"Our life is shaped by our mind," the Buddha tells us in the opening lines of The Dhammapada, "we become what we think" (p. 78). This is the essence of Buddhism, and the central theme of The Dhammapada ("the path of dharma"), a collection of teachings preserved most likely by the Buddha's original students in the sixth century before Christ. And as Eknath Easwaran tells us, it is a collection of discourses "meant for everyone," not just monks and nuns (p. 75). "If everything else were lost," Easwaran observes in his excellent, 65-page Introduction to this translation, "we would need nothing more than the Dhammapada to follow the way of the Buddha" (p. 7). Although I'm not qualified to comment on his abilities as a translator, Easwaran succeeds at conveying the essence of the Buddha's teachings that point the way down a path less traveled, but a path that makes all the difference when it comes to self-realization. In my opinion, Easwaran's translation is the one to travel.
Another soothing gem by Easwaran. I had earlier read The Upanishads by the same author, and was inspired into further exploration of his writing. A few words on the author before the book is due here. Easwaran can definitely be counted as one of those individuals who has made a sincere and thorough attempt to understand numerous religions and draw out their common parallels and apply them to his life, in an almost saint-like manner. Easwaran influence on thought can be said to be similar to Parthasarathy's, another great writer more focused on Hinduism. It is in reading such authors, that we are left with an indelible impact on our psyche, and within a few weeks of regular reading, can see our daily lives transformed by the power of our own tranquil thinking.
In The Dhammapada, Easwaran now embarks on a similar voyage of peace and calm in the exploration of Buddhism, as he did with the Upanishads. The introduction of the book once again gives a brief backrgound into the life of Siddharta, the prince and charts his transformation into the Buddha, the "one who is awake". The book then goes on to describe one of the fundamental "religious-books" of Buddhism, the Dhammapada and its teachings. The parallels with the Upanishadic teachings, the mystic sufis and the Sermon on the Mount is often illustrated, thus underlining Easwaran's belief of the unity of fundamental thought across religions.
Every two chapters are preceeded with an introduction to the concepts and principles enshrined in them, and hence makes reading and comprehension and indeed, personal thinking and evaluation that much more effective. Buddhism in the end, comes out as it should, another monumental religion based on very basic truths and grounded in infallible and extremely rigorous logic. The book is a pure delight to read and has an almost immediate impact on the reader's approach to life itself.
Incidentally, another wonderful book and religion on similar lines is "The way of Zen", by Alan Watts, and I am out to procure it. This is supposed to describe the confluence of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism to create the Zen.
Somewhere out there lies the truth, our own selves shining in the dark.