The Dhammapada

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts; it is made up of our thoughts. If we speak or act with a pure thought, happiness will follow us like a shadow that never leaves us.”

This is a translation from our temple’s service book, of the opening of the Dhammapada. Dhammapada roughly means “The Way of the Teachings.” Three months after the death of Gautama Buddha, his primary followers held a meeting. Their purpose was to collect the teachings the Buddha. For forty-five years he had traveled throughout India speaking to all classes of people. Written records of his teachings did not exist, therefore, his followers gathered to share what they had heard. They created rhythmic chants to help keep the teachings alive through oral repetition. Unlike Christianity that has the Bible, and Islam that has the Koran, Buddhism does not have one primary book. Instead, there are hundreds of sutras. A sutra is a teaching of the Buddha, usually dealing in great detail with a specific topic. The Dhammapada, however, is a collection of his teachings from different times and places. The Dhammapada contains the essence of Buddhism.

To overcome our suffering we must first realize that our view of the world is the cause of our suffering. Until we do this, all our efforts are doomed to fail. The Dhammapada starts with this idea. Next it presents some of the thoughts that cause our suffering: “He abused me. He robbed me. He defeated me. Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.” Here we see that our attachment to what we think others have done to us causes us to continue to suffer. “Hatred is not overcome by hate; hatred is overcome by love. This is an eternal rule.” The cycle of violence and suffering never ends through retaliation. Only when we break this cycle will it end. Compassion breaks this cycle. The law of Karma states that all that exists is the result of that which has come before. Our actions now shape the future.

“We too shall pass away. Knowing this how can we quarrel?” Buddhism focuses on our present life. If we spend our lives filled with anger, seeking revenge for the actions of others, we will never overcome our suffering. Often we forget that our lives are finite. The choice is ours whether we fill this existence with suffering or with joy.

The 423 verses that make up the Dhammapada deal with issues including anger, desire, discipline, understanding and actions. These verses are the Buddha’s response to questions and situations that arose throughout his lifetime. These teachings are the truth that is all existence. The Buddha did not create this truth. The Buddha simply awakened to this truth. He spent his life sharing this truth so that we too can become awakened.

For more information about Buddhism and meditation in Kenosha contact me at