Dhammapada (Easwaran translation)

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The Dhammapada
Introduced & Translated by Eknath Easwaran
AuthorEknath Easwaran
LanguageEnglish; also: German,[1] Korean[2]
Publication date
1986; 2007; others
Pages275 (2007)

The Dhammapada / Introduced & Translated by Eknath Easwaran is an English-language book originally published in 1986. It contains Easwaran's translation of the Dhammapada, a Buddhist scripture traditionally ascribed to the Buddha himself. The book also contains a substantial overall introduction of about 70 pages,[3] as well as introductory notes to each of the Dhammapada's 26 chapters. English-language editions have also been published in the UK and India, and a re-translation of the full book has been published in German[1] and Korean.[2][4] The English editions have been reviewed in scholarly books,[5] magazines,[6][7][8][9][10][11] and websites.[12]

Topics covered[edit]

Both US editions of The Dhammapada contain Easwaran's general introduction, followed by his translations from the original Pali of the Dhammapada's 26 chapters. Selections from Easwaran's chapter titles, which in some cases differ from other translations,[13][14] are shown in the table at below left.

Chapter Titles,
(Easwaran translation)
1. Twin Verses
3. Mind
5. The Immature[13]
6. The Wise
7. The Saint
15. Joy[14]
20. The Path
21. Varied Verses
23. The Elephant
Selected Verses from Dhammapada
(Easwaran translation):[15]
1.1. All that we are is the result of what we have thought: we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfish thoughts cause misery when they speak or act. Sorrows roll over them as the wheels of a cart roll over the tracks of the bullock that draws it. [1]
3.1. As an archer aims an arrow, the wise aim their restless thoughts, hard to aim, hard to restrain. [33]
3.11. More than your mother, more than your father, more than all your family, a well-disciplined mind does greater good. [43]
 20.3. All the effort must be made by you; Buddhas only show the way. Follow this path and practice meditation; go beyond the power of Mara. [276]
 21.1. If one who enjoys a lesser happiness beholds a greater one, let him leave aside the lesser to gain the greater. [290]

The 2007 edition contains a foreword[16] in which Easwaran states that he translated the Dhammapada for "kindred spirits:"[17]:10 "men and women in every age and culture"[17]:10 who "thrill" to the Dhammapada's message that "the wider field of consciousness is our native land.... The world of the senses is just a base camp: we are meant to be as much at home in consciousness as in the world of physical reality."[17]:10

Each US edition's Introduction opens with a claim, mentioned by several reviewers,[7][8][9][18] about the value of the Dhammapada within the corpus of Buddhist literature:

Statue of Buddha, 4th century BCE

"If all of the New Testament had been lost, it has been said, and only the Sermon on the Mount had managed to survive these two thousand years of history, we would still have all that is necessary for following the teachings of Jesus the Christ..... Buddhist scripture is much more voluminous than the Bible, but... if everything else were lost, we would need nothing more than the Dhammapada to follow the way of the Buddha."[17]:p13

The introduction states that the Dhammapada has "none of the stories, parables, and extended instruction that characterizes the main Buddhist scriptures, the sutras."[17]:13 Rather, the Dhammapada is

a collection of vivid, practical verses, gathered probably from direct disciples who wanted to preserve what they had heard from the Buddha himself..... the equivalent of a handbook: a ready reference of the Buddha's teachings, condensed in haunting poetry and arranged by theme - anger, greed, fear, happiness, thought.[17]:13

Each US edition's introduction has the same four major sections:

