Questions about Dhp 348 and its translations

Hello everyone. I have some questions about Dhp 348.

In some translations, this verse is translated as “Let go of the past, let go of the future, let go of the present”, while some translators translate this verse as “Let go of the front, let go of the back, let go of the middle”. As for the Chinese Dharmapada, in T 210.28, this verse is translated in the same way as the latter translation. However, in T 212.30 and T 213.29, the third part is translated as “let go of the in-between” instead.

The last part of the verse says something about not returning to birth and old age. Usually, when birth and old age are talked about, death tends to be mentioned as well. But in this particular verse, it is not. I notice that the same pattern can also be observed in Snp 5.4, Snp 5.5, Snp 5.12, and Snp 5.17 where death is also not grouped alongside birth and old age.

My questions are:
-Which translation is the correct one?
-Why do some translators translate the verse in the way they do?
-Why isn’t death put together with birth and old age?

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Dhammapada | Vagga 24: Taṇhāvaggo | Verse: 348
1. Meter

¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ | ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ Vetālīya x 4
muñca pure muñca pacchato,
¯ ¯ ¯ ˘ ˘ | ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯
majjhe muñca bhavassa pāragū,
¯ ¯ ˘ ˘ | ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯
sabbattha vimuttamānaso
˘ ˘ ¯ ¯ ˘ ˘ | ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯
na punaṃ jātijaraṃ upehisi. [348]

2 Grammar

muñca pure muñca pacchato
let go IMP.2SG. before IND. let go IMP.2SG. after ADV
majjhe muñca bhavassa pāragū
in the present state of existence M.LOC.SG. let go IMP.2SG.. of becoming M.GEN.SG. gone beyond M.NOM.SG.
let go the past, let go the future, let go the present. Gone beyond becoming, ...

sabbattha vimuttamānaso
everywhere ADV. having a released mind M.NOM.SG.
na punaṃ jātijaraṃ upehisi
not IND. again IND. birth and aging F.ACC.SG. will come to FUT.2SG.
with mind everywhere released, [you] will not come again to birth and aging.

This verse consists of four syntactically separate sentences. They are:

  1. muñca pure (let go of the past). The subject is omitted; the verb implies the second person singular pronoun. The verb is muñca (let go, 2nd person, singular, active, imperative). The object is the adverb pure (before).
  2. muñca pacchato (let go of the future). The subject is omitted; the verb implies the second person singular pronoun. The verb is muñca (let go, 2nd person, singular, active, imperative). The object is the adverb pacchato (after).
  3. majjhe muñca (let go of the present). The subject is omitted; the verb implies the second person singular pronoun. The verb is muñca (let go, 2nd person, singular, active, imperative). The object is the adjective majjhe (in the middle, locative singular).
  4. bhavassa pāragū sabbattha vimuttamānaso na punaṃ jātijaraṃ upehisi (when you cross over to the other shore of existence, and your mind will be completely free, you will never again come to birth and aging). There are two subjects, the noun pāragū (crossed over to the other shore, nominative singular) with its attribute, the noun bhavassa (of existence, genitive singular) and the compound vimuttamānaso (with an emancipated mind, nominative singular) with its attribute, the adverb sabbattha (everywhere). The verb is upehisi ([you] will approach, 2nd person, singular, active, future). It is negated by the negative particle na (not). The verb has an attribute, the adverb punaṃ (again). The object is the compound jātijaraṃ (to birth and aging, accusative singular).

ASobh: I think the subject is implied, “you” with its two attributes, beyond becoming, and with an emancipated mind.

3 Vocabulary
muñcati [√muc] imper. muñca, 1. to release, deliver (from=abl.), set free (opp. bandhati). — 2. to send off, let loose, drop, give. — 3. to let out of the yoke, to unharness, set free. — 4. to let go, emit, send forth (light). — 5. to send forth (sound); to utter, emit (words etc.). — 6. (from 4 & 5 in general) to undertake, to bestow, send forth, let loose on — 7. to abandon, give up, leave behind Dhp 348.

pure, ind., before (both local & temporal), thus either “before, in front” or “before, formerly, earlier.” Dhp 348. Often meaning "in a former life”.

