The Dhammapada and the Bhagavad Gita

                 Different ways – One destination to salvation


                  By Thich nu Minh Tam







                              The Dhammapada and the Bhagavad Gita

                      Different ways – One Destination to Salvation


I.                   Introduction

II.                What is religion?

a)      Is Buddhism a religion?

b)      Hinduism, one of the oldest religions in the world

III.             Comparison the two religions’ philosophical theories through the Dhammapada and the Bhagavad Gita

a)      the Dhammapada: one of the basic tenets of Buddhism

b)      The Bhagavad Gita: the most famous epic in Hinduism

IV. Conclusion


                        The Dhammapada and the Bhagavad Gita

            Different ways – One Destination to Salvation

I. Introduction

The forces of materialism have turned human beings upside down in recent decades.  Ethics have been less valuable and concerned and traditional concepts are forgotten miserably into the past.  However the ignorance is the more people crave for pleasant experiences, the more they get sufferings and disappointment due to the impermanent property of things.

The role and purpose of religion are to help people be free from all kinds of suffering and to achieve the highest stage of a purifying mind, a blissful state, a spontaneous nature through moral and practical religious practices such as meditation or contemplation.  The need for ethics and morality in religion arises from the fact that life is full of suffering and impermanent. Thus religious and philosophical theories become the most important aspects of living to explain the cause of suffering and to implore human life.

II. What is religion?

Anyone interested in the study of religion will soon encounter the controversy about whether religion is rational or non rational, cognitive or expressive, whether religious belief is more like science or music and art.

According to the Encyclopedia Dictionary, ‘religion means a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects (page 1212).’  In this essay we focus only on two world’s oldest religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, and we try to analyze their philosophical and practical theories applying on human life.


A). is Buddhism a religion?

This question has been asked by many people who wonder if Buddhism is a philosophy, a religion, or a way of life.  Naturally, Buddhism includes all of those facets but goes beyond them.  To some people, Buddhism may appear as a mass of miracles or superstitious practices.  To the other ones, Buddhism expresses as a systematically religious theory only for intellectuals.  To some others, Buddhism exists as a proper science.  But for the Buddhist disciples, Buddhism is a righteous way of life for the peace and happiness of every sentient being.  It is a method to get rid of miseries and to find liberation.  The Teachings of the Buddha are not limited to one nation or race.  It is neither a creed nor a mere faith.  It is a teaching for the entire universe.  It is a teaching for all time.  Its objectives are selfless service, food-will, peace, salvation and deliverance from suffering.

        b). Hinduism, one of the oldest religions in India

Hinduism is the variety of religious beliefs and practices making up the major religious tradition of the Indian subcontinent.  Most Hindus believe in a supreme god called Brahma and its religious theme include Dharma (duty, obligations, individual ethics, etc.), Samsara (rebirths), Karma (right action), and Moksa (salvation).

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world with about one billion devotees of whom about 890 millions live in India.

Throughout the concept about Buddhism and Hinduism, we all agree that both religions convey the idea of ultimate salvation, cutting away of all kinds of suffering for living beings not to be drifted along with the current of rebirths and re-deaths or bad realms.

III. Comparison the Dhammapada and the Bhagavad Gita

a)      The Dhammapada

According to Bhikkhu Bodhi, ‘from the ancient times to the present, the Dhammapada has been regarded as the most succinct expression of the Buddha’s teachings found in the Pali canon and the chief spiritual testament of early Buddhism.’[1]

