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Buddhadharma : Fall 2005
buddhadharma| 69 |fall 2005 The third English translation of the Pali Canon consists largely, but not exclusively, of the texts put out by Wisdom Publi- cations in the last decade or so. Walshe’s Long Discourses, Nanamoli’s Middle Length Discourses, and Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Connected Discourses and Numerical Discourses, along with some freelance translations from the fifth Nikaya, or collection, have come to form a coherent and reasonably consistent body of work of considerable usefulness to the modern reader. The translations in this series ben- efit from solid Pali scholarship, lucid con- temporary English prose, and the sensitive understanding of seasoned meditation practitioners. In the Buddha’s Words is an anthology drawing primarily on these first four Nikayas, and manages quite success- fully to both summarize them and extract their essence. Bhikkhu Bodhi says of this remarkable body of literature in his preface, “These texts, along with their counterparts, con- stitute the most ancient records of the Buddha’s teachings available to us; they are the closest we can come to what the historical Buddha Gotama himself actu- ally taught.” They are valuable, he goes on to say, because “They constitute the common heritage of the entire Buddhist tradition, and Buddhists of all schools who wish to understand the taproot of the Dharma should make a close and careful study of them a priority.” Although this material has been available in good English translations for some time now, one of the things that has remained a difficulty for many readers is its complexity and scope. As Bhikkhu Bodhi puts the matter in his preface, even students familiar with the texts “still grappled for a standpoint from which to see the suttas’ overall structure, a framework within which they all fit together. The Nikayas themselves do not offer much help in this respect, for their arrangement ... appears almost hap- hazard.” The singular strength of In the Buddha’s Words is that it provides such a framework, and, moreover, it does so in a skillful, almost inspired way. The value of any anthology lies in what it includes and does not include, as well as in the scheme selected to organize the material. “This scheme,” says our trans- lator and editor, “unfolds the Buddha’s message progressively, from the simple to the difficult, from the elementary to the profound.” He goes on in the introduc- tion to specify, “I here attempt to provide a comprehensive picture of the Buddha’s teaching that incorporates a wide vari- ety of suttas into an organic structure. This structure, I hope, will bring to light the intentional pattern underlying the Buddha’s formulation of the Dhamma and thus provide the reader with guide- lines for understanding Early Buddhism as a whole.” The structure Bhikkhu Bodhi brings to the Buddha’s teachings is not only apparent in the table of con- tents, but is outlined in an introduction to each chapter. These introductions alone, strung together, would themselves serve as a beautiful and accessible overview of the dhamma. The work is arranged in ten chapters, each of which has a number of different subsections. The first three of these pre- pare the ground for a more systematic three-stage presentation of the teachings. “The Human Condition” paints a picture of the existential situation humans find themselves in, apart from the appearance of the Buddha. “The Bringer of Light” contains texts that relate to the Buddha’s birth, quest, and awakening, and includes the first discourse. “Approaching the Dhamma” offers some guidelines about what attitudes one might bring to and get from these teachings, mentioning such things as its emphasis on investigation, personal experience, and upon under- standing and eliminating suffering. The fourth chapter, “The Happiness Visible in this Present Life,” addresses the subject of ethics and living with others in com- munity, while the fifth, “The Way to a Fortunate Rebirth,” nudges the reader a bit beyond the immediate to matters of karma, rebirth, and the various ways of developing merit. A transitional sixth chapter, “Deepening One’s Perspective on the World,” draws out some of the insecurities and dangers of even our most cherished secular concerns, and points the way to four rich chapters devoted to illuminating the approach to the highest good. Chapter seven provides a good over- view of its title, “The Path to Liberation,” and focuses on the noble eightfold path in some detail. “Mastering the Mind,” the eighth chapter, is all about monastic training, the overcoming of obstacles, and some details of meditation practice. Chapter nine contains many of the core teachings of the wisdom tradition, such as discussion of the aggregates, sense spheres, dependent origination, and the four noble truths. The final chapter, “The Planes of Realization,” contains texts which elucidate the process of awaken- ing itself, in its various stages, and helps portray the arahant and the Tathagata in ways we can begin to understand and emulate. It is an impressive and thoroughly effective organizing pattern, and I think this anthology will rapidly become the sourcebook of choice for both neophyte and serious dhamma student alike. In the Buddha’s Words reveals the mature understanding of someone who has not only a complete mastery of his material,