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The 423 verses are divided into 26 chapters or vaggas, each with a particular heading. The fifth chapter is named “Bala vagga” meaning the chapter of “Fools”, which contains 16 verses said by the Buddha. The background story of the 63rd verse, which is the 4th verse of the Bala vagga is about two pick-pockets who went to the Jetavana monastery. While one listened to the Buddha’s teaching and became a Stream Enterer (Sotapanna), the other was preoccupied with stealing money from a disciple.

The background story of verses 63

At one time the Buddha was staying at the Jetavana monastery in Sāvatti which was donated to the Buddha by the chief benefactor Anāthapindika.

At one time, the Buddha was giving a Dhamma discourse at the Jetavana monastery. A group of lay disciples from Savatti visited the Jetavana monastery to listen to the Buddha’s discourse and two pick-pockets also joined this group and went to the monastery. When the Buddha was delivering the Dhamma discourse, one of the pick-pockets listened to it very attentively and as a result, he understood the Dhamma and attained the supra mundane stage of Stream Enterer (Sotapanna). The other pick-pocket did not listen to what the Buddha was saying as he was preoccupied with the thought of stealing some money from those listening to the Buddha. He managed to steal a small amount of money from one of the lay disciples listening to the Buddha’s discourse. After the discourse, the two pick-pockets went back to the house of the pick-pocket who stole the money to have a meal. His wife, who was cooking the meal, taunted the other pick-pocket, saying to him: “You are so wise, you don’t have any money to even cook a meal in your house.” When he heard this comment from the other pick-pocket’s wife, he thought, “This woman is so foolish that she thinks she is being very clever.” Then he went to the Buddha accompanied by some of his relatives and told the Buddha what happened.

Then, the Buddha recited the following verse, recorded as the 63rd verse of the Dhammapada.

Yo bālo maññati bālyaṁ,

  pandito vāpi tena so,

  bālo ca panditamānī,

  sa ve bālo ti vuccati.”

“The fool who knows his foolishness can, for that reason, be a wise man;

the fool who thinks that he is wise is a fool indeed.”

  • This is an example of someone going from darkness to light. See #48355. He comes with bad intentions and he leaves as Sotāpanna. Unfortunately, in the world, the vast majority of humans are like this man’s wife. They think they are wise by committing akusalas to enjoy sensual pleasures. Think of this type of person who says, “Why didn’t you lie so we could take advantage of this tax cut? Don’t you know how to lie?” “You were stupid not to take the opportunity to sleep with this beautiful woman. Her husband wouldn’t have known anything.” There are plenty of other examples of situations where people think they are being wise. They do not see the danger, just like an insect that is attracted by the sweet taste of a carnivorous plant. Let us become like the first thief who realized the inability to maintain things to our liking (Annica) by becoming Sotāpanna.
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