pacchato, adv. [abl. formation fr. *paccha] behind, after Dhp 348 (=anāgatesu khandhesu DhA IV.63; opp. pure). Often doubled pacchato pacchato, i. e. always or close behind (opp. purato purato). — Cp. pacchā & pacchima.

majjha mfn., middle, viz. 1. of space: of moderate height— 2. of time: of middle age (contrasted with dahara young & thera old).— 3. often used adv. in loc. majjhe in the middle; i. e. (a) as prep. in between, among (-° or with gen.). — (b) in special dogmatic sense “in the present state of existence,” contrasted with past & future existences; Dhp 348. — 4. (n.) majjhaṃ the middle.

bhava, “becoming,” (form of) rebirth, (state of) existence, a “life.” There are 3 states of existence conventionally enumd as kāma°, rūpa°, arūpa° or sensual existence, deva-corporeal, & formless existence (cp. rūpa) s. v. dhātu — Another view is represented by the division of bhava into kamma° and upapatti° (uppatti°), or the active functioning of a life in relation to the fruitional, or resultant way of the next life. — In the “causal chain” (Paṭicca-samuppāda, qv) bhava is represented as condition of birth (jāti), or resultant force for new birth.

pāragū (a) gone beyond, i. e. passed, transcended, crossed. (b) gone to the end of (gen. or. -°), reached perfection in, well-versed in, familiar with, an authority on.
para-, N.n.: the opposite shore, the other side.
gu-, suf.: going, having gone. It is derived from the verb root gam- (to go).
sabbattha adv., everywhere, under all circumstances;
vimuttamānasa mfn. [vimutta+mānasa], having an emancipated mind
vimutta [pp. of vimuñcati], freed, released, intellectually emancipated — Often as cittaṃ v. an emancipated heart.

mānasa (nt.) intention, purpose, mind (as active force), mental action. Almost equivalent to mano. — As mfn. (-°): being of such & such a mind, having a… mind, with a… heart.

na negative & adversative particle: not; no; nor, neither.

puna, punar, punaṃ ind., again.

jātijara, f. [jāti+jara], birth and aging
jāti, f., 1. birth, being born; the possibility of being (re-)born; Dhp 153; — 2. a birth, an existence; — 3. (i) type of birth, class, lineage; good birth; (ii) type, kind; species; — 4. natural or true state; nature; iic: natural; true, genuine; naturally, by nature…
jara(s), f , aging; old age;

upeti, pr. 3 sg., approaches, comes or goes to, arrives at, reaches; enters into (a state), undergoes; accepts, acknowledges; is fit for, is fitting, applies; —fut. 2 sg. upehisi;

4 Backstory

The Story of Uggasena
While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verse (348) of this book, with reference to Uggasena, a rich man’s son who fell in love with a dancer.
Once, a wandering theatrical troupe consisting of five hundred dancers and some acrobats came to Rajagaha and performed on the grounds of the palace of King Bimbisara for seven days. There, a young dancer who was the daughter of an acrobat sang and danced on top of a long bamboo pole. Uggasena, the young son of a rich man, fell desperately in love with this dancer and his parents could not stop him from marrying her. He married the young dancer and followed the troupe. As he was not a dancer nor an acrobat, he was not of much use to the party. So, as the party moved from place to place, he had to help carry boxes, to drive the carts, etc.
In course of time, a son was born to Uggasena and his wife, the dancer. To this child, the dancer would often sing a song which ran thus: “O you, son of the man who keeps watch over the carts; the man who carries boxes and bundles! O, you, son of the ignorant one who can do nothing!” Uggasena heard the song; he knew that his wife was referring to him and he was very much hurt and depressed. So he went to his father-in-law, the acrobat, and requested him to teach him acrobatics. After a year’s training, Uggasena became a skilful acrobat.
Then, Uggasena went back to Rajagaha, and it was proclaimed that Uggasena would publicly demonstrate his skill in seven days’ time. On the seventh day, a long pole was put up and Uggasena stood on top of it. At a signal given from below he somersaulted seven times on the pole. At about this time, the Buddha saw Uggasena in his vision and knew that time was ripe for Uggasena to attain arahatship. So, he entered Rajagaha and willed that the audience should turn their attention to him instead of applauding Uggasena for his acrobatic feats. When Uggasena saw that he was being neglected and ignored, he just sat on top of the pole, feeling very discontented and depressed. The Buddha then addressed Uggasena, "Uggasena, a wise man should abandon all attachment to the khandha aggregates and strive to gain liberation from the round of rebirths."
Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:
Verse 348. Give up the past, give up the future, give up the present. Having reached the end of existences, with a mind freed from all (conditioned things), you will not again undergo birth and decay.
At the end of the discourse Uggasena, who was still on top of the pole, attained arahatship. He came down and was soon admitted to the Order by the Buddha.

