Wisdom Of Restraint – Nagavagga – Dhammapada 23


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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 and thorough presentation of an awakened human being’s teachings. [1] Pali Canon

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. [2,3]   Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta  | Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

The Nagavagga is the twenty-third chapter of the Dhammapada. The Buddha uses the metaphor of a well-trained elephant to describe the wisdom of developing wise restraint if one is to develop the Eightfold Path and a calm and well-concentrated mind. [4] Wisdom Of Restraint

My comments below are in italics.


Wisdom Of Restraint – Nagavagga

Dhammapada 23


Like an elephant remaining calm in battle, I will remain calm when falsely accused. Many in the world are ignorant of Four Noble Truths.

The tamed elephant, well restrained, can be mounted by a king and ridden in a crowd.

Foremost are tamed mules, thoroughbreds, and tuskers, all well-restrained. Foremost among people are those well-restrained.  [4] Wisdom Of Restraint

Not by tamed mounts does one reach Nibbana. Those self-restrained, having regained control of their minds, always do.

The Eightfold Path is an individual path supported by a well-informed and well-focused sangha. Nothing external can “carry one” to awakening.  [5] Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta

A tusker deep in rut is difficult to control. Bound to a post, they won’t eat longing for freedom.

This is a profound reference to basic ignorance. Views ignorant of Four Noble Truths bind one to relentless greed while conditioned to ignore the self-fabricated stress of craving. The Buddha recognized this feedback look of circular thinking as he had a “breakthrough of understanding” leading to his awakening. [6] Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening  

A person, lazy, over-fed, wallowing like a pig, will give birth again and again to ignorance.

A skillful understanding of Karma and Rebirth shows that what is held in mind determines the practical experience of life as life unfolds.  [7] Karma And Rebirth

In the past, my mind wandered mindlessly where it wished, always seeking satisfaction. Now I have thoroughly tamed my mind as trainer controls an elephant in rut.

Take your pleasure in mindfulness. Guard your own thoughts. Lift yourself out of the mire of ignorance like an elephant from the mud.

Overcome any obstacles to find a wise and prudent friend established in the Dhamma. Keep their company with mindfulness and joy.

If no wise and prudent friend established in the Dhamma can be found it is better to go your own way like a king leaves a conquered village or a lone elephant in the forest.

Live carefree like an elephant in the forest. Establish seclusion and abandon harm. There is no fellowship with fools. Better it is to live alone.

Fortunate are wise friends when needed. Fortunate is contentment with what occurs. Fortunate it is to end ignorance before death. Fortunate it is to end suffering and awaken.

In this world, it is skillful to serve one’s parents. In this world, it is skillful to serve monks and nuns and wise Dhamma practitioners.

Skillful it is to develop virtue. Skillful it is to persevere. Skillful it is to restrain mindlessness. Skillful it is to develop wisdom (through the Eightfold Path).

End Of Chapter


  1. Pali Canon
  2. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
  3. Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
  4. Wisdom Of Restraint
  5. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  6. Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening 
  7. Karma And Rebirth

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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