Dhammapada 12: The Self

Translated by Ven Nārada

157. If one holds oneself 1 dear, one should protect oneself well. During every one of the three watches the wise man should keep vigil.

158. Let one first establish oneself in what is proper, and then instruct others. Such a wise man will not be defiled. 2

159. As he instructs others so should he himself act. Himself fully controlled, he should control (others); for oneself, indeed, is difficult to control.

160. Oneself, indeed, is one’s saviour, for what other saviour would there be? With oneself well controlled one obtains a saviour difficult to find.

161. By oneself alone is evil done; it is self-born, it is self-caused. Evil grinds the unwise as a diamond grinds a hard gem.

162. He who is exceedingly corrupt, like a māluvā creeper strangling a sal tree, does to himself what even an enemy would wish for him.

163. Easy to do are things that are hard and not beneficial to oneself, but very, very, difficult indeed, to do is that which is beneficial and good.

164. The stupid man, who, on account of false views, scorns the teaching of the Arahants, the Noble Ones, and the Righteous, ripens like the fruit of the kāshta reed, only for his own destruction.

165. By oneself, indeed, is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself indeed, is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another.

166. For the sake of others’ welfare, however great, let not one neglect one’s own welfare. 3 Clearly perceiving one’s own welfare, let one be intent on one’s own goal.

End Notes

1 According to Buddhism there is no permanent soul or unchanging entity (atta) either created by a God or emanating from a Paramātma. Here the term atta (self) is applied to the whole body, or one’s personality, or mind, or life flux.

2 Will not be blamed by others.

3 Here "welfare" denotes one’s ultimate goal, i.e., Nibbāna. Personal sanctification should not be sacrificed for the sake of external homage.

One must not misunderstand this verse to mean that one should not selflessly work for the weal of others. Selfless service is highly commended by the Buddha.