Dhammapada 1: The Pairs (Dhp 1–20)

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A series of posts for my draft translation of the Dhammapada, for feedback and discussion. Final version will be on SuttaCentral.

Intention is the forerunner of all things;
intention’s their master, they’re made by intention.
If with a corrupt intention
you speak or act,
suffering follows you,
like a wheel the ox’s foot.

Intention is the forerunner of all things;
intention’s their master, they’re made by intention.
If with a pure intention
you speak or act,
happiness follows you
like a shadow that never leaves.

“He abused me, he hit me!
He beat me, he took from me!”
Those who cling to hate like this
never settle their enmity.

“He abused me, he hit me!
He beat me, he took from me!”
Those who never cling to hate
always settle their enmity.

For enmity in this world
is never settled by enmity.
It’s only settled by love:
this is an ancient law.

Others don’t understand
that we should restrain ourselves right away.
But the clever ones understand;
that’s why they settle their quarrels.

One who meditates on the beautiful,
their faculties unrestrained,
immoderate in eating,
lazy, lacking energy:
Māra strikes them down
like the wind a feeble tree.

One who meditates on the ugly,
their faculties well-restrained,
eating in moderation,
faithful and energetic:
Māra cannot strike them down,
like the wind a rocky mountain.

The impure one
who would wear the ochre robe
bereft of taming and truth:
they are not worthy of the ochre robe.

Whoever has rejected impurities,
steady in ethics,
possessing taming and truth,
they are truly worthy of the ochre robe.

Thinking the inessential is essential,
seeing the essential as inessential;
they don’t realize the essential—
for wrong thoughts are their pasture.

Having known the essential as essential,
and the inessential as inessential;
they realize the essential,
for right thoughts are their pasture.

Just as rain seeps into
a poorly roofed house,
lust seeps into
an undeveloped mind.

Just as rain doesn’t seep into
a well roofed house,
lust doesn’t seep into
a well developed mind.

Here they grieve, hereafter they grieve,
a doer of bad grieves in both places.
They grieve and fret,
seeing their own corrupt deeds.

Here they rejoice, hereafter they rejoice,
a doer of good rejoices in both places.
They rejoice and celebrate,
seeing their own pure deeds.

Here they’re tormented, hereafter they’re tormented,
a doer of bad is tormented in both places.
They’re tormented thinking of the bad things they’ve done,
and when gone to a bad place, they’re tormented all the more.

Here they delight, hereafter they delight,
a doer of good delights in both places.
They delight thinking of the good things they’ve done,
and when gone to a good place, they delight all the more.

Much though they may recite scripture,
if a negligent person does not act accordingly,
then like a cowherd who counts the cattle of others,
they share none of the blessings of the ascetic life.

Little though they may recite scripture,
if they live in line with the teachings,
having given up greed, hate, and delusion,
with deep understanding and mind well freed,
not grasping to this world or the next,
they share all the blessings of the ascetic life.


Forgive me, this is just the way my eyes work… if there is a typo I (quite often) see it…

So sorry that it’s already in the first line, before I even get to enjoy anything of your translation!

It should perhaps be: “Intention is the forerunner of all things”.

:woman_shrugging: :heart:

Now I’ll go to enjoy the rest… :grin:


If you’re going to play with alternatives to “mind” (which I applaud by the way) might I suggest “motivation” as a fresher alternative than “intention.” I think it gets to the emotional core of what is meant better. “intentions” are too easily twisted by rationalization. “The road to hell” and all that… I think “motivation” has less baggage than “intention” these days (at least in the conversations I’ve had with people recently).

—> of all things [as @sabbamitta pointed out above]

—> If, with (in both verses)

corrupt intention —> corrupt intent

wheel, the

I think simply “He beat me, he took!” is better. It leans the reader forward a bit.

:clap: Nice!

“never settled by hate” perhaps, to better parallel the previous verses (which say “cling to hate”) Also the punctuation is awkward. The period should probably be a comma?

My Pāli is quite beginner, but shouldn’t this be “how” instead of “why”?

