“The teaching is simple. Do what is right. Be Pure.”

This is fake. It’s from Thomas Byrom’s appalling* rendition of the Dhammapada, although it’s found there as “Yet the teaching is simple. Do what is right. Be Pure.” Sometimes the quote ends with “At the end of the way is freedom.”

Now the Dhammapada is a scriptural text, so you might wonder why I regard it as fake. Of course it’s not the Dhammapada itself that I think is fraudulent, but Byrom’s version of it.

As far as I’m aware, Byrom didn’t know any Pali, which is the language the Dhammapada is written in. So he didn’t translate the text, but more likely used other people’s translations and perhaps a Pali–English dictionary in order to make up some inspiring poetry that bore little if any resemblance to the original. Even his publisher, Shambhala, doesn’t call Byrom’s Dhammapada a translation.

“Yet the teaching is simple. Do what is right. Be Pure” is supposed to be Dhammapada verse 183, which is one of the most well-known verses from this well-known work.

Here are a few other translations of verse 183, all of them fairly literal:

Mine: “Ceasing to do evil, learning to do good, purifying the heart — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.”

Buddharakkhita: “To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one’s mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.”

Thanissaro: “The non-doing of any evil, the performance of what’s skillful, the cleansing of one’s own mind: this is the teaching of the Awakened.”

Fronsdal: “Doing no evil, Engaging in what’s skillful, And purifying one’s mind: this is the teaching of the Buddhas.”

Narada: “Not to do any evil, to cultivate good, to purify one’s mind, this is the Teaching of the Buddhas.”

If you’re at all familiar with Buddhist teachings you’ll almost certainly have heard this verse. The fact that you probably didn’t recognize Byrom’s quote as being related to Dhammapada verse 183 shows you what a bollocks Byrom made of it.

Byrom’s “The teaching is simple. Do what is right. Be Pure” is a complete outlier (I accidentally typed “outliar” at first, and was tempted to leave it!).

This isn’t, by a long shot, the worst fakery that Byrom pulled off in his Dhammapada. At least, unlike some of his other inventions, this one doesn’t conflict with what the Buddha taught (although he stressed how profound and subtle, and not how simple the Dhamma was). It’s just a terrible, terrible translation.

Th words, “At the end of the way is freedom,” with which this quote sometimes ends, are actually the start of the next verse of the Dhammapada in Byrom’s version, which reads “At the end of the way is freedom. Till then, patience.”

In Buddharakkhita’s very literal translation this is: “Enduring patience is the highest austerity. ‘Nibbana is supreme,’ say the Buddhas.” As you can see, there’s no meaningful connection between Byrom’s words and the original text.

Sometimes I wish that Shambhala, Byrom’s publisher, would just pulp the beautiful mess they’ve created.

* It’s an appalling work of translation, although a beautiful work of literature.

2 thoughts on ““The teaching is simple. Do what is right. Be Pure.””

  1. I’m going to dispute your use of the term “dog’s bollocks”. The phrase is always used to mean something really great. “Dog’s breakfast”, which means a bad mess, would fit much better.

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