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.


Dharmapada Bibliography

Posted on: November 28th, 2019 by admin No Comments

Valerie Roebuck’s Bibliography of the Dharmapada literature, including Dhammapada, Dharmapada and Udānavarga, has just been published online by the Oxford University Press. You can navigate to it via ‘What’s New’ or ‘Buddhism’.

The verse in the image comes from a version of the Dharmapada that belonged to the Dharmaguptaka school of early Buddhism. An equivalent verse is also found in the Pāli Canon, though not in the Dhammapada. (It’s at Theragāthā 398). Translation from Richard Salomon, 2018. ‘The Buddhist Literature of Ancient Gandhāra: an Introduction with Selected Translations.’ Somerville, MA: Wisdom Books, p. 193. The image of the musician comes from

The mind is hard to restrain…

Posted on: July 14th, 2018 by admin No Comments

The mind is hard to restrain, light,
Flying where it will.
Control of it is good.
Mind controlled brings happiness.

Dhammapada 35

We live in an age where, more and more, we expect instant results. We lead busy lives and want faster broadband, quick service and next day delivery. It is hard to believe that ‘self-control’ or ‘control of the mind’ can really bring happiness. Spontaneity is all, regardless of whether the thing we want to do is objectively good for us or not. But if we look around us, it is not hard to see the suffering that can be caused when people surrender to all their impulses.

There is a tendency now to see ourselves as passive creatures, helpless in the face of urges such as desire or anger. How often do we hear (or find ourselves saying) things like: ‘He made me so angry, I said something I regretted’? But the anger is not ‘out there’, it has arisen in ourselves. Perhaps the other person did do something wrong, but we chose to act upon our anger. Reacting in a different way – from calmness and strength – might have resolved the situation in a better way, leaving less regret behind. The problem is that impulses like anger, greed, fear, hatred etc arise so quickly that they can take control of our minds before we even see them coming.

Meditation is a useful tool here because it brings insight into what is happening, almost seeming to slow the process down, so we can catch the impulses as (or even before) they arise. The insight allows us to take a degree of control over the impulses, rather than be swept away by them.

Meditation also helps us to develop more wholesome mental states, such as calmness, kindness, and wisdom. These states are natural to us, but they become overridden by habit and conditioning. Once we are able to turn away from distractions, we will find a peace and strength that we may have lost sight of over the years. Then when, as is bound to happen in this world, we are faced with difficult situations or people, we will begin to respond with wisdom and compassion rather than anger, envy, or fear.

As the verse tells us, finding this kind of control is not always easy, and it may go against decades of habit, and the values of society around us. But if we can find it, it will bring genuine happiness, regardless of our circumstances, deeper and more lasting than can be afforded by any technology or fashion.

(An article originally written for the Newsletter of the Manchester Centre for Buddhist Meditation)

Loving Kindness, for Vesakh 2016/2599

Posted on: May 20th, 2016 by admin No Comments

For Vesakh 2016 CE/2599 BE, I have posted under ‘Verses’ a translation of the Karaṇīya Metta Sutta, which many of us chant regularly, but perhaps don’t always think about what it means. It describes the way to practise Mettā, or loving kindness to all beings. The translation, though fairly literal, is in modern, everyday language. It’s the one I included in the Order of Service for my husband’s funeral in 2012, because I wanted everyone present to be able to understand it, even if they were new to the Buddha’s teaching.

It will be seen that the love described in this sutta is not something soft or woolly, but a state of great strength and clarity that forms an intrinsic part of practice on the Buddha’s path.

May all beings be well. May all beings be happy.

In Memory of Lance Cousins

Posted on: March 21st, 2015 by admin No Comments


Awareness is the place of the deathless;
Unawareness is the place of death.
The aware do not die;
The unaware are as though dead already.

Knowing this especially
About awareness, the wise
Delight in awareness,
Taking pleasure in the realm of the Noble Ones.

Those who constantly practise meditation,
Ever firm in their endeavour,
Those wise ones touch nibbāna,
The unsurpassed peace of yoga.

(Dhammapada 21-23)

In loving memory of my friend, colleague and teacher, L. S. Cousins (1942-2015), who will live so long as people benefit by his scholarship and wisdom, or practise meditation through his teaching.

For more information and tributes, click here.

Like a beautiful flower…

Posted on: July 10th, 2013 by admin No Comments


Red Rose

Like a beautiful flower,
Colourful but scentless,
The well-taught word is fruitless
For one who does not practise.

Like a beautiful flower,
Colourful and fragrant,
The well-taught word is fruitful
For one who practises.

Dhammapada 51-52

Today, walking to the shops on a hot sunny morning, I saw a beautiful rose-bush in a garden. The owner of the garden saw me enjoying the scent, and we both agreed that we liked the old, sweet-scented varieties of roses the best. And those verses from the ‘Flowers’ chapter of the Dhammapada came to mind.

A new review of the translation

Posted on: February 16th, 2013 by admin No Comments

Feb 16

Valerie recently learned of a review of her Dhammapada translation by Elizabeth Harris, an eminent scholar of Theravāda Buddhism, which was published in Religions of South Asia 6.1 (2012) 133-134:

Book Review

Valerie’s article, Dhammapada, Dharmapada and Udānavarga: The Many Lives of a Buddhist Text, was published in the following edition of the same journal, which is now available and can be ordered here.

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.

A new journal article

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


Last week I sent off the corrected proofs of a new article on the Dhammapada and related texts, called Dhammapada, Dharmapada and Udānavarga: the Many Lives of a Buddhist Text. It is to be included in the December edition of the journal Religions of South Asia, which is published by the Equinox Press.

Verses for Vesakh

Posted on: May 4th, 2012 by admin 2 Comments


I wandered without respite
A journey of many births,
Seeking the house-builder.
Painful is birth again and again.

House-builder, I have seen you:
You shall not build a house again.
All your rafters are broken:
Your ridge-pole is destroyed.
The mind, freed from conditioned things,
Has reached the end of cravings.

Dhammapada 153-4

On May 5th or 6th this year (depending on which day the full moon falls in their particular part of the world), many Buddhists will be celebrating the festival of Vesākha (Vesakh, Vaiśākha), which marks three great events in the life of the Buddha: his birth; his attainment of Buddhahood; and his Parinibbāna (when he passed away, never to be born again).

These Dhammapada verses are said to have been spoken by the Buddha on his attainment of Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. They are addressed to Māra, who embodies the forces that seek to keep us bound to the conditioned realm, saṃsāra. Māra is the house-builder, who has built all the bodies in which the Buddha-to-be has travelled in his ‘journey of many births’. Now the Buddha has recognised him, and Māra will no longer have any hold over him.

When the Buddha saw this, and decided to teach others, he showed the way for any of us who wish to make an end of that painful journey, and become free from conditioned things. However overwhelmed we may sometimes feel by the difficulties of our lives, and the obstacles in the way of our practice, we should never forget that freedom is possible, and that there is a way to reach it.

Wishing you a joyful Vesākha 2012/2555 BE. May it remind us all of the reasons for which we try to live a spiritual life. – Valerie

A New Year Resolution?

Posted on: December 31st, 2011 by admin 2 Comments


Whatever an enemy can do to an enemy,
Or a rival to a rival,
A wrongly directed mind
Will do worse to you than that.

What mother or father cannot do,
Or any other kin,
A rightly directed mind
Will do better for you than that.

Dhammapada 42-3

These are some of my favourite verses from the Dhammapada, though in their apparent simplicity they are particularly difficult to translate. (The original Pali is given below.)