Yamakavagga · Gātha 001

Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā manoseṭṭhā manomayā
ce paduṭṭhena bhāsati karoti
naṃ dukkhamanveti cakkaṃ va vahato padaṃ

The Twin-Verses · Verse 001

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

The Story of the Monk Cakkhupāla

While residing at the Jētavana Monastery in Sāvatthi, the Buddha spoke this verse, with reference to Cakkhupāla, a blind monk.

On one occasion, Monk Cakkhupāla came to pay homage to the Buddha at the Jētavana Monastery. One night, while pacing up and down in meditation, the monk accidentally stepped on some insects. In the morning, some monks visiting the monk found the dead insects. They thought ill of the monk and reported the matter to the Buddha. The Buddha asked them whether they had seen the monk killing the insects. When they answered in the negative, the Buddha said, “Just as you had not seen him killing, so also he had not seen those living insects. Besides, as the monk had already attained arahatship he could have no intention of killing, so he was innocent.” On being asked why Cakkhupāla was blind although he was an arahat, the Buddha told the following story:

Cakkhupāla was a physician in one of his past existences. Once, he had deliberately made a woman patient blind. That woman had promised to become his slave, together with her children, if her eyes were completely cured. Fearing that she and her children would have to become slaves, she lied to the physician. She told him that her eyes were getting worse when, in fact, they were perfectly cured. The physician knew she was deceiving him, so in revenge, he gave her another ointment, which made her totally blind. As a result of this evil deed the physician lost his eyesight many times in his later existences.

Commentary for Verse 1

The first two verses in the Dhammapada reveal an important concept in Buddhism. When most religions hold it as an important part of their dogma that the world was created by a supernatural being called ‘God’, Buddhism teaches that all that we experience (the ‘world’ as well as the ‘self’) is created by thought, or the cognitive process of sense perception and conception. This also proves that writers on Buddhism are mistaken in stating that the Buddha was silent concerning the beginning of the world. In the Rōhitassa Sutta of the Aṇguttara Nikāya, the Buddha states clearly that the world, the beginning of the world, the end of the world, and the way leading to the end of the world, are all in this fathom long body itself with its perceptions and conceptions.

The word manō is commonly translated as ‘mind’. But the Buddha takes a phenomenalistic standpoint in the mind-matter controversy that had baffled philosophers throughout history. The duality – ‘mind’ and ‘body’ – is rejected by the Buddha. The Buddha explains in the Sabba Sutta of the Saṃyutta Nikāya that all that we can talk about is ‘sense experience’, including thought or conception as the sixth sense. The terms nāma and rūpa, commonly translated as ‘mind’ and ‘body’ are not two ‘entities’ that co-exist in relation to each other. They are only two ways of looking at the single ‘activity’ called ‘experience’. Nāma (naming) is ‘experience’ seen subjectively as ‘the mental process of identifying an object’ (rūpa kāyē adhivācana saṃpassa).

Rūpa (appearance) is ‘experience’ seen objectively as an ‘entity’ that is perceived and conceived through the mental process of identification (nāma kāyē pathigha saṃpassa). Manō refers to ‘thought’ or the mental process of conceptualization, which integrates and makes meaning out of the different percepts brought in through the different senses. This meaningful total ‘experience’ is the dhammā, viewed subjectively as ‘identification of an entity’ (nāma) and objectively as ‘the entity identified’ (rūpa). Dhammā which is this “meaningful totality of experience” is normally seen as pleasant or unpleasant circumstance (lōka dhamma).