Friday, September 05, 2008


The Dhammapada is a book of saying from the Pali Cannon. The Pali Cannon is what the monks could remember of what they memorized from what the Buddha said, written down hundreds of years later.

The Dhammapada was the first book from the Pali Cannon that I was introduced to. It makes excellent reading for a father at the park with his children, because I can read a few sentences, walk away and return. Of course more concentrated reading of it is advised, but of all the Pali Cannon, I find it the best for going to the park. I took a picture of my copy against the playground.

There are over 50 translations listed on the Wikipedia entry about the Dhammapada, but they don't list the free one by Sangharakshita that can be gotten here. It is a PDF file.

My reading style, because I'm a parent and character style, isn't as concentrated. When Sangharakshita wrote A Survey of Buddhism, his famous magnum opus, he talked about looking at the breadth and depth of Buddhism. I'm afraid I'm not as deep and insightful, but I am more able to follow the breadth of study. I like to read a lot. I am working to read more deeply and closely, to linger and not be so fickle in my reading. But reading (potentially, possibly) the words of the Buddha (in translation) is for me a way of keeping my eye on the Dharma. I am a worldling, and worldings forget, they get wrapped up in the world, forget the dharma. The Dhammapada addresses the motivation and concentration one needs to keep the continuity of purpose to work towards closing the distance between the Buddha and me, which is my goal.

As I finish off the book today, I know it will come back in my rotation soon, because it's pithy sayings fit nicely into my spending time at the park with my kids. I hope I can linger more, work to grok the sayings. Some feel more true than others, some energize me more. So I'll use those, but I'll also strive to glean more out of the ones I don't really cotton to, yet. There are 423 sayings in Sangharakshita's translation to choose from. It's been said if you really understand even just one of these sayings, you can become enlightened. So I shall strive for greater depth.

This is also in line with the idea that I probably have been exposed to enough Dharma to be enlightened, I just need to really understand it. "More and more of less and less," is one of the mottoes of the FWBO. We live in an age of probably over 60 English translations of the Dhammapada. I only need one.

Having said that, study is an important part of my practice. Not so much what I learn, but in the deepening of my understanding of the way things really are.
The process of grappling with what past and present masters have written is a way of keeping my head in the game, as they say. I like it that the FWBO is ecumenical, meaning inclusive and nondenominational. I can read all the Buddhist literature, and don't define a small subset as the true Dharma.

And yet I do like to go back to the Pali Cannon. And I do go back to Sangharakshita's teachings as a touchstone. I choose his translation over others. I have not had much time to explore other movements, as much as I am interested in reading leaders books. I have spent my Buddhist life inside the FWBO, and while it's not perfect, I had a feeling the other day that I have such strong, long and deep connections with friends in the FWBO, that I'm not really looking for another sangha.

Vessantara and Kamalashila have talks on Free Buddhist Audio about the dangers and virtues of exploring other teachers and sanghas. Kamalashila suggests investing 10 years at least in one sangha in his talk. Vessantara has always consulted with Sangharakshita, and been given permission to explore other teachers, he reports in this talk.

I think feeling the tension of opposite ideas is a key that you're onto something. Depth vs. breadth, fidelity vs. promiscuity, engagement vs. withdrawal, self vs. others. Sangharakshita warns against premature synthesis.

I hope to highlight verses from the Dhammapada that I liked, in the future, but I wanted to write a general bit first about the Dhammapada.

1 comment:

Jayarava said...

Hi Stephen

I've blogged my own translation and commentary on the first few verses of the Dhammapada if you are interested. Might do more but not sure when.