Main Themes of ‘The Dhammapada’

The Dhammapada provides invaluable insight to those who are just starting down the path of yoga; however, it provides a good reminder of some essential points to seasoned practitioners as well.  It is particularly important to serious yoga aspirants, as it provides a set of ethical guidelines that must be constantly observed, in order to fully adopt the yogic lifestyle.  If yogis are indeed highly conscious beings, then they should strive to demonstrate in an unfailing manner the behavior that is prescribed within the pages of this sacred text.

Through its poetic arrangement of couplets and effective analogies, the Dhammapada presents a code of conduct that is expected of all yoga sadhakas.  By holding steadfastly to these rules, we contribute to the greater good and help to raise the overall consciousness as well.  Ultimately, we must all act in a way that preserves the universal order among all beings, in order that every thought, word and deed gives rise to positive consequences. If we fail to exercise mindfulness and compassion, we risk incurring suffering and pain, not only for ourselves, but for others as well.  The graver our transgressions, the greater the likelihood of severe repercussions, be it in the present lifetime or the next one into which we are reborn.

This philosophy should resonate soundly with yoga practitioners, since it aligns completely with the Laws of Karma, which state that, for every action, there is an associated outcome that affects one or more beings, including one’s own self.  Even our thoughts must be closely monitored, for they can be extremely powerful;  after all, intentions and ideas can often materialize.

…the first two verses of the Dhammapada emphasize the power of the human mind in shaping our lives, and the importance and effectiveness of a person’s own actions and choices.  This theme reappears throughout the text.  We are told, for example, that we are our own protectors  and the shapers of our own destinies (verse 380).  What we do, especially with the mind, determines our future happiness or unhappiness (verses 1-2).  Each of us must make our own effort along the Buddhist path; teachers can only show the way (verse 276).  Ethical and mental purity – important ideals in the Dhammapada – cannot be achieved through the intervention of others:  “By oneself alone is one purified” (verse 165). [ref. 1, extracted from page 1-2 of the “Introduction”]

Good intentions and loving thoughts produce positive outcomes, which, in turn, provides incentive to stay on the path of virtuous action.  In contrast, negative thoughts and harmful intentions, if fuelled by a strong motivational force, can potentially give rise to devastating consequences, both to the doer and the victim(s).  As we are all accountable for our sins, we will inevitably have to bear the consequences, which translates into one or more subsequent birth and death cycles.  Every re-birth can be thought of as a probationary period, in which we are required to undergo spiritual correction for the wrong-doings of our previous life.  As  such, there is bound to be some suffering, the extent of which is dependent upon the amount of pain inflicted during the previous lifetime.  If we persist in committing evil deeds, we are simply opening ourselves up  to the possibility of continual re-births, in order to burn off the negative karma that accumulates over subsequent lifetimes.

With steady effort
One should do what is to be done
Because the lax renunciant stirs up even more dust.
A foul deed is best not done –
The foul deed torments one later.
A good deed is best done –
For, having done it, one has no regret.
[ref. 1, verse 312-314]

Finding fault in what’s not at fault
And seeing no fault in what is,
Those who take up wrong views
Go to a bad rebirth.
But knowing fault as fault,
And the faultless as the faultless,
Those who take up good views
Go to a good rebirth.
[ref. 1, verses 318-319]

It is obviously in our best interest to comport ourselves in a way that will not inflict grief on anyone or anything, because  the pain that we cause to others will eventually come back to us in some form or other.  Similarly, the more peace and kindness that we share, the more we benefit from the grace that comes back our way.  This concept is fully consistent with the theme of union, which is prevalent in yogic philosophy. Since we are all linked together through that portion of God that resides in every being, it follows that what we do to our neighbours, we do to ourselves.  Once we are able to recognize all beings as reflections of our own Selves, we begin to develop a strong unconditional love for everyone.  As a result, it becomes completely unfathomable to engage in wrong-doings that will cause harm to anyone.  This is the key to attaining Samadhi, the state of bliss absolute.

Glory grows for a person who is
Energetic and mindful.
Pure and considerate in action,
Restrained an vigilant,
And who lives in the Dharma.
Through effort, vigilance,
Restraint, and self-control,
The wise person can become an island
No flood will overwhelm.
[ref. 1, chapter 2, chapter 22, verses 24-25]

Buddhism, like other religions, enforces a code of ethics that one must adhere to strictly in order to attain enlightenment.  It reflects, to a great extent, the same restraints and observances that are depicted in the yamas and the niyamas – that is, the first two of the eight-limbed path of yoga.  This code of ethics dictates the comportment that is required of its followers in order to uphold a high degree of order and maintain peace among all beings.  The Dhammapada is a text that relays the Buddhist code of moral behavior, in a highly insightful and poetic manner.

These verses of the Dhammapada sum up in the simplest language the core teachings of the Buddha.  Memorized and chanted by devoted followers for thousands of years,  these words remind all who hear them of the universal truths expounded by the Buddha:  Hatred never ends by hatred.  Virtue and wise action are the foundation for happiness.  And the Buddha’s teachings offer the possibility of a thoroughly unshakeable peace and liberation of heart for those who follow the way of the Dharma and free themselves from clinging.  [ref. 1, extracted from the “Foreward” by Jack Kornfield, Spirit Rock Center, 2004]

The Dhammapada describes the behavioral patterns that inevitably cause a disruption to the harmony  within a community.  The aim of all beings should therefore be to avoid such errant tendencies, for they set the karmic wheel in action, which ultimately brings about suffering.  If everyone was to live in constant observance of the same set of ethical rules, then perhaps we would eventually see an end to all the conflicts that exist between different cultures and societies. Moreover, perhaps we could even conceive of cooperating with other nations in order to resolve problems of a global scale. Yogis, knowing the significance of the yamas and the niyamas,  must continue to pave the path towards this end, through leading others by example.   Eventually, more and more people will follow suit, once they experience the deep benefit of acting with consciousness.  Sri Dharma Mittra often says, ” Same attracts same!”  Therefore, seek out those individuals who are serious about their practice, for they are the ones who are eager to learn and strive to shun harmful thoughts, words and actions.  As teachers, we should be thinking of ourselves as ambassadors of peace and love, on a lifelong mission to propagate the divine teachings of yoga…for armed with these truths, we empower all beings to rid themselves and others of needless pain and strife.

Lokah samastha sukhino bhavantu!
(“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”)
[ref. 2]



  1. Fronsdal, Gil. The Dhammapada – A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations, Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications Incorporated, 2005.
  2. “Focus of the Month: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”. Web. April, 2010. <>.