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Today I read the whole Dhammapadda for the first time (previously only fragments) from the SuttaFriends site here, and I thought I would put together a few bullet points as a mini-review now that it is fresh in my mind.
- It is a long list of pointers to dhamma — do this to be wise, act with restraint
- It has elements of propaganda, it talks up how wonderful it is to be wise, a monk, a follower of the Dhamma
- It covers good - happiness - and bad - hell, anger - and gives a view on how these qualities coexist
- Some things repeat a number of times in different sections, like not associating with bad acquaintances
- I found it to be limited in poetic expression, compared to say Seng’can’s Verses of the Faith Mind (here)
On the whole I was a little disappointed, I think I prefer the middle length discourses of the Buddha, but by all means go and check it out if you haven’t read it, it is held up as a classic of buddhist literature.
It has been a minute since I visited the Dhammapadda. Thanks for taking the time to summarize it as a refresher. I may be focused on relationship elements of the practice at the moment because I'm seeing the theme of good and bad friends arising more often and throwing myself and those I know against it for points of calm reflection.
I believe I heard it said that The Dhammapada is a summary/precis of all the Buddha's teachings, in short snappy bullet points.
I'm sure there are other longer texts which elaborate much more fully on each of the verses featured.
There are many Dharmapadas. They seem to have been a popular literary vehicle, in the early days of Buddhist missionary work, for spreading the teachings of the Buddha. The Pali Dhammapada is particularly old. This is from a considerably less-old Dharmapada:
In case anyone is interested in text-critical study, there are a few ways that we can tell that this is a later Dharmapada than the Pali Dhammapada.
1) It references itself as "this Dharmapada."
2) It is a collage of oblique references to sūtras (such as the "arrow" that breaks existence, which is a reference to the Vālasutta, also the face becoming "foam" is a reference to mindfulness of the corpse and the Phenasutta) that presumes that the reader is actually already familiar with the body of literature that constitutes "the Buddha's sūtras." It is less useful to a beginner, because they don't know what the gāthā ("verse") is talking about.
3) It seemingly incorporates Madhyamaka-like interpretations of the Buddhadharma (e.g. "bound and loosened alike are calm tranquility").
Nonetheless, even from a second's glance, if you've read the Pali Dhammapada, you can see how different some of the other Dharmapadas that used to circulate among Buddhists are. Another very famous Dharmapada, more famous than this one, is the old Sarvāstivādin Udānavarga. It can be read here:
From the opening of the linked Dharmapada:
As readers will be able to tell, it is a very old translation, done in the old "King James style," complete with anachronistic-for-the-time "thees and thous" and with a "ye" here and there.
One last thing I forget to mention is that the opening of the T210 Dharmapada references a very famous sūtra:
(Udāna 8.1 as translated by Venerable Ānandajoti)
Another version of the same:
(Dīghanikāya Sutta No. 11 as translated by Maurice Walshe)