Book review: Dhammapada

3400820810_034b3bb0_ST-DHAMMAPADA_BIGThe Dhammapada is an ancient source of wisdom and one of the great works of spiritual literature. It is the perfect introduction to Buddhist thought, being an inspirational compendium of all the major themes in the sacred canon of Theravada Buddhism.

The title comes from the Sanskrit word dharma (the Pali word is dhamma), meaning the way of the universe, its law of being, while pada in both languages is a foot or a step. The holy book is a guide to the universal way of love and truth that can lead to nirvana or personal liberation.

What The Dhammapada says

You can open The Dhammapada at any page and find an inspirational thought that may have been spoken by Buddha. It covers subjects such as pleasure, happiness and evil, through almost poetic sayings.


Unlike some writings in Buddhism, the style is unscholarly and to the point. As each era and culture has interpreted it afresh, the book does not date. The following are some of its subjects:

* Happiness. It is our duty to free ourselves from hate, disease and restlessness. This is not to be done by rejecting the world but by cultivating love, health and calmness within it.

* Non-attachment. Sorrow arises from what is dear, as does fear. By witnessing the transitory nature of the world and accepting whatever comes to us, we can reduce attachment and therefore fear and misery.

* Self-mastery. Discipline is all-important, as the following verse shows: ‘By energy, vigilance, self-control and self-mastery, the wise one may make an island that a flood cannot sweep away.’

* Enlightenment. The Dhammapada says that taking solitary refuge is a sign of egocentrism or fear. We are better off dealing gracefully with the challenges of work and family life; through them we can become enlightened.

* Retribution and its avoidance. The following two statements are possibly the most profound in The Dhammapada: ‘For hate is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal.’ ‘Overcome anger by non-anger, overcome evil by good. Overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth.’

* Accept criticism as a fact of life. ‘They disparage one who remains silent, they disparage one who talks a lot, and they even disparage one who talks in moderation. There is no-one in the world who is not disparaged.’ Concentrate on your own work and integrity and be independent of the good opinion of others.

The four statements

The famous ‘four statements’ are central to Buddhism because they are the recipe for ending suffering:

1. Misery or sorrow is a conditioned state.

2. It has a cause.

3. It has an end.

4. The way to end it is through practice of the eightfold path to nirvana, which involves:

1. Accurate perception.
2. Accurate thinking.
3. Accurate speech.
4. Appropriate action.
5. Appropriate way of making a living.
6. Precise effort.
7. Mindfulness.
8. Meditation.
Final comments

It is amazing to think that a person may pick up a 2,500-year-old book and be refreshed by its insights. Not only are Buddha’s teachings still relevant, they are fashionable. The lack of dogma and ritual make Buddhism the perfect religion for contemporary life.


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