Just the other day someone gave me a book that proved to be yet another translation of the Dhammapada. On seeing it my first thought was: “Here we go! Probably another rehash of an earlier rehash.” I was tempted to put it aside and not even bother flicking through it. But the blurb on the back about the translator (Ph.D in Sanskrit from Harvard, associate professor of religion, and meditation teacher at the Won Institute of Graduate Studies) made me think that it might be worth at least a quick look. Recently I wrote a review of the truly awful - one couldn’t in all honestly call it a translation or even a rendering – a massacre might be a better description, by Tai Sheridan which is everything a Dhammapada shouldn’t be. See http://sdhammika.blogspot.sg/search?updated-max=2013-09-07T01:25:00-07:00&max-results=7&start=21&by-date=false
Glen Wallis’ Dhammapada; Verses on the Way, is not only everything this little Buddhist classic should be, I would go so far as to say it is the best Dhammapada presently available.
Someone once said poetry translated from another language is like a desired woman; if its beautiful its not faithful and if its faithful its not beautiful. Well, Wallis seems to have managed to achieve both. His translation has a cadence that reads exceptionally well, and given Pali’s stylistic and grammatical particularities this is quite an achievement. And just as important, it is as faithful to the original as you could want. At the end of the translation Wallis has just over 100 pages of notes, but don’t let this put you off. These notes include a learned but accessible account of the history, grammar and meaning of the Dhammapada and its place in Indian Buddhist literature. His comments on some of the similes and his numerous quotes from the suttas illuminate the verses in a way that really gives them depth and increased understanding. Of course one could quibble (and so I will). “Unbinding” seems to be a rather odd translation/rendering of nibbana. But such minor things are more than made up for his truly informative comments on other technical terms. See what he says about bodhi on page 135. From now on I think I will stop using the terms “enlightened” and “enlightened one” and switch to “awakened” and “awakened one” instead. If you want a 100% word-for-word accurate translation of the Dhammapada get K. R. Norman’s The Words of the Doctrine with its 174 pages of notes on grammar, syntax, consonant groups, variant readings, the eastern form of am, etc, and do your best to keep awake. If you want an accurate, readable translation with helpful notes that is true to the Buddha’s Dhamma get Wallis’ The Dhammapada; Verses on the