Dhammapada chapter 5: The Fool

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

Long is the night for the wakeful;
long is the league for the weary.
Long transmigrate the fools
who don’t understand the true teaching.

If while wandering you find no partner
equal or better than yourself,
then firmly resolve to wander alone—
there’s no fellowship with fools.

The fool worries, thinking:
“Sons are mine, wealth is mine.”
But you can’t even call your self your own,
let alone your sons or wealth.

The fool who thinks they’re a fool
is wise to at least that extent.
But the true fool is said to be the one
who imagines that they are wise.

If someone who’s foolish attends to the wise
even for the rest of their life,
still they don’t experience the teaching,
like a spoon the taste of the soup.

If someone intelligent attends to the wise
even just for an hour or so,
swiftly they experience the teaching,
like a tongue the taste of the soup.

Fools and idiots behave
like their own worst enemies,
doing wicked deeds
that ripen as bitter fruit.

It’s not good to do the kind of deed
that makes you feel guilty,
for which you weep and wail,
as its effect stays with you.

It is good to do the kind of deed
that doesn’t make you feel guilty,
for which you’re happy and joyful,
as its effect stays with you.

The fool imagines that evil is sweet,
so long as it has not yet ripened.
But when that evil ripens in fruit,
they plummet down into pain.

Month after month a fool may eat
food with a blade of grass,
but they’ll never be worth a sixteenth part
of one who has realized the teaching.

For a wicked deed that has been done
does not spoil quickly like milk.
Smoldering, it follows the fool,
like a fire smothered over with ash.

Whatever a fool has managed to learn,
it only gives rise to harm.
It ruins their good points,
blowing their head into bits.

They’d seek the esteem that they lack,
and status among the mendicants;
authority over monasteries,
and honor among other families.

“Let both layfolk and renunciants think
that it was done by me alone.
In anything at all that’s to be done,
let them fall under my sway alone.”
So thinks the fool,
their greed and pride only growing.

For the path to profit and the path to quenching
are two quite different things.
A mendicant disciple of the Buddha,
understanding what this really means,
would never delight in honors,
but rather would foster seclusion.


(Dhammapada verses 60-75 for those following along at home :wink:)


I’ve been looking at the fifth and sixth verses (64-65).

If they’re not meant to stand in contrast to each other the following comment isn’t relevant, but I assume they are intended to relate. English foolish and intelligent aren’t true opposites in that intelligence is something we are born with (like height, eye colour etc) while foolishness is something we can adjust (at least I hope that’s the assumption behind this chapter). A slightly softer rendering of viññū might work better, such as discerning (Buddharakkhita), perceptive (Anandajoti), or perhaps sensible.

Wonderful! As always it reads beautifully. When it comes to translating verse, you are one of the best. :grinning:

By the way, have you consulted Gil Fronsdal’s translation? It is said by many to be the best available (so far!), being both accurate and readable.

Here are a few minor points:

This might mean it’s owned by someone else. How about: “But you don’t even have a self”?

My sense is that payirupāsati is closer to “visit” than “attend to”. The basic meaning is something like “sitting close to”. Here are a few contextual usages:

Atha kho mahānāmassa sakkassa etadahosi – 'akālo kho ajja bhagavantaṃ payirupāsituṃ. Kilanto bhagavā. Sve dānāhaṃ bhagavantaṃ payirupāsissāmī’ti bhagavantaṃ abhivādetvā padakkhiṇaṃ katvā pakkāmi. (AN 3.127)

Kaṃ nu kho muṇḍo rājā samaṇaṃ vā brāhmaṇaṃ vā payirupāseyya, yassa dhammaṃ sutvā sokasallaṃ pajaheyyāti. (AN 5.10)

So vata, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kalyāṇamitto kalyāṇasahāyo kalyāṇasampavaṅko, kalyāṇamitte sevamāno bhajamāno payirupāsamāno, tesañca diṭṭhānugatiṃ āpajjamāno ābhisamācārikaṃ dhammaṃ paripūressatī’ti ṭhānametaṃ vijjati. (AN 6.67)

So kho ahaṃ, bhante, pasannacitto bhagavantaṃ payirupāsiṃ. Tassa me bhagavā anupubbiṃ kathaṃ kathesi, seyyathidaṃ: … (AN 8.21)

Tañcāhaṃ bhagavantaṃ payirupāseyyaṃ. So ca me bhagavā dhammaṃ deseyya. (MN 130)

Idha, bhikkhave, saddhājāto upasaṅkamati, upasaṅkamanto payirupāsati, payirupāsanto sotaṃ odahati, ohitasoto dhammaṃ suṇāti, sutvā dhammaṃ dhāreti … sāpi nāma, bhikkhave, payirupāsanā nāhosi; tampi nāma, bhikkhave, sotāvadhānaṃ nāhosi … (MN 70)

Sukkaṃsaṃ would seem to mean “good aspect”, aṃsa here being roughly equivalent to bhāga, “part” or “share”, see CPD. I would understand this to mean that even the good aspect of learning is ruined by the fool.

The Pali reads: Mamevātivasā assu, “There should be controls, thinking, ‘It is just mine’.” I don’t really get this, but why do you have “them”?


Hey thanks everyone!

Maybe, but I don’t think it’s too bad. I do my best to differentiate terms like paṇḍita, viññū, medhāvī, paññavā, muni, dhīra, and so on. But the curious thing is that in English we have lots of words for a fool (moron, idiot, dumbo …) but almost no real words for a smart person; only “sage”, really. So a translation is inevitably clumsier and less granular. I will leave it for the reader to draw any conclusions about the fact that English is rich in terms for twits and poor for sages!

