A classic of world religion and philosophy translated by an expert
with a gift for language.
The Dhammapada, which literally means "foot," "tool,"
,"saying," or "path" (Pali: pada) of "experience"
(Pali: dhamma), is a small collection of sayings about the Middle
Way, the Path of Awakening which leads to Nirvana and which is embodied
by the Buddha, and also about its opposite, the path of unskillful
living which leads to a hellish life and which is embodied by the
traditional Indian figure of Mara.
Each of us must choose which of these two paths to follow. We cannot
avoid choosing: even if we do not choose, we will become subject
to forces outside ourselves (media, advertisement, family, friends,
enemies, lovers), and so will have chosen the path of unskillful
living by default. Only by consciously choosing the Path of Awakening,
and by training our minds so that everything we do is free of unhealthy
desire, aversion, and delusion, can we be truly enlightened and
The Dhammapada gives voice to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism:
that suffering exists, that there is a cause to suffering, that
suffering has an end, and that there is a means to this end, namely
the Noble Eightfold Path. But the Dhammapada focuses mostly on the
Noble Eightfold Path, and specifically on the choices we face, at
many junctures in our lives, between two starkly contrasting possibilities.
It is a message of hope that if we choose wisely, and if we choose
now rather than later, we shall find relief for both our own suffering
and the suffering of others.
Thus the Dhammapada is similar to other great works of life philosophy,
such as Epictetus' Enchiridion. Both focus on the fact that we must
choose between two radically different kinds of lives. Both advocate
a life of virtue and spiritual practice in order to make progress
in life. Both regard training oneself to be mindfully aware of everything
one does, and mindfully present at all times, as means for acquiring
and exercising virtue, enlightenment and happiness.
Gil Fronsdal, the translator of this perennial classic, holds a
PhD in Buddhist Studies from Stanford, where he studied the early
Bodhisattva ideal in India as the research topic for his dissertation.
He is also an ordained Soto Zen priest. And he is a Vipassana student
of Jack Kornfield. He has lived as a monastic in Japan and Southeast
Asia. He is the main teacher at the Insight Meditation Center (IMC)
in Redwood City, California. The website for IMC has all of Gil's
dharma talks, plus those of many guest speakers, as well as some
written transcriptions, available for free download at insightmeditationcenter.org.
He is a gifted and compassionate speaker with some serious insight
into the psychology of Buddhism.
This translation, rendered from the Pali version of the Dhammapada,
is quite beautiful, and is excellent for memorizing special verses
(e.g. the first line, "All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind, Made by mind..."). Highly recommended for anyone
with an interest in Buddhism, life philosophy, or insight meditation.
My only criticism is that perhaps Gil should also have offered his
own commentary in addition to the helpful annotations he gives at
the end of the book. He is such an insightful speaker on the Dharma
that it is a shame to waste any opportunity to have him share his
insight with others!