The Dhammapada is one of the best known and best loved Buddhist texts, a sequence of verses traditionally said to have been spoken by the Buddha himself to help people on the path to liberation. In her version for Penguin Classics, Valerie J Roebuck seeks to translate the Pali into modern English verse that will keep the beauty and clarity of the original.

Even beautifully designed Apple Macs wear out…

Posted on: October 21st, 2012 by admin No Comments


Even finely painted royal chariots wear out:
Just so the body grows old.
The Dhamma of the good does not grow old.
Indeed, the good make it known to the good.

Dhammapada 151

What can we depend on in this life? ‘Even finely painted royal chariots wear out,’ says the Dhammapada, referring to the most spectacular technology of its time. Recently I have been suffering from problems with my much-loved iMac computer, which so far have defeated the expertise of a number of very knowledgeable and helpful people.

It’s only when you encounter a problem with something like this that you discover quite how much you normally rely on it. I have grown to depend on my computer for work, play and social life, and had more or less ceased to notice it until I had to be without it for a week or more and manage with a borrowed one – only a few years old but already out of date. Now I’m faced with the prospect of having to be without it again, while the engineers have another try. But at least it’s not a life-threatening problem, as it might have been if that royal chariot had broken down on the battlefield!

The body is a more complex thing than even the most splendid chariot or the best-designed computer, and one that we take even more for granted, until it goes wrong. This is something that has been brought home to me lately, as my husband has been suffering from a long period of serious illness. In the last resort, the body’s no more under our control than the chariot or the computer, and we can’t depend on it either.

So what can we depend on? The Dhammapada gives the Buddhist answer, the Dhamma (‘Dharma’ in Sanskrit), an untranslatable word that refers to the truth realised by the Buddha and embodied in his teaching. But even though it is timeless and unchangeable, if it is to be visible in the world it needs ‘the good’ to practise it and pass it on to others, whether by teaching or by example.

So who are ‘the good’ that the verse refers to? We can’t depend on others to do it: I think that it’s going to have to be us!

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