5 Translations

Narada Thera

Let go the past. Let go the future. Let go the present (front, back and middle). Crossing to the farther shore of existence, with mind released from everything, do not again undergo birth and decay.
source: via

Acharya Buddharakkhita

Let go of the past, let go of the future, let go of the present, and cross over to the farther shore of existence. With mind wholly liberated, you shall come no more to birth and death.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Gone to the beyond of becoming,
you let go of in front,
let go of behind,
let go of between.
With a heart everywhere let-go,
you don’t come again to birth
& aging.

Ajahn Munindo

Let go of the past.
Let go of the future.
Let go of the present.
With a heart that is free
cross over to that shore
which is beyond suffering.

A.R. Bomhard

If you want to reach the farther shore of existence,395 give up what is before,396 behind,397 and in between.398 Set your mind free from everything,399 and go beyond birth and death.

395 When this is so — having gone to the farther shore (bhavassa pāragū) of the whole threefold existence (that is, the past, the present, the future), by way of higher knowledge, full understanding, relinquishment, meditational development and realization, living with mind liberated in regard to the totality of conditioned existence with its divisions such as aggregates (khandhas), elements (dhātus), and spheres (āyatanas) —, one does not come again by birth, decay, and death. That is the meaning.
396 Let go of attachment, longing, clinging, desiring, (mental) possession, obsession, grasping, craving — with reference to the aggregates (khandhas) of the past.
397 Let go of attachment and so forth with reference to the aggregates of the future.
398 Let go of attachment and so forth with reference to the aggregates of the present.
399 All conditioned existence.


Friend @Niyyanika that certainly is one of the most impressive responses I’ve come across in this forum! Sadhu! Though it kinda gives rise to confusion and clarity at the same time; as the Taoist and Chan practitioners would say, due to too much information perhaps! ;O) [just kidding, really thank you!].

Hi @thenoble . There is no such thing as “correct” translation or interpretation; it’s always a matter of understanding and perspective, not just of the subject matter, but of language itself and its use. So in as much as the translator makes his/her own independent mind about what’s right; the reader too must do the same when pondering different translations/interpretations.

Because translation is an art!

I have come across jatijara without marana many a time (especially in verse); plus, jara strongly implies “death” too. But the main thing about the writing or composition of verse is the “meter”, the preservation of which often requires bending the words and the sentences in ways which, in Pali usage, far exceed in complexity the occasion where the omission of “marana” may be necessary.


@Dhammarakkhita - Ah, but the answers lie within. :yoda_sw:

@Dhammarakkhita - Ayya Sobhana says there is more, lots, lots more, but you have to join the club. (this is true for @thenoble and anyone else who would like to join as well) Just ask.

At Dhammadharini we are studying Pali through translating the Dhammapada and have worksheets on nearly the whole thing now as Google Drive docs.


Some like to answer questions, some have a passion for the removal of confusion and perplexity, even if by answering a question other than that explicitly asked! The Buddha, par excellence, is of the second kind.

My greetings to Ayya Sobhana and to all at Dhammadharini. But, Dhammapada is spring! Why turn it into a winter?! Rooting for “lots less” here!! :sunglasses: :v:

Venerables, thank you for answering. However, my questions are still left largely unanswered.

I still don’t know which translation is the correct or the more accurate one. From Ayya Niyyanika’s answer, the literal translation of the verse would be of the “front (before), back (after), middle” set. But some translators decided to use the “past, future, present” set instead.

