Dhammapada Chapter 5: Our Actions and Their Consequences


In this chapter, we continue to look at the beneficial and harmful results of our actions. The verse below mentions three watches. Note that a watch is a four-hour period. So, three watches are half a day or twelve hours. It was during one such three-watch evening period that the Buddha went through the final stages to reach enlightenment. More about what happened can be found in http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/vesak2.htm.

Müller version


157 If a man hold himself dear, let him watch himself carefully; during one at least out of the three watches a wise man should be watchful.

163 Bad deeds, and deeds hurtful to ourselves, are easy to do; what is helpful and good, that is very difficult to do.

165 By oneself the evil is done, by oneself one suffers; by oneself evil is left undone, by oneself one is purified. Purity and impurity belong to oneself, no one can purify another.

My ‘paraphrased’ version

If a being cherishes their own given short life, then they should use this precious time to observe openly their ongoing thoughts and actions.

Harmful words and actions wound ourselves and others very quickly. Supportive words and actions will be helpful to ourselves and others swiftly. However, they cannot be achieved without a good deal of sustained effort.

We are the creator of our harmful actions and own sufferings. Through one choice, a wrongful path can grow. Through one choice, a path of inner wisdom can flourish. No one else is responsible for our moments of light or shadows in this life. It is up to us alone to find and stay on a path ending suffering and bringing eventual illumination.


In earlier chapters, many things that you could do were discussed previously. However, these additional practices may be of help.

Before speaking or acting, ask yourself :

– If these behaviors are harmful or beneficial to yourself.

– If these behaviors are harmful or beneficial to others.

– What do you think will be your mind state afterwards — such as being emotionally agitated, feeling superior/inferior, or grateful?

– Are you observing the verbal and nonverbal cues of those you interact with to determine the proper course to proceed?

– Are you interacting the same if these behaviors were harmful or beneficial to yourself in the past or choosing differently? If the same, what was the result from that time?

Again, you have to be continuously observe yourself without judgment. It should become apparent on what minor and major adjustments need to be made. Realize that you are in it for the long-term haul. This is not the typical human approach. Once some progress is made, the student typically feels good about themselves and becomes overconfident. At this point in time, a relapse is likely.

To get it right, be patient and honest with yourself. Admit when a choice did and did not go well. Don’t rush the ‘process’. As the Tibetan sage said, hasten slowly. Repeat the cycle of observing and making small adjustments. It will likely not be a straight line. Instead, expect a good deal of zigzagging.

Having a sense of humor about your practice will help go a long way. Some may recommend journaling, writing poems, stories, and songs, and more to help record the process. But for others, this may be distracting and result in focusing on things that would be otherwise ignored.

Take it slow and get it right. And a more rewarding life passage will begin to arise. Wishing you well in your practice.

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