1. The Buddha's World
(pp. 14–27)
A subsection on "The Legacy"[19] describes the cultural context of Vedic religion, already millennia old, in which the Upanishads endorsed the "practice of spiritual disciplines to realize directly the divine ground of life.... as the human being's highest vocation."[17]:15 Describes concepts such as ritam (cosmic order), dharma, karma, rebirth, and moksha that "form the background of the Buddha's life and became the currency of his message."[17]:23 "The Buddha's Times" describes the world's and India's 6th century BCE cultural ferment - "Into this world, poised between the Vedic past and a new high-water mark of Indian culture, the Buddha was born.... squarely in the tradition of the Upanishads.... Yet [bringing] a genius all his own.... the joy in his message is the joy of knowing that he has found a way for everyone, not just great sages, to put an end to sorrow."[17]:26–27[20][21]
2. Life and Teaching
(pp. 28–63)
"The Wheel of Dharma"[22] describes the Buddha's first sermon on the Four Noble Truths; "The Years of Teaching" has parts covering The Homecoming, The Order of Women, The Middle Path, Malunkyaputra (the Parable of the Arrow), Teaching With an Open Hand,[23] The Handful of Mustard Seed, The Clay Lamp, and The Last Entry into Nirvana.
3. The Stages of Enlightenment
(pp. 64–80)
Describes the Four Dhyanas.[24] States that "scholars sometimes treat passage through the four dhyanas as a peculiarly Buddhist experience, but the Buddha's description tallies not only with Hindu authorities like Patanjali but also with Western mystics like John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Augustine, and Meister Eckhart."[17]:64
4. The Buddha's Universe
(pp. 80–98)
States that the Buddha "in his own words, loved the world as a mother loves her only child. But... behind that immense compassion is the penetrating vision of a scientific mind."[17]:80 Subsections present the Buddha's views on "Personality"[25] as a blend of five skandhas; "The World" as "shaped by our mind, for we become what we think"[17]:86 (verse 1.1); "Karma, Death and Birth," arguing that "placing physical phenomena and mind in the same field... leads to a view of the world that is elegant in its simplicity";[17]:91 and that those who enter Nirvana will "live to give, and their capacity to go on giving is a source of joy so great that it cannot be measured against any sensation the world offers. Without understanding this dimension, the Buddha's universe is an intellectually heady affair."[17]:97

In each edition, short sections by Stephen Ruppenthal introduce individual chapters by providing background and clarifying Indian philosophical concepts.[26] Many Buddhist philosophical terms are rendered in Sanskrit, and about 30 such terms are defined in a glossary.[27] Endnotes provide more detailed clarification of particular verses, and the second edition contains a 5-page index.


Reviews have appeared in Smith and Novak's Buddhism: A Concise Introduction (2003),[5] as well as in the Mountain Path,[6] East West,[7] Life Positive (India),[8] the American Theosophist,[9] Parabola,[10] Voice of Youth Advocates,[11] and websites.[12]

In Buddhism: A Concise Introduction,[28] influential scholar of religion Huston Smith and his coauthor Philip Novak wrote that "Our favorite translation is Eknath Easwaran's The Dhammapada. His Indian heritage, literary gifts, and spiritual sensibilities... here produce a sublime rendering of the words of the Buddha. Verse after verse shimmers with quiet, confident authority;"[5]:222 the introduction is described as "sparkling."[5]:222 Elsewhere, the publishers quote Smith as stating that no one else in "modern times" is as qualified as Easwaran to translate the Dhammapada and other Indian spiritual classics.[29]

In the Mountain Path, P. S. Sundaram wrote that Easwaran

writes of mysticism not from the outside but as one who seems himself to have undergone the experience through profound... meditation. In his introduction he is less a guide post than a guide offering himself as a companion to the reader, and inviting him to take the plunge into the depths of being.[6]:194

Sundaram also stated that in comparison to the Radhakrishnan translation of the Dhammapada, "The present one... by Mr. Easwaran is superior to it in every way, introduction, translation and get-up, except only that it does not have the original [Pali] verses.... we may set Radhakrishnan's [translation] of the very first verse[30]... beside Easwaran's[30].... The difference is the difference between a crib and a piece of literature, which is not the less faithful to the original for being a piece of literature."[6]:194–5

In Life Positive, Suma Varughese wrote that

Easwaran's Dhammapada has a tone which is easy and contemporary. It is at once energetic and clear as well as mellifluous.... [and] has a limpid clarity that homes right in. As a vehicle of Buddhist thought, the Dhammapada's haunting poetry adds beauty and emotion to what can often seem a rigorously intellectual discipline.[8]

In Voice of Youth Advocates, Rakow and Capehart wrote that "The Buddha's direct teachings are poetic and arranged by theme... Introductory explanations to each verse will help young adult readers understand the text."[11]:15

In other reviews, the translation was described as "exceptionally readable"[9]:400 (American Theosophist), or the introduction was described as "clear and lively"[10] (Parabola), or as "inspiring and comprehensive"[7]:76[31] (East West). The review in East West also quoted the introduction's claim that

[The Dhammapada's] verses can be read and appreciated simply as wise philosophy; as such, they are part of the great literature of the world. But for those who would follow it to the end, the Dhammapada is a sure guide to nothing less than the highest goal life can offer: self-realization.[7]:77

In 1989, The Guardian listed the book among the top 5 best-sellers on Buddhism.[32] In 2009, the Journal of Religious History noted that among Dhammapada translations, Easwaran's had been "very popular."[33]:231 It also stated that because Easwaran situated the Dhammapada against the background of the Upanishads, his translation should be seen in the context of Hindu readings.


