Since the Dhammapada is a translation from the original Pali language, I have found it helpful to have several translations to better understand the true meaning. Here's an example:
From Thomas Cleary's translation:
Everything has mind in the lead, has mind in the forefront, is made by mind. If one speaks or acts with a corrupt mind, misery will follow, as the wheel of a cart follows the foot of the ox.
From Thanissaro Bhikkhu's translation:
Phenomena are preceded by the heart,
ruled by the heart,
made of the heart.
If you speak or act
with a corrupted heart,
then suffering follows you --
as the wheel of the cart,
the track of the ox
that pulls it.
From Ajahn Munindo's translation:
All states of being are determined by mind. It is mind that leads the way. Just as the wheel of the oxcart follows the hoof print of the animal that draws it, so suffering will surely follow when we speak or act impulsively from an impure state of mind.
As you can see, having several translations can offer a deeper meaning. Based on that, this book can be helpful.
Then "Why?" you may think, did I rate it only 3 stars?
I think of books on Buddhism, and the Buddha's teaching, in my own mind, by placing the book on one of 4 levels.
These are written by someone with little knowledge on Buddhism, and seem to treat it as New Aged. These books are like: "Top 10 Things Buddha Would Do", "If The Buddha Drove an SUV", basically, not real teachings of the Buddha, but a very washed down version. (not real titles offered, and I hope they never get used!)
These books are written with one or two main things from the Buddha's teachings and applied to helping people today. Things like using mindfulness to help with stress, or addiction. Someone with a meditation practice typically writes these books. They are important in helping people live a life freer from suffering.
These are books written by people with a deep practice or those who are monastic. Typically the books offer real teachings with a real life perspective.
These are books that are translations of the Buddha's teachings. These are the discourses. Books like, The Middle Length Discourses, The Connected Discourses, and the Dhammapada, etc. These are the actual teachings of the Buddha that have been passed down for nearly 2,500 years.
With that in mind this book, by Thomas Cleary, should be in the Level 4. However, his treatment of the layout and his commentaries, cast a shadow over the book. Cleary offers notes within the flow of the book. He did not place them at the bottom of the page, or in the back of the book. This does break-up the feel of the texts. His commentaries are in a font that overpowers the font of the actual teachings. Also, he refers to other religions to help explain the meaning. I found this unnecessary and inappropriate. Again, this is a book I would put in a framework of sacred texts. Plus, in a couple of instances his comments were out of line. Here's a translation:
Giving truth surpasses all giving; the flavor of truth surpasses all flavors; the enjoyment of truth surpasses all enjoyments; the destruction of craving overcomes all misery.
Cleary's comment of this wonderful teaching?:
"How pessimistic can you get?"
Does that seem appropriate in such a book? I think not.
Based on that and the other things mentioned I offer 3 stars. Don't get me wrong, the translations are helpful, it boils down to Cleary's comments and where they are inserted that brings down the overall rating.
The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings attributed to the Buddha. In his translation, Cleary has choosen to interject his comments between the verses of the original text, often there is more of Cleary's words on a page than the Buddha's. This is a major distraction for the reader; foot notes would have been more appropriate. Furthermore, most of Cleary's comments are superficial comparisons to other religious traditions which does not help to understand the Dhammapada (nor is it effective comparative religion). I was flabbergasted to see Cleary's comments written in bold itialic print while the Buddha's words are written in plain text! Please, look elsewhere for a decent translation of the Dhammapada.