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The Dhammapada (Easwaran's Classics of Indian Spirituality Book 3) Paperback – April 13, 2007
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Easwaran’s best-selling translation of this classic Buddhist text The Dhammapada is reliable, readable, and profound.
Dhammapada means "the path of dharma," the path of harmony and righteousness that anyone can follow to reach the highest good. The Dhammapada is a collection of verses, gathered probably from direct disciples who wanted to preserve what they had heard from the Buddha himself.
Easwaran's comprehensive introduction to the Dhammapada gives an overview of the Buddha's teachings that is penetrating, and clear - accessible for readers new to Buddhism, but also with fresh insights and practical applications for readers familiar with this text. His translation is based on the original Pali. Chapter introductions, notes and a Sanskrit glossary place individual verses into the context of the broader Buddhist canon.
Easwaran is a master storyteller, and the introduction includes many stories that make moving, memorable reading, bringing young Siddhartha and his heroic spiritual quest vividly to life. This faithful interpretation brings us closer to the compassionate heart of the Buddha.
From the Back Cover
- Publisher : Nilgiri Press; 2nd edition (April 13, 2007)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 280 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1586380206
- ISBN-13 : 978-1586380205
- Item Weight : 11.5 ounces
- Dimensions : 5 x 0.74 x 8.13 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #27,316 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on April 26, 2022
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Easwaran starts with some background history of India before the Buddha's arrival on the scene. What he broaches here is pretty rudimentary, but his many references to Jesus and then Einstein started to make me uncomfortable. Why? Well, it is a popular, New-Agey sort of thing to try to wrap up every great person in the same bag-never mind their disparate fields and backgrounds-as if they're all in cahoots with each other, teaching the same thing. Whether or not one believes this is actually the case is beside the point. Dragging a twentieth century physicist and Biblical figures into a discussion of the Dhammapada does nothing to illuminate the text. It would have been far more informative, for example, if the Dhammapada's place in Buddhist literature, history and culture had been elaborated upon. But even this much is never done.
More worrisome than Jesus and Einstein, though, was Easwaran's insistence on using Sanskrit terminology in his discussion of the Buddha's teaching. Given that the Dhammpada is originally in Pali, I saw no reason that the Pali terminology could not have been used. To me it bespoke an ideological bias or, even worse, a subtle, perhaps unconscious, condescension.
As I continued reading my alarm grew, for the number of factual inaccuracies began mounting up. Following is a partial list:
1. The statement (on page 26) that the Buddha "stands squarely in the tradition of the Upanishads" is very misleading. In fact, we are not certain which if any of the Upanishadic teachings he had direct contact with. That some of the Upanishads had come into form prior to his time is certain; that some evolved after him is also certain. Whatever the truth of it, there is no doubt the Buddha's philosophical stance is at odds with that of the Upanishads and this, as much as anything else, is what has delimited Buddhism from what later became Hinduism.
2. Concerning the Buddha, Easwaran writes (on p. 27): "Meditation...he offers to teach to all...as a way to happiness, health, and fulfillment in selfless service." Um...no. The Buddha constantly enjoined his disciples to seek out solitude, to shun attachments and burdensome affiliations in the pursuit of mental culture through meditation. He most certainly was not a social activist. This is Easwaran's Gandhi-esque influence coming through.
3. "...he is loved today...by perhaps one quarter of the earth's people" (p. 27). If only this were true! Latest estimates place Buddhists in the range of 350 million to a wildly optimistic one billion worldwide. No matter where in that range you plant your flag, Easwaran's estimate is a pipe dream.
4. On page 62, when the Buddha is nearing death, Easwaran sticks the following words into his mouth: "But, Ananda, you must know that I will never leave you. How can I go anywhere? This body is not me. Unlimited by the body, unlimited by the mind, a Buddha is infinte and measurless, like the vast ocean or canopy of sky..." If I wore dentures, I'm sure they would have fallen out at this point. For in fact the Buddha said something very nearly the opposite. In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, the source text for the scene, he says "Ananda, have I not told you before: All those things that are dear and pleasant to us must suffer change, separation and alteration? So how could this be possible? Whatever is born, become, compounded, is liable to decay-that it should not decay is impossible." T. S. Eliot's words in "Burnt Norton" seem especially applicable to Easwaran: "Human kind cannot bear very much reality." From this point on I knew I was dealing with a translator who had a very definite-and very un-Buddhist-agenda.
5. "The Buddha's dry description of the four dhyanas hides the fact that traversing them is a nearly impossible achievement" (p. 67). Not true! Though certainly difficult, the jhanas (dhyanas) are not beyond the attainment of the average person, given sufficient application, good health, and supporting circumstances. Easwaran's statement is nothing but sensationalistic.
6. His discussion of the first four meditative absorptions (jhanas) (pp.67 ff) is way off, both textually and in terms of how these states are actually experienced. Most egregiously, on page 74, he seems to equate the experience of third jhana with bodhi, i.e. enlightenment, which it most certainly is not. The Buddha time and again made clear the jhanas are conditioned states and that their attainment is not particular to his path. Easwaran drives off a cliff when, still in the context of the third jhana, he evokes the Yogacarin "storehouse consciousness" (alayavijnyana) and Jung's "collective unconscious"-all on the same page! By this point in my reading I knew I was dealing with an incompetent.
