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The Dhammapada: Verses on the Way [Hardcover]

Buddha , Glenn Wallis
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Sept. 7 2004 Modern Library
Trembling and quivering is the mind,
Difficult to guard and hard to restrain.
The person of wisdom sets it straight,
As a fletcher does an arrow.

The Dhammapada introduced the actual utterances of the Buddha nearly twenty-five hundred years ago, when the master teacher emerged from his long silence to illuminate for his followers the substance of humankind’s deepest and most abiding concerns. The nature of the self, the value of relationships, the importance of moment-to-moment awareness, the destructiveness of anger, the suffering that attends attachment, the ambiguity of the earth’s beauty, the inevitability of aging, the certainty of death–these dilemmas preoccupy us today as they did centuries ago. No other spiritual texts speak about them more clearly and profoundly than does the Dhammapada.

In this elegant new translation, Sanskrit scholar Glenn Wallis has exclusively referred to and quoted from the canonical suttas–the presumed earliest discourses of the Buddha–to bring us the heartwood of Buddhism, words as compelling today as when the Buddha first spoke them. On violence: All tremble before violence./ All fear death./ Having done the same yourself,/ you should neither harm nor kill. On ignorance: An uninstructed person/ ages like an ox,/ his bulk increases,/ his insight does not. On skillfulness: A person is not skilled/ just because he talks a lot./ Peaceful, friendly, secure–/ that one is called “skilled.”

In 423 verses gathered by subject into chapters, the editor offers us a distillation of core Buddhist teachings that constitutes a prescription for enlightened living, even in the twenty-first century. He also includes a brilliantly informative guide to the verses–a chapter-by-chapter explication that greatly enhances our understanding of them. The text, at every turn, points to practical applications that lead to freedom from fear and suffering, toward the human state of spiritual virtuosity known as awakening.

Glenn Wallis’s translation is an inspired successor to earlier versions of the suttas. Even those readers who are well acquainted with the Dhammapada will be enriched by this fresh encounter with a classic text


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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 Wallis’s 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 book’s 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. Wallis’s dexterous translation and commentary should help them in their task, though at times his writing is a bit technical.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars deeply satisfying Nov. 17 2006
Format:Hardcover
I have read several translations of this text over the years. This one by Glenn Wallis is by far the most elegant, direct, and useful. His commentary on the verses shows a deep concern for the reader. Obviously, Wallis' hope is that the reader understand and apply the verses to real life. His language is reassuring and forceful at the same time. The verses themselves are simple yet profound. A wonderful, satisfying book in every way.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great wisdom, fine translation, learned commentary Oct. 22 2005
By Autonomeus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
THE DHAMMAPADA is a core text of the buddha-dharma. It summarizes in verse form the basic teachings of the Buddha, and is used by all traditions (Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana). This is a superb new translation by Glenn Wallis, a Sanskrit scholar. There are some passages (including the opening verse!) which I find to be more felicitously phrased in other translations, but Wallis makes a strong case for his choices in the commentary, and in most cases creates beautiful, flowing verses in modern English.

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.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Gather a well-taught verse on the way" June 6 2006
By Janet Riehl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Just as there are many translations of the Christian Bible with virtues to be gained from studying each one, there are also many translations of this great Buddhist classic, "The Dhammapada" which Glenn Wallis subtitles "Verses on The Way" (The Path).

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
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A profoundly moving series of lessons Sept. 27 2004
By William T. Keith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
After enjoying Bangkok 8 so much, I picked this book up thinking it would provide good background material on Sonchai's character of which his Buddhism is a central tenet. What I found was a profoundly moving series of lessons on the nature of self, the mind, relationships, the world's beauty and other dilemmas that are as relevant today as they were nearly 2,500 years ago when the Budda wrote these "poems." There are shocking moments of clarity, of realization in the short verse lessons. The verses are organized by subject, each chapter with a corresponding guide written by the author of this new translation, Glenn Wallis. It is easy to see why Buddhists worldwide value the Dhammapada (translated by Wallis as "verses on the way") for its vibrant and immediate teachings.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply superb Nov. 11 2007
By Claus Hetting - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If the Lord Buddha himself had ever wished for a modern English translation of his words it would surely be this one. The verses are lucid, deeply moving (at least for a Buddhist as myself), and very nearly luminous. Most importantly, the Buddha's words are in this version easily accessible and profoundly relevant for troubled modern minds. The translators comments and reading guide are also very nearly peerless. First class and a must read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed overview-- and comparison with a 2010 Penguin version Feb. 25 2012
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Diligence repeats; negligence looms. If "anthology" derives from "a gathering of flowers," than this "verse text" of four hundred blooms from the core teachings attributed to the Buddha must be not only taken up by an admiring reader. Its teachings of and about dharma, as "the way" to liberation from delusion, have to be distilled. As skilled compiler and translator Glenn Wallis urges in his appended "Guide to Reading the Text," the imperative phrasing demands that the verses undergo "a delicate alchemical task" by a reader turned practitioner, one who extracts the essence and scent and pith of the flowers, lest they wither and leave the reader but a passive beholder of their petals and nectar.

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.
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