The Dhammapada is one of the books of the Khuddaka Nikaya, the fifth major division of the Sutta Nikaya in the Pali canon.  The text title translates as ‘Stanzas on the teaching,’ or ‘Verses of the Dhamma,’ or better ‘Verses of the Awareness Path’ and represents a series of 423 verses arranged in 26 chapters.  One special character of the Dhammapada is that there is no plot line or logical sequence of the verses because they are collected from other places in the Buddhist Pali canon, mostly from the Sutras, the Jatakas, and the Sutta Nikaya; however the Dhammapada has been warmly welcomed because of the simplicity and the poetic power of its verses which relate to the Buddha’s Teachings as a lodestar to human everyday life.  For example, in the verse 183 of the Dhammapada:  The giving up of all evil, the cultivation of all that is good, cleansing of one’s mind, this is the teaching of the Buddhas;’[2] or in the verse 80: ‘Irrigators lead the water, fletchers fashion the shaft, carpenters carve the wood, the wise discipline themselves.’[3]

Besides many verses make comparisons between human and animals or nature or deal with the ethic of Ahimsa (non violence) that is at the heart of Buddhist practice, another important type of verses in the Dhammapada point that the monks who purify their minds and can control their passions are the true ‘brahmanas’ (Brahmin priests): ‘Destroying mother and father and two khattiya kings, destroying the country and the attendant, the Brahmin comports himself without trembling.’(294) ‘Destroying mother and father and two learned kings, destroying also those hindrances of which the fifth is like a tiger, the Brahmin comports himself without trembling.’ (295) [4]

According to Grey Bailey and Tim Mabbett ‘The Brahmin is this seeker, and his victims are metaphors: mother and father beliefs in eternalism and annihilationism, the country is the senses and their spheres, the attendant is the pursuit of sensory pleasure, and the tiger’s domain is the group of five hindrances of which skeptical doubt, seen as a source of fear like the tiger, is the fifth member.’[5]

In sum, we note that the Buddha’s Teachings through the Dhammapada concentrating on three main goals: 1) human advantage right in this life, 2) a rebirth in good realm, and 3) the realization of the absolute mind’s freedom.  These three ideal aims can be distinguished in four stages of teaching:

  • The first stage is teaching human how to live in peace and harmony with himself and his environment, to fulfill his duty towards his family and society, to control his sensual desires; in short, that is not to commit the five basic Buddhist precepts.

A comfort in this world is loving your mother                     

Loving your father is a comfort, too.                        

A comfort in this world is respect for a life of seeking

Living a pure life is a comfort, too.’   (332)

‘A comfort is virtue in old age

A comfort is the establishment of conviction

A comfort is the attainment of insightful knowledge

Not acting destructively is a comfort.’ (333)[6]

By developing and mastering his mind with diligence and delight, a man is able to live in harmony and in peace with himself and his fellow men:

      Win over an angry man with poise

Win over a mean one with kindness

Win over a greedy person with generosity

And one who speaks falsely with honesty. (223)[7]

The Buddha declares that the man of virtue is loved and respected by everyone and the scent of virtue (generosity, patience, honesty, compassion, etc.) is sweeter than the scent of all flowers and perfumes:

Sandal wood, crepe jasmine,                         ‘Slight is this fragrance

Blue lotus, and flowering jasmine                   jasmine and sandal

Of the fragrances born of these                      but the scent of a virtuous person

Incomparable is the scent of virtue.’ (55)       Wafts supreme among the radiant ones.’ (56)[8]

  • The second level focuses on morality and the law of karma which denotes that man’s action does not disappear into nothingness but will ripe in consequences: good deed -good effect, bad deed- bad effect; like a body and its shadow:

Even a person who acts to his                                  ‘Even a person experiences injury

Own detriment has good fortune                                As long as his goodness has not matured

As long as his misdeed has not matured                     But when the good has matured

But when the misdeed has matured                            Then the good person experiences benefit.’ (120)[9]

Then that person experiences misfortunes.’ (119)

  • The third level of teaching found in the Dhammapada emphasizes on the Four Noble Truths: 1) Dukkha, 2) the cause of Dukkha, 3) the end of Dukkha and 4) the path leading to the end of Dukkha.  Life is full of suffering (Dukkha) due to craving (Tanha) which causes man to sink deeply in samsara, very difficult to release it:

‘Sorrow springs from attachment                               ‘Sorrow springs from sensual pleasures

Fear springs from attachment                                                fear springs from sensual pleasures

For the person freed from attachment                       for the person freed from sensual pleasures

There is no sorrow.                                                     There is no sorrow.

