The Dhammapada: Verses on the Way Hardcover – Sep 7 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
"Organized in a way that is meant to encourage a fresh encounter with the Dhammapada," according to its introduction, this guide jumps right in with Walliss careful translation of the 2,400-year-old Buddhist text. Wallis, an assistant professor of religion at the University of Georgia, wants readers to pore over the classic itself before using the notes in the back of the book on the second, third or even fourth reading. ("Learning is slow; careful reading is tedious; understanding is elusive," he cautions.) After this initial getting-to-know-you phase, readers can progress to the books second half, which has an extended guide to the text as a whole and a detailed commentary on selected verses (which are marked by an asterisk in the translation). Wallis discusses the oral nature of the original work, which would have been memorized and recited by monks, nuns and laypersons. He argues that rather than being seen as a random collection of verses, the Dhammapada has an overriding structure and a coherent theme, emphasizing the need for spiritual diligence and effort. According to the text, readers should seek the meaning of these verses as a skilled gardener would gather flowers. Walliss dexterous translation and commentary should help them in their task, though at times his writing is a bit technical.
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About the Author
GLENN WALLIS has a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard. He is assistant professor of religion at the University of Georgia and the author of Mediating the Power of Buddhas and numerous articles.See all Product Description
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An example of the value of the commentary is Wallis's discussion of his translation of the term "nirvana." It has traditionally been translated as "extinguishing," as in blowing out a candle, meaning to extinguish desire (the root of suffering). But Wallis follows an alternative translation -- "unbinding." He argues that according to the physics of 2500 B.P. India, a flame was considered to be bound to its source, and liberated when it was unbound from it.
There are many translations and editions of THE DHAMMAPADA available today, but this new one is highly recommended. The Modern Library hardcover edition is well-designed for many years of use.
How shall we live our lives and walk the way in goodness? These 423 verses with Wallis' lucid commentary following are a good guide.
"A seeker will master this earth,
this world of death and radiant beings.
A seeker will gather a well-taught verse on the way,
as a skilled gardener gathers a flower."
--from chapter 4, Flowers
This book teaches us to: Commit not a single unwholesome action and cultivate a wealth of virtue. "So why not read the Dhammapada repeatedly, taking to heart its claim to be a revealer of treasures?" (from "A Note on the Translation")
Wallis' version with its delicate sense of language and fine mastery of the Buddha's teachings is an excellent version to take to heart.
--Janet Grace Riehl, author Sightlines: A Poet's Diary
Wallis, as in a companion volume of earlier Pali texts comprising "Basic Teachings of the Buddha" (2007; see my review), nudges the reader to become an agent for change, to engage with these mnemonic prescriptions so as to find renewal and to develop skillful means of making their inspirations into perspiration, to transform an inert text--however lovely on the page and in his version-- into real energy. He applies reader-response theory deftly to carry out his editorial mission, and this enlivens his book's utility. His sharp notes guide one to become an agent for change, by understanding verses relating to suttas, the teaching-narratives gathered by the Buddha's followers.
These form, in the Dhammapada, thematic chapters arranged around metaphors or repetitive patterns. While "Basic Teachings" in its repeated, sonorous, prose sometimes felt--no fault of its own by its orally based origins--at odds with our more terse modern Western manner of inculcation--the repeating phrases of these briefer verses do not jar as much with our sensibilities. As in lyrics, their flow sounds easier upon the ear than the eye, often. Wallis comments how an "ethical polarity" arises, between optimal and destructive choices. Meanings hover within between quatrains, usually, so the tension between doing the right thing or the wrong suspends between one verse and the next. This draws the reader along, and the translation's efficient pace and graceful delivery underlies insistence.
I reviewed Valerie J. Roebuck's 2010 Penguin translation, appearing after Wallis' 2004 edition. She does not cite Wallis, as far as I can tell, but these two accessible editions compliment each other. Wallis prefers the suttas preceding the preparation of the Dhammapada for his overviews and notes. Roebuck's equally extensive appendices paraphrase each verse's "story" and offer glosses of key terms. Comparing two verses at random, you can judge both translators' choices in straightforward tones. Roebuck, a fellow practitioner-scholar, leans in my hearing towards a more terse, didactic, austere manner, perhaps reflecting her English training, vs. Wallis' confident, American delivery.
#6 Roebuck: Others do not understand/ That we must control ourselves here:/ But for those who do not understand this--/ Through it, their quarrels cease.
Wallis: Some do not understand/ That we are perishing here./ Those who understand this/ bring to rest their quarrels.
#85 Roebuck: Few among humans are those folk/ Who cross to the other shore:/ These other people/ Just run along the bank.
Wallis: Few are those among the people/ who cross to the other shore./ The rest of humanity just runs about/ on the bank right here in front of us.
The choice remains; perhaps both editions will enable you to leave "childish" things behind, as Wallis renders what Roebuck does those clutched by "fools," and to mature by putting these verses to use.