Stories from the Dhammapada Commentaries

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Stories from the Dhammapada Commentaries

Post by retrofuturist » Fri Jan 02, 2009 2:11 am

Greetings all,

The following is Bhikkhu Khantipalo's introduction to "Buddhist Stories from the Dhammapada Commentary - Volume 1" (trans.E.W. Burlingame & Bhikkhu Khantipalo) as published by the Buddhist Publication Socety. Unfortunately, unlike Volume 2 which is available on Accesstoinsight, it doesn't appear as if Volume 1 has been published online as yet, even though ATI had planned to have it done in 2006.

I feel it is a useful introduction because it gives some useful background context to the Dhammapada and its Commentary, and gives us recommendations on how best to approach these classic works. Please note, aspects of the Introduction not specifically relevant to this intended purpose may be omitted to save me typing them out and to avoid 'overquoting'.


...The Dhammapada (Dhp) itself is the best-known of all the collections of the Buddha's sayings for it has been translated so many times into English and into many other languages of the East and the West. It consists of 423 verses arranges into twenty-six chapters. A few of these verses were spoken as pairs and more rarely three or more of them were uttered by the Buddha together. Most are single stanzas which sum up the Dhamma that was necessary at that particular time.

No one knows how the Dhammapada was compiled. A great many of its verses are found elsewhere in the Pali Suttas (Discourses) or Vinaya (the monks' and nun's Discipline), but a few are peculiar to this collection. Why these particular verses were formed into what we now call the Dhammapada is not clear, but we do know that other Buddhist groups had the Dhammapadas which varied a good deal from that in the Pali Canon.

If all the stories go back to the Buddha's days (which is unlikely, though the traditional view), then the collection could have been made for teachings purposes since many of the tales are both absorbing and instructive. But the random arrangement of the Dhp. itself points to a time when the Buddha's words were orally transmitted and when a more logical rearrangement would have been difficult. Yet there is some order indeed...

... It is likely that many of the Dhammapada stories do record events that happened in the Buddha's time for they often quote from the Suttas or are based on them. In the latter case they always amplify the rather sparse accounts found in the Suttas. Sometimes the process of embroidery can be clearly seen as when teachings or classifications not found during the Buddha's lifetime are attributed to him or to that period. Examples of this are the mention of the Three Pitakas (the "baskets" into which the Buddha's words were arranged) which probably began to be collected from the time of the First Council onwards; and mention of the two duties (dhura) for monks and nuns, that is, either scholarship which meant oral repetition of the Buddha's words to pass them on to the next generation of students, or meditation, a dichotomy not so clearly found in the Buddha's time. Many other examples could be given.

Some of the stories have no counterpart in the suttas and we do not know where they came from. But as some of them are good stories, well told, conveying the taste of Dhamma, they have been included here...

...The Dhammapada Commentary as we have it now was written down by the great Buddhaghosa and his pupils, nearly one thoughand five hundred years ago. They converted the collections of stories as found in old Sinhalese, together with the word-commentary explaining the verses into Pali which even a thousand years after the Buddha was still a lingua franca...

...After this brief sketch of the history of the Dhp. stories it might be a good idea to give some hints on how to read them and how not to. They come from a culture far separated from us in time, though if we live in a Buddhist country the "distance" is not so great. However, modern Western-type education is based on very different assumptions compared with the world of the Dhp. stories, a fact which may make some of them difficult to understand.... Even so, the ancient commentators did not hesitate to embroider them with the strange and the marvellous, sometimes in the middle of an otherwise straightforward account. In this case I had included the tale thinking that its teaching will be remembered while the embroidery can be forgotten. The purpose of the stories, after all, is to illustrate the Dhamma and to provide memorable incidents which will serve as a pattern for one's own Dhamma-practice. If this is forgotten (as seems to have been the case in later collections of Buddhist legends), then the marvellous takes over and the Dhamma-teaching disappears. So when reading these stories it is the Dhamma which is important, not whether the incident concerned really happened. The old commentators were not concerned with history or whether preceisely these words were spoken or those things done, but they preserved and passed on these stories as examples: either as warnings of what should not be done, or as encouragements for Dhamma-practice. This emphasis needs to be remembered otherwise a critical mind, thinking, "That's impossible", will miss the real point of the story....

...These stories, as the reader will find out, range from the comic to the tragic. Some of the longest, indeed, though not included here, have all the material for extended drama and have been used as dramatic presentations of the Dhamma. But however amusing or distrurbing, the message is always that kamma has its appropriate results. Actually there is no real tragedy in the western sense of this word becuase, of course, what is painful is also impermanent. Though one may be afflicted in this life, yet it cannot continue for ever. Past life stories are quite common in the Dhammapada and are often related by the Buddha to account for some attainment, happiness or misery in the lives of those people then.



Further references:

Buddhist Stories from the Dhammapada Commentary - Part II (have a read of some of them for yourself!) ... el324.html

Dhammapada (Translation Buddharakkhita, Introduction: Bhikkhu Bodhi) ... .budd.html

Buddhist Publication Society (where you can order this and other volumes of the Dhp. Stories)


Any other thoughts, comments, questions etc. all welcome.

Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Stories from the Dhammapada Commentaries

Post by Will » Fri Jan 02, 2009 4:56 am

Here is a story for each of the verses of the Dhammapada:
Whatever one frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. -- MN 19

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Re: Stories from the Dhammapada Commentaries

Post by Cittasanto » Fri Jan 02, 2009 9:45 am

Hi All

As you may well know in the story section here I posted the dhammapada with the pali stories and how the pali was translated it is quite interesting!
if I remember rightly the stories are not original to the verses but a later addition mainly by Buddhagosa? or at least that is what I was told!
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He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.
John Stuart Mill

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