Dhammapada 20: The Way Or The Path

Translated by Ven Nārada

273. The best of paths is the Eightfold Path. 1 The best of truths are the four Sayings. 2 Non-attachment 3 is the best of states. The best of bipeds is the Seeing One.

274. This is the only Way. There is none other for the purity of vision. Do you follow this path. This is the bewilderment of Māra.

275. Entering upon that path, you will make an end of pain. Having learnt the removal of thorns, 4 have I taught you the path.

276. Striving should be done by yourselves; 5 the Tathāgatas 6 are only teachers. The meditative ones, who enter the way, are delivered from the bonds of Māra.

277. "Transient are all conditioned things": 7 when this, with wisdom, one discerns, then is one disgusted with ill; 8 this is the path to purity.

278. "Sorrowful are all conditioned things": when this, with wisdom, one discerns, then is one disgusted with ill; this is the path to purity.

279. "All Dhammas are without a soul": 9 when this, with wisdom, one discerns, then is one disgusted with ill; this is the path to purity.

280. The inactive idler who strives not when he should strive, who, though young and strong, is slothful, with (good) thoughts depressed, 10 does not by wisdom realize the Path.

281. Watchful of speech, well restrained in mind, let him do nought unskilful through his body. Let him purify these three ways of action and win the path realized by the sages.

282. Verily, from meditation arises wisdom. Without meditation wisdom wanes. Knowing this twofold path of gain and loss, let one so conduct oneself that wisdom may increase.

283. Cut down the forest (of the passions 11), but not real trees. 12 From the forest (of the passions) springs fear. Cutting down both forest 13 and brushwood (of the passions), be forestless, 14 O bhikkhus.

284. For as long as the slightest brushwood (of the passions) of man towards women is not cut down, so long is his mind in bondage, like the milch calf to its mother-cow.

285. Cut off your affection, as though it were an autumn lily, with the hand. Cultivate the very path of peace. Nibbāna has been expounded by the Auspicious One.

286. Here will I live in the rainy season, here in the autumn and in the summer: thus muses the fool. He realizes not the danger (of death).

287. The doting man with mind set on children and herds, death seizes and carries away, as a great flood (sweeps away) a slumbering village.

288. There are no sons for one’s protection, neither father nor even kinsmen; for one who is overcome by death no protection is to be found among kinsmen.

289. Realizing this fact, let the virtuous and wise person swiftly clear the way that leads to Nibbāna.

End Notes

1 The Eightfold Path is the Middle Way discovered by the Buddha for the realization of Nibbāna. It consists of: right understanding(sammā diṭṭhi), right thoughts (sammā saṅkappa), right speech (sammā vācā), right action (sammā kammanta), right livelihood (sammā ājīva), right effort (sammā vāyāma), right mindfulness (sammā sati), and right concentration (sammā samādhi).

This is the unique path of Enlightenment. From a philosophical stand-point these eight factors are the eight mental states found in the supramundane consciousness which has Nibbāna for its object.

2 They are the four Noble Truths — suffering, the cause of suffering, the destruction of suffering, and the path leading to the destruction of suffering. The first truth of suffering is to be comprehended, the cause of suffering (which is craving) is to be eradicated, the destruction of suffering (which is Nibbāna) is to be realized, the path leading to the destruction of suffering (which is the Eightfold Path) is to be developed. Whether the Buddhas arise or not these four truths exist in the world. It is the Buddhas that reveal them to mankind.

3 Virāga = Nibbāna.

4 Of lust etc.

5 That is, to control passions in order to realize Nibbāna.

6 When the Buddha refers to Himself He employs the term Tathāgata which means "who thus hath come".

7 Saṅkhāra is a multisignificant term. Here it is used in the sense of things conditioned by causes. Supermundane Nibbāna is not included in saṅkhāra as it is not conditioned by any cause. It is causeless and timeless.

8 Suffering caused by attending to the five Aggregates.

9 Impermanence (anicca), sorrow (dukkha) and no-soul (anatta) are the three characteristics of all things conditioned by causes. It is by contemplating them that one realizes Nibbāna. The aspirant may choose any characteristic that appeals to him most.

Anattā or no-soul is the crux of Buddhism. The term saṅkhāra which is applied to any conditioned thing is used in the two previous verses, while in the third verse the term dhamma is used. The commentator interprets dhamma as the "aggregates" (khandhā). The same interpretation he gives to saṅkhāra too. If by dhamma is meant saṅkhāra, there is no reason for the Buddha to make a differentiation in the third verse.

Saṅkhāra is applied only to those things conditioned by causes. Dhamma can be applied to both conditioned and unconditioned things and states. It embraces both conditioned and unconditioned things including Nibbāna. In order to show that even Nibbāna is free from a permanent soul the Buddha used the term dhamma in the third verse. Nibbāna is a positive supramundane state and is without a soul.

"All the elements of being are non-self. When one by wisdom realizes (this), he heeds not (is superior to) (this world of) sorrow, this is the path to purity". Radhakrishnan.

10 Saṃsannasaṅkappamano literally, mind with right thoughts depressed.

11 Here vana means forest of such passions as lust, hatred, and delusion.

12 When the Buddha said, "Cut down the forest", some newly ordained monks erroneously gave the expression its literal meaning. The Buddha, reading their thoughts, corrected them, stating that what he meant was not actual trees but passions.

13 Vana means big trees and vanatha means smaller trees. Here vana means the powerful passions and vanatha means the lesser passions.

14 Having eradicated all passions by means of the four Paths, be passionless.