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Torre de Babel Ediciones


DHARMA – Budismo Zen

Versified translations from the Dhammapada and various other sources
Adapted to modern music by PAUL CARUS
Chicago – The Open Court Publishing Company
London Agents – KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH, TRÜBNER & CO, LTD. – 1911


Mind.- Unfailing.- The Bane of Man.- Life or Death.- The Heart.- The Roof.- Beatitude.- The Best Weapons.- Universal Goodwill.- The Realm of the Uncreate.- Edification.- Egotism Conquered.- The Victor.- The Ego Illusion.- In the World Not of the World.- Transiency.- Right or Wrong.- The Bliss of the Gospel.- Sweeter.- Throughout the Four Quarters.- A Buddhist Maxim.- Devotion.- Deeds Live On.- The Uncreate.- Be Resolute. 

BUDDHISM exercises an increasingly powerful influence upon the people of western civilization: it fascinates the pious Christian on account of its remarkable agreements with Christian ethics; it interests the unbeliever on account of those features of its doctrines which stand in contradictory opposition to Christianity, and it is admired by thinkers on account of its philosophical depth, its humane spirit, and the loftiness of its morality.

As to myself, Buddhism has constantly grown upon me and I have found more and more reason to justify my esteem for both this grand religion and its noble founder. I can repeat the words and make them my own which the venerable Professor Fausböll said after having spent a lifetime on the study of Pali literature, «the more I know of Buddha, the more I love him.»

The influence of Buddha’s spirit upon his followers shows itself in the excellencies of the Buddhist canon, which among all the religious literature on earth ―and here not even the Bible can be said to make an exception― is distinguished by purity, profundity, and loftiness. In my literary labors I have met with repeated occasions when I felt the need of quoting Buddhist hymns for the qualities that characterize the devotional poetry of Buddhism, and thus I was frequently induced to try my hand at the versification of these ancient and venerable stanzas, the result of which is collected in this little volume. In addition to versifications of Buddhist poetry, I have written a few original poems in the same strain, and these are also included in the present collection.

I have set some of these Buddhist poems to music, which, as I am fully conscious, is a bold innovation, but may be welcome to some musical friends of Buddhism. Music is a comparatively recent invention, but the religious services of ancient India at an early time were possessed of a melodramatic recitative, or better, a chanting, which came very near to being real music and may be characterized as the initial stage of sacred music.

Secular music may have existed in the days of early Buddhism, for among the rules for novices we find a prohibition from attending musical performances which, we may well assume, corresponded somewhat to modern variety theaters or vaudeville shows; and in consequence, even to-day the majority of Buddhist priests in Burma, Siam and Ceylon look upon music as profane and sensuous —a thing to be shunned. Yet there is a difference between the noble strains of Johann Sebastian Bach and foolish rag-time tunes, between the sonatas of Beethoven and the operettas of Offenbach; and we know that in the age when Buddhism flourished in India, when the prosperity of the country reached its highest mark, sacred music existed; for we read in a translation of the Dharmapitaka that the philosopher Ashvaghosha was a musician, and a hymn of his composition was used in public worship. We read:(1)

«He [Ashvaghosha] then went to Pataliputra for his propaganda-tour, where he composed an excellent tune called Lai cha huo lo, that he might by this means convert the people of the city. Its melody was classical, mournful, and melodious, inducing the audience to ponder on the misery, emptiness, and non-atman-ness of life.(2) That is to say, the music roused in the mind of the hearer the thought that all aggregates are visionary and subject to transformation; that the triple world is a jail and a bondage, with nothing enjoyable in it; that since royalty, nobility, and the exercise of supreme power are all characterized with transitoriness, nothing can prevent their decline, which will be as sure as the dispersion of the clouds in the sky; that this corporeal existence is a sham, is as hollow as a plantain tree, is an enemy, a foe, one not to be intimately related with; and again that like a box in which a cobra is kept, it should never be cherished by anybody; that therefore all Euddhas denounce persons clinging to a corporeal existence. Thus explaining in detail the doctrine of the non-atman and the shunyata, Ashvaghosha had the melody played by musicians, who, however, not being able to grasp the significance of the piece, failed to produce the intended tune and harmony. He then donned a white woolen dress, joined the band of musicians, beating the drum, ringing the bell, and tuning the lyre, and this done, the melody in full perfection gave a note at once mournful and soothing, so as to arouse in the minds of the audience the idea of the misery, emptiness, and non-atman-ness of all things. The five hundred royal princes in the city thus moved all at once were fully awakened, and abhorring the curse of the five evil passions, abandoned their worldly life and took refuge in the Bodhi. The king of Pataliputra was very much terrified by the event, thinking that if the people who listened to this music would abandon their homes (like the princes), his country would be depopulated and his royal business ruined. So he warned the people never to play this music hereafter.»

