In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dhammapada/Dharmapada

  • Introduction

Buddhism Dhammapada/Dharmapada
Valerie Roebuck
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0262


The Buddhist texts known as Dhammapada (Pali) or Dharmapada (Sanskrit and other Indic languages), “Words/Verses of the Teaching,” are collections of wisdom verses, regarded as having been spoken by the Buddha himself. Their equivalents in Mahayanist literature are often called Udānavarga, “Collection of Inspired Utterances [of the Buddha],” effectively a synonymous term. From the large number of versions that are now known, it appears likely that each of the early Buddhist sects had a Dharmapada among its canonical texts. However these different versions are not variations of one original: “Dhammapada” or “Udānavarga” seems to have been more of an idea or template than a single text. Certain characteristics are common to all known versions: the verses are arranged in chapters, each with a key word as title, such as “Pairs,” “Flowers,” or “The Brahmin.” However, they are not necessarily the same chapters, and even when the same titles are used they are not in the same order. Versions vary widely in length, and although there is generally a great deal of overlap in their content, there are many verses that do not occur in every version, or are placed in different chapters in different versions. Some verses or sequences are shared with other canonical Buddhist texts, and indeed with Hindu and Jain texts. Although the various known versions would have belonged to different early Buddhist schools, the differences between them do not seem to reflect doctrinal disagreements. In fact, few of the verses would be controversial to any Buddhist, concerned as they are with the basics of Buddhist teaching. The style is generally simple and straightforward, and clearly aimed at a lay audience as much as at monks and nuns.

General Overviews

Mizuno 1979 summarizes the relationship between the various Dharmapada texts known at the time of writing, both among themselves and with other known canonical literature. Norman 1983 puts them in the context of the body of early South Asian Buddhist literature. Oberlies 2003–2004 seeks to relate surviving texts to the known early Buddhist schools. Hinüber 1996 surveys the Dhammapada and its commentary as part of his comprehensive study of Pali literature.

  • Hinüber, Oskar von. A Handbook of Pali Literature. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110814989

    A wide-ranging survey of the surviving Pali literature, both canonical and post-canonical. See pp. 44–45.

  • Mizuno, Kōgen. “Dharmapadas of Various Buddhist Schools.” In Studies in Pali and Buddhism: A Memorial Volume in Honor of Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashyap. Edited by A. K. Narain, 255–267. New Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation, 1979.

    A useful summary of the Dharmapada literature and the relationship between versions, though there have been a number of discoveries since its publication.

  • Norman, K. R. Pāli Literature: Including the Canonical Literature in Prakrit and Sanskrit of All the Hīnayāna Schools of Buddhism. History of Indian Literature 7.2. Wiesbaden, Germany: O. Harrassowitz, 1983.

    An encyclopedic study of the literature of the early Buddhist schools. See pp. 58–60.

  • Oberlies, Thomas. “Ein bibliographischer Überblick über die kanonischen Texte der Śrāvakayāna-Schulen des Buddhismus (ausgenommen der des Mahāvihāra-Theravāda).” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens 47 (2003–2004): 37–84.

    An overview of the surviving literature of the pre-Mahayanist Buddhist schools other than the surviving Theravadin canon.

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