Balavagga – Of Fools And Foolishness – Dhammapada 5


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For a complete understanding of this sutta in the context intended by an awakened human being please read the linked suttas at the end of this article. ([x])

The Dhammapada is a twenty-six chapter volume in the fifth book of the Sutta Pitaka known as the Khuddaka Nikaya. The Khuddaka Nikaya is a fifteen-book collection of short texts difficult to classify within the other volumes. The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings of the Buddha in verse that can be read as a concise though thorough presentation of an awakened human being’s teachings.

The Dhammapada is loosely formatted by topic. The individual topic(s) presented in each chapter mostly stand on their own with the understanding that everything the Buddha taught can only be understood and developed skillfully within the context of Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths. [1,2]

In the Balavagga, the fifth chapter in the Dhammapada, the Buddha strongly emphasizes the singular importance of knowing and practicing his Dhamma.

To some the translated word to describe those ignoring the Buddha’s Dhamma as “fools” may seem overly harsh.  The reader should be mindful of the setting and particular situation of the Buddha. Just as today, there were many competing “dharmas” all claiming to be superior to any other “spiritual” teaching including the Buddha’s Dhamma.

The Buddha showed great courage in clearly teaching the purpose and scope of his Dhamma while avoiding the compulsive view rooted in ignorance of providing an all-inclusive, everyone should feel good “dharma” lacking wisdom and Heartwood. During his teaching career, the Buddha spent as much Right Effort clearly teaching what his Dhamma was, and what “dharmas” were distractions from his path

Teaching all-inclusive all-religions-are-one dharma may gain many “followers” but cannot achieve the single purpose of the Buddha’s Dhamma: To recognize and abandon individual ignorance of Four Noble Truths and develop a well-concentrated mind that supports the refined mindfulness able to hold in mind the Eightfold Path.

In a remarkably direct and courageous manner, he consistently presented his Dhamma as a single Eightfold Path that would be greatly diminished by adapting, accommodating, or embellishing his Dhamma in any manner. [3]

Here the Buddha emphasizes the foolish strategies that a mind rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths will engage with to continue to ignore t ignorance.

My comments below are in italics.


Balavagga – Of Fools And Foolishness

Dhammapada 5

The night is long for the sleepless. The road long for the weary. Suffering in ignorance is long for fools ignoring the Dhamma.

A true seeker should be resolute in their solitary path if an equal or wiser companion cannot be found. There can be no true fellowship with the foolish.

A common theme throughout the Dhamma is establishing wise associations with those who have actually developed the Buddha’s Dhamma. [4]

The fool worries, distracted, “I have sons, I have wealth” not knowing Heartwood.

The wise Dhamma practitioner’s thoughts are framed by refined mindfulness of the Eightfold Path. The fool continues distracted thinking clinging to self-reference.

The fool who thinks themselves wise is foolish indeed. The fool who knows their foolishness has the beginning of wisdom.

Just as a spoon cannot taste soup the fool cannot gain wisdom through association with the wise.

The heartwood cannot be developed by mere association. The Dhamma must be developed individually with the guidance and support of wise associations.

Just as the tongue tastes the flavor of the soup those discerning wisely quickly learn the Heartwood through wise associations.

Witless fools harm themselves and others. The fruits of their deeds are always bitter.

The fool’s unskillful acts are as a fruit that ripens in tears.

The wise one’s skillful acts are as a fruit that ripens in peace and happiness.

When foolish views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths are recognized and abandoned through the Eightfold Path craving and clinging cease and a calm and peaceful mind prevails.

The fool whose deeds have yet to ripen delights yet when ripened the fool always grieves.

Wandering endlessly in ignorance taking sustenance with a blade of grass, the fool never gains a speck of truth of the wise.

Foolish acts ripen slowly like sour milk but cling to the fool like smoldering ash.

The fool gains knowledge that only leads to ruin by obscuring reality and their own innate potential.

The fool seeks reputation and underserved honor among monks, nuns, and householders.

Through desire, greed, and continued I-making the fool thinks “Let monks, nuns, and householders know that great works are done by me. Let them follow me as their savior.”

The fool seeks worldly gain. The wise seek Heartwood. Through Right View, the wise Dhamma practitioner abandons worldly entanglements and develops release from all views ignorant of Four Noble Truths.

The most effective and loving act anyone can undertake is to abandon foolishness and gain the peace and wisdom developed through the Buddha’s Dhamma.

End Of Chapter


  1. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
  2. Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
  3. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  4. An Admirable Sangha – Upaddha Sutta
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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths. and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


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