The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations

ISBN: 1590303806
ISBN 13: 9781590303801
By: Gil Fronsdal

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About this book

The Dhammapada is the most widely read Buddhist scripture in existence, enjoyed by both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. This classic text of teaching verses from the earliest period of Buddhism in India conveys the philosophical and practical foundations of the Buddhist tradition. The text presents two distinct goals for leading a spiritual life: the first is attaining happiness in this life (or in future lives); the second goal is the achievement of spiritual liberation, freedom, absolute peace. Many of the key themes of the verses are presented in dichotomies or pairs, for example, grief and suffering versus joy; developing the mind instead of being negligent about one's mental attitude and conduct; virtuous action versus misconduct; and being truthful versus being deceitful. The purpose of these contrasts is, very simply, to describe the difference between what leads to desirable outcomes and what does not. For centuries, this text has been studied in its original Pali, the canonical language of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. This fresh new translation from Insight Mediation teacher and Pail translator Gil Fronsdal is both highly readable and scholarly authoritative. With extensive explanatory notes, this edition combines a rigorous attention to detail in bringing forth the original text with the translator's personal knowledge of the Buddhist path. It is the first truly accurate and highly readable translation of this text to be published in English.

Reader's Thoughts


A spiritual classic as well as positive reinforcement for one's own journey into the realm of the sage.

Robert Rowe

This is a beautiful book. I think that if we all were to observe some of the things this book teaches our world would improve tremendously.

Phillip Moffitt

The Dhammapada is the most widely read Buddhist scripture. It is a collection of short teachings on a wide range of subjects from old age to the meaning of path. It emphasizes both the practical aspects of Buddhism, such as happiness in this life, and the liberation aspect (i.e., absolute freedom). Fronsdal’s language is clear and reflects his background as a Buddhist scholar.


A brilliant introduction to Buddhism.


Beautiful Theravada verses, it was nice to finally read some Buddhism source material after my other survey books. The translation notes of this version are very enriching and I'm sure I'll read this over and over, just like the Tao Te Ching.

Betsy Ferhey

pulled this off the shelf and re-read it a couple of weekends ago. Gil Fronsdal is so inspirational anyway-- his podcasts from the IMC have helped me find the path back to sanity on many occasions over the years. This classic is an important touchstone for me. There are so many lessons here and the prose is soothing.

Kelly Elmore

Enjoyed this. One of my excursions into very old Buddhist texts. Much like Proverbs.


My favorite translation - clear and easy to read.


Gil is the man! Check out his talks on audiodharma. This is a really great translation. It's not very long, but very deep. Very amazing! I did learn from the translations and found it very interesting. I'd like to now compare Gil's translation with others.


Great truths are contained therein. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this timeless book. I think it would be a valuable experience to contrast this translation with another, however.


A very fine translation of one of the most important and accessible Buddhist texts. Everyone should have at least one.

Nick Arkesteyn

Very interesting to see how something that was written so long ago still applies today. I don't believe in any of their gods but this is a great read full of insight. I have a feeling that you could pull this out any time, turn to any page, read a couple of verses and learn something new.

Joshua Galloway

An excellent "Baby's First of fifteen Khuddaka Nikāya or "collections of short sayings," that being one of five collections or Nikāyas of the Sutta Piṭaka (Basket of Teachings) attributed to the Gautama Buddha."

