foot.

There are around 344 verses of this type (81%): 1-39, 41, 42, 43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 51-60, 63-74, 76, 79-83, 86, 89-115, 117-122, 124-128, 131, 132, 134-145, 148-156, 160-165, 171-178, 181-196, 200-209, 211, 217-220, 222, 225-230, 235, 237, 240, 241, 244-247, 249-263, 265-273, 275-280, 283, 284, 286, 287, 288, 291-301, 303-312, 314-326, 331-339, 341, 342, 346, 347, 349-352, 354-368, 372-375, 378, 381, 382, 384-388, 390-393, 395-323.

Prescriptive verses actually lay down rules for behaviour, or recommend a course of action as being more beneficial. An example is the 40th verse of the collection:

Kumbhūpamaṁ kāyam-imaṁ viditvā,
nagarūpamaṁ cittam-idaṁ ṭhapetvā,
yodhetha Māraṁ paññāvudhena,
jitañ-ca rakkhe, anivesano siyā.

Knowing that this body is like a jar,
establishing the mind like a fortress,
fight Māra with the weapon of wisdom,
guard your success, and do not be attached.

I count 67 verses as belonging to this category (15%): 40, 46, 49, 50, 61, 75, 77, 78, 84, 87, 88, 116, 123, 129, 130, 133, 144, 157, 158, 159, 166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 197, 198, 199, 210, 221, 223, 224, 231, 232, 233, 234, 236, 238, 239, 242, 243, 248, 274, 281, 282, 285, 289, 290, 302, 313, 315, 327, 328, 329, 330, 340, 343, 348, 369, 370, 371, 376, 377, 379, 380, 383, 389.

There are only 13 Rhetorical verses by my reckoning, and they make up 3% of the collection. Verse 44 is an example:

Kŏ imaṁ paṭhaviṁ vicessati
yamalokañ-ca imaṁ sadevakaṁ?
Ko dhammapadaṁ sudesitaṁ
kusalo puppham-ivappacessati?

Who will know this earth and the lower realm,
together with the gods? Who will try to
reflect on the well-taught verse of Dhamma
as a good man reflects on a flower?

See: vv. 44, 46, 62, 146, 179, 180, 212-216, 264, 353, 394.

Similes, Normally signified by a comparison word such as iva, va, viya, yathā, upama and sama. in which otherwise unlike things are compared to drive home a point, are used in many places throughout the collection. An example is found in the last pair of lines in verse 7, which compares the ease with which Māra can overthrow the indolent to the way a weak tree is easily overthrown by the wind:

Subhānupassiṁ viharantaṁ, indriyesu asaṁvutaṁ,
bhojanamhi amattaññuṁ, kusītaṁ hīnavīriyaṁ –
taṁ ve pasahati Māro vāto rukkhaṁ va dubbalaṁ.

Contemplating what is pleasant,
with sense faculties uncontrolled,
not knowing the limit in food,
indolent, low in energy –
Māra surely o’erthrows that one,
like wind overthrows a weak tree.

There are 89 verses employing similes (21%): 1, 2, 7, 8, 13, 14, 19, 21, 28, 29, 31, 33, 34, 40, 44, 45, 46, 49, 51, 52, 53, 58, 59, 64, 65, 71, 76, 81, 82, 91-95, 123, 125, 134, 135, 136, 143, 144, 149, 150, 152, 155, 156, 161, 162, 164, 170-174, 202, 208, 219, 220, 222, 235, 239, 240, 251, 252, 268, 284, 285, 287, 304, 311, 315, 320, 325, 326, 327, 329, 330, 334-338, 342, 343, 347, 377, 380, 401, 407, 413.

Metaphors do not use comparison, but suggest a resemblance between otherwise disparate objects. An example can be found in verse 25, where the island is the safe haven the person who is striving hopes to make.

Uṭṭhānen’ appamādena saṁyamena damena ca,
dīpaṁ kayirātha medhāvī yaṁ ogho nābhikīrati.

Through activity, heedfulness,
through self-control and through restraint,
the sagacious make an island
no flood waters can overcome.

I identify 77 verses in this collection that use metaphors (18%): 25, 26, 35, 40, 46, 47, 48, 54-57, 60, 66, 69, 80, 85, 86, 103, 121, 122, 145, 147, 151, 153, 154, 160, 174, 175, 204, 205, 211, 218, 222, 235-238, 242-244, 254, 255, 262, 263, 275, 276, 282, 283, 288, 294, 295, 302, 321-323, 339-341, 344-346, 350, 351, 354, 356-359, 363, 369-371, 385, 387, 388, 414.


The translation wherever possible also follows this structure, and is given in four octosyllabic lines. If you count the syllables in the Pāḷi and the English of the example (v. 29) below you can see this has been adhered to: I split the lines with markers here to clarify the syllabic lengths, in the text these markers are omitted.

Appamatto pamattesu, suttesu bahujāgaro,
abalassaṁ va sīghasso hitvā, yāti sumedhaso.

Heedful amongst the heedless ones,
wakeful amongst the ones who sleep,
like a swift horse who abandons
a weak horse, the wise one moves on.

Occasionally, because of the density, or lack thereof, of information in the verse, I have had to vary this so that some verses are four lines of six or ten syllables.

These are set out as four separate lines, matching the semantic unit, which here is normally the line:

Example (Vetālīya) (v. 15):

Idha socati, pecca socati, pāpakārī ubhayattha socati,
so socati, so vihaññati, disvā kammakiliṭṭham-attano.

