It is a book of the Tipi¥aka which is popular and well-known not only in Buddhist countries but also elsewhere. The ‘Dhammapada’ is a collection of the Buddha’s words or basic and essential principles of the Buddha’s Teaching. It consists of 423 verses arranged according to topics in twenty-six vaggas or chapters.
Verse 183 gives the teachings of the Buddha in a nutshell: Abstain from all evil; Promote (develop) what is good and purify your mind. Each stanza is packed with the essence of Truth which illumines the path of a wayfarer. Many are the Dhammapada verses which find their way into the writings and everyday speech of the Buddhists. One can get much sustenance and encouragement from the Dhammapada not only for spiritual development but also for everyday living.
The Dhammapada describes the path which a wayfarer should follow. It states (in verses 277, 278 and 279) that all conditioned things are transitory and impermanent; that all conditioned things are subject to suffering; and that all things (dhammas) are insubstantial, incapable of being called one’s own. When one sees the real nature of things with (Vipassanæ) insight, one becomes disillusioned with the charms and attractions of the Five Aggregates. Such disillusionment constitutes the path of purity (Nibbæna).
Verse 243 defines the highest form of impurity as ignorance (avijjæ) and states that the suffering in the world can be brought to an end only by the destruction of craving or hankering after sensual pleasures. Greed, ill will and ignorance are described as dangerous as fire and unless they are held under restraint, a happy life is impossible both now and thereafter.
Avoiding the two extremes, namely, indulgence in a life of sensuous pleasures and the practice of self-mortification, one must follow the Middle Path, the Noble Path of Eight Constituents to attain perfect Peace, Nibbæna. Attainment to the lowest stage (Sotæpatti Magga) on this Path shown by the Buddha is to be preferred even to the possession of the whole world (V. 178). The Dhammapada emphasizes that one makes or mars oneself, and no one else can help one to rid oneself of impurity. Even the Buddhas cannot render help; they can only show the way and guide; a man must strive for himself.
The Dhammapada recommends a life of peace and non-violence and points out the eternal law that hatred does not cease by hatred, enmity is never overcome by enmity but only by kindness and love (V.5). It advises to conquer anger by loving-kindness, evil by good, miserliness by generosity, and falsehood by truth.
The Dhammapada contains gems of literary excellence, replete with appropriate similes and universal truths and is thus found appealing and edifying by readers all the world over. It serves as a digest of the essential principles and features of the Buddha Dhamma as well as of the wisdom of all the ages.