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What Does the Buddha Really Teach? (Dhammapada)

The Great Teacher, Supreme Buddha, has taught the beautiful Dhamma out of limitless compassion for all the beings. All the teachings taught by the Buddha are known as the message of the Great Teacher. The Buddha’s message contains nine categories of teachings. They are as follows:  1. Discourses (Sutta) 2. Discourses mixed with verses (Geyya) 3. Discourses from the higher teachings without the verses (Veyyākarana) 4. Verses (Gathā) 5. Verses of inspired utterances (Udāna) 6. The 112 discourses which begins with the phrase “Thus the Blessed One has said” (Itivuttaka)      7. The 547 birth stories related by the Buddha in connection with his previous births (Jātaka) 8. The discourses that deal with the wonderful and the marvelous (Abbhūtadhamma) 9. Discourses of questions and answers (Vedalla).


The collection called the Dhammpada contains the verses (Gathā) uttered by the Buddha. These verses are called “The Message of Buddha” since they have an incredible quality. Whoever understands the meaning of these verses and follows accordingly will have an amazing opportunity to achieve freedom from suffering, Nibbāna, and to experience true happiness.


One day, great Brahma Sahampati approached the Buddha and uttered a few verses about the noble qualities of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the community of monks. In one of those verses, there is a remarkable statement: “Ekasmiṁ brahmacariyasmiṁ- sahassaṁ maccu hāyinaṁ” (SN:01) “A thousand enlightened monks who have defeated the evil-one dwell in a single word of the Dhamma.”

You will witness the truth of this statement when you attentively study the verses in this book. “Dhammapada” is a mirror of that noble quality.


Dhammapada consists of twenty six chapters. These were categorized by specific topics by the great Arahants headed by the Great Arahant Mahā Kassapa Thero in the first Dhamma council. The skill of these Arahants of categorizing the incredible words of the Buddha into different topics is amazing.


The first chapter in this book is The Pairs (Yamaka Vaggo) which contains twenty verses. This chapter is made up of pairs of verses that were uttered at different locations by the Supreme Buddha. In this chapter, there are many meaningful teachings about life, mind, and the path to enlightenment. This is the beginning chapter of the Dhammapada.


What follows is the chapter on Diligence (Appamāda Vaggo). Here, diligence means a sense urgency of cultivating wholesome qualities. Effort to abandon unwholesomeness and to develop wholesomeness is aroused in one’s life due to this diligence. Buddhas always praise diligence. By reading this chapter, you can learn the danger of negligence and the benefit of diligence through twelve beautiful verses.


The third chapter is on the Mind (Citta Vaggo). It has eleven awakening verses. The blessed one skillfully teaches the misery of a misled mind and the peace of a well guided mind.


The fourth chapter is on Flowers (Puppha Vaggo). You can learn sixteen verses taught by the Buddha, in which he used flowers as similes to describe life.


Next, you can read the chapter on the Fools (Bāla Vaggo). The fool in the Dhamma is described as an ordinary individual who does not understand the true meaning of merit / demerit, grateful people / ungrateful people, right view / wrong view, and right path / wrong path. You can learn about the lack of wisdom, arrogance, and ungratefulness of a fool by reading the sixteen verses in this chapter.


Next, the great Arahants selected fourteen elegant verses about the Wise (Pandita Vaggo). During Supreme Buddhas’ time, when someone was addressed as the wise, they were referring to the enlightened monks. Through these verses, the Supreme Buddha shows us the value of the association of the wise and the integrity of the wise.


The seventh chapter consists of ten verses about the Enlightened Monk (Arahanta Vaggo). How wonderful it is to know about enlightened beings even in a time period like ours!

The eighth chapter is called the Thousands (Sahassa Vaggo). Dhamma facts on the theme of thousands and hundreds are presented in this chapter. You can learn the true meaning of righteous living by reading this chapter.


All the Buddhas instruct both gods and humans to avoid sin. In the ninth chapter on the Evil (Pāpa Vaggo), you can learn thirteen verses about the true meaning of sin, its dangerous results, and how foolish people are attracted  to evil.


The tenth chapter is on Violence (Danda Vaggo). Here, Buddha teaches how an ungrateful person deserves  punishment all the way up to rebirth in hell. He also teaches about the feeling of peacefulness of a monk who avoids all evils. There are seventeen eye-opening verses in this chapter.