From where could fear emerge?’ (214)                      From where could fear emerge?’ (215)

‘Sorrow springs from craving

Fear springs from craving

For the person freed from craving

There is no sorrow.  From where could fear emerge?’ (216)[10]

Therefore if we wish to destroy craving and release from suffering, we have to practice the Noble Eightfold Path (chapter 20 in the Dhammapada) in order to live rightly and perfectly without fear or sorrow during our whole life.

  • The fourth level commends those who have reached the final goal of practicing to Nirvana, the state of extinguishing all flames of craving and suffering.  That is called the four stages or fruits of saints: 1) the stream-entry (sotapatti), 2) the once-returner (sakadagami), 3) the non-returner (anagami), 4) the arhant, the perfect one, the fully accomplished sage which are illustrated perfectly in Chapter 7 (The Accomplished Person)[11] and in the chapter 26 (The Superior Person)[12] of the Dhammapada.

Throughout the short analysis above, we realize that the main purpose of the Dhammapada concerning to guide people living well and correctly by practicing its ethical and moral keystones to eliminate suffering and attain the eternal peace of mind.

b)      The Bhagavad Gita         

Apart from the Vedas and the Upanishads that are technically part of the Vedas, the Bhagavad-Gita is considered as the most sacred and popular religious scripture of Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gita is the story of Arjuna, a great warrior but was suddenly overcome by sorrow in the middle of battle field and stood confused about his duty.  Lord Krishna, who was his charioteer in the battle field, teaches him, out of extreme compassion and love, the paths of right action, right knowledge and right devotion.

Truly the battle in this famous epic symbolizes the battlefield between two forces inside everyone: good and bad, saint and evil, paradise or hell, etc.  The content of the Bhagavad Gita teaches us how to live in this world, fulfill our duty but without attachment as well as with a stability of mind accepting God as the savior and doer.  The world in which we live is said to be a world of illusion. Out of ignorance and egoism we bind ourselves to this world through our desires and our actions, not knowing our true nature and true purpose; therefore we reborn and reborn always in the cycle of rebirths and re-deaths.

According to the Bhagavad Gita, salvation is not possible for those who want to escape from life and activity. Those who remain amidst society, unafraid of the burdens of life, and live a life of sacrifice fully surrendering to God are in fact more qualified for it. Those who are prepared to go through the battles of life, through self-discipline, stability of mind, detachment, surrendering to God with full devotion, wisdom, right discrimination and knowledge, are qualified to attain liberation and union with the Supreme.  For example in lines 2.61: ‘Restraining all the senses, one should sit, yogically disciplined, focused on me; for if one’s senses are under control, one’s mentality is grounded,’ or in line 2.64: ‘But engaging the objects of sense with his senses separated from desire and loathing, and subject to the will of the self, a man who is self-controlled attains calmness,’ in line 2.69: ‘When it is night for all creatures, the man who restrains himself is awake,’ in line 2.71: ‘The man who, having abandoned all desires, lives free from longing, unpossessive and unegoistical, approaches peace.’[13]

In short, through the Dhammapada and the Bhagavad Gita’s philosophy, we notice that these two religions all agree that ‘craving, sensual desires, attachment’ are the dangerous causes which blindfold man to be obscured in his veil of ‘ignorance’ and lead him to suffering forever in dark and bad realms of the endless samsara.  In the Dhammapada, ‘there is an analogy that says that the rain of desire encourages the growth of the grass of sorrow:[14]

The craving of a person who lives carelessly            Whomever this miserable craving

Grows like a creeping vine                                         This entanglement in the world, overcomes

He plunges from existence to existence                      His sorrows grow, like grass well rained upon (335)[15]

Like a monkey seeking fruit in the forest (334)

