Dhammapada, Verses 17 & 18:
The evil-doer suffers here and hereafter;
He suffers in both worlds.
The thought, “I have done evil,” tortures him,
And he suffers even more when gone to realms of woe.
The doer of good delights here and hereafter;
He delights in both worlds.
The thought, “I have done good,” delights him,
And he delights even more when gone to realms of bliss.
The first two lines of verses 17 & 18 of the Dhammapada both emphasize the Buddhist teaching of karma (action) and its results. Rather than repeat what’s been written in the previous reflections of verses 15 & 16, suffice to say that wholesome actions will have wholesome results and unwholesome actions will have unwholesome ones. This is the basic Buddhist teaching on karma & its results (vipaka) accredited to Buddha. Again, the previous article (Dhammapada Reflections #7) focused on the psychological implications of the results of karma, represented here with the thoughts, “I have done evil” and “I have done good” in the current verses. That our actions can inspire regret & grief, pride & joy won’t surprise many, so this aspect of the above verses won’t be elaborated on here.
The key term that relates to the results of our actions that this article will attend to is the term ‘suffering.’ Suffering is the common English translation of the Buddhist term dukkha, which actually has many connotations that the word ‘suffering’ doesn’t really cover. Dukkha also means angst, pain, unsatisfactory, imperfect, stressful, anxious & discontent amongst others. It’s worth noting that Buddha is said to have stated that, “I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the ending of dukkha.”
Buddha saw dukkha as the primary problem in existence, and he sought a way out, which he is said to have found. This is called nirvana, ‘snuffing out (of the causes of suffering),’ or bodhi, ‘awakening.’ Related to bodhi is the title buddha – ‘awakened one.’ Buddhist teachings & practices exist to reduce & eventually eliminate dukkha. Knowing this, the claim in verse 17 that the evil-doer suffers due to his or her actions becomes even more worthy of our investigation. There’s a sense in which we all accept the idea of karma & its results in that we can see the consequences of our actions. If I speak nicely to you, I will surely receive a different response than if I were to kick you! This is what John Lennon called ‘instant karma.’
The phrase “gone to realms of woe” can be understood in this immediate way, too. If I were to kick you and you beat me to a pulp in retaliation, then I’d certainly be in a realm of woe. And, this sorrowful situation would be of my own making. It would be karma-vipaka – the results of my actions. Silly me!
The Dhammapada ('Verses of Dharma' or 'Path of Dharma') is an ancient Buddhist text that is said to contain some of the Buddha's teachings in poetic form. The first chapter is called Yamakavagga, 'Chapter of Pairs,' and the above two verses are from this part of the book.