Deterioration as you age and the hardships that follow are detailed in the eleventh chapter about Old Age (Jarā Vaggo). This chapter encompasses eleven verses. They explain how the intelligent noble disciple who follows the Noble Eightfold Path attains the freedom from old age and death through the understanding of the reality of life.


The twelfth chapter is on Oneself (Atta Vaggo). These ten verses teach you about the responsibility of taking care of oneself and protecting oneself. They highlight that the direction of life always depends on oneself.


The chapter on the World (Loka Vaggo) presents twelve verses about realizing the true nature of this world we call life.


The fourteenth chapter is on the Buddha (Buddha Vaggo). It contains eighteen verses. The extraordinary characteristics of the life of the Buddhas have been disclosed by the Gautama Buddha.


Everyone wants to be happy. The sole purpose of the appearance of a Buddha in the world is to teach the correct path to attain true happiness. Through the twelve verses in the chapter of Happiness (Sukha Vaggo), you can understand what happiness truly means.


Next, you can read the chapter on the Dear (Piya Vaggo). These twelve verses explain the dearest person in the world and how the beloved good kamma ripens.

Anger is a very dangerous defilement. To live with such a defilement is extremely dangerous. Therefore, through fourteen verses in the chapter on Anger (Kodha Vaggo), Buddha teaches practical techniques of overcoming anger.


Chapter eighteen is about Impurities (Mala Vaggo). In this chapter, there are twenty-three verses. These verses concern the “rust” that collects in one’s life. These are the afflictions that take over our minds and manifest in unwholesome actions such as anger.  The verses show you the path in order to get rid of these impurities from your life.


The chapter dedicated to the Dhamma (Dhammattha Vaggo) is the nineteenth chapter. In this chapter, there are seventeen verses about the life that is well established on the teachings of the Buddha.


The Noble Eightfold Path is the only way that leads to the freedom of suffering, Nibbāna. The chapter entitled the Path (Magga Vaggo) elaborates the way to Nibbāna through seventeen verses.


The twenty-first chapter is on the Miscellaneous (Pakinnaka Vaggo). This contains collections of teachings on  different topics. There are sixteen verses. These verses show the path to a sorrow-free life.


The ungrateful person is most likely destined to be reborn in hell. Fearing rebirth in hell, one should fully abandon evil and unrighteous qualities. The fourteen verses in the twenty-second chapter on Hell (Niraya Vaggo) remind us of the danger we should avoid.


“Nāga” in Pāli language is a term for the elephant. Chapter twenty-three is about the Elephant (Nāga Vaggo). The Buddha utters fourteen verses using the simile of an elephant.


The second Noble Truth taught by the Buddha is the Noble Truth of the cause of suffering. The cause for the suffering of the cycle of rebirth is craving. The cause of suffering must be fully eradicated. In the chapter on Craving (Tanhā Vaggo), you can learn twenty-six verses about the true nature of craving.


The twenty-fifth chapter is on Enlightened Monks (Bhikkhu Vaggo). There are twenty-three verses. The perfection of the monk life is to become an enlightened monk by culminating the practice of virtue, concentration, and wisdom. These verses introduce the ideal monk life to the world.


The final chapter of the Dhammapada is on the True Brahmin (Brāhmana Vaggo). The Brahmin Clan was the most highly respected clan in the ordinary society in the time of the Buddha in India. However, the Buddha never describes that a person is noble and sacred merely through one’s clan, wealth, power, or ordinary knowledge. Rather, Buddha describes that a person becomes noble and sacred through his noble qualities. Therefore, the Buddha uses the term “Brahmin” to describe the enlightened monk. You can read forty-one verses about the true Brahmin in this chapter.


There are four hundred and twenty-three eloquent verses in this book titled “What Does the Buddha Really Teach?—Dhammapada”. May you have a wonderful opportunity to learn the meanings of these sacred verses and practice the awakening teachings diligently in your life! May you experience the peace of true freedom!


May all the monks and lay people who contributed the development of this book attain the peace of true freedom! May you who is reading this sacred book with much respect, also attain the peace of true freedom!


With loving kindness,

Kiribathgoda Ñānānanda Thera.

Mahamevnawa Monastery

Waduwawa, Yatigaloluwa, Polgahawela.

Sri Lanka

December 2016