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A Majestic Gift Beautifully Translated
on February 9, 2004
The Dhammapada (in Pali/the Lankan scriptural language as derived from the original Pankrit), or the Dharmapada (in Sanskrit), the Pali being the original, in this case, is a pocket-size selection of the "essence" of Gotama Buddha's thought (the dhamma, or dharma) culled from the massive Tripitaka, the comprehensive collection of all of the Buddha's recorded discourses. The selection was made by the Sangha (the Buddhist community (in those days monks and nuns) somtime between 200 to 700 years after the death of Gotama Buddha in the fifth century B.C. The succintness, gravity, and beauty of these verses has more than stood the test of time.
The Dhammapada is, in my opinion (I first heard the dhamma formally in this lifetime in 1970), the best introduction to the buddha/dhamma: a bedside book, a wake-up book, a wonderful and lifelong friend.
This translation was among the first in a European language. Muller was an enormous figure in religious studies, who in the late nineteeth century conceived, edited, and contributed to the encyclopediac fifty tome collection of translations of Sacred Texts of the East of which this work is one volume. The original companion texts seemed to have been deleted for this paperbound edition. In any case, Muller's notes have been included and are useful, though at times, obscure.
The translation is strictly nineteeth century prose, and exhibits both pros and cons of the genre. At times the translation may not suit our criteria for either accuracy or aesthetic refinement. However, as Gracian has said, to be first is to be great, and Max M was most definitely, along with Szekeley the elder . . . first.
Which ever translation of the Dhammapada you choose, please do chose one. The work is exqisite and explains the dhamma (if possible) better than any book I know (Shobogenzo 2nd at this moment). Although I still have my Muller, I myself prefer the diminuitive translation with commentaries by The Mother (not Anadamayi, but the French sanyassin who hung out with Sri Aurobindo in the the mid twentieth century. The commentaries in this tiny book are brief talks she gave in the late fifties and always appropriate. The book can be procured through Auroville, Aurobindo's ashram, or perhaps on Amazon). However, the Muller is quite sufficient and inspiring.