This difference leads to my second question which I wrote in the first post: why do some translators translate the verse in the way they do? That is, why do some translators translate the verse literally, while some do it with the “past, future, present” set? Is it because both translations are correct? Or is it that in this particular verse and in this particular context, it should be translated as “past, future, present” instead? Or is it because the “past, future, present” translation is influenced by commentaries?

Bhante Dhammarakkhita, I have to respectfully disagree with your comment about correct translation. There is such a thing as correct translation. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be many translations of the early texts where the newer ones are there to replace or fix the older ones where translations are incorrect. As for the omission of death because of the metre, that is very interesting. I checked the Gandhari, Sanskrit, and Prakrit versions, and they agree with the Pali one. That is, there is no mention of death. Does this mean that this complexity of metre that you talked about also applies to other Indic languages as well?

Friend @thenoble, first allow me to advice you to use the “@” sign before the names of participants here that you address in your replies, as this will alert them with a notification. Otherwise they might miss your responses altogether. :O)

Now, people make several translations because they like to re-express the original in ways which differ from each other. If there was a “correct” translation then why would we have several, not just over time, but also contemporaneously? And if there is such a thing as a “correct” translation, interpretation, and understanding, how do you explain the fact that some readers prefer certain translations while others prefer other translations of the same text (for example some prefer ven. Thanissaro’s while others prefer Ven. Bodhi’s, and soon i’m sure many will prefer yet those of Ven. Sujato, and these are translations of the Nikayas done by people who are all alive today!). And in the end just who gets to decide which is the right or correct translation(?) If there was an inherently correct translation, then why are you unable to figure it out for yourself? If a translation’s correctness was similar to the correctness of an equation like (2+2=4); then why do you seek to verify such “correctness” by means of the mind of another person rather than your own, and why translators would disagree together in the first place?!

The reason old translation become dusty and rusty is that the use of language changes over time, that is, translations done today, will at some point in the future become outdated too. Not because they are inherently incorrect, but because the manner with which people utilise a certain language today, will surely change at some point in the future. This is of course not to deny that translations sometimes have clear “problems” in interpretation, understanding of concepts or words in the original text and so on, but this doesn’t mean that there is any such thing as a “wrong” translation as a whole, unless of course the task has been given to someone not qualified to do any translation.

I worked as a professional translator and let me assure you, no body speaks like that any more: “this is a wrong/correct translation!”. It is considered in this professional field a brute and offensive thing to say to anybody. Translators spend a whole lot of effort, such that is of rare human quality, to present to you an important text, important by your own standards, in a language that you understand. So cultured people have the tendency to recognise this as a significant effort that is worthy of respect, even as they point out the translation’s shortcomings or imperfections, according to their own individual preferences, recognising that it is really a matter of preference rather than right and wrong. And there is no translator who will come out and say: “Hey, everyone, my translation is the correct one, or the most correct one, while those of others are inferior and wrong!” Whomever should speak like that … well … you can be sure that only few will take what they said seriously, even if they know it was said out of ignorance alone rather than ignorance(+)arrogance!!

It applies to all languages without exception, with differences only on the level of the unique characteristics of each language; but in principle, verse always requires a special (and more complex) use of language.

Bhante @Dhammarakkhita, thank you for telling me about the sign and your answer about the metre.

However, your comments about translations make no sense to me. There are several, contemporaneous translations simply because the translators act independently. Some readers prefer certain translations because they are easier to understand (assuming that the readers have no knowledge of the original language). Those who have great command of the languange that they translate get to decide what is the correct translation. The reason why I’m unable to figure the correct translation out myself is because I have no knowledge about what should be the correct translation. Is this not common sense?

I still stand by my opinion, that there is such a thing as correct translation. I won’t accept your assurance since it contradicts how bad translations (not necessarily of Buddhist texts) tend to get criticised. Comments about wrong, dubious, or correct translations are apparent here in Discuss and Discover, if you simply just search. Besides, what is wrong with pointing out translations that are incorrect, as long as it is done cordially. If there are mistakes, you point them out so that those mistakes can be corrected, in a friendly and kind way. This is what it means to be “cultured”. It is certainly not ignorance. Even if those translations are done with a lot of effort, if they are incorrect, then they are still incorrect. Nothing will change that (unless the translators decide to fix them). No one says anything about bragging one’s translation as superiors to others, I don’t know why you brought that up. Besides, varying translations can’t simply be a matter of preference, otherwise dubious translations wouldn’t exist. Also, I simply want to know the answers to my questions. So it baffles me that you brought up ignorance and arrogance out of the blue.