If this was intended as a bait and switch, then congrats! But perhaps “alluring,” “appealing,” “attractive”, etc might give the sense more directly.

like the wind, a

“bereft of taming and of truth” is much preferable, both grammatically and metrically (making the line perfect iambic tetrameter!)


This verse is a bit awkward to my ear. :man_shrugging: Not sure… Perhaps something more like:

Whoever has removed their impurities,
steady in ethics,
with taming and with truth:
They are worthy of the ochre robe.

Minor point, but in one verse you used a dash to end this line and in the pair, a comma. Unless you’re trying to make a distinction, punctuation should be used consistently.

To me, definite articles (“the”) feel better here than indefinite articles (“an”), but I can’t really put my finger on why.

Metrically, I would prefer a two syllable translation for “socati” here: perhaps “lament” or “sorrow”? It would also help connect this verse to its pair a bit better (with “rejoice”).

Perhaps, simply: “seeing their own corruption” and “purity”

These last four verses feel too much like prose for my taste: perhaps they’re too verbose?



Hello Bhikkhu Sujato. I will be critical and say the above sounds non-adventurous; too conservative; too plain; too common; too lazy. I expected of you to be more creative.

I have always liked Thanissaro’s translation of “mano” as “intellect”, even though Thanissaro does not use “intellect” in his Yamakavagga, where he chooses “heart”, which is generally “citta”.

While your “intention” appears to capture the meaning of the text, I think a word akin to “underlying intellect” (referring to the mental faculty of knowledge, wisdom, ignorance, etc) would be the most accurate. Personally, I am unable to identify the right English word (given “intellect” often sounds like actual intelligence rather than also includes ignorance).

As for “dhamma” as “things”, its not my preferred. For example, obviously a rock or a cloud is a “thing” but a rock or cloud does not appear to have intention as its forerunner.

I actually recently read a translation I preferred but cannot remember it (damn). However, I think “dhamma” should align with the text that follows it. In other words, I think “dhamma” here may have a very generic meaning and is referring to “our path” or “our way of life” and its “results”; similar to the universal Indian meaning of “dharma” is “doctrine of duty; life; etc”. For example, there are places in the suttas the word “dhamma” refers to “practices”. For example, the word “dhamma” is used in both terms “kusala dhamma” and “akusala dhamma (eg. in AN 10.173)”. I think the meaning is similar to this but I do not know enough to identify the fitting word.

Therefore, consistent with your own ‘adventurous’ other translations (although the word ‘sentience’ does not resonate with me’), it would be:

Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā,
manoseṭṭhā manomayā;
Manasā ce paduṭṭhena,
bhāsati vā karoti vā;
Tato naṃ dukkhamanveti,
cakkaṃva vahato padaṃ.

Sentience is the forerunner of all principles;
sentience their master, they’re made by sentience.
If with a corrupt intention
you speak or act,
suffering follows you,
like a wheel the ox’s foot.



I hate to be this person, bhante, as I don’t mean to correct you when I myself am unsure of the “rules,” so to speak, but I don’t think “and” generally occupies strong positions in lines of iambic tetrameter. However, if I am wrong on this, it would be interesting to be corrected. I haven’t written poetry since I was a teenager (!), so I ‘might’ be a little bit rusty on the rules.

This is how I read it, if trying to assign a meter:

Th’ĭmpúre óne whŏ wŏuld wéar thĕ óchrĕ róbe
(iambic pentameter)
bĕréft ŏf támĭng ăn’trúth:
(half of a fourteener/common/ballad meter)
thĕy’re nót wórth˘y ŏ’th’óchrĕ róbe
(iambic tetrameter)

I don’t have a character available on my keyboard for the elision between ˘y -> ŏ, alas, but it looks like a tiny “slur” between the vowels if anyone is familiar with musical notation.

So, now comes the moment when I wonder if I’m full of nonsense.


Is “love” a good translation for averena?

“Love” has many meanings in English, and sounds like a translation of metta.

I tend to think of it, instead, as “non-hatred” – isn’t “non-hatred” more literal, more accurate?

The Dhammapada: Verses and Stories says,

  1. mayamettha yamamase : lit., “We here must die,” meaning we, of this world, must die; or all men are mortal.

