May 5, 2018; revised August 22, 2019; November 17, 2019; September 15, 2020
Manō pubbangamā dhammā Manō pubbangamā dhammā
manō setthā manōmayā manō setthā manōmayā
manasā cē padutthēna manasā cē pasannēna
bhāsati vā karoti vā bhāsati vā karoti vā
tatō nam dukkhamanvēti tatō nam sukhamanvēti
cakkamva vahatō padam. chāyāva anapāyani.
(Dhammapada verses 1 and 2)
1. These two verses encompass the critical idea in Buddha Dhamma: That mind is at the forefront. This whole world is made of the mind and has the mind as the basis for everything.
- Manō is, of course, the mind. Dhammā (plural, not Buddha Dhamma) are the energies that the mind generates (via javana power.) Dhammā means “to bear” meaning “everything arises due to Dhammā.
- Those dhammā then give rise to everything (all phenomena) in this world – whether living or inert.
- Pubbangama (pubba + anga) means what comes first. The first line (in both verses) says the mind creates all dhammā that give rise to everything in this world. The second line says, everything is prepared (settā) and is a manifestation of the mind (manōmayā).
- The mind creates those Dhammā with thoughts (saṅkhāra.) That requires a lengthy explanation that can go to profound levels: “Buddha Dhamma – A Scientific Approach” and “Worldview of the Buddha.”
2. Depending on whether one speaks (bhāsati) and acts (karōti) with a defiled (padutta) or a pleasant (pasanna) mind, those dhammā that are generated by the mind lead to (tatō nam) suffering (dukkhamanvēti), or happiness (sukhamanvēti).
- In the case of a defiled mind (acting with lōbha, dōsa, mōha), suffering will follow just as a wheel of a cart follows the footsteps of the ox pulling it (cakkamva vahatō padam).
- In the case of a pleasant, moral mind (acting with alōbha, adōsa, amōha), happiness will follow one just as one’s shadow follows oneself (chāyāva anapāyani).
3. These two verses can be interpreted in a mundane way, as outlined in #2 above. Any given task done with an un-defiled mind will always lead to a pleasant and joyous state of mind.
- There is a more in-depth interpretation. Thoughts, speech, and actions done with a defiled mind (lōbha, dōsa, mōha) can lead to births in the apāyās and, thus, to a high degree of suffering. Those done with a pleasant mind (alōbha, adōsa, amōha) will lead to births in the “good realms,” and will eventually lead to Nibbāna, end of all suffering.
- The first several subsections of the “Living Dhamma,” discuss the fundamental aspects. That provides the background needed to go to the deeper issues discussed in the latter subsections there.
4. Now we can loosely translate the two verses as follows:
- All phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they all are mind-made. If one speaks or acts with an evil mind (i.e., engages in dasa akusala), then suffering (dukha) will follow just as the wheels of a cart follow the footsteps of the ox that is pulling the cart.
- All phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they all are mind-made. If one speaks or acts with a purified mind (i.e., engages in dasa kusala and puñña kamma), happiness (sukha) follows one like one’s own shadow. That is the source of “nirāmisa sukha“, which eventually leads to Nibbāna.
I found a youtube video with the Pāli recital; it may take a minute to download. The two verses start respectively at 0.30 and 2.18 minutes: