The Udana & The Dhammapada

Why is the Udana not as popular and widely translated as the Dhammapada?

If I’m not mistaken, the Udanavarga is a Sanskrit translation of verses from both the Udana and the Dhammapada.


The Sarvāstivāda, as a school, only really survive in the historical footnotes of other schools. Theravāda, on the other hand, is a flourishing and alive tradition. It makes sense that the Sarvāstivāda Dharmapada might be a little more obscure, given that the parent school is. IMO.

The Udana, like the Dhammapada, is part of the Khuddaka Nikaya. However, it’s not nearly as popular and widely translated in the West as the Dhammapada.

Most books of the khuddaka are not really ‘popular’ - actually early buddhists texts are in comparison not popular at all, e.g. compared to books of the Dalai Lama or Suzuki.

Also Jatakas were popular in the past and not so much anymore. Maybe it’s because part of the Udanas actually appear in normal suttas, and maybe there is no specific reason.

Personally I would like to see more attention to them as many authors agree that the verses seem to be in parts quite old. But I guess there is a limit to what you can ‘push’. Translators and editors have their priorities. But yes, instead of another edition of Snp or Dhp some other old KN books or translations of commentaries etc would be nice to see.

1 Like

If you might forgive me a moment of pedantry, it was in the Kṣudrakāgama of a few schools, who knows how many, perhaps all.

Was it ever as famous or as prominent in the circulations of Buddhist texts amidst the subcontinental Sarvāstivādins as in the circulations and transmissions of Pāli texts?

Is the popularity of the Dharmapada somewhat modern?

Was the Udānavarga ever “big” in China?

These all we might add to the OP imo

1 Like

I imagine that if there were more academic interest in the Udana in the West, there would be more translations of it available, especially if it’s from some of the earliest Buddhist material.

Maybe the Dhammapada is so popular because of a desire to distill the teachings of Buddhism to one book, much like how Islam has the Koran and Christianity has the Bible. For many East Asian Buddhists throughout history, The Lotus Sutra has been that defining book.

I don’t understand why you want to see the Dhp as a defining book of Pali Buddhism. People here on SC for example hardly argue with references to Dhp. I personally recommend it to people because it’s easily digestible and can be understood also by people who are not very familiar with the jargon. It’s not ‘defining’ in any way.

1 Like

The Dhammapada
Introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi

From ancient times to the present, the Dhammapada has been regarded as the most succinct expression of the Buddha’s teaching found in the Pali Canon and the chief spiritual testament of early Buddhism. In the countries following Theravada Buddhism, such as Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand, the influence of the Dhammapada is ubiquitous. It is an ever-fecund source of themes for sermons and discussions, a guidebook for resolving the countless problems of everyday life, a primer for the instruction of novices in the monasteries. Even the experienced contemplative, withdrawn to forest hermitage or mountainside cave for a life of meditation, can be expected to count a copy of the book among his few material possessions.
The Dhammapada: Introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Maybe you can ask B.Bodhi for a comment?

1 Like

In the words of the late Ananda Maitreya, “If I were to recommend one book of all the Buddhist scriptures, it would be the Dhammapada. It contains all the wisdom of the Buddha; it is all you need.”

Ok, great, you can find quotes. Where your grand agenda going with this?

So that you will understand why I see the Dhammapada as a defining book of Pali Buddhism.

If the Dhammapada isn’t “defining in any way,” why do so many scholars of Pali Buddhism see it as such?

And that is what we call argumentum ad verecundiam, appeal to authority! :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

The less defeasible arguments in a conversation or discussion, the more enriching it becomes… the more one uses defeasible arguments and fallacy, the less people will engage with him/her. :wink:

1 Like

The Udāna and Dhammapada are both examples of a popular genre of early Buddhist literature, of which the Sanskrit Udānavarga is another example. The extensive range of Dhammapada-style texts on SC is sufficient evidence of their popularity in ancient times.

