I bought this book back in 1995 when it first came out. After reading the first 10 pages or so and tackling a few of the suttas, I set it back on the shelf unread and left it there for 7 years. For various reasons, i.e. more lessons in humility, this Summer about mid July 2002, I dusted it off and started reading again. Wow-what a blast, a direct shot from the Buddha to me! It was clear, simple and unmistakable. "If you do and think this way, you will receive that kind of result." Across the centuries and millenia flew the dhamma! As they say when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Maybe I needed to suffer another 7 years before I'd consent to read the dhamma in its original form. Yeah the Mayahana cannon is brillant too. As other reviewers have mentioned this is not a book for the faint hearted. If you buy it be prepared to read something like the King James version of the Bible, but with one important difference--the Majjhima Nikaya (MN) reveals the Ultimate and realtive truth about you and your immediate situation. Its actually a little more readable than the King James. I can only say "ditto" to all the other reviewers who have mentioned "why only read the second hand information from contemporary authors when the real dirt is right here". If you wanted to keep a secret from an Amercian Buddhist the best place to hide it would be somewhere in the Majjhima Nikaya! That's the last place they'll ever look. Sure I've had Buddhist teachers suggest to the group that we read the suttas but somehow Rumi or Mary Oliver always seemed a lot more inspiring. And Rumi and Mary Oliver are great writers of the universal dhamma. I hope this doesn't sound angry or cynical because I'm smiling and joyful as I write it. But in reading the MN I find myself feeling that practicing and living the Buddha Dharma is a lot more simple and reachable here and now than I ever got from reading recent authors. If you buy it, try reading the simple suttas first. Jump around and read whatever topic catches your eye. Use the summaries and subject index. In fact, read through all 152 summaries first and then pick the discourse that seems most interesting to you. By the way, I'm only about 2/3 of the way through the book right now. I still have another 40 discourses or so to go. I'm grateful to Bhikkus Bodhi, Nanamoli and Wisdom Publications for having provided me with the original and best teachings directly written for my benefit right in the palms of my hands. I'll come back and add another note when I get through the next 40 discourses. Metta to you friends.
I love Buddhism and I adore reading books about it. Still, when I look at the endless list of books currently in print, old and new, addressed to Buddhist topics, I cannot help but think there may finally be too many of them! Can there really be a market for books devoted to such questions as What if the Buddha Dated? Or to Buddhism and Bears? Goodness.
I am particularly puzzled by this mountain of books because I know that, buried deep within it, is the real bedrock of Buddhism, the ancient Sutta Pitaka, of which the Majjhima Nikaya (or Middle Length Discourses) is the second volume. Why doesn't this bedrock generate as much popular enthusiasm as that readily inspired by the less significant edifices merely erected upon it? Derived from orally transmitted texts, the Sutta Pitaka is virtually as old as the Buddha himself, and is presumed by many (though of course not all) to preserve the oldest and most authentic account of his teaching, his personality and his life. Nearly everything else we are familiar with in Buddhism springs from it. Though one might have to detour around rather a lot of unrelated material in it to find the Buddha's ideas specifically regarding dating or bears, I believe it is probably all there, neatly fitted into only a few powerfully poetic volumes.
And thanks to the brilliant scholarship and profound comprehension of Buddhism possessed by many modern translators (for the Majjhima they are are Nanamoli and Bodhi), these have become thoroughly readable, easily accessible works. They teem with the sights, sounds and reality of Buddha's everyday world and the issues which concerned him most. The Sutta Pitaka is peopled by his friends and enemies, and enlivened by his ideas, his frustrations and his triumphs.
I think this translation of the Majjhima lacks the warmth, charm and wit which Walshe achieved in translating the preceding volume, the Digha Nikaya (or Long Discourses). However this Majjhima is second to none in authority, scholarship and elegance of translation. Nanamoli (British by birth and education) is reputed to be among the most creative and innovative scholars ever to translate Pali literature into English, and this is one of his finest efforts. It also profits from the collaborative effort of Bikkhu Bodhi (originally an American) who has long been at the forefront of making Pali texts accessible to English-speaking readers.
Wisdom Publications, which claims to publish works from all major Buddhist tradtions (but which in reality seems totally mesmerized by anything Tibetan or Tantric) deserves much credit for going far enough afield to print both the Digha and Majjhima Nikayas, and for having in press even now a long-awaited new translation by Bodhi of the Samyutta Nikaya, the third volume of the Sutta Pitaka.
As much as I admire these books, it is only fair to caution the reader that, though the text is always readable and interesting, there is a quality peculiar to both the Majjhima and the Digha Nikayas which probably results from their having existed for centuries before being committed to paper: some sections are spelled out in elaborate detail, whereas other ideas and concepts are presented in a very condensed, almost shorthand way, as though the reader is expected to have grown up knowing many fundamental and basic ideas ahead of time. However, fear not. The translators of both volumes provide comprehensive, highly informative introductions and thorough, helpful footnotes. The result is to educate the reader as-you-go in many of the most vital Buddhist notions, and with a minimum of inconvenience or confusion.
In closing, let me change my mind about something I said earlier. I guess there can't be too many books about Buddhism. Perhaps the problem is simply that many of the people curious about it are being tempted to jump in at the wrong place. They are being deluged with secondary works, without being advised to ground themselves in the real thing -- the Sutta Pitaka -- first. So my suggestion is to buy and read this version of the Majjhima Nikaya (and Walshe's earlier version of the Digha Nikaya) and then go on to the fun stuff. It will feel a lot like mastering a conventional clutch before trying out an automatic transmission for the first time.