Quote check: The Buddhas do but tell the way

“The Buddhas do but tell the way, it is for you to swelter at the task.”

I have this photo from the Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal. It’s one of many signs around the area with various quotes. But it’s unattributed, and I want to use it in an official capacity, so I want to find a source for it. Maybe it’s from the Dhammapada? I cannot find any leads. It’s all over the internet, but no sources. Does anyone know anything about it? Thanks! :pray:


Dhp 275–276:

When you all are practicing this,
you will make an end of suffering.
I have explained the path to you
for extracting the thorn with wisdom.

You yourselves must do the work,
the Realized Ones just show the way.
Meditators practicing absorption
are released from Māra’s bonds.


Thank you! That sign is quite a rough paraphrase, isn’t it!


Though the sign is definitely quoting the dhammapada verse there is also a long sutta in MN about the Buddha only showing the way:




I was actually looking for that one, but my search show the way only gave me the Dhp verse. But if I modify my search to show.* the way, MN 107 is also included.

Thank you! :white_check_mark:


It’s actually not too bad at all:

You yourselves must do the work,
Tumhehi kiccamātappaṁ,

the Realized Ones just show the way.
akkhātāro tathāgatā;

kiccamātappaṁ has ātappa which means “heat” so “swelter” is actually a clever rendering.



Actually, If anyone can find who this rendering belongs to I would really appreciate it, @sujato you have immersed yourself in Dhammpada translations recently, does it ring a bell, i.b Horner uses is in their introduction to MN vol 2, but only gives “Dhp” as a source, is it her own rendering? I’v checked Muller, Rhys Davids, Beal, and several others and I can’t find it anywhere.

The translation is from the 1948 sutta anthology, The Living Thoughts of Gotama Buddha, by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and I.B. Horner. The collection actually includes the same Dhammapada verse twice. First a prose rendering of just the first lines:

“The Buddhas do but tell the Way, it is for you to swelter at the task.”
(p. 23, emphasis in the original)

And later a metrical one of the whole verse:

“Yours 'tis to swelter at the task,
Truth-finders are showers (only).
Meditators, as they faring go,
From Māra’s bonds releasèd are.”
(p. 181)

From the choice of diction I think the prose rendering is most likely Coomaraswamy’s and the verse one Horner’s.


Thank yo so much @Dhammanando !! this is really great to know, often the proper attribution of such wonderful turns of phrase get lost on the internet, it’s really good to know the source.

Ananda Coomaraswamy is a fascinating figure.

1 Like

I received a private message asking me to expand on this. In case anyone else is interested, here’s my reply.

Tumhehi kiccamātappaṁ, akkhātāro tathāgatā.
Paṭipannā pamokkhanti, jhāyino mārabandhanā.

  1. Owing to her commitment to form-equivalence, it would have been out of character for Horner to translate tathāgatā as “Buddhas”.

  2. Similarly, the placing of brackets around “only”, to show that it’s implied but not actually present in the Pali, is typical of form-equivalent translators. Coomaraswamy, by contrast, doesn’t bother to place brackets around “but”.

  3. “Tell the way”, in the sense used here is a Jacobeanism. Horner consistently translated into workaday Edwardian English. It would have been out of character for her to insert show-off archaisms into her work. It would have been quite in character for an arty-farty type like Coomaraswamy.

  4. “Faring” was one of Horner’s favourite words. She was as addicted to it as Edward Conze was to “coursing”. In both cases the translators use these words to translate the verbs carati and paṭipajjati and their derivatives.


I think “Truth-finders” is a definite Horner-ism!

She also liked state of “further-men”.
(uttari manussadhammā)

1 Like

Indeed, that’s great sleuthing.

Very interested, and nice analysis.

1 Like