Judgment and Wisdom – Dhammatthavagga – Dhammapada 19


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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 book in the fifth collection 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 four 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 sutta below is from Dhammapada 19. It teaches the importance of developing the Heartwood of the Dhamma – the Eightfold Path – if one is to safely judge one’s own Dhamma practice and judge and teach others. It also presents the Buddha’s caution against incorporating confusing and unskillful common “dharma” practices such as forced silent retreats, mindless rituals, meditation practices that encourage distraction and continued self-reference, and anything that dismisses or negates the framework and guidance of the Eightfold Path. [3]

My comments below are in italics.

Judgment and Wisdom – Dhammatthavagga

Dhammapada 19

Judging mindlessly does not define a judge.
The wise one knows both right judgment and wrong.

The wise judge others impartially,mindfully, and consistent with the Dhamma.
The wise guard the Dhamma and are guarded by the Dhamma.

The refined mindfulness taught by the Buddha is framed by the Eightfold Path. This refined mindfulness develops Right View. Right View is a completely impersonal view of one’s self and others always consistent with the Dhamma. [4]

Established in RightView, intelligent, this one can be called a judge.

Simply talking often does not define wisdom.
Secure in knowledge, free of fear and aversion,
this one can be called wise.

Simply talking often does not maintain the Dhamma.

Common during the Buddha’s time, and certainly today, is the compulsion to over-emphasize “topical” discussions while avoiding actually learning the Buddha’s Dhamma.  Social interaction and social rituals become a commonly agreed upon substitution for Dhamma practice. This is a pervasive strategy that modern Buddhism By Common Agreement employs to continue to ignore the ignorance of Four Noble Truths. [5,6]

Hearing little but integrating Heartwood is one mindful of the Dhamma and they are one who maintains the Dhamma.

Grey hair does not define an elder or a teacher.
Advanced in years, lacking Heartwood, one remains foolish.

One who knows the truths, mindful of restraint, of good character, gentle, in control of thoughts, words, and deeds,
the defilements vanquished, awakened,
This one can be called an elder and a teacher of those fit to be taught.

Nothing determines an authentic Dhamma teacher except knowledge and understanding developed from studying and practicing the Heartwood of the Dhamma.

Not by sophisticated rhetoric, or the donning of colored robes, does an envious and miserly impostor become a sage at peace.

Only one who has uprooted arrogance and hatred, abandoned ignorance,
and developed wisdom, can one be called a sage at peace.

A shaven head, does not equal concentration.
Dismissing the Heartwood, consumed by greed, there is no concentration.

One who abandons greed, aversion, and deluded thinking through non-distraction, established in jhana
moment by moment this one can be called well-concentrated, a true contemplative.

This last shows the singular importance that the Buddha placed on Right Meditation – Jhana Meditation – engaged with for the sole purpose of developing Jhana.  [7]

Seeking alms, donning robes, mindless rituals, does not define a sincere Dhamma practitioner.

Only those that abandon both gaining merit and the three defilements, living always with restraint,
with wisdom, this one abides.
This one can be called a Dhamma practitioner.  [8]

I declare: It is not by silence does the confused and deluded, the ignorant, become a sage at peace.

A wise dhamma practitioner knows how to judge skillful Dhamma practice. Here the Buddha is clearly and directly teaching that avoiding his Dhamma by commonly agreed upon forced silence will only continue confused and deluded thinking and will only continue becoming further ignorant of Four Noble Truths.

Rather than encourage the pain of asceticism and aversion, the Buddha taught that wisdom is developed by  practicing wise restraint at the six-sense-base. He certainly did not teach to develop and practice aversion and avoid developing refined mindfulness. [8]

But the wise one, able to discern the ordinary from the excellent
rejects what is evil, and becomes a sage at peace.

Those who are able to discern both sides of the world,
the foolish and the Heartwood, can be called a sage at peace.

Remaining harmless to all living things on becomes noble.
Remaining gentle to all living things one becomes noble.

Friends, don’t be fooled by your practices or habits, by your sophisticated rhetoric, by your meditative superiority, or a quiet dwelling.

Friends, don’t be fooled by the thought that you teach those that don’t know.

When you are complacent where greed, aversion, and delusion continue, here is where the Heartwood is forgotten.

The Buddha, having developed the wisdom to judge appropriately,  consistently encourages Dhamma practitioners to avoid the common adaptations, accommodations, and embellishments to his Dhamma and remain focused on the Heartwood.

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. Nothing Personal – A Buddha’s Analysis Of Self
  5. An Admirable Sangha – Upaddha Sutta
  6. Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
  7. Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas
  8. Wisdom Of Restraint

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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