We quote from the same source:
«The fact agrees well with Taranatha’s statement which in its German translation reads as follows: ‘Die von ihm verfassten Loblieder sind auch in allen Ländern verbreitet; da zuletzt Sänger und Possenreisser dieselben vortrugen and bei allen Menschen des Landes mit Macht Glauben an den Buddha entstand, erwuchs durch die Loblieder grösserer Nutzen zur Verbreitnng der Lehre.’ (Geschichte des Buddhismus, German translation, p. 91.)»


 Literally translated the name Ashvaghosha means «The Neighing Horse,» and so he is commonly portrayed in connection with a horse. The accompanying picture is reproduced from a Chinese frontispiece of Ashvaghosha’s Awakening of Faith after a reproduction made by the Rev. Dr. Timothy Richard. Here the sage is shown as floating in the clouds, and his emblem is placed beneath.

How commonly music must have been a pastime or perhaps even a means of private edification among the Buddhist priests of ancient India during the first millennium of the Christian era, appears from the wall paintings on the caves of Ajanta, where we see monks with guitars and other musical instruments; and the thought that there could be anything wrong in music seems to be altogether missing.

In China and Japan music is Freely used in religious worship among the Buddhists, the Shintoists and the Taoists, but of course Chinese and Japanese music is not always musical to western ears. In our opinion it is only a question of time when western music and western singing will be introduced in the religious institutions of the Flowery Country. The first steps in this direction, consisting in the establishment of schools of music after Italian and German patterns, have been taken and some national songs have already been composed by native composers.

I learn from the Rt. Rev. Dr. Mazziniananda Svami, the Lord Abbot of the Buddhist Church of Sacramento, California, a man of cosmopolitan attainments who received his early education at Llhassa at the feet of the late Dalai Lama, that music has been used in Tibet since ancient times in the Buddhist High Mass and its intonation greatly resembles the Gregorian chant. The same authority insists that those who would not allow music in Buddhist worship «do not manifest the spirit of Our Lord Buddha,» adding, «Without inspiring music and words I should not have made so many converts.» With regard to the proposed publication of this collection, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Mazziniananda says:

«I am greatly rejoiced you have completed a hymn-book for Buddhist worship, for as you say music is a great help in edification. True, Oriental nations are not musical in the western sense of the term, but for the life of me I cannot understand why they should not take kindly to your suggestion as to accepting the hymns, but we must overlook their weakness. Some probably have the idea that it savors too much of the Christian form of worship, but I do not see it in that light. Buddha taught when you are in Rome do as the Romans do, etc. I myself make a little noise on the piano and organ, and when we have no one in the congregation who will play I make the attempt and the congregation always sings right heartily; so a little music goes a long way in this country to sweeping the cobwebs off the windows of the soul and thus let in the sunshine of love. If people see sensuality in music, it must be the reflection of their own mentalities and in my opinion indicates those living internally on the lower plane.

«In the writer’s opinion the classical music of Europe is pervaded by the deep religious spirit which may very well be regarded as Buddhistic. This is true of all the several compositions of Beethoven; and Chopin’s Nocturne, Opus 37, No. 2, could not be better described than as a longing for Nirvana. The restlessness of life is assuaged by that peace of soul which passeth all understanding. It is the irritation of Samsara resolved in the calm of Nirvana.

*      *      *

Whether or not the chanting in Greece and Italy was derived from India is a question that can no longer be definitely settled. for we must assume that chanting was practised in a prehistoric age and is therefore common to almost all the races of the earth. The Indians of America chant their religious songs, and so do the natives of Oceania as well as in the interior of Asia. Babylonian, Hebrew, Egyptian, and even Greek musicians seem to represent simply a higher development of this prehistoric mode of chanting.

The Christian church has inherited music from its pagan predecessors and is indebted to them even for the words of the litany. This is proved by a passage of the philosopher Epictetus who warns his readers not to trust in the art of the soothsayer and call on God by chanting the Kyrie eleison (3)  which presupposes that it was then customary to use the very words of the best known Christian liturgic song in the ritual of pagan ceremonies. 

