The Dhammapada: The Buddha

Updated: Apr 25

The core doctrine of Buddhism is outlined in the central holy text of the Dhammapada which teaches that morally determinate actions meet with commensurate results.

This law is codified in the Sanskrit term karma, which stipulates that good actions will result in happiness and that bad actions will incur suffering.

As a result, Buddhism instructs that quarrels between men are to be avoided by patience and forgiveness as responding to insults with hatred maintains a cycle of vengeance and retaliation.

As a result, the Buddha states that one should not respond to bitter speech, but instead maintain silence (134), one should not yield to anger but control himself ‘as a driver controls a chariot,’ (222).

Moral intuition tells us that if there is any long-range value to righteousness, the Buddha's teaching must reveal an impersonal universal law which reigns over all sentient existence. As highlighted in other religious texts, this concept is called reciprocity, and the behavior demonstrated by the adherent of Buddhism is defined in a Sanksrit term, dharma.

In common parlance, dharma means the ‘right way of living’ or the ‘path of rightness.’

Monier-Williams, a widely cited resource for definitions and explanation of Sanskrit words, offers numerous definitions of the word dharma, such as steadfast decree, statute, law, practice, custom, duty, right, virtue, morality, ethics, religion, religious merit, good works, and character. Ultimately, if all members of a society practices dharma, the society will begin to produce positive externalities.

For example, one of the first kingdoms governed by Buddhist principles was established under Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Empire of India. Emperor Ashoka ruled the entirety of the Indian subcontinent from 268 to 232 B.C.E. and created an advanced integrated national economy arguably more advanced than that of the contemporary Roman Republic under the Consulship of Valerius and Otacilius.

The cities of the Maurya kingdom hosted taxpayer-funded hospitals, the planting of roadside groves, and the construction of rest houses. These centrally-planned infrastructure projects assisted the Maurya dynasty to lead one of the most prosperous intranational trade systems for several centuries.

The Maurya dynasty built a precursor of the Grand Trunk Road from Patliputra to Taxila and under nearly half a century of centralized rule the citizens of India prospered economically.

To practice dharma actively, Emperor Ashoka himself conducted periodic tours of the countryside preaching dharma to rural citizens alongside imperially-sponsored missionaries.

The empire expanded into Sri Lanka and Central Asia and during this growth a special class of high officers, designated “dharma ministers,” were appointed to foster public works, relieve suffering wherever it was found, and looked to the special needs of women.

Emperor Ashoka ordered that matters concerning public welfare were to be reported to him directly at all times.

A sample quotation that illustrates the spirit of dharma that guided Ashoka follows:

All men are my children. As for my own children I desire that they may be provided with all the welfare and happiness of this world and of the next, so do I desire for all men as well.

The laws of the Dhammapada were effectuated through the efforts of the Emperor Ashoka and his court to create a flourishing life for the citizens of Maurya Empire, and this practice of reciprocity may be similarly be applied in any social context.

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