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Philosophy 224
The Buddhist Vision of the Human
The Dhammapada
The Dhammapada is the best known and
most widely esteemed text in the Pali
Tipitaka, the sacred scriptures of Theravada
Buddhism (the version of Buddhism
practiced widely across southeast Asia).
 By tradition, the work consists of a series of
responses by the Buddha to events or issues
that arose in the monastic community he
 It is widely considered the most succinct
expression of the Buddha's teaching found in
the Pali canon.
Siddhattha Gotama
“Buddha” isn’t a name, it’s a
title. It was bestowed on a
prince of a small kingdom in
what is now Nepal.
Following a revelatory
experience with profound
human suffering, he
renounced his inheritance
and, after of long period of
meditation and asceticism,
attained enlightenment.
The Buddha was neither a
god nor a prophet, but a
human being who reached the
highest spiritual attainment
possible for humans: perfect
wisdom, full enlightenment,
complete purification of mind.
Dhamma and Pada
The title of the text from which our
selections are drawn is a composite of two
Pali words.
◦ “Dhamma” in this context is commonly
translated as “doctrine” or “truth” and though
“Pada” literally means “foot,” poetically the sense
is “path.”
◦ The title of the work, then, is something like
“Path of the Truth.”
The work consists of a series of snapshots
of aspects of the Buddha’s central teachings.
Hinduism and Buddhism
Though slightly younger than the Vedic and
Brahmanic traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism
shares a geographical and cultural context
with the older belief system.
 As one would expect, they share a number
of beliefs, most prominently a common
◦ As we saw, this metaphysics is expressed as a
commitment to a true, universal reality
underlying the apparent plurality of experience.
There are important differences, however, one of which
becomes clear in the first chapter of the Dhammapada.
Buddhism rejects the notion of Atman so central to the
Hindu conception of the human.
Instead of a self ultimately understood in its unity with
Brahman as underlying the transitory states associated with
the “I” experience, Buddhism insists that this “I” is the only
self (10).
Despite this difference, they come to the same conclusion:
attachment to these transitory states prevents one from
achieving enlightenment.
The difference is that Buddhism’s rejection of an underlying
‘true’ self allows them to acknowledge the possibility of a
‘theraputic’ consciousness (10-11).
Only Thoughts
The apparent advantage offered to the
Buddhist by the doctrine of Anatman is
also the great challenge that they face.
 As is revealed in Chapter III, the
‘impermanence’ of the self is commonly
experienced as a kind of ‘flightiness’ (12) .
 If there is no true ground of our self, then
it is not surprising that many latch on to
the ‘prettiest flower’ (13), that which is
easiest or most compelling.
The Fool
What then is the Buddhist diagnosis?
Most of us lack what Buddhists call ‘Sati,’ translated
here as ‘earnestness,’ but more commonly as
◦ It derives from a root meaning 'to remember,' but it’s not
memory but presence of mind, attentiveness to the
 It is a kind of mental fixity. Its function is absence of confusion.
Buddhists pursue it through meditation.
 A mind lacking Sati flits from one thing to another, never satisfied,
never occupied, always needing some more or different
Consider the descriptions of the mind of the fool on
p. 12, and the account of the lives of such people in
Chapter V.
The goal of Buddhist practice is to
become a buddha, an enlightened one.
 Sati is one of the traditional seven
elements of enlightenment (16) (along
with reflection upon dhamma,
commitment, joy, tranquility, focus, and
 We see all of them in the characterization
of the wise man, the sage, in chapter VI