It is well conceded now that ancient thinkers such as Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and others are in their inmost philosophy much more Christian than the Christians of their age would recognize. In fact, the Christianity of these pagan thinkers is almost nearer to the Christianity of modern times than was the Christianity of their contemporaries. Those who believe that these pagans had acquired their thoughts from Christians assume that the Kyrie eleison mentioned by Epictetus presupposes his acquaintance with the Christian liturgy, but the context indicates that this chant was common among pagan soothsayers, and he condemns it on that account. Obviously there is much in religious as well as musical development concerning which we can merely conjecture and have no definite information.

The first step in regulating music artistically in the church service of Christianity was taken by St. Ambrose (340-397) and a still higher development was reached by Pope Gregory I (540-604), who arranged the Gregorian chants. The former approximately corresponds to Ashvaghosha who like the Christian saint was a leader, a reformer and also a musical composer.

The song-book of the Buddhists was the Dhammapada, which title may be appropriately translated by Hymns of the Faith. (4) Dhamma means «truth,» especially «religious truth,» «doctrine,» «faith,» and pada means «line,» «stanza,» «hymn,» «poetry.»

In order to enter into the real spirit of the ancient religious poetry of Buddhism, we ought to reduce it to the same form of song into which religious sentiments have developed among us, and this the author has attempted to do by casting the most characteristic verses of the Dhammapada and other famous Buddhist stanzas into modern form and setting some of them to music.

The melodies of several of these songs have been composed by the author. Others are German chorals or ancient folk-songs; some of them modified to suit the present purpose. 

Some stanzas call for special explanations. The Buddha’s Hymn of Victory was uttered under the Bodhi tree and declares that the clinging to the ego has been recognized as the builder of individuality, but now since the builder is seen, the superpersonal state of Buddhahood has been reached. In the same sense Ashvajit’s summary called «The Essence of the Doctrine» is to be interpreted. Clinging is the cause of all passion, and when clinging ceases, peace is attained.(5) This same stanza has been inscribed upon Buddha statues and chiseled into rocks so as to be in evidence almost everywhere. The words had a greater significance in ancient times than they can have to the present generation, at any rate the finer shade of appreciation has become lost. But we are told that in Buddha’s days the recital of these lines as containing «the essence of the doctrine» converted the greatest thinker among Buddha’s disciples, Maudgalyayana (in Pali Moggallana), at once.(6)

The doctrine of the «three characteristics» is based upon the consideration that all compounds, all component things, all conformations (in Pali called sankharas) must finally be dissolved again. It lies in the nature of being that nothing which consists of parts is permanent. Therefore all bodily existences are transit. (7)

In a contest between two kings for greater nobility of principle in ethical conduct, King Mallika is praised thus:

«The strong he overthrows by strength,
The mild he treats with mildness,
By goodness he subdues the good,
The wicked, though, by wickedness.»

A higher ethics is attributed to the King of Benares whose maxim is as follows:

«The angry he conquers by calmness,
And by goodness the wicked;
The stingy conquers he by generosity,
And by truth, the speaker of lies.»

For the poems expressing moral maxims, there is no need of further comment; they speak for themselves. The Bridal Chorus utilizes Wagner’s music for a conception of wedlock which reflects the Buddhist conception of Karma.


(1) Translated from the Chinese by Teitaro Suzuki in his Acvaghosha’s Discourse on the Awakening of the Faith in the Mahayana, pp. 35-36.
(2) This should read, «impermanence, misery and emptiness of life,» for it obviously translates the words «aniccadukkhaanatta
(3) τρέμοντες τό όρνιδάριον κρατονμεν καί τόν θεόν έπικαλονμενοι δεόμεδα αύτού «ΚΥΡΙΕ’ ΕΑΕΗΟΝ! έπίτρεψόν μοι έξελδείν.» ― Book II, 7, 12.
(4) Under this title Albert J. Edmunds has published a most convenient literal translatlon of the complete Dhammapada.
(5) For further explanations the reader is referred to the author’s pamphlet Dhorma, and also to his book Buddhism and Its Christian Critics. For a literal translation of «The Buddha’s Hymn of Victory» and a collection of poetical versions see The Open Court, Vol. XIX. pp. 46-48.
(6) The original Pali text of Ashvajit’s stanza suits the music as well as does the English translation.
(7) See The Dharma (5th ed., 1907), p. 42.