Heartwood And Flowers – Pupphavagga – Dhammapada 4


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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]

The fourth chapter of the Dhammapada is the Pupphavagga. This chapter uses the metaphors of Mara and death to describe the ongoing suffering rooted in ignorance and the living death of ongoing ignorance of Three Marks Of existence. Flowers are used as a metaphor for the constant craving for sensory indulgence and distraction that arises from misunderstanding what constitutes a “person” within an ever changing environment. [3,4]

My comments below are in italics.


Pupphavagga – Heartwood And Flowers

Dhammapada 4

Who will overcome this realm of death with all its gods? Who will perfect the well-taught Eightfold Path of wisdom as an expert garland-maker perfects their floral designs?

Notice the Buddha’s reference to “gods” as part of the realm of death rather than beings to idolize and worship. The underlying intent of this type of speculative “dharma” practice has been a common distraction from the Buddha’s Dhamma for 2,600 years. [5,6]

The well-focused Dhamma practitioner will overcome this realm of death with all its gods. The well-focused Dhamma practitioner will perfect the well-taught Eightfold Path of wisdom as an expert garland-maker perfects their floral designs.

Realizing that form is like foam on the water, a mirage, they deflect Mara’s flower-tipped arrows of sensuality and go beyond the grasp of death.

A flood sweeps away a village as ignorance sweeps away a person distracted by only picking flowers of pleasure.

Mara directs the person whose mind is distracted towards insatiable craving for flowers of pleasure.

A sage seeking alms is like a bee gathering honey. Both sustain themselves with moderation, always harmless.

Always mindful of one’s own acts, unconcerned with others.

The words of those lacking Heartwood are like a beautiful flower with no fragrance.

The Buddha here is referencing teaching “dharma” without any understanding of the Buddha’s Dhamma – like a flower with no fragrance – mere distraction.

The words of those established int Heartwood are skillful like a beautiful and fragrant flower.

Established in Heartwood, though mortal, one does many good deeds just as many fine garlands can be made from a heap of flowers.

The sweet smell of flowers is lost to the wind. The fragrance of true virtue pervades all directions.

The Buddha refers to the Eightfold Path as a timeless path that does not need the constant adaptations, accommodations, and embellishments compulsively altering the Buddha’s Dhamma to fit unskillful views and continue ignorance of Three Marks Of Existence (The sweet smell of flowers is lost to the wind). [7,8]

Of all fragrances, the fragrance of virtue is sweetest.

The fragrance of sandalwood and jasmine is faint. The fragrance of virtue touches all.

Mara can never distract one from the Eightfold Path when they abide in (refined) mindfulness and Right View.

A lotus, fragrant and pleasing, grows in a heap of road-side rubbish.

Even so, the wise Dhamma practitioner shines resplendent in their wisdom on the rubbish heap of mortals buried in ignorance.

End Of Chapter


  1. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
  2. Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
  3. Mara And Metaphor
  4. Nothing Personal – A Buddha’s Analysis Of Self
  5. Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
  6. The Noble Search For The Noble Path
  7. Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
  8. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta

For All Who Reside In The Dhamma - Agantuka 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 Dhammatalks.org, 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.

Becoming-Buddha.com 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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