Normally I use “sensible” for viññū, I will try it here.


No, I haven’t seen it. I just got a soft copy, browsing through it …

It’s fine and all, but there are plenty of problematic renderings, as in all translations.

  • Yamaka = dichotomies?
  • dhamma in the opening line = “experience”? How is “mind” not experience? It’s a hard line, as he acknowledges, but this doesn’t seem right. Note that the commentary for this line (and the closely related an1.56) is wrong, as it says mind and dhammas co-arise, in direct contradiction to the text. Here mano must surely be “intention”.
  • yamāmase = “we here must die”: again a hard line, but the root sense of “we should restrain ourselves” is surely preferable (I have changed this in my own translations.)
  • subha/asubha: doesn’t really mean pleasant/unpleasant.
  • “path to the Deathless”: as pointed out by Norman, pada doesn’t mean “path”. I take it here as related to tathāgatapada as in the “footprint”, i.e. “sign” or “mark”.
  • Dīpaṃ kayirātha medhāvī doesn’t mean “The wise person can become an island”, but “… would build an island”.
  • “Fools with no sense / Go about as their own enemies”, “go about” is odd here, it means “behave”.
  • Reasoning is harmful / To fools: ñatta certainly doesn’t mean “reasoning”. Comm appears ambiguous between “learned knowledge” and “fame”, but the entry here includes both. However we have mn47:8.5: Yato ca kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu ñattajjhāpanno hoti yasappatto where it must mean “fame”. Given that it precedes a verse about fame, and that the Uv parallels are included in a Satkāravarga, I think we should accept “fame, reputation” here. Note that this also works better with the verb jāyati, as learning doesn’t just “get born”, while fame may well do. I will change my translation!

Translating Dhammapada is weird, as so many of the lines are just there echoing in your head, and you don’t even know where from. Like, who came up with “mind is the forerunner of all things”? I don’t know!

I’ve been just doing it from the Pali, and referring to Anandajoti, Buddharakkhita, and Norman when I get stuck. I’ll also of course refer to Ven Bodhi in the case of verses shared with the nikayas. And now I have Fronsdal as well!

Well, I mean you could make the same argument: “you don’t have a self, but someone might!” It’s verse, I don’t think we can press the logical necessity of the arguments too far.

It’s a tricky one, and I went back and forth a number of times in my prose translations. But some of the passages you quote indicate rather a different meaning. Consider the first one:

Mahanama is already with the Buddha, he has arranged his dwelling and spoken with him. Then he says it is too late to payirupāsati today, I shall have to do it tomorrow. Clearly here it can’t be “visit”.

Elsewhere it clearly means something like “pay homage”:

yena bhagavā tenupasaṅkamiṃsu; upasaṅkamitvā bhagavantaṃ abhivādetvā tuṇhībhūtā tuṇhībhūtā pañjalikā bhagavantaṃ payirupāsanti. AN 5.58


‘sādhū’ti bhāsitaṃ abhinanditvā anumoditvā namassamāno pañjaliko payirupāseyya AN 9.33

Elsewhere it clearly just means “visit”:

Atha kho āyasmā upanando sakyaputto purebhattaṃ kulāni payirupāsitvā divā āgacchati

And also commonly is a synonym of seveti = “associate with, frequent”:

puggalo sevitabbo bhajitabbo payirupāsitabbo

As interestingly in DN 32:

Sabhāpi tattha sālavatī nāma
There is a hall there too named Bhagalavatī,
Yattha yakkhā payirupāsanti,
where the spirits frequent.

So … it occurs some 200 times, and in many of those cases the context is not really clear, so I’m just doing my best! I suspect the reason Ven Bodhi uses “attend” is because it slips into a middle ground between the neutral “visit” and the strong “pay homage”. One can “attend to” a wound as in “take care”, but also “attend” class as in just “show up”, or “attend to” a talk as in “pay attention to”.

Sure, that’s what I was trying to convey. Obviously not that successfully, but I haven’t come up with anything more colloquial.

The plural verb agrees with maññantu, both of them applying to the “layfolk and renunciants”. Anandajoti has:

let them all be under my sway

Norman has:

let them be under my control

It seems to be the only occurrence of ativasa in Pali, and the other versions have a different sense. Prakrit has na me pratibalā assa which seems to mean “may they not resist me”. Udanavarga has mama prativaśāś ca syuḥ which is unclear to me.

Incidentally, contra both Norman and Anandajoti, and agreeing with Buddharakkhita, I take kiccākicca as “all kinds of duties”, cp. bhavābhava etc. What do you think?


I read it as mama evā ti vasā assu, but it seems your reading is the generally accepted one.

Absolutely. I have come across this kind of compound on a number of occasions in the Vinaya, and on most occasions it must mean “all kinds of x”, for example when it refers to food. In context, phalāphala cannot possibly mean “fruit and non-fruit”, but must mean “various/all kinds of fruit”. So unless there is a good reason to think otherwise, I think all such compounds should be interpreted in a parallel way.


Oh yes, I didn’t even think of that. But I guess the Skt versions, though different, support ativasa.

Is there a name for it? i feel like there should be a name for it!


I’ve learned from you that once you name it, you control it. This is your chance! :mage:


The linguistic term seems to be “reduplication


Yes, phalāphala looks like reduplication. It might mean various types of fruit, lots of fruit or just fruit plural. Reduplication occurs as a necessary device in languages that don’t have grammatical plurals like the English -s ending. Pali does have grammatical plurals so it’s use would suggest some sort of emphasis such as different types or unusually large amounts.