Craig Shoemake

The first two pages of the preface to Gil Fronsdal's translation say it all: Fronsdal lays out the challenges a translator of an ancient text faces. He talks about the Dhammapada's history in English, about how "a translation mirrors the viewpoint of the translator" (pp. xi-xii)-something Easwaran never did. Most pointedly, he notes that "Hindu concepts appear in English translations done in India" (p. xii)-or by a Hindu, I might add. (Hint: think Easwaran.) He goes on to say (p. xii) "In this translation, I have tried to put aside my own interpretations and preferences, insofar as possible, in favor of accuracy." I believe he has done exactly this. Fronsdal's introduction (the preface discusses the translation issues) is not so far ranging as Easwaran's, and certainly not as lengthy, but I found it more insightful and refreshingly accurate. (Readers of my May 15, 2011 review of Easwaran's Dhammapada will understand my relief.) For example, I thought he hit the nail on the head with this pointed remark (p. xx): "The Dhammapada originated in a time, culture, and spiritual tradition very different from what is familiar to most Western readers today. We might be alerted to this difference if we compare the beginning of the Dhammapada with the opening lines of the Bible, which emphasize God's role as Creator and, by extension, our reliance on God's power. In contrast, the first two verses of the Dhammapada emphasize the power of the human mind in shaping our lives, and the importance and effectiveness of a person's own actions and choices... Ethical and mental purity [he goes on to say]...cannot be achieved through the intervention of others: `By oneself alone is one purified' (verse 165)." How different this is from Easwaran's constant-and fatuous-comparisons to Jesus and, even, Albert Einstein. The remainder of Fronsdal's introduction looks at its contrasting emotional moods-"energy and peace"-its themes, and the effects reading it have had on him. Fronsdal again demonstrates his penetration of basic Buddhist teachings when he writes on page xxix "[I]t is not the world that is negated in the Dhammapada, but rather attachment to the world (as in verse 171)." In the margin of my copy I scribbled YES! In other words, Fronsdal gets it-which is not so surprising when you consider the man has trained in both the Soto Zen and Theravadan traditions, has a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Stanford, and is a teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. In other words, he has every qualification needed to interpret the Buddha's teaching, qualifications Easwaran seemed to have but in fact was sorely lacking. Anyway, on to the text proper. Despite my above praise, Fronsdal does make some interpretations I thought odd, though this is not to say I didn't understand his reasoning. For example, the title of the Dhammapada's first chapter, usually rendered as "Twin Verses" or "Paired Verses," Fronsdal names "Dichotomies." Fortunately, he explains this and other such choices-which he (much to his credit) acknowledges as controversial-in detailed endnotes signified by asterisks. (This was another problem I had with Easwaran's text-I could not tell which verses his endnotes pertained to unless I went to the back of the book.) This is much appreciated; one important characteristic of any good translator is candor and clarity as to what sort of interpretive choices s/he makes and why. Fronsdal maintains high standards in this regard; he explains his choices in detail in the endnotes, and having done so the reader can then appreciate that while some of his word choices are unorthodox, they are not without merit or insight. I realize not every reader will be interested in such linguistic and terminological details, but they need to be discussed somewhere if the translator is to maintain legitimacy. As for the reading experience of Fronsdal's Dhammapada: it has the spare, poetic feel I am familiar with from other translations of Pali Buddhist texts. Also, as previously noted, he does seem to fulfill the aspiration he stated in the preface-that of producing a relatively literal translation, one reflecting its original time and place as opposed to the layers of (mis)interpretation later commentators and cultures have often imposed on the text. As a result, Fronsdal's translation feels definitively like a Buddhist text, one that should be instructive to any newcomers to the Buddha's Dhamma. I hope they will leave it wanting more.


I am giving this book three stars because, if I have learned anything by reading it, it is that giving a rating of either 5 stars or 1 would be too extreme and passionate. Okay, had to get that tacky wisecrack out of the way. Now, previously I have read The Holy Bible , The Koran , and The Book of Mormon , among religious texts I would classify as major. For some time, I've wanted to read Buddhist scripture as well. My major response is that I felt healthier for having read The Dhammapada. So many of its passages steer me away from extremes. Yet, this book doesn't encourage lethargy or apathy, not as I understand them anyway. Here is an entire gospel built, as best I can tell, upon stopping to smell the roses--but also the dung that fertilizes them. What am I most inspired by? These teachings imply that the power to achieve a true healthiness and peace of mind is within me. If I become a student of myself, I can find the ability within me to scrub away those things I find unhealthy. I like that notion a lot. On the flip side, I'm not a 100% convert to what I read. I think these writings, geared toward a monastic lifestyle, have their limitations and are sometimes archaic. That is a small criticism though, given the wealth of wisdom contained in these writings.The real reason I give this particular edition 3 stars is that it lacks an index or glossary. There are many helpful endnotes; however, whenever I needed to review the meaning of a given term, I had trouble finding the endnote that included a definition. This detracted from my reading experience. Nevertheless, I recommend this book, or any other vetted translation of The Dhammapada. There is good fruit here.

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