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Dhammapada 4: Flowers (Dhp 44–59)

dhp-translation
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#1

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

Who shall explore this land,
and the Yama realm with its gods?
Who shall examine the well-taught word of truth,
as an expert examines a flower?

A trainee shall explore this land,
and the Yama realm with its gods.
A trainee shall examine the well-taught word of truth,
as an expert examines a flower.

Knowing this body is like foam,
realizing that it’s all just a mirage,
and cutting off Māra’s blossoming,
vanish from the King of Death.

As a mighty flood sweeps off a sleeping village,
death steals away a man
even as he gathers flowers,
his mind caught up in them.

The terminator gains control of the man
who has not had his fill of pleasures,
even as he gathers flowers,
his mind caught up in them.

A bee takes the nectar
and moves on, doing no damage
to the flower’s beauty and fragrance;
and that’s how a sage should walk in the village.

Don’t find fault with others,
with what they’ve done or left undone.
You should only watch yourself,
what you’ve done or left undone.

Just like a glorious flower
that’s colorful but lacks fragrance;
eloquent speech is fruitless
for one who does not act on it.

Just like a glorious flower
that’s both colorful and fragrant,
eloquent speech is fruitful
for one who acts on it.

Just as one would create many garlands
from a heap of flowers,
when a person has come to be born,
they should do many skillful things.

The fragrance of flowers doesn’t spread upwind,
nor sandalwood, pinwheel, or jasmine;
but the fragrance of the good spreads upwind;
a good person’s virtue spreads in every direction.

Among all the fragrances
of sandalwood or pinwheel
or lotus or jasmine,
the fragrance of virtue is supreme.

Faint is the fragrance
of sandal or pinwheel;
but the fragrance of the virtuous
floats to the highest gods.

For those accomplished in ethics,
meditating diligently,
freed through the highest knowledge,
Māra cannot find their path.

From a forsaken heap
discarded on the highway,
a lotus might blossom,
fragrant and delightful.

So too, among the forsaken,
a disciple of the perfect Buddha
outshines with their wisdom
the blind ordinary folk.


#2

In the third verse of this chapter we find the word papupphakāni, which seems to appear nowhere else in Pali. The PTS dictionary takes the prefix pa- as “in front” and reads it as “flower-tipped arrows”. This is followed by Anandajoti and Buddharakkhita, but seems metaphorically unclear: in what sense is an arrow “cut”? Also, it does not enjoy the support of the commentary, which merely gives an interpretive reading as the phenomena of samsara, but doesn’t clarify the meaning.

In Sanskrit we find the form prapuṣpita in the sense of “blossoming, blooming”. Here pa- has the sense of “going forth, growing”. This seems a better reading. The metaphor then becomes the “cutting down” or “mowing down” of the blooming flowers of temptation or delusion.


#3

This is so beautiful!
Thank you Bhante :anjal:


#4

Amazing work. I somehow never got the flower garland aspect of this chapter before. Thanks for really highlighting that theme.

For this verse, I think I’d prefer:

Among all the fragrances —
sandalwood or pinwheel,
lotus or jasmine —
the fragrance of virtue is supreme.

The “of” was grammatically confusing to me for a second.