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The Dhammapada (Words of the Doctrine) is one of the most popular texts of the TheravĀda canon. It is embedded in the fifth part of the Suttapiṭaka as the second text of the Khuddakanikāya (Group of Small Texts). The content of the 423 mostly gnomic verses is often only very loosely connected to Buddhism. The verses are divided into twenty-six vaggas (sections), such as "on the world," "on the Buddha," or "on thirst." Consequently, many parallels are also found in non-Buddhist texts, such as the Mahābhārata. Moreover, numerous parallel collections exist in Buddhist literature, including the Dharmapada in Gāndhārī of the Dharmaguptaka school from Central Asia, the "Patna" Dharmapada of the Sāmmatīya school, and the Udānavarga of the (Mūla) Sarvāstivāda school.

The history of these collections and their interrelation is obscured by constant contamination and mutual borrowing of verses. The linguistic features of some verses indicate that the beginnings might reach back to a very early period. Most likely material has been added over a long span of time. There is a voluminous commentary on the Dhammapada explaining the wording of individual verses and adding stories on the supposed occasion on which the Buddha is thought to have uttered a verse. The Dhammapada was the first Pali text ever critically edited in Europe, by the Danish scholar Viggo Fausbøll (1821–1908) in 1855.

See also:GāndhārīBuddhist Literature in; Pāli, Buddhist Literature in


Burlingame, Eugene Watson, trans. Buddhist Legends, 3 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1921.

Carter, John Ross, and Paliwadana, Mahinda, trans. and eds. The Dhammapada: A New English Translation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Hinüber, Oskar von, and Norman, K. R., eds. Dhammapada. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1994.

Norman, K. R., trans. The Word of the Doctrine. Oxford: Pāli Text Society, 2000.

Osier, Jean-Pierre. Les stances de la loi. Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1997.

Oskar von HinÜber