That’s not the same translation as “we should restrain ourselves right away”, is it.

In Thag 8.1 you translated it,

Others don’t understand
Pare ca na vijānanti,

that our lives must have limits.
mayamettha yamāmase;

The clever ones who know this
Ye ca tattha vijānanti,

settle their quarrels right away.
tato sammanti medhagā.


While you’re correct that “and” need not be stressed in general, in this context (sandwiched between two other iambic lines, and in the middle of an otherwise iambic line) I at least would have a hard time not stressing it. So, perhaps my “perfectly” was a slight exaggeration, but I think you’ll have to admit that even a nearly iambic line would flow nicer than a stumbling line of “fourteener/common/ballad meter” (as you called it) thrown in the middle of otherwise iambic(-ish) verse.


Hey thanks everyone!


I think of motivation as what underlies; whereas mano in such cases is the direction you’re pointing.

I’ve adopted many of your minor points. One thing I’m not convinced of is extra commas: they feel prissy and fussy. Commas are quite subjective, and I feel modern English rings cleaner by leaving them out unless necessary. But I am willing to be persuaded.

It’s a different word in pali.

No, tato means “from that” i.e. “because of that” i.e. in this case, “why”. It can carry either nuance.

I dunno, I use “beautiful” throughout for subha.

Also, looking at it again, I missed out the play on words, as do most translators. But i think with a bit of dexterity it can be captured:

One who, not free of stains themselves,
would wear the robe stained in ocher,
bereft of taming and of truth:
they don’t deserve the ocher robe.

One who’s purged all their stains,
steady in ethics,
possessed of taming and of truth,
they deserve the ocher robe.

I agree, but I can’t seem to trim them down. Hopefully inspiration will strike at some point!

“Literal” and “accurate” are quite different things!

Negatives in Pali often have a stronger sense than in English, so avera is indeed a synonym for mettā.

If you check various translations, you’ll find a lot of variation on this point: it’s a hard line.

The line appears in Dhp 6, Thag 4.3, and MN 128. The ending āmase is an unusual (poetic) first person plural middle imperative. The commentary gives different explanations, and the Sanskritic versions also vary quite a lot:

Patna Dhammapada: vayam ettha jayāmatha
Mūlasarvastivāda Vinaya: vayam atrodyamāmahe

The root yam has the meaning “limit” and is usually used in the sense of “restraint”. However it also is used in the context of mortality, for example “Yama”, the supposed god of death. The commentary offers an explanation along these lines, saying that the point is that if we do not appreciate the fact that we are going to die, we will not live properly. Some translators follow this reading.

However, it seems implausible, following from what I call the “principle of least meaning”. This principle derives from the fact that texts, especially ancient sacred texts, tend to be over-interpreted. We read all kinds of complex implications and insinuations into things. To counteract this, it is best to translate something in the simplest and plainest, most obvious meaning.

Another way of looking at it is that we should avoid placing a heavy burden of meaning upon the weak shoulders of ambiguous texts.

In this case, we have a similar text to refer to as well. In SN 10.6 we find

Pāṇesu ca saṃyamāmase
We should restrain ourselves (from harming) living creatures.

Here the meaning is unambiguous.

Hence I believe my former translation is incorrect and have changed it.

See this is the problem with meter: once you get a line or two that suggest a regular rhythm, you expect more. It’s really best to go one way or the other: make it metrical or break all meter.


Nice! :clap::pray:


I find the above well-explained and justified. It seems difficult to argue against the meaning derived from SN 10.6. Regards :slightly_smiling_face:


I find “non-hatred” to be a better choice. It’s a subtle, yet profound distinction that I’ve given much reflection to over the last few years. There are people, situations, sense impressions etc. that I’m not compelled to love, but certainly not hate. I can arouse metta for an unsavory person; non-hatred, benevolence and a wish for them to be free from dukkha but do I need to love them?


Yes, “Hate” and “Love” sound like they might be two extremes; but I shouldn’t contradict Ven. Sujato’s translating, and I’m grateful that the site is written to help to make the translation (from Pali to English) visible.