It is clear that we have different opinions about “translations”, so I won’t read or comment on your possible future comments about correct or incorrect translations anymore. It also does not help answering my original questions at all.

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lol! Cool! No problem! Sorry if I have offended you in any way!

I have read parts of at least two translations of Dante’s Inferno, and enjoyed them most while reading them together. One was extremely literal, the other less so but poetic, having a lovely rhyme rendering, both in English. I would have to say both were correct. :slight_smile: Either one alone was very good, but together, oh my, such a rich mental meal.


@ERose I did something similar with the Dhammapada actually, I read it in Pali, English, and French at the same time, with the English translation much more liberal than the french! It was a nice experience. :upside_down_face:

During my study of linguistics I learned a lot about what is it in language that makes up the character and feeling of a translation of a literary work, and how the nature and language of the expected audience of the translation is something that predominantly determines the specific approach the translator will follow (sometimes by orders of the publisher by the way!), and how even the same translator can produce two markedly different translations of the same text following two different approaches. Presently I encounter dilemmas of decision making all the time in the translation of Pali verse, with each decision I make leading directly to a different feeling and language. It’s interesting and exhausting at the same time!


Actually I recall something else: aside from the two english translations, there was the original which was if i recall correctly old italian with some latin… The very interesting thing: I did not read or speak italian when I started. Nor did I when I finished. But along the way sometimes I would read the old Italian aloud, for two reasons: the original feel and rhyme conveyed something, and somehow, nuances of the text somehow clarified.

Some meanings have to be experienced in the original language.

This restimulates a desire to learn more Pali… because some meanings just cannot be experienced effectively in languages I know… Perhaps this is why chanting in Pali is still practiced?

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If you witnessed @Sobhana and some of the community working on translating the Dhammapada, discussing the poetry of the word choices as we also discuss the Dhamma within and its impact on our practice, I think you would find much Spring :tulip: here. Just this weekend another of our lay visitor friends joined the Google Doc Dhammapada club and she looked nothing like this :snowman:.

But perhaps it does look a little dry and daunting laid out like this in response to sincere questions.

@thenoble, since I am just learning Pali, the literal translation for me comes first. So for the Pali word ‘pure’ I just write down ‘before’ as my first guess based on the meaning of the word from the dictionary.

pure, ind., before (both local & temporal), thus either “before, in front” or “before, formerly, earlier.” Dhp 348. Often meaning "in a former life”.

Then, I or our community together, looks at the context and some of the beauty and cleverness of the Buddha’s words begins to emerge. In this example one can see the letting go can be interpreted in all space (in front, behind, in between) and in all time (past, future, present). How beautiful - like a seedling :seedling: developing and :blossom: blooming the deeper Dhamma is enjoyed. :grin:

I jokingly wrote, “Ah, but the answers lie within.” But I do think, particularly with the Dhammapada, that is so. When you read multiple translations and also start to explore the Pali, you sense within your own practice the impact of the words. Some translators are quite literal and some take liberties to get to the Dhamma flavor of the verse but use language that is more poetic in the translation. If the translation is leading to opening the heart and to deeper understanding, in a way, that is the best translation, at least for that reader at that moment.

In another thread Ajahn Brahmali gave the following advice:

This has been helpful to me. You know - gotta prepare the soil and plant the seeds before the flowers can grow. :grin:


About “correct” translations, I have found Narada Thera to be the most reliable in general, while other translators are trying to bring out some of the shades of meaning, including puns. The best is to understand pali so that one can get both the primary meaning of words and the underlying shades of meaning. For many words in pali, the root is something physical. This makes it more rich. For example, Dhammadhārinī refers to women who “know the Dhamma by heart, who bear it in mind”, but has the literal meaning of women who “carry” the Dhamma. “To wear a garment” is dhāreti. On the dhareyya day the man carries his bride into the house. The adjective dharaṇa means “pregnant with.” So we keep the Dhamma with that much love and commitment. To get the commentator’s definition of words, please refer to the scholarly translation by Carter & Palihawadana and its abundant footnoots. The commentators’ definitions are somewhat given in Bomhard’s translation.


lol! I’m sure that is true. And what you’re doing is very useful for any translator.
It’s just me, I guess, and a bunch of other people, who just had it with papañca and can’t seem to meditate with any verbal seasons, even springs!