Desire, craving and attachment in any kind are very dangerous and that is the real obstacle to the practitioner on his way to the end of suffering.  To eliminate such danger, the practitioner must concentrate his mind on meditation to sever attachments to the physical world such as wealth and fame, family life, success . . . because desire or attachment break into the mind that has not been practicing meditation like the rain breaks into a bad house’s roof but in vice versa:

Just as rain pierces                                                    Just as rain cannot pierce

A poorly roofed house                                                 a well-roofed house

So passion pierces                                                       so passion cannot pierce

An uncultivated mind.’(13)                                         a well-cultivated mind.’ (14)   [16]         

The Bhagavad Gita says that ‘desire is the source of attachment to the world and the great impediment to spiritual freedom.  When one renounces his/her desires and acts without craving, possessiveness, or individuality, he /she will find peace forever.’[17]

‘From purity comes knowledge, and from passion greed, from darkness come negligence and delusion, as well as ignorance.’ (17)[18]

Having gone beyond these three constituents, which are the sources of the body, the embodied self, released from birth, death, old age, and suffering, attains immortality.’ (20)[19]

Buddhism also agrees with Hinduism about that if we attach too much on everything, we will reborn again and again depending on our deeds but if we are able to renounce such craving in any kind, we can attain Nirvana in this present life, a state of purity and calmness of mind without troubles and suffering.  However to Hindus, the desire to know Brahman is not a bad desire but the process of the cessation of desire.   The Hindus believe that above the ego is Atman and finally at the top is Brahman.  To reach this highest stage of mind, the disciple must realize that Atman is truly Brahman.  This is called self-realization; it is the state in which human is not separable from everything in the universe.  In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that every being is part of the Self, whom never was born and will never die: ‘Bharata, this embodied self in the body of everyone is eternally unkillable.  Therefore you must not grieve for any beings at all.’ (2.30) ‘I am the Self, Gudakesha, situated in the hearts of all creatures, just as I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of creatures.’ (10.20)  ‘He whose self is unaffected by outside contact finds his happiness in the self united through yogic discipline with Brahman, he reaches inextinguishable happiness.’ (5.21)[20]

This belief is quite contrary of Buddhism because according to Buddhist thought, a belief in the Self is also a delusion and leads to suffering.   Selfish ideas appear in man’s mind due to his conception of Self and craving for existence.  To Buddhism, there is no reason to believe that there is an eternal soul that comes from heaven or that is created by itself and that will transmigrate or proceed straight away either to heaven or hell after death.  The Buddha taught that what we conceive as something eternal within us is merely a combination of physical and mental aggregates or forces make up of body, sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness.  These forces are working together and change in every moment of life. 

However not many people could be able to understand such profound theory and the belief in Soul or Self is rooted so strongly in their minds that they cannot imagine why the Buddha did not accept the belief of Self.   We find the Buddha’s analysis about the Self in the Dhammapada:

When through insight a person sees                          When through insight a person sees

All fabrications are impermanent                               All fabrications are painful

Then in pain he turns away                                         Then in pain he turns away

This is the path to purification.’ (277)                                    This is the path to purification.’ (278)

‘When through insight a person sees

All fabrications are non-substantial

Then in pain he turns away

This is the path to purification.’ (279)[21]

To defend his argument of the non-existence of a higher self, the Buddha explains the law of Dependent Origination which is based on the principle:

‘When this is, that is

This arising, that arises

When this is not, that is not

This ceasing, that ceases.’

            This law emphasizes that all phenomena in this universe are relative and do not arise independently.  For example, we see the flame of an oil lamp.  Without the oil and a wick, the flame cannot burn.  When the oil and the wick are present, the flame exists.  When either of these two is absent, the flame will cease to burn.  This example illustrates so clear about the conditions of everything in this world.  So Buddhism rejects the idea of a creator or god in heaven who creates or punishes and rewards all living beings.  Buddhism concerns mainly how to end the suffering and the practical path by individual’s efforts to reach Nirvana here and now, not an illusionary of the promised paradise somewhere else.