7. It gets worse. His discussion of karma (p. 76) is incoherent. He equates the third jhana with mystical "oneness" (p. 77), and on page 78 says of fourth jhana "this is nirvana" (OMG!). He invokes Mahayanist doctrines of intrinsic purity and true nature (pp. 79, 96 et al) and says (p. 80) that the Buddha "loved the world as a mother loves her only child." (Apparently he had not read the suttas.) He repeats (p. 95) nonsense from the Milinda Panha concerning what is reborn ("neither the same nor another") and alleges that "Pali is a vernacular descendant of Sanskrit" (p. 100). This is patently false. Here is Bhikkhu Bodhi on the nature of Pali's origins: "Scholars regard this language as a hybrid showing features of several Prakrit dialects used around the third century BCE, subjected to a partial process of Sanskritization. While the language is not identical with any the Buddha himself would have spoken, it belongs to the same broad linguistic family as those he might have used and originates from the same conceptual matrix" (Bhikkhu Bodhi, In the Buddha's Words. Wisdom Publications, 2005, page 10).
I think you get the picture. And this is just the introduction! In short, Easwaran has authored a cataclysm of errors and sentimentality.
A word on Ruppenthal's contribution: he, too, gives birth to numerous doozies of distortion. For example: p. 121 muddles a discussion of nirvana; his understanding (p. 130) of the anagami is totally wrong; the Buddha is alleged to have been Hindu (p. 138); chapter twelve on self wallows in ambiguity; I could go on and on. In short, Ruppenthal's commentary, like Easwaran's introduction, is a toss. If you know your stuff and read it, you'll either laugh or cry. If you don't know your stuff, you'll just be misled and come away with all sorts of deluded misunderstandings about what the Buddha really taught.
I've already written far more than I usually would for a book review and I haven't even gotten to the translation proper. Fortunately other reviewers here on Amazon have already covered this aspect adequately well-see, e.g., Shigeki J. Sugiyama's review (also under 2-star reviews). Basically, if you compare Easwaran's translation to those of others you will see he is amazingly free in his interpretations, to the point where fidelity of meaning is suffering like an old man with a case of the ague. At points it hardly qualifies as translation. And this is not surprising, for nowhere in the book does Esawaran actually talk about translation per se-what his standards were, his intentions, how reliant he was on the commentaries, which commentaries, etc. In other words, this version of the Dhammapada is really the Dhammapada according to Easwaran. It is not the Buddha's; it is hardly Buddhist. The only thing good I can say about it is that thanks to Easwaran's natural literary talents the text is highly readable, even poetic. Kudos to him on language and expression.
This work is an excellent introduction to Buddhist philosophy. While there are certainly differences with the Catholic tradition regarding issues of metaphysics and cosmology, the majority of Buddha's ideas--namely, learning self control and moderation of desire (see especially Easwaran's summary of the story of Sona and the illtuned vina in the introduction). There is definitely a lot of stuff worth reflection on in this book. And while Easwaran makes some strange points here and there (there aren't as many one-to-one comparisons between Buddhism and Christian figures like Teresa de Ávila as he would like--there are true differences), his notes and introductions really add to the understanding of the text.
Definitely worth reading if you are wanting to follow the path of virtue!
However, here I am writing this on the sole purpose of commenting on the introduction of the book by co-author Stephen Ruppenthal, which takes up about 40% of the book. It is by far the most beautifully written short religious biography that I’ve ever read, with the clearest insight into the concept of Dharma and Karma, the 5 skandhas, with plenty of wonderful stories about the Blessed One, and the incredible blue print into the actual steps of reaching Nirvana.
It also notably provides the fascinating illustration of meditation steps (from the first until the fourth dhyanas) that is deeper than the 2 books on meditation that I’ve so far read, which explains a lot why the sadhus in India can meditate days at a time. Certainly neuroscientists or experts like Steven Kotler could be very intrigued with this “Eastern phenomenon” that has yet been codified in Western science, and the introduction of this book matches their level of expertise.
In fact, in the introduction Ruppenthal draws parallel between the teachings of the Buddha to modern science, in which he commented “[m]uch in the Buddha’s universe, in fact, can be understood as a generalization of physical laws to a larger sphere.” He then proceeded to highlight several similarities between Buddhism and Quantum Mechanics, Einstein’s several theories, and so on.
Indeed, the introduction section alone is worthy of a stand-alone book, but Ruppenthal did not stop there. Right before each 26 chapters of the Dhammapada he provides another clarifying context that will make the actual holy texts - beautifully translated by Eknath Easwaran - crystal clear. It is inline with the one sentence from Ruppenthal’s chapter 19 introduction, which summarizes best what his body of work do for this version of the book: “A person who understands the reason behind a law is more likely to obey it intelligently than someone who is simply ordered to obey.”
And thus, as a result, the many wonderful lessons and laws in the Dhammapada sticks.
By Kindle Customer on April 25, 2022
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Well, not only do you get the Dhammapada, you get great commentary upon the text from a reliable source in Eastern spiritual texts.
For those who are interested, the Dhammapada is a book intended for laypeople (anyone not a monk or serious practitioner) to convey the wisdom of the Dharma. In it, Buddha weaves metaphor to shine the light on the truth of suffering, the reason for suffering and the eightfold path which leads to the cessation of suffering.
There are many great quotes in this book. I love dipping into it every so often. When I do, I see new layers in the text.
Pick up a copy and you won't be disappointed.