May 26, 2021
Michael Haggiag

THE DHAMMAPADA Introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran

Book Review

The Zen Gateway's co-founder, Michael Haggiag, reviews a beautiful translation of the classic Dhammapada by author, and translator of many Indian spiritual works, Eknath Easwaran

Book cover

The great Buddhist scholar Huston Smith described Eknath Easwaran in glowing terms: “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 in clear. It is impossible to get 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.”

Professor Eknath brought together a complete fluency in Sanskrit and Pali, a practitioner’s deep understanding of Buddhism and a beautiful English prose style. The resulting translation of THE DHAMMAPADA - a collection of the Buddha’s teachings that are said to be in his own words - is a masterpiece. In addition there is a 100 page introduction on the life of the Buddha as well as individual prefaces to each verse chapter. The following extract is taken from the translator’s commentary on nirvana toward the end of his long introduction:

“When the mind is stilled, the appearance of change and separateness vanishes and nirvana remains. It is shunyata, emptiness, only in that there is literally nothing there: “no-thing.” But emptiness of process means fullness of being. Nirvana is aroga, freedom from all illness; shiva, peace of mind; anashrava, freedom from compulsions; ajara, untouched by age; amata, unaffected by death. It is, in sum, parama sukha, the highest joy.

Those who attain the island of nirvana can live thereafter in the sea of change without being swept away. They know what life is and know that there is something more. Lacking nothing, craving nothing, they stay in the world solely to help and serve. We cannot say they live without grief; it is their sensitiveness to the suffering of others that motivates their lives. But personal sorrow is gone. They 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."

Here are the opening verses of Eknath Easawaran’s translation, which he describes as encapsulating the whole theme of the Dhammapada:


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.


Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what

we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow

that never leaves.

(THE DHAMMAPADA Introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran, pub. Nilgiri Press 1985, 2007)

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