            Although there is some different thoughts between Buddhism and Hinduism, both religious schools all focus on one destination: that is the way to Nirvana, to Self-Realization, to Enlightenment, to the cessation of suffering, free from Samsara.  They all think that some sort of awakening will occur to those who are disciplined and practice diligently enough to achieve the state of blissfulness.  They all believe that this state of awakening transcends reality, and that it cannot be described through the limitations of human words.

            The person who has traversed this difficult, muddy path – the bewilderment that is the swirl of becoming- the meditator who has crossed over, reached the other shore, free from desire, free form doubt, not grasping, unbound, that one I call superior.’ (414)[22]

IV. Conclusion

The Buddha said ‘Go forth, O Bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of gods and men.’

Introducing Dhamma (the Buddha’s Teachings) to others, Buddhist monks and nuns have never tried any means to attract, to lure or to convert anyone into Buddhism.  Instead they have tried to explain logically and practically the real nature of human and universe according to Buddhist theory so that people can escape suffering and establish Nirvana rightly in their present life.  Also, Buddhist missionaries give their full support to other religious missionaries of other faiths if their idea is to help people to a right religious way of life.  We, Buddhist disciples, are happy to see the progress of other religions truly helping people live in harmony, peace and understanding.  Like water of thousands rivers which runs towards the sea, although different methods but religions all have one true destination leading all living beings beyond the other shore of the perfect wisdom and real happiness.


·        Bailey, Grey ed. 2003.  The Sociology of Early Buddhism.  Cambridge University Press

·        Crim, Keith. 1989.  Dictionary of World’s Religions.  Harper& Row Publications

·        Dhammananda, K. Sri. 1993.  What Buddhists Believe? 

The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation

·        J.W, Johnson. 2003.  The Bhagavad Gita.  Oxford University Press. 

·        Minor, Robert. 1986.  Modern Interpreters of the Bhagavad Gita.

 State of New York University

·        Wallis, Glenn. 2004. The Dhammapada- Verses on the Way. Modern Library Edition




[1] www.

[2] Wallis, Glenn. 2004. The Dhammapada – Verses on The Way.  Modern Library Edition.  page 41.

[3] Ibid. page 19.

[4] Bailey, Grey & Mabbett, Tim.  2003.  The Sociology of Early Buddhism.  Cambridge University Press.

page 196.

[5] Ibid. page 196.

[6] Wallis, Glen.  2004. The Dhammapada – Verses on The Way.  Modern Library Edition.  page 69.

[7] Ibid. page 48.

[8] Ibid. page 14.

[9] Ibid. pp. 26 – 27.

[10] Ibid. page 47.

[11] Ibid. page 21-22.

[12] Ibid. pp. 79-85.

[13] Jonhson, W.J.  1994.  The Bhagavad Gita.  Oxford University Press. page 12.


[15] Wallis, Glenn.  2004. The Dhammapada – Verses on the Way.  Modern Library Edition.  page 70.

[16] Ibid. page 05.

[17] http:// www.modcam. Com/blog/cat2.

[18] Wallis, Glenn.  2004.  The Dhammapada – Verses on The Way.  Modern Library Edition.   page 62.

[19] Ibid.  page 62.

[20] W.J,  Jonhson 2003.  The Bhagavad Gita.  Oxford University Press. page 24.

[21] Wallis, Glenn.  2004. The Dhammapada – Verses on The Way.   Modern Library Edition.   page 59.

[22] Ibid. page 83.



        Bouddha déclara que les cinq agrégats, qui sont en fait notre corps et notre esprit, sont un lourd fardeau. Servir notre corps signifie porter un lourd fardeau. Quand nous le nourrissons et l’habillons, nous portons ce fardeau. Cela signifie aussi que nous sommes les domestiques de ce corps et de l’agrégat de la matière : rupakhandha.

