According to Wikipedia, Dhammapada is the most famous book of the Tipitakas. It is also the book that has been translated into English and other languages more times than any other book in Buddhist literature. According to Ven. K Sri Dhammananda (1988), the founder of Sudharma Buddhist Institute, Dhammapada (literally meaning The Words of Truth or The Path of Noble Truth) consists of 423 verses in Pali uttered by the Buddha on some 305 occasions for the benefit of a wide range of human beings.
These sayings were selected and compiled into one book as being worthy of special note on account of their beauty and relevance for molding the lives of future generations of Buddhists. It is also surprising that according to Britannica Encyclopedia, Dhammapada is accepted both in Theravada Buddhism and in Mahayana Buddhism although there is a difference in the number of verses in the two versions. However, according to Encarta Encyclopedia, the most translated version is that of Theravada.
The history of Dhammapada is also not so different in both branches of Buddhism. The Lord Buddha historically had to go round the northern India and Nepal preaching his Dhamma, meeting many people. According to the prescribed text book (Module no. A -Ya 2004) of the second year university students specializing Oriental Studies in Myanmar ), the Lord Buddha preached his Dhamma ( guides and sermons for the cessation of all the sufferings) both in the form of speech called “cunniya” and occasionally in poetically versed form called “gatha”.
According to Ohn Myint , Daw (2004), the verses uttered by the Lord Buddha had been compiled by 500 Buddhist Senior Arahants in Rajaghyo, India, in the First Dhamma Council (Pathama Sangayana) in 483 BC. Venerable Buddhagosa, the most famous commentary author in Theravada Buddhism, wrote the commentary of Dhammapada named Dhammapada Atthakatha in Sri Lanka. In his commentary book, Ven. Buddha Gosa, studying thoroughly from the elderly monks and old canons, noted the historical backgrounds of the verses in Pali Language.
In this book, he told the story of each verses including whom theses verses were uttered by Buddha for, where, how, when and why these verses were uttered by Lord Buddha and so on. According to Subhodha Lankara, a famous Buddhist Literary Guide throughout the history of Buddhism, the verses in Dhammapada and Buddhist Literature are composed and uttered by systematic rules of rhythm, rhyme and meter.
Moreover, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1997) writes as follows: “As the Buddha himself is quoted as saying, ‘Meter is the structural framework of verses. According to Goinka S. N, the founder of Vissapana Research Institute in India, verses in Dhammapada were just orally handed down at first before the fourth Dhamma Council held in Tambapai [Sri Lanka] in 29 B. C in which all of the Buddhist Scriptures were recorded on written forms on palm leaves. According to the Commentary of Dhammapada by Ven Buddhagosa, these verses are intentionally uttered in accordance with the listeners’ background knowledge, their social backgrounds, and the situations in order to enlighten their mind.
As soon as the Lord uttered the verses, Ananda, the chosen attendant and constant companion of the Buddha during the last twenty-five years of his life. memorized it and handed down again to the other monks and people. According to Mahaparinibana Sutta in the first book of Suttanna Pitaka named Mahavagga, after the Lord passed into the nirvana ( His death), the senior Buddhist monks met together and held the First Buddhist Council in order to preserve the holy teachings of the Lord Buddha. In the council, all of the Buddha’s teachings were divided into three parts.
According to Goenka, S,N (1999), the founder of Vipassana Research Institute in India , the first part is known as the Vinaya Pitaka and it contains all the rules which Buddha laid down for monks and nuns.. The second part is called the Suttanna Pitaka and it contains the Discourses. The third part is known as the Abhidhamma Pitaka and comprises the psycho-ethical teachings of the Buddha. The first pitaka is Suttanna pitaka and it is divided into five parts according to the length and form of the discourses.
The poetical verses that the Lord uttered were compiled into a book named Dhammapada. Dhammapada is included in the first part of Suttanna Pitaka named Khuddhakanikaya ( Short Discourses). According to Daw Ohn Myint, Professor of the Department of Oriental Studies, Yangon University of Distance Education ( 2004), throughout the history of Buddhism, Dhammapada has been studied and memorized by Buddhist monks. Even nowadays in Sri Lanka, the novices who want to be transformed into monkhood have to memorize all the verses in Dhammapada as a compulsory skill.