Buddhist tradition has it that shortly after the passing away of the Lord Buddha five hundred of his Arhats and disciples, led by Kasyapa, met in council at Rajagaha for the purpose of recalling to mind the truths they had received from their beloved Teacher during the forty-five years of his ministry. Their hope was to implant the salient principles of his message so firmly in memory that they would become a lasting impetus to moral and spiritual conduct, not alone for themselves and the brethren in distant parts of the land, but likewise for all future disciples who would seek to follow in the footsteps of the Awakened One.

With the Teacher no longer among them, the monks found themselves with the responsibility of handing on the teaching and discipline of the Order as faithfully as possible. Having no written texts to rely on, they did as their forebears had before them and prepared their discourses “for recitation,” that is, basic themes were repeated with variations in order to impress the ideas on their hearers. At that time, according to the Sinhalese, the Dhammapada was orally assembled from the sayings of Gautama given on some three hundred different occasions. Put in verse form the couplets contrast the vanity of hypocrisy, false pride, heedlessness, and selfish desire with the virtues of truthfulness, modesty, vigilance, and self-abnegation. The admonitions are age-old, yet they strike home today, their austerity of purpose fittingly relieved by gentle humor and earthy simile.

Subsequently, several renditions of the Dhammapada in the Sanskrit and Chinese languages came into circulation; likewise, a number of stanzas are to be found almost verbatim in other texts of the canonical literature, testifying to the esteem in which its content was anciently held. Since first collated, the Dhammapada has become one of the best loved of Buddhist scriptures, recited daily by millions of devotees who chant its verses in Pali or in their native dialect.

— Harischandra Kaviratna


Contents and Description of Chapters

As known to the Southern Church, [The Dhammapada] consists of twenty-six sections, which are named as follows:

1. Yamakavagga: (the section of the pairs of opposites) containing a series of verses arranged in pairs, the second of which praises some particular virtue, while the first shows the evil of its opposite.

2. Appamádavagga (the section on hastening to do good), which shows the evils of delay and the necessity of hastening to perform good works.

3. Chittavagga (the section of the mind or of thought) which speaks of the corruption and the cleansing of the mind, and the attainment of purity of heart.

4. Pupphavagga (the section of flowers) which shows the exaltation of the way to NIRVANA, and compares the life of a man who follows the thirty-seven Portions of the Doctrine to a carefully-woven garland of beautiful flowers—each virtue being a blossom fitted in the exact place where it can show to the best advantage and most add to the beauty of the whole.

5. Bâlavagga (the section of the fool) explaining the nature of the foolish man.

6. Panditavagga (the section of the wise man) showing the nature and customs of the truly wise man.

7. Arahatavagga (the section of the Arahats) which speaks of the qualifications and powers or the Arahat or fully-developed man.

8. Sàhassavagga (the section of thousands) so called because it states that one good word is better than a thousand foolish ones, that one verse well-understood is better than a thousand repeated without understanding, &c.

9. Pàpavagga (the section of sin) explaining the action of sin and the method of escaping from it and attaining salvation.

10. Dandavagga (the section of injuries or punishments) which condemns the infliction of injury on anyone.

11. Jarâvagga (the section of decay) which explains the nature of the decay of the body, and the coming of old age.

12. Attavagga (the section of self—i.e., self-protection) explaining how to protect oneself from all spiritual harm.

13. Lokavagga (the section of the world) speaking of this world and the future worlds, and pointing out the Good Path.

14. Buddhavagga (the section of the BUDDHAS) in which the qualities of a BUDDHA are mentioned.

15. Sukhavagga (the section of happiness) showing in what true happiness consists.

16. Piyavagga (the section of affection) showing the good and evil of the affections, and on what objects they should be fixed, and bidding us beware of sin.

17. Kodhavagga (the section of anger) warning us against the evil effects of anger.

18. Malavagga (the section of impurity) adverting to the evils of impurity either of mind or body.

19. Dhammatavagga (the section of morality) explaining the nature of the true Doctrine, and the necessity of holding firmly by it.

20. Maggavagga (the section of the Path) in which the nature of the Noble Eight-fold Path is explained.

21. Pakinnakavagga (the miscellaneous section containing advice on various subjects).

22. Nirayavagga (the section of the hells) describing the nature of the men whose karma will bring upon them terrible suffering after death.

23. Nâgavagga (the section of the great) which explains the nature of the truly great man. This is sometimes called the elephant section.

24. Tanhavagga (the section of desire) showing what desire or lust is, and its evil effects.

25. Bhikkhuvagga (the section of monastic life) describing how a monk should live.

26. Brahmanavagga (the section of the Brahman) showing that the true Brahman is the pure-minded man, whether his birth be high or low—not the mere man of high caste.

—H. Sumangala, High Priest, Colombo,
Full Moon of Asala, 2433—(July 12, 1889.)


Translations

See also:

The Dhammapada: With Introductory Essays, Pali Text, English Translation and Notes by S. Radhakrishnan

The Dhammapada, Introduced & Translated by Eknath Easwaran

The Dhammapada, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom, translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita

Dhammapada in Verse by Bhante Varado and Samanera Bodhesako

The Illustrated Dhammapada by Ven. W Sarada Maha Thero


Selected Articles, Commentaries, etc.