In several answers on this site, judging others as judge or jury is looked upon unfavourably, for both lay people and monks. It is often said that the one who passes a guilty or innocent verdict, would carry some karmic consequences.

However, the following quote from the Dhammapada seems to condone the act of judging others.

Is this the right interpretation of these Dhammapada verses or is there another interpretation?

Maybe it's just a metaphor? If so, a metaphor for what?

On the other hand, if this is the correct interpretation, then could these verses be used to endorse the participation of lay Buddhists as judge or jury?

Dhammapada 256-257 as translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

To pass judgment hurriedly
doesn't mean you're a judge.
The wise one, weighing both
the right judgment & wrong,
judges others impartially —
unhurriedly, in line with the Dhamma,
guarding the Dhamma,
guarded by Dhamma,
he's called a judge.

Dhammapada 256-257 as translated by Acharya Buddharakkhita:

  1. Not by passing arbitrary judgments does a man become just; a wise man is he who investigates both right and wrong.

  2. He who does not judge others arbitrarily, but passes judgment impartially according to the truth, that sagacious man is a guardian of law and is called just.

  • Does householder actually ask's in regard of judgment or in regard of execution on it's accord, for right judging in never wrong and always needed. Maybe that clears up the questions ensnare.
    – user11235
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 5:56

3 Answers 3


Is this the right interpretation of these Dhammapada verses or is there another interpretation?

The 'origin story' associated with that verse is here:

The Story of the Judge

While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verses (256) and (257) of this book with reference to some judges who were corrupt.

One day, some bhikkhus were returning from their round of alms-food when it rained and they went into a law court to take shelter. While they were there, they found out that some judges, having taken bribes, were deciding cases arbitrarily. They reported the matter to the Buddha and the Buddha replied,

"Bhikkhus! In deciding cases, if one is influenced by affection or by monetary consideration, he cannot be called 'the just', or 'a judge who abides by the law.' If one weighs the evidence intelligently and decides a case impartially, then he is to be called, 'the just' or 'a judge who abides by the law.'"

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

Verse 256: He is not just if he decides a case arbitrarily; the wise man should decide after considering both what is right and what is wrong.

Verse 257: The wise man who decides not arbitrarily but in accordance with the law is one who safeguards the law; he is to be called 'one who abides by the law (dhammattho)'.


Householder Ruben, interested,

Don't confuse judging (discrimination) with acting on (execution of) a judgement.

Right judgement is most important, and of course always approved and encouraged. It's different in relation to acting in certain ways on a judgement, or to believing that ones judgement could change things afterwards.

So one who has the duty to judge others' acts should of course not lie, nor judge improperly out of affection or other reasons, taking side. However, it would be improper to approve harmful acts executed on account of one's judgement (even proper judgement), not to mention if harm occurs on account of improper judgement.

In how far one could act properly in certain circumstances, relying on certain societies with their proper or improper means, would be different from case to case.

Again, there is never any real duty if it violates the basic precepts, either lying or physical harming, depriving... by body, signs or thoughts.

And even a monk would be called to judge cases in their society -- yet the execution on those acts have no physical harming as it's consequence, or does it make what's done undone, but it's to support the further practice and headed to reestablishment in the community.

So these two things -- judging, and acting on a judgement -- should be divided, so that it may not be taken wrongly.

(Note that this is not given for stacks, exchange, trade or entertainment, but as means for doing merits toward release.)


If you are in the position of a Judge than you should carry out the duties justly.

Even if you are in the military Buddhism does not say one should not discard ones duties at war.

All professions are needed for the functioning of society.

But is one accepts such profession, one should accept the karmic consiqueses also. If one is to avoid it one must avoid such professions.

If a judge passes a death sentence this carries the consequence. If you already a judge then you have to do what you must do. If you could have avoided such a profession then you would not be in such a situation. Knowing onee might need to pronounce death sentaces if one takes up the profession one will be also opening up the possibility to tracegressing the precepts, which is a promise of constrain of ones conduct.

In the case of monks the case is different. One should try to be according to the Vinaya and liberating oneself not be involved in social affairs.

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