Dhammapada Chapter 4: Harming


In the Dhammapada, the Buddha reviewed a catalog of the various “mental quick sands” that we can find along the way. And like a good doctor, he offers a steady hand and sure cure for each obstacle. The chapter title translated usually as Violence. But the verses go into far more than dealing with physical attacks.

Müller version


  1. He who seeking his own happiness punishes or kills beings who also long for happiness, will not find happiness after death.
  2. He who seeking his own happiness does not punish or kill beings who also long for happiness, will find happiness after death.
  3. Do not speak harshly to anybody; those who are spoken to will answer thee in the same way. Angry speech is painful, blows for blows will touch thee.
  4. He who, though dressed in fine apparel, exercises tranquillity, is quiet, subdued, restrained, chaste, and has ceased to find fault with all other beings, he indeed is a Brahmana, an ascetic (sramana), a friar (bhikshu).

My ‘paraphrased’ version

All seek an ongoing sense of contentment. Those physically destructive to all creatures also desire this. But in life or death, those that threaten or bring harm to others will not achieve this desired end. For they have chosen a path of bringing hurt and death to all beings that they meet.

All seek an ongoing sense of contentment. Those wishing to not hurt all creatures also desire this. But whether in life or death, those with thoughts and actions focused on non-harming will achieve the desired end. For they have chosen a path to bring a sense of ease to all beings that they meet.

Do not speak words of anger at others. For they will be returned to you in equal measure.

Most important is to go about each day in a calm manner. Those that are silent, controlling themselves, not impacted by the dramatic circumstances of this world, holding back on their emotions and thoughts, and avoid seeing the shortcomings of others are indeed practicing well.


Here are some of the things that you can consider to quell the need to attack others whether through words or physical acts.

  1. View the handiwork of your past deeds. When King Ashoka viewed the dead bodies of the troops of his armies and those of his enemies, there was not a sense of pride from victory and territorial gain. Instead he had feelings of horror and dread in viewing the outcomes of his actions. He saw the emptiness of his own senseless actions. From that point onward, he began to focus on helping not harming people.
  2. Truly see the other person as being interrelated to you instead of being labelled as a them. You both share the same planet and sky, the same desires, and the same short life spans. Once you realize that you both have a lot in common, then a sense of compassion starts to arise.
  3. Set a goal each day. Kusala Bhikshu talks about saying “today I will not harm a (species to be added).” Start with humans and work your way to smaller creatures. Recognize and respect this intention, Celebrate achieving the goal at day end.
  4. Question and Examine your motives. Do they still hold up after review or evaporate?
  5. Practice other-centered meditation such as tonglen or lovingkindess (metta). The former you take in and then let go the perceived pains of others. The former you start wishing yourself good wishes and then you expand to the universe.

6. If you do directly or indirectly cause harm, then examine the set of circumstances that led to that particular situation and vow for it never to happen again

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