The book has been published in English, German, and Korean. English-language editions have been published in the US, the UK, and India. In the US, the book has also been issued by its original publisher as part of a series entitled Classics of Indian Spirituality.[34] The stand-alone US editions are:

UK edition:

Indian editions:

German edition:

Korean edition:


  1. ^ a b Easwaran, Eknath (2006). Dhammapada: Buddhas zentrale Lehren. Peter Kobbe (trans). Munich, Germany: Random House / Goldmann. ISBN 978-3-442-21764-9.
  2. ^ a b Easwaran, Eknath (2018). Dhammapada. Kim Byung Chae (trans). Korea: Shree Krishna Das Ashram. ISBN 978-89-91596-57-3.
  3. ^ The introductions in English are 66 pages in the first edition (1986, pp. 7-72) and 86 pages in the second edition (2007, pp. 13-98).
  4. ^ Non-US Editions of Nilgiri Press Books Archived 12 January 2013 at Archive.today, accessed 24 April 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d Smith, Huston; Philip Novak (2003). Buddhism: A concise introduction. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 978-0-06-050696-4. OCLC 51973917. ISBN 0-06-050696-2, OCLC 51973917
  6. ^ a b c d P.S. Sundaram (1990). "Untitled [review of the Dhammapada, translated by Eknath Easwaran]". Mountain Path. 27 (3 & 4): 194–195. ISSN 0027-2574. OCLC 1774529. Archived from the original on 27 April 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d e Anonymous (1986). "Untitled [review of the Dhammapada, translated by Eknath Easwaran]". East West (August): 76–77. ISSN 0745-0494. OCLC 8767394.
  8. ^ a b c d Suma Varughese (1997). "Basket of Buddhist wisdom [review of old path white clouds (Thich Nhat Hanh), the Dhammapada (Easwaran, trans.), and Stopping & Seeing (Cleary, trans.)]". Life Positive. 2 (7): 44.
  9. ^ a b c d Anonymous (1987). "Untitled [ review of the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, the Upanishads, by Eknath Easwaran]". American Theosophist. American Theosophical Society. 75 (November): 400. ISSN 0003-1402. LCCN 78004922. OCLC 3967981.
  10. ^ a b c Anonymous (2000). "Extraordinary book sets from a Parabola favorite". Parabola. Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition. 25 (4): S22. (NB: Retrieved from Factiva)
  11. ^ a b c Susan Rakow; Timothy Capehart (2006). "Untitled [review of Dhammapada, translated by Eknath Easwaran]". Voice of Youth Advocates. 29 (1): 15. ISSN 0160-4201. LCCN 91640652.; Part of their larger review (pp. 14-19) entitled "Buddhism: A World Religions Resource List for Teens."
  12. ^ a b Brian Bruya (Accessed 7 May 2011). Divine books [including review of the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, and the Upanishads, by Eknath Easwaran] Telugu Website (http://www.teluguwebsite.com), accessed 7 May 2011.
  13. ^ a b "The title of chapter 5 is usually translated as 'The Fool' and that of chapter 6 as 'The Wise,' as if they dealt with utterly opposite temperaments. However, bala means not only 'fool' but 'child.' A fool's behavior is not likely to improve, but a child is simply immature; given time and experience, children grow up.... Translating bala as "immature" gives all of us the benefit of the doubt" (p. 119, 2007 edition)
  14. ^ a b "The Pali word sukkha (Sanskrit sukha) is usually translated as happiness. As the opposite of duhkha, however, it connotes the end of all suffering, a state of being that is not subject to the ups and downs of change - that is, abiding joy.... the Buddha's... questionings just before going forth to the Four Noble Sights were chiefly concerned with the search for absolute joy" (p. 173, 2007 edition)
  15. ^ From Easwaran (2007), pp. 105, 211.
  16. ^ The foreword is entitled "The Classics of Indian Spirituality," and is also used to introduced the two other books in that series, Easwaran's translations of the Bhagavad Gita and selected Upanishads.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Easwaran (2007), The Dhammapada, 2nd edition.
  18. ^ This claim was quoted in the Life Positive and East/West reviews, and paraphrased in the American Theosophist review. None of the reviews discussed or evaluated the claim.
  19. ^ Subsections of The Buddha's World are "The Legacy" (pp. 14-23) and "The Buddha's Times" (pp. 23-27).
  20. ^ Google Book view: "the joy of knowing that he has found a way for everyone, not just great sages, to put an end to sorrow" (p. 27 of Easwaran, 2007)
  21. ^ The full quote reads: "The Buddha sought to save, and the joy in his message is the joy of knowing that he has found a way for everyone, not just great sages, to put an end to sorrow" (Easwaran, 2007, p. 27).
  22. ^ Subsections of Life and Teaching include "The Wheel of Dharma" (pp. 41-47) and "The Years of Teaching" (pp. 47-63).
  23. ^ "What I know... is like the leaves on that shimshapa tree; what I teach is only a small part. But I offer it to all with an open hand" (pp. 57-58, Easwaran, 2007).
  24. ^ Subsections of The Stages of Enlightenment are "The First Dhyana" (pp. 67-69), "The Second Dhyana" (pp. 70-73), "The Third Dhyana" (pp. 74-77), and "The Fourth Dhyana" (pp. 77-80).
  25. ^ Subsections of The Buddha's Universe are "Personality" (pp. 81-86), "The World" (pp. 86-91), "Karma, Death and Birth" (pp. 91-95), and "Nirvana" (pp. 95-98).
  26. ^ Often two consecutive chapters are preceded by a single introduction of 3 or 4 pages.
  27. ^ "The Dhammapada is best known in its Pali form, and that is the version translated here. Buddhist terms, however, appear here in Sanskrit, because it is in Sanskrit rather than Pali - nirvana rather than nibana, dharma rather than dhamma, karma rather than kamma, and so on - that these words have become familiar in the West" (p. 100, 2007 edition)
  28. ^ Smith and Novak (2003) state that "Our favorite translation is Eknath Easwaran's The Dhammapada. His Indian heritage, literary gifts, and spiritual sensibilities (which have given us excellent translations of Hinduism's Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita) here produce a sublime rendering of the words of the Buddha. Verse after verse shimmers with quiet, confident authority. A bonus is the sparkling 70-page introduction to the Buddha's life and teachings that precedes the translation" (p. 222 of Buddhism: A Concise Introduction, ISBN 0-06-050696-2).
  29. ^ Huston Smith is quoted on page 277 as stating that "No one in modern times is more qualified - no, make that 'as qualified' - to translate the epochal Classics of Indian Spirituality than Eknath Easwaran. And the reason is clear. It is impossible to go to the heart of those Classics unless you live them, and he did live them. My admiration of the man and his works is boundless." (The Dhammapada, Easwaran, 2007, p. 277; the "Classics of Indian Spirituality" is a set of 3 translations that includes this Dhammapada).
  30. ^ a b Sundaram (p. 195) quotes Radhakrishnan's opening verse as "(The mental) natures are the result of what we have thought, are chieftained by our thoughts, are made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, sorrow follows him (as a consequence) even as the wheel follows the foot of the drawer (i.e., the ox which draws the cart). Easwaran's opening verse is quoted (p. 195) as "Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it."
  31. ^ "Easwaran here offers a new translation from the Pali together with an inspiring and comprehensive introduction" (East West, p. 76)
  32. ^ Anonymous (5 May 1989). "Books: Bestsellers". The Guardian. Article states its statistics are based on information supplied by Neal Street East (accessed via Lexis Nexis Academic, 24 April 2011)
  33. ^ Peter Gerard Friedlander (2009). "Dhammapada traditions and translations". Journal of Religious History. Blackwell Publishing Asia. 33 (2): 215–234. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9809.2009.00795.x. ISSN 1467-9809.
  34. ^ Eknath Easwaran (1989). Classics of Indian Spirituality Series: The Bhagavad Gita, The Dhammapada, & The Upanishads. Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press. ISBN 978-0-915132-45-4, ISBN 0-915132-45-1, OCLC 230187262.