Monday, January 9, 2017

On the Coffee Table: The Buddha

Title: The Dhammapada
Author: The Buddha
Translator: Ananda Maitreya
via Amazon
The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings of the Buddha in verse form.  It is one of the most widely-read scriptures in Buddhism.  Each saying was recorded in response to a particular challenge in the life of the Buddha or his monastic disciples.  Most revolve around the basic theme of letting go of base, worldly concerns and giving over to the quest for enlightenment and nirvana.  It is a quick, pleasant read.  I am not a Buddhist but I enjoyed finding connections with my own experiences.

Given the cautions against decadence, The Dhammapada was an interesting contrast with another book I finished recently, M.F.K. Fisher's An Alphabet for Gourmets.  Says the Buddha:

The one who lives for sensation,
Indulgent in eating,
Lazy, and lacking in energy,
The tempter Mara breaks,
Just as the wind breaks a frail tree.

The Buddha probably wouldn't be impressed with Ms. Fisher's sensual frolicking through the world of food, nor mine.  On a more serious note...

The Japanese have a saying about religion in their society: Japanese are born Shinto but they die Buddhist.  This is based on the fact that their traditional ceremonies surrounding birth come from Shintoism, the ancient, animist religion that originated in Japan while the ceremonies associated with death come from Buddhism, the import from mainland Asia.  The Dhammapada helps me to appreciate the deeper meaning of the saying.

In his excellent book Being Mortal, Dr. Atul Gawande discusses how our interests focus as we approach death.  Our more superficial, worldly interests fall away as close family members and the simple pleasures of daily life grow more important.  This is exactly the sort of priority shifting the Buddha teaches.  He would encourage us to take this letting go a bit further in order to attain nirvana but it seems people naturally tend in that direction as the end nears.  Perhaps we all die Buddhists.


  1. People like Trump challenge that notion.

    1. ... People like Trump wouldn't agree with me on much.

  2. I've always been curious about the teachings and writing of The Buddha. I may try this one, one day. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Very interesting post today. The born Shinto and die Buddhist is really very Japanese.

    cheers, parsnip

  4. Spiritual life among Buddhists is well documented and practised. I'm sure every law abiding citizen values friendship in every neighbourhood.

  5. This sounds like a book I will really get into. I have learned some pieces of the Buddhist ways, but reading this book will help me learn more for sure. :) Thanks for sharing. Glad to hear you enjoyed it so much!