        Quand nous avons nourri et vêtu le corps, nous devons également le contenter, aussi bien physiquement que psychologiquement. Cela aussi c'est être le domestique de vedanakhandha, l’agrégat des sensations.

        Puis nous devons veiller à ce que le corps entende de beaux sons, voit de belles vues, sente de bonnes odeurs, ait un contact tactile agréable, goûte de bons mets. Cela concerne la conscience et nous sommes au service de vinnanakhadha, l’agrégat de la conscience.

        L’agrégat de la matière  rupakhandha dit : nourrit-moi bien, sinon je vais tomber malade ou je serai faible. Vedanakhandha, l’agrégat des sensations dit à son tour : Donne-moi des sensations agréables sinon je vais souffrir, et nous devons courir après les sensations agréables pour assouvir ses besoins. Vinnanakhadha, l’agrégat de la conscience dit à son tour : donne-moi de beaux sons, de belles vues, de bonnes odeurs, je veux des choses plaisantes, trouve-les pour moi sinon je serai malheureux, et nous devons exécuter ses ordres. C’est comme si ces trois agrégats nous menaçaient perpétuellement et nous ne pouvons pas désobéir à leurs exigences. Cette obéissance est un grand fardeau pour nous.

       Sankharakhandha, l’agrégat des formations mentales, la volition est aussi un autre fardeau. La vie nous demande de satisfaire nos besoins quotidiens. Cela stimule le désir, et nous devons constamment œuvrer et être actifs afin de les satisfaire sinon nous sommes frustrés. Lorsque les désirs ne sont pas satisfaits, certains peuvent même avoir recours au crime. Que ce fardeau est lourd sur nos épaules !

        C’est parce que nous ne pouvons pas porter cette lourde charge sur nos épaules que certains sont démoralisés ou que d’autres commettent des mauvaises actions.

       Sannakhandha, l’agrégat de la perception est aussi un grand fardeau car c’est grâce à la perception que nous pouvons être capables de connaître, mémoriser, discerner le bon du mauvais. Si les demandes de notre esprit pour les objets des sens plaisants ne sont pas obtenues, nous connaîtrons alors l’angoisse, les regrets…

        Pour toutes ces raisons Bouddha a déclaré que les cinq agrégats d’attachement sont un lourd fardeau. Nous portons ce fardeau non seulement pour un moment, une minute, une heure, un jour, une année, une vie, mais depuis le début du samsara, la ronde des renaissances. Nous n’en serons libérés que quand nous aurons éliminé les impuretés de notre esprit.

        Même un Arahat doit supporter ce fardeau avant d’atteindre Nibbana et veiller au bien-être de ses agrégats. Pour se nourrir, il doit faire sa tournée d’aumônes, il doit se laver, il doit aller aux toilettes pour se nettoyer intérieurement, il doit prendre soin de sa santé et doit dormir pour récupérer.

        Les gens ordinaires ou mondains sont obsédés par l’avidité et ne considèrent pas les cinq agrégats (le corps et l’esprit) comme un fardeau. Pour eux le fardeau semble léger et ils pensent que ceux qui considèrent le corps et l’esprit comme un fardeau sont pessimistes car pour eux les cinq agrégats leur apportent la joie de vivre, car il y a des choses agréables à voir, de merveilleux sons à entendre, de la nourriture délicieuse à goûter, des parfums plaisants à sentir, des sensations tactiles agréables à ressentir, et des choses intéressantes à connaître.

        C’est seulement quant la vieillesse arrive et que les gens ne sont plus capables de bouger comme ils voudraient, de savourer la nourriture, de dormir correctement et de satisfaire leurs désirs qu’ils deviennent convaincus que le fardeau des cinq agrégats est véritablement lourd. Quand ils tombent malades leur conviction grandit et quand ils rencontrent des épreuves, ils réalisent complètement que le corps et l’esprit sont un fardeau.