Here he laments, after death he laments,
the wicked one laments in both places,
he laments and he suffers vexation,
seeing the defilement of his own deeds.

Example (Tuṭṭhubha) (v. 19):

Bahum-pi ce sahitaṁ bhāsamāno,
na takkaro hoti naro pamatto,
gopo va gāvo gaṇayaṁ paresaṁ,
na bhāgavā sāmaññassa hoti.

Even though reciting abundant scriptures
the heedless one, who does not what they say,
like a cowboy counting other’s cattle,
does not partake of the ascetic life.

In this case I have adopted decasyllabic blank verse as the structure in the English translation, again though, for the previously stated reasons, there are some small variations in length.

In the version included in the English Texts section I have adhered to the English verse structure more strictly, believing that a version that reflects the metrical nature of the original text adds something to the memorable nature of the translation itself.

But in the Texts and Translation version, which has the notes on grammar and difficult points, I have been less strict with this, as that edition is meant to help the student in reading the Pāḷi, it has therefore received a more literal rendering.

Example (vv. 58-59):

Yathā saṅkāradhānasmiṁ ujjhitasmiṁ mahāpathe
padumaṁ tattha jāyetha, sucigandhaṁ manoramaṁ,
evaṁ saṅkārabhūtesu, andhabhūte puthujjane,
atirocati paññāya Sammāsambuddhasāvako.

Just as in a discarded heap
along the highway a lotus
might arise, with a pure fragrance,
delighting the mind, so amongst
the blind and ordinary folk,
the Perfect Sambuddha’s disciple
shines forth because of his wisdom.

Verses joined in this way include: 58-59, 73-74, 85-86, 104-105, 137-140, 153-154, 186-187, 188-189, 190-192, 195-196, 219-220, 229-230, 242-243, 246-247, 262-263, 271-272, 345-346, 360-361.


I use certain conventions in all my documents, which I will repeat here for those who are not familiar with them.

Example (v. 22):

Etaṁ visesato ñatvā appamādamhi paṇḍitā,
appamāde pamodanti, Ariyānaṁ gocare ratā.

The wise, fully understanding
this in regard to heedfulness,
rejoice in heedfulness, delight
in the domain of the Noble.

Occasionally one of the vowels is marked with a breve, again this is because of the metre, which in this place demands that a syllable that is normally heavy be counted as a light syllable.

Example (from v. 44):

Kŏ imaṁ paṭhaviṁ vicessati
yamalokañ-ca imaṁ sadevakaṁ?
Ko dhammapadaṁ sudesitaṁ
kusalo puppham-ivappacessati?

Who will know this earth and the lower realm,
together with the gods? Who will try to
reflect on the well-taught verse of Dhamma
as a good man reflects on a flower?

Different Editions

The present work has been divided into two different editions. The more scholarly is the version found in the Texts and Translations section of the website, which discusses the grammar and the interpretation of the text, and matters connected with the collecting and positioning of the verses in the text, and occasionally shows how the text could have been better written. There I have also collected related verses from the Dhammapada collection at the end of each chapter.

The second is a more popular presentation, placed in the English section, which includes giving a moral to the verse, followed by a synopsis of the commentarial story, the verse in Pāḷi, and then a metrical translation. The model for this work was my previous Buddhist Wisdom Verses, which contained around fifty of the verses from the Dhammapada.

The texts I am publishing here are the culmination of nearly 15 years of work on the Pāḷi Dhammapada, and were preceded by a number of other texts, which I will list below. They give information supplementary to the texts presented here, which I have not repeated in this edition.

The first I worked on was the Romanised transliteration of the Sinhala-letter Buddha Jayantī Tripiṭaka Granthamālā text which I prepared around 2002-3. That work set in motion a study of the text that led first to a New Edition of the Dhammapada in 2004, which compared the variants in the major printed editions of the Pāḷi text, and also took into consideration the metre. For variant readings and metrical analysis, that is the edition to refer to.

That work then formed the basis for A Comparative Edition of the Dhammapada, which brought together all the known parallels in Middle Indo-Aryan languages, together with studies and extensive indexes. There you will find the same verse, or parts of a verse, given in the ancient languages which were cognate to the Pāḷi, but it is for the advanced student only.

This year when I began work on the current project, I extracted the information from the latter work, and added more to it, listing all the parallels in the Pāḷi Canonical and para-Canonical literature, as well as in other Middle Indo-Aryan languages.

Other works which have been connected to the Dhammapada include publishing online Margaret Cone’s Patna Dhammapada, with studies, metrical analysis and indexes; and Franz Bernhard’s Udānavarga, in which I made similar additions. I still have it in mind to bring out translations of those texts when I can find time.


I am once again grateful to Ayyā Sudhammā, who went through the text very diligently, and with humour and patience pointed out its manifold shortcomings. I have now managed to remove some of those, but any that remain are of course entirely my own fault.

I hope this work will help to continue the great tradition of providing moral guidance to the present generation in a form that they can find clear and appealing. Any merit accruing form this work I would like to dedicate to my parents: may they be well and happy and peaceful in their new lives

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
August, 2016

2nd Edition

In November 2017 I finished a translation of the Patna Dhammapada. The work on that text reflected back many times on this translation, and I have updated this work accordingly.

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
November, 2017