Dhammapada 3: The Mind (Dhp 33–43)

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

The mind, it quivers and shakes,
hard to guard, hard to curb.
The discerning straighten it out,
like a fletcher straightens an arrow.

Like a fish pulled from the sea
and cast up on the shore,
this mind thrashes about,
trying to throw off Māra’s sway.

Hard to hold back, flighty,
alighting where it will;
it’s good to tame the mind—
a tamed mind leads to bliss.

So very hard to see, so subtle,
alighting where it will;
the discerning protect the mind,
a guarded mind leads to bliss.

The mind travels far, wandering alone;
incorporeal, it hides in a cave.
Those who will restrain the mind
are freed from Māra’s bonds.

Those of unsteady mind,
who don’t understand the true teaching,
and whose confidence wavers,
do not perfect their wisdom.

One whose mind is uncorrupted,
whose heart is undamaged,
who’s given up right and wrong—
alert, has nothing to fear.

Knowing this body breaks like a pot,
fortifying the mind like a citadel,
attack Māra with the sword of wisdom;
guard your conquest, and never settle.

All too soon this body
will lie down upon the earth,
bereft of consciousness,
tossed aside like a useless old log.

Whatever a hater might do to the hated,
or an enemy to their foe,
a wrongly directed mind
would do much worse than that to them.

Not even a mother or father,
or other relative would do so much;
a rightly directed mind
would do better than that to them.


I don’t know if this is helpful input, but I had to look this term up. I think bereft was also used in first section you translated and I had to do the same.

upon the shore*

“Alert” after a dash reads more like an interjection (“Danger!”) than an adjective. I recommend a comma instead.

“lie upon” (no need for “down”)

A bit of a tangle.


I agree. “will lie upon” describes a dead body’s state. “will lie down upon” sounds like an action a live body makes.

Perhaps you were highlighting the opposite of a straight arrow, but I don’t really think of a mind quivering or shaking. Maybe when an arrow hits it’s target it will quiver, but a bent arrow won’t even hit the target, as it’s uncontrollable.

So, what you’re saying is, thanks for expanding your vocab?

I don’t mind having an occasional somewhat obscure word. People like to learn things, and like to be stimulated. Pali verse is full of unusual forms and terms, and I want my translation to convey something of that. Of course it shouldn’t be too much, but a small challenge now and then is a good thing.

Thanks, i’ve adopted you other suggestions. Any help with disentangling? it’s weird with translations, sometimes you just look at it and okay, that’s it. Other times things are just bloody stubborn.

Not really, it’s just what the text says. I’m not sure that the imagery in the first two lines relates so directly to the last two.


It is a bit of a tricky verse! Perhaps:

Even a mother or father
or another relative can only do so much;

Or perhaps even:

Whatever a mother or father
or another relative could do,
a rightly directed mind
would do better than that for you.

How about:

A wrongly directed mind
would do worse to you
than a hater to the one they hate,
or an enemy to their foe.

A rightly directed mind
would do you more good
than your mother or father
or any other relative.


Or even more graphically!

Wrongly directing your mind
does worse things to you
than a hater does to the hated
or an enemy does to their foe

Rightly directing your mind
does you more good
than your mother or father
or other relatives ever could

[edit: but yes, that’s much clearer than v1]


Isn’t this slang?!

with metta,

Just a tiny feedback from a non-native :wink:

I like the word ‘bereft’. So, very poetic and the sound conveys a feeling of a definite loss, to my ears.


Bhikkhu Sujato

Could you kindly offer your personal commentary on the meaning of “a cave”?

Thank you :slightly_smiling_face: