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Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Time Event
11:20p
A bitter-sweet read ...
Some books are easier to "review" than others, and Wisdom of the Buddha: The Unabridged Dhammapada is one of those "What can you really say about it?" books. A key part of the Pali Buddhist canon, these are sayings attributed to Gautama (the historical Buddha, circa 563 to 483 BCE) about how to live a virtuous life, avoid confusion and temptation, and be wise in one's search for release from the cycle of rebirth.

Obviously, it is what it is, and any sort of critical commentary ends up with the translation and/or presentation of this material. On the whole, I found F. Max Müller's efforts in these areas reasonably inobtrusive, even though the original of this edition was published in 1900, leading to certain anachronisms in the wording. Most notable of these were his choice of Buddha, Law, and Church, for the now quite familiar Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Every time I hit those I winced, as "law" and "church" are suggestively far afield of "Dharma" and "Sangha", but were no doubt his best options for a reading public that was much less acquainted with Buddhism than we are a century and more later! I am sure there are some similar "sign of the times" sorts of clunkers in there as well, but I really didn't see the point of digging out other versions of the Dhammapada to "compare and contrast" for this review.

Given the nature of the world today, however, the biggest take-away that I had on reading Wisdom of the Buddha was a sadness that more people do not follow the teachings of this gentle, responsible, and positive "holy book" rather than the blood-soaked sociopatholgies that drive the Major Monotheisms. I realize that all people can be evil and delusional, but it's a good head start if you're not getting coached to be a violent, willfully ignorant, maniac from one's sacred text! This book is from the culture that carved magnificent works of art in the cliffs of Afghanistan, not the snarling dogs that blew them up, this a teaching that insists on personal engagement and analysis of what is true, and not the sort of moronic rejection of the fruits of rational discovery which leads candidates for high office to insist that the world is only a few thousand years old!

Re-reading the Dhammapada (as I've encountered this many times in my studies over the years) makes me think that the loss of the great Buddhist civilizations of the past (largely butchered at the hands of expanding Islam) was one of the greatest blows to humanity. If the Buddhist culture had been able to spread to Europe and become the moral model of our own culture (rather than the Red Queen-like insistence in belief in impossible things) I suspect that the world would be a far, far better place. Somehow, the promise of Raudra Chakri's arrival in 320 years does little to cheer in these dark days.

I do wish that everybody would pick up a copy of Wisdom of the Buddha: The Unabridged Dhammapada, if just to enjoy the sanity of it. This is one that I recommend that you order from a book store, though, as (being a Dover Thrift Edition) Amazon is charging a "sourcing fee" of a buck and a half on top of what they say is a $2.50 cover price (my copy, which I just recently ordered, says $2.00), so if your local brick-and-mortar can/will get this in for you with no extra charges that would certainly be your best bet ... the new/used guys have it new for as little as 79¢, but then you're paying four bucks for delivery.

Again, this is something that should be read, and the price is very reasonable, so try to make a point of connecting with this classic bit of spiritual wisdom before you "perish like old herons in a lake without fish".


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