The Buddha's Path of Virtue












Translator's Preface

I. The Pairs
II. Heedfulness
III. The Mind
IV. Flowers
V. Fools
VI. The Wise
VII. The Arahat—The Worthy
VIII. The Thousands
IX. Evil
X. Punishment
XI. Old Age
XII. The Self
XIII. The World
XIV. The Awakened One
XV. Happiness
XVI. Affections
XVII. Anger
XVIII. Impurity
XIX. The Just
XX. The Path
XXI. Divers Verses
XXII. The Evil Way
XXIII. The Elephant
XXIV. Craving
XXV. The Mendicant
XXVI. The Brahmana


The Dhammapada, of which a metrical translation by Mr. Woodward is here presented, is a precious Buddhist Scripture which deserves to be widely known. The Theosophical Society is to be congratulated on securing so competent and sympathetic a translator and on publishing it in a popular form.

The Dhammapada is a part of the Khuddaka Nikya of the Buddhistic Canon and consists of about 420 stanzas in the sloka metre. Every fully ordained bhikkhu[1] is expected to know the book by heart, and its verses are often on the lips of pious laymen. The beginner of Buddhist studies can have no better introduction to Buddhism and must go back to it again and again to enter into the spirit of Buddha and his apostles.

The Scriptures of the Buddhist Canon are known collectively as the Ti-piaka (Sansk. Tri-piaka), "the Three Baskets or Treasuries". These divisions correspond to the two Testaments of the Christian Bible and contain (excluding repetitions) more than twice as much matter. They are known separately as the Vinaya piaka, Sutta piaka and Abhidhamma piaka, the Basket of Discipline, the Basket of Discourses and the Basket of Metaphysics. These scriptures are regarded with the utmost veneration by Buddhists as containing the word of Buddha (Buddha-vacanam), and are reputed to have been recited at the first Council held, according to tradition, at Rjagaha immediately after Buddha's death circa 540 B.C.

It seems more probable that they grew up gradually and did not receive their final shape till about three centuries later, at the Council held under the auspices of the Emperor Asoka at Paliputra circa 247 B.C. The account given of the First Council in the closing chapter of the Culla vagga seems to indicate that the Basket of Metaphysics was then unknown or unrecognised, and that the scriptures were then a Dvi-piaka (Two Baskets) rather than a Ti-piaka (Three Baskets).

If the Culla vagga account is accepted, it would appear that at this Council, expressly held by the Emperor for the consecrative settlement of the holy texts, the five Nikyas or divisions which constitute the second Basket formed the subject of discussion between the President Kassappa and Buddha's favourite pupil nanda. The Dhammapada is a book of the fifth Nikya. The Mahvansa (Ch. v, 68) carries it back a few years earlier than the Council, to the time of the Emperor's conversion to the Buddhist faith, for on that occasion his teacher, Nigrodha, is said to have explained to him the Appamda-vagga, which is the second chapter of the work. It was therefore known in the middle or early part of the third century B.C.

It seems to be an Anthology, prepared for the use of the faithful, of verses believed to be the real words of Buddha, short improvisations in which he expressed striking thoughts and embellished his preaching. They were current among the early Buddhists, and have been culled from the other scriptures as of high ethical and spiritual value. The importance of the Dhammapada for a critical study of Buddhism is thus considerable.

For a thorough understanding of the work and of the orthodox Buddhist view of it, it should be studied with the valuable commentary of Buddhaghosa. Buddhism owes a profound debt to this great man, and has recognised it in the name by which he is known in the Buddhist world. Says the Mahvansa (Ch. xxxvii, 174): "Because he was as profound in his eloquence (ghosa) as Buddha himself, they conferred on him the appellation of Buddha-ghosa (the Voice of Buddha), and throughout the world he became as renowned as Buddha." He was an Indian Brahmana and a great Vedic scholar and apostle. On his conversion to Buddhism he became a not less ardent champion of the new Faith. He came to Ceylon from the cradle of Buddhism, "the terrace of the great Bo-tree" in Buddha Gya, in the beginning of the fifth century, i.e., nearly a thousand years after Buddha's death. He came in search of the old commentaries on the Tripiakas. The commentaries had been brought to Ceylon by the Emperor Asoka's son, the apostle Mahinda, and by him translated into Sinhalese. They continued to be orally transmitted until reduced to writing, in the reign of the Ceylon king, Vagamini (88-76 B.C.), at a convocation of learned bhikkhus at the cave-temple of Alu Vihre in the Matale district.

The original Pali version having perished in India, Buddhaghosa, during his residence in the Mah-vihre at Anuradhapura, re-translated it from Sinhalese to Pali. His version supplanted the Sinhalese (since lost) and is now the only record remaining of the ancient tradition. He also wrote elaborate commentaries (Aha kath)[2] on almost every part of the Tri-piaka and composed the Visuddhi magga, an extensive and systematic treatise on Buddhist doctrine, a veritable cyclopædia of Buddhist theology. His writings are regarded as absolute authorities in the interpretation of the Buddhist scriptures, and he is regarded as the second founder of Buddhism in Ceylon. He is held in high reverence also in Burma as the founder of Buddhism in that country (450 of the Christian era), having taken the Buddhist scriptures there from Ceylon.

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