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,
Mind precedes thoughts, mind is their chief, (their quality is) made by mind,

manasā ce paduṭṭhena bhāsati vā karoti vā,
if with a base mind one speaks or acts,

tato naṁ dukkham-anveti cakkaṁ va vahato padaṁ.
through that, suffering follows him like a wheel (follows) the 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,
Knowing that this body is like a jar,

nagarūpamaṁ cittam-idaṁ ṭhapetvā,
establishing the mind like a fortress,

yodhetha Māraṁ paññāvudhena,
fight Māra with the weapon of wisdom,

jitañ-ca rakkhe, anivesano siyā.
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
Who will know this earth

yamalokañ-ca imaṁ sadevakaṁ?
and the lower realm, together with the gods?

Ko dhammapadaṁ sudesitaṁ
* Who (will reflect) on the well-taught verse of Dhamma

kusalo puppham-ivappacessati?
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,
Living contemplating what is pleasant, uncontrolled in sense faculties,

bhojanamhi amattaññuṁ, kusītaṁ hīnavīriyaṁ –
not knowing the limit in food, indolent, low in energy –

taṁ ve pasahati Māro vāto rukkhaṁ va dubbalaṁ.
Māra surely overthrows 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,
Through activity, heedfulness, through self-control and through restraint,

dīpaṁ kayirātha medhāvī yaṁ ogho nābhikīrati.
the sage should make an island that 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.

Related Verses from the Dhammapada

I have studied the collecting of the verses in A Comparative Edition of the Dhammapada, so there is no need to study it again here, but one thing I thought might be useful in this version was to collect related verses together at the end of each chapter.

At the end of the Chapter about the Pairs, you will therefore find presented nine other pairs of verses. For the most part though I have restricted myself to relying on word collocation for the listings, so that other verses, for instance, which mention appamāda are placed at the end of the second Chapter about Heedfulness, verses mentioning citta But only when the word has the sense of mind. are at the end of the third Chapter about the Mind, and similarly throughout.

I have not necessarily included all verses that have word collocation, if I judge they are not relevant to the theme of the chapter, but only those which might have made it into the chapter had the recitors who collected them chosen to include them.

Most chapters in fact have multiple verses collected after them in this way, but for obvious reasons I have omitted the Miscellaneous Chapter from this. The Chapters about Anger and about Elephants have no verses collected, as none occur outside those chapters. Surprisingly, the Chapter about the Brahmins also has only one verse, as is the case also for the Chapters about Flowers, Stains and about the One who stands by Dhamma.


• Most of the verses are written in the Siloka metre, which has four lines of eight syllables to the line. As the semantic unit is normally a pair of lines, they are laid out in the text as two pairs of lines.

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,
Heedful amongst the heedless ones, || wakeful amongst the ones who sleep,

abalassaṁ va sīghasso hitvā, || yāti sumedhaso.
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.

• In the Dhammapada there are quite a few verses written in other metrical structures, which include Tuṭṭhubha (11 syllables), Jagati (12 syllables), Vetālīya and Opacchandasaka (both variable in length). For more details of the metre see my New Edition of the Dhammapada:

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,
Here he laments, after death he laments,

pāpakārī ubhayattha socati,
the wicked one laments in both places,

so socati, so vihaññati,
he laments, he suffers vexation,

disvā kammakiliṭṭham-attano.
seeing the defilement of his own deeds.

Example (Tuṭṭhubha) (v. 19):

Bahum-pi ce sahitaṁ bhāsamāno,
Even though reciting abundant scriptures,

na takkaro hoti naro pamatto,
the heedless fellow, who does not do (what they say),

gopo va gāvo gaṇayaṁ paresaṁ,
like a cowboy counting other’s cattle,

na bhāgavā sāmaññassa hoti.
does not partake of the ascetic life.

These verses are indented further in order to distinguish them from the Siloka verses, and 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.

• Normally I take one verse at a time, with a double spacing between verses, but occasionally when a verse is connected intimately to the next verse or verses, and they cannot be separated, I then drop the double space.

Example (vv. 58-59):

Yathā saṅkāradhānasmiṁ ujjhitasmiṁ mahāpathe
Just as in a forsaken and discarded heap along the highway

padumaṁ tattha jāyetha, sucigandhaṁ manoramaṁ,
a lotus might arise in that place, with a pure fragrance, delighting the mind,

evaṁ saṅkārabhūtesu, andhabhūte puthujjane
* so amongst the forsaken, the Perfect Sambuddha’s disciple

atirocati paññāya Sammāsambuddhasāvako.
outshines blind and ordinary folk through 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.

• Normally I translate the Pāḷi line-by-line, but if two lines have to be taken together for translation, then I usually mark the line with an asterisk (*, or in some documents a circle o) at the beginning of the first line, to indicate that this has been done.

Example (v. 35):

Dunniggahassa lahuno yatthakāmanipātino,
* For the mind that is difficult to subdue, flighty, flitting wherever it will,

cittassa damatho sādhu, cittaṁ dantaṁ sukhāvahaṁ.
restraint is good, a restrained mind brings happiness.

Here, For the mind… in the first line translates cittassa in the third.

• Occasionally in the Pāḷi one of the vowels will be written in superscript (e.g. ari); this is done when the vowel employed is epenthetic (sarabhatti), A broken, or hardly pronounced, vowel. and is not pronounced with its full length, owing to the need to fit the metre.

Example (v. 22):

Etaṁ visesato ñatvā appamādamhi paṇḍitā,
The wise, fully understanding this in regard to heedfulness,

appamāde pamodanti, Ariyānaṁ gocare ratā.
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
Who will know this earth

yamalokañ-ca imaṁ sadevakaṁ?
and the lower realm, together with the gods?

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

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