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.

People Can Change

Posted on: September 8th, 2011 by admin 6 Comments


A Dhammapada thought for a time when we are inclined to dismiss those who have made mistakes, and deny the value of second chances!

But whoever was unaware before
And afterwards becomes aware
Illuminates this world
Like the moon freed from a cloud.

Whoever has done an evil deed
But covers it with a virtuous one
Illuminates this world
Like the moon freed from a cloud.

Dhammapada 172-3

Verse 173 is actually said to have been spoken by the Buddha in honour of Aṅgulimāla, a man who had been a bandit and a multiple murderer, who wore his victims’ fingers as a garland round his neck. As he is seeking the last victim to complete his garland, the Buddha goes to meet him. Aṅgulimāla, seeing the figure of a monk ahead of him, begins to chase him; but, though he seems to be running fast and the monk is not moving, he cannot catch him. Aṅgulimāla shouts, ‘Stop!’ The Buddha replies, ‘I have stopped: you are the one who has not stopped.’ Aṅgulimāla understands, throws away his weapon, and asks to be allowed to become one of the Buddha’s monks. He works hard at his practice, and soon attains the complete freedom of the Arahat or Buddhist saint. He still has to cope with the consequences of his previous bad actions, and in the end is mortally wounded by those who still think of him as the murderer of their relatives. But his mind remains clear and untroubled, and he is not reborn in the realm of suffering again. The good actions of body, speech and mind he has performed since coming into contact with the Buddha’s teaching have completely overwhelmed anything he did before.

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6 Responses

  1. Guy Hart says:

    The story of Angulimala reassures us all that we are not beyond hope. On, perhaps, a related subject, I spent a week at Greenstreete,the Samatha Centre in Wales this summer, learning from the Thai meditation teacher Nai Boonman. He talked about verse 183 ‘Not to do any evil; To undertake what is good; To purify your own mind; This is the teaching of the Buddhas” and observed that when you purify your own mind, what you need to purify it of is good an evil! I found this rather perplexing but he explained that so long as you view the world in terms of that which is good and that which is evil you will like and want what you think of as good and be upset and averse to that which you think of as evil. Presumably the Buddha could happily teach Angulimala because he saw him simply as a human being in need of guidance rather than as an ‘evil’ person.

  2. admin says:

    I think that’s OK as long as you do the things in the right order: Aṅgulimāla had to give up doing evil (killing people) and undertake what was good (moral conduct, meditation etc) before he could purify his mind of both (attain Arahatship)! In his case, the three things seem to have happened very close together. But I am sure you are right, the Buddha could see Aṅgulimāla’s needs and potential clearly because he had purified his own mind of preconceptions about him as a ‘good’ or ‘evil’ person.

  3. Marylin says:

    Fantastic posting, I look ahead to fresh news from you.

  4. admin says:

    Thank you. And I hope that if you have a Dhammapada verse or topic you would like to discuss you’ll get in touch again, too.

  5. Oxana says:

    People can change, I believe that. But only if they want it and want it hard. You can’t rely on a freak accident, a chance, a miracle and so on. You cannot shame them into changing, you cannot blackmail them into changing, you cannot say: “Do it for your husband/wife/children” and so on. Unfortunately, in the past few years I have seen examples of what I thought were true changes for the better in people, but those did not last, because, I now understand, these changes had been brought about by the wrong reasons. Until a person wants to change and really goes for it – fights for it, even – nothing will happen. Great translation and blog, by the way, well done!

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