Such literature followed the traditional Indic form of presenting a didactic verse accompanied by a story that gave it context and meaning. Traditionally the verses are rarely taught without the stories. Typically the verses are fixed at an earlier date, while the stories remain somewhat fluid. It is in fact not uncommon to find completely different stories with the same verse.

This, I think, gives a clue as to why the Dhammapada is more popular in Theravada than the Udāna. The Udāna was supplied with background narratives at an early date. Though these are often considered to be a little later on average than the main prose discourses, they still clearly belong to Early Buddhism. The Dhammapada, however, is free of stories in the canon, and the stories are supplied in the commentary. That means that the stories had a much longer time to be developed in a flexible and creative way. It also means that they have plenty of space to incorporate doctrines that are not found in early Buddhism.

So while the Udāna represents early Buddhism, the Dhammapada with its commentary represents Theravada. It is precisely because it is less authentic that it is more popular.


The Dhammapada was my first book.

1 Like

Is there a Pali scripture that’s been more influential and widely read in Southeast Asia than the Dhammapada?

Not Pali, but the Ramayana?

I am ordering this today, as a Christmas present to myself:

I look forward to reading it. While my favorite scripture has been the Lotus Sutra, it doesn’t seem to provide a lot of practical advice for living a Buddhist life for a book of its length.

The Dhammapada, on the other hand, is a short book that provides a great deal of practical advice for a book of its size. I hope that I enjoy the Udana and the Itivuttaka as well.

As a Mahayana Buddhist, I don’t see a reason not to learn from the Pali scriptures, which are equivalent to the agamas of the Chinese canon. Nagarjuna seems to quote the agamas a great deal.

From the Udana, this is my favorite description of Buddhism’s ultimate goal that I’ve ever seen:

There is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unconditioned. If that Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unconditioned were not, there could be no escape from that which is born, originated, created, conditioned. But because there is That which is Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unconditioned, an escape from that which is born, originated, created, conditioned can be proclaimed.

Is there an equivalent to this quote in the agamas?

Historically in Southeast Asia “influential” wouldn’t have meant "widely read” since literacy was more or less confined to the royalty, aristocracy, military officers and civil servants (which included bhikkhus!). Rather, it would have meant widely and often preached, publicly recited or used as the material for theatrical performances, dances and puppet shows.

With that in mind I would suggest several texts that appear to have been (and continue to be) more influential than the Dhammapada verses.

  • Vessantara Jātaka – without doubt the single best-known text throughout Theravādin Asia. Each country even has an annual festival day devoted to its public recital. As it’s popularly believed that listening to such a recital even once in one’s life will guarantee rebirth in heaven, the event is always well attended.
  • Maṅgala Sutta – probably the sutta with the greatest number of commentaries composed for it. Every Southeast Asian scholar monk worth his salt is expected to compose one. Typically the commentary will consist of a retelling of various Jātaka stories to illustrate each of the sutta’s thirty-eight blessings. In this respect, coupled with its being a popular paritta, the Maṅgala Sutta’s enjoys a cultural position in Southeast Asia somewhat like that of the Heart Sūtra in East Asia.
  • Other Jātakas – besides the Vessantara mentioned above, other well-known ones are the Mahāhaṃsa, Mūgapakkha, Mahājanaka, Suvaṇṇasāma, Nimi, Mahā-ummagga, Bhūridatta, Candakumāra, Mahānāradakassapa, Vidhura, Mahāsupina and all the ones that are frequently retold in commentaries to the Maṅgala Sutta.
  • Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha – Anuruddha’s compendium is probably the second most commented on text after the Maṅgala Sutta, especially in Burma. It’s also a common practice in Burma (and formerly in Thailand) to memorise the Pali text of this treatise, based on the popular belief that doing so is the single most meritorious act in the field of pariyatti.
  • Parittas that offer suitable material for sermons – Ratanasutta, Aggappasādasutta, Mettasutta, Dhajaggasutta, etc.
  • Popular ethics-related suttas – Parābhavasutta, Vasalasutta, Siṅgalakasutta, etc.