And, just to add, that I have found that nothing is better than practice in enabling one to understand the text!


The answers that I got here are almost there, but not quite there yet.

If pure and pacchato are translated as before and after (in the sense of time) respectively, then the past and future translation is in accordance with the former one. However, if pure and pacchato are translated as front and back, or before and after (in the sense of space), which is evident in some translations from Pali, and Chinese Dharmapada, which is likely translated from Sanskrit, then does that not mean that the past and future translation contradicts the literal translation? I do not understand how front can be interpreted as past, and back as future. Should it not be the other way around?

As for the absence of death in the verse, other than it possibly being the result of complexity in metre, for some reason, I think there is more to it than that since in one of the Chinese Dharmapada, the translator(s) translated the last verse as 老死 (old age and death). It seems like a deliberate mistake since it is possible the translator(s) might think that death should follow old age.

Or perhaps, I just think too much. But then again, the early texts are preserved in more than one language, so I cannot help but be curious.


… i KNEW there had to be some “good” in my addiction to puns! =D. But, it is a delightful technique for expression of some complicated nuances to meaning. My best dreams have often included outrageously crude silly juvenile puns, parced with profundity.

:covers a coughs and tries to look embarrassed:

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Hi all,

Thanks for the interesting thread and comments. As I haven’t translated the Dhammapada yet, this is my first serious look at the text.

It’s worth noting that we have two other Indic versions of these lines:
muñca pure muñca pacchato majjhe muñca bhavassa pāragū ।
sabbattha vimuttamānaso na puno jātijarām upehisi
muju pura muju pachadu / maj̄adu muju bhavasa parako
sarvatra vimuta­moṇaso / na puṇu jadi­jara uvehiṣi

Which are very similar to the Pali:

Muñca pure muñca pacchato, / Majjhe muñca bhavassa pāragū;
Sabbattha vimuttamānaso, / Na punaṃ jātijaraṃ upehisi.

The context, as established unambiguously in the last pada, is making an end to rebirth. With due respect to Ven @Dhammarakkhita’s argument that there’s no such thing as a “correct” translation, I submit that there is such a thing as an incorrect translation. And any translation that completely misses the main point of the text is, in my view, incorrect.

Pure and paccha can take a number of meanings in different contexts, but as they must refer here to past lives and future lives, the translation should at least allow such a reading, or better, make it explicit. We don’t really use “back” and “front” in this way, so I would avoid these. “Before” and “after” could work, or if you wanted to draw out the meaning more explicitly, “past” and “future”. But given that the verse uses more oblique phrasing, it may be nice to preserve that.

A few other details. Sabbattha can be read in many ways, but here it should at least allow the reading “with respect to every state of rebirth”. Mānasa is a somewhat unusual poetic term, justifying the translation “heart”.

Let go what came before!
Let go what comes next!
Let go what’s in-between!
Crossing over existence,
with heart freed from every state,
you won’t continue to be reborn and grow old.


Venerable that’s precisely what I’ve been trying to say all the time, correctness or incorrectness in language can only be a matter of “view” (& I have already mentioned that I’m excluding from my argument bad translations made by unqualified people). Of course, calling an apple tomato is incorrect, but what to call navanita, or how to understand paccha, that is a different matter.

And, venerable, you have actually come up with yet a new translation of the verse, which I think is great. But now, does this render the other translations incorrect or less correct? Does this mean that Ayya Sobhana must now abandon her preference to ven. Naradathera’s translation and uphold yours as the correct one?! So that’s what I’m talking about here, and a translator’s faith in his translation is not factual and objective, rather simply based on view and preference (& it happens that translators will like each others translations of the same work despite of their big differences! ).

Whomever should seek to find an abstract, objective, self-contained correctness in language … let him seek!

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Bhante, thank you very much for your always clear answers. I have no more question about this verse.