The Dhammapada

The “Dhammapada,” or “Path to Virtue,” is one of the most practical ethical hand-books of Buddhism. It is included in the canon of Buddhistic Scriptures, and is one of the Eastern books which can be read with delight to-day by those who are classed as general readers. It is divided into twenty-six chapters, and the keynote of it is struck by the sentence “The virtuous man is happy in this world, and he is happy in the next; he is happy in both. He is happy when he thinks of the good he has done; he is still more happy when going on the good path.” The first step in the “good path” is earnestness, for as the writer says, “Earnestness is the path of immortality (Nirvana), thoughtlessness the path of death; those who are in earnest do not die, those who are thoughtless are as if dead already.” Earnestness, in this connection, evidently means the power of reflection, and of abstracting the mind from mundane things. There is something very inspiring in the sentence, “When the learned man drives away vanity by earnestness, he, the wise, climbing the terraced heights of wisdom, looks down upon the fools: free from sorrow he looks upon the sorrowing crowd, as one that stands on a mountain looks down upon them that stand upon the plain.” This reminds us of Lucretius,

“How sweet to stand, when tempests tear the main,
On the firm cliff, and mark the seaman’s toil!
Not that another’s danger soothes the soul,
But from such toil how sweet to feel secure!
How sweet, at distance from the strife, to view
Contending hosts, and hear the clash of war!
But sweeter far on Wisdom’s height serene,
Upheld by Truth, to fix our firm abode;
To watch the giddy crowd that, deep below,
Forever wander in pursuit of bliss;
To mark the strife for honors, and renown,
For wit and wealth, insatiate, ceaseless urged,
Day after day, with labor unrestrained.”

It is curious to see the atheistic Epicurean and the devout Buddhist meeting on a common ground. But the beauties of the “Dhammapada” can only be realized by a careful study of this charming work. We would point out, for instance, in the chapter on Flowers, what is a piece of golden advice to all readers of books: “The disciple will find out the plainly shown path of virtue, as a clever man finds the right flower.”

Neither the date nor the authorship of the “Dhammapada” is known, but there is conclusive evidence that this canon existed before the Christian era. Many scholars agree in ascribing its utterances to Buddha himself, while others are of the opinion that it is a compilation made by Buddhist monks from various sources.


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