There are references to the First Council at Rajagriha (477 B.C.) and the Second Council of Vaisali (377 B.C). Evidently the Buddhist Canon as it has come down to us was closed after the Second Council and before the Third Council. As the Second Council was convened only to consider the ten deviations from the strict discipline of the earliest times for which “Vinaya Pitaka” had no provision, the bulk of the “Vinaya Pitaka” should have been completed before the Second Council at Vaisali.
The verses of the Dhammapada were believed from very early times, that is from the period of the First Council, which settled the Canon, to have been utterance of the Buddha himself. The Chinese attribute the work to Arya Dharmatrata, though it is difficult to find out his date. Max Muller thinks that the writings commented on by Buddhaghosa date from the first century B.C., when Vattagamani ordered the Sacred Canon to be reduced to writing.
The verses are generally connected with incidents in the life of the Buddha and illustrate the method of teaching adopted by him. In the Pali commentary attributed to Buddhaghosa the meaning of the verses is explained by references to parables believed to have been used by the Buddha, not only a wise teacher but a compassionate friend of his fellow men, in preaching to the multitudes that came to hear him.
The commentary on the “Dhammapada” called “Dhammapada Atthakatha” is ascribed to Buddhaghosa, as is evident from the colophon. Buddhaghosa was a learned Brahmin, who was converted to Buddhism and flourished about A.D. 400. He wrote commentaries on each of the four great collections or Nikayas. His greatest work is the “Visuddhimagga”. His is the greatest name in the history of Pali Buddhist scholasticism, and naturally the authorship of the commentary on the “Dhammapada” was also attributed to him.
But as the language and the style of this commentary differ much from those of his well-known works, “Visuddhimagga”, the commentaries on the Vinaya”, and the four greater “Nikayas”, Buddhaghosa’s authorship is not generally accepted.