I think he was suggesting commas because of the omission of verbs in some of the concluding lines, which isn’t really a solution. I would suggest adding connecting verbs like this:

A conjunction would work, too. “Like a wheel and the ox’s foot.” But, it’s poetry. I’m guessing the Pali leaves the assumed verb out?


Exactly. If you fill in all the blanks, it is not poetry, it’s lead.


Bhante @sujato ,

here are some of my thoughts:

  1. If one reads your translation of Dhp. 1-2 in conjunction with AN 10.104, one might get an impression of contradiction - AN says that views are more fundamental than intentions when it comes to pleasant or painful results of actions. This contradiction appears because in your translations in Dhp. term “intention” stands for “mano” and elsewhere “intention” stands for “cetanā”.

  2. I’m wondering if you took into consideration SN 45.1 while translating these verses? It seems to me that there’s a strong connection between both texts.

  3. I’m also curious why choice of terms is different than in AN 1.56 and 57 - which look like really close parallel texts in my view.

I think that more poetical rendition of these verses makes it harder to connect the dots and not to fall into unfounded interpretation of the teachings.


I don’t think so. The pubbangama is the thing that immediately precedes, as the dawn does the sunrise. There’s nothing to say that there aren’t more fundamental issues, and in fact this is pretty much basic Buddhism: ignorance lies at the root, not intention.

I didn’t, but I don’t think it would change it.

They are, and interestingly so. I have considered the two passages closely together, which is one of the advantages of translating the whole canon! In fact I have revised my translation of AN 1.56/57, as you can see from the data source below.


Ah, okay! But why translation of the “dhammā” is not uniform then? Do you consider Dhp. verse to be more general in meaning than AN passage?


Arrgh, such is the dukkha of the translator! Throughout the context in AN I am translating dhamma in this sense as “qualities”. But it doesn’t sound right in the Dhp verse. What to do!?


I translate those passages as wholesome and unwholesome things in the Madhyama because there are glosses that make it clear dharma is referring to internal and external things. I dislike “things” because it sounds so inarticulate, but qualities sounds like we’re talking about personality traits and such.


It does, but that’s the thing: that’s not what the verses are referring to. It’s saying that if you act with a bad intention, you’ll suffer, and the term dhamma is referring to the experience of suffering. It really isn’t talking about the “qualities” of mind. Better would be “phenomena”, but that is too technical and clumsy for such a context. I don’t mind “thing”; quality of articulation lies in the phrase, not the word. :wink:

The verses and the prose, in fact, seem to be subtly different in this respect.

  • Verse: bad act --> suffering
  • Prose: bad act --> unskillful qualities

I’m not quite sure how to interpret this, but it seems to me that the verse is more “normal”. Typically the suttas flow:

  • defilements (or their opposites) --> action (kamma) --> result

Eg. in DO:

  • avijjā --> saṅkhārā --> viṇṇāṇa (etc.)

This pattern is found commonly in the Suttas, and is formalized in the commentaries as:

  • kilesavaṭṭa–> kammavaṭṭa --> vipākavaṭṭa.

And this is what we find in the verses.

  • with corrupt mind --> speaks or acts --> suffering follows

And furthermore, we can say with some confidence that the term dhamma is, in fact, referring to the final one of these three stages. This is of course a normal usage (cf. the paṭiccasamuppanna dhamma). And the syntax makes it clear: one acts with corrupted mind, suffering follows. It’s obviously talking about kamma and vipāka.

But the prose is saying:

  • mind --> defilements (or their opposites)

It is not really talking about kamma/vipāka at all. And this is quite in line with the context in AN.

To sum up:

  • The verse says: when you act out of good or bad intention, you will experience results accordingly.
  • The prose says: the mind promotes the growth of good or bad qualities.

So this would tend to justify keeping different renderings for dhamma.

If you see Ven Bodhi’s note on this, the commentary struggles to explain the prose, saying the mind doesn’t really arise first(!)

I wonder whether the AN text was rather clumsily back-formed from the verse, fitted in with the other texts of the vagga.