Mind Precedes All Mental States

Mind precedes all mental states

The very first verse of the Dhammapada talks about the mind and how it precedes mental states. The original version is this:

Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā manoseṭṭhā manomayā

Manasā ce paduṭṭhena bhāsati vā karoti vā

Tato naṃ dukkhamanveti cakkaṃ’va vahato padaṃ.


Let’s analyze each line.

On the first line, manopubbaṅgamā is an adjective that means directed by mind and is a combination of the words mano (mind) and pubbaṅgamma (came before), which itself is a combination of pubbam (before) and (gamma). Dhammā is another word for dharma, the teaching of the Buddha, but in this specific sentence it means something else: mental states. Manoseṭṭhā is an adjective the combines the words mano (mind) and setthā (best) to form the compound “mind as master”. Manomayā, a combination of mano (mind) and mayā (created by), means created by mind.

The first line can, therefore, be summed up as: Mind precedes all mental states. These (the mental states) are created by mind.

It is interesting that the very first line of the first verse of the Dhammapada uses mano three times, showing how central the topic of the mind will be in the rest of the text.


On the second line, ce and means if and or, respectively. manasā means mind, paduṭṭhena means impure, bhāsati means “to speak” and karoti means “to act”. Thus: if with an impure mind one speaks or acts.

On the third line, tato (because of), naṃ (him), dukkhamanveti (with suffering) cakkaṃ (wheel) va (as if) vahato (carrying) and padaṃ (foot of an animal, typically an ox) combine to form the sentence: then suffering will follow him like a wheel follows the foot of the ox.

Thus:

Mind precedes all mental states, which are created by mind.

If with an impure mind one speaks or acts,

Then suffering will follow him like a wheel follows the foot of the ox.

I think an even better translation might be to remove the “all” and instead of “mental states” we could use “mental phenomena”, but let’s not be too nit-picky.

The first verse of the Dhammapada is of great importance if you take it seriously because it shows the cause-effect relationship between your mind and your experience of life. If you do not take care of your mind and allow yourself to think impure thoughts, you will suffer.

References:

“Dhammapada 1. The Chapter About The Pairs”. 2017. Ancient-Buddhist-Texts.Net. http://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/Texts-and-Translations/Dhammapada/01-Pairs.htm.

“Gatha 1”. 2017. Buddhism.Lib.Ntu.Edu.Tw. http://buddhism.lib.ntu.edu.tw/BDLM/lesson/pali/reading/gatha1.htm.

“The Dhammapada: Chapter 1, The Pairs”. 2017. Buddhanet.Net. http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhism/dp01.htm.

“The Dhammapada: Verses And Stories”. 2017. Tipitaka.Net. http://www.tipitaka.net/tipitaka/dhp/verseload.php?verse=001.

“Yamakavagga: Pairs”. 2017. Accesstoinsight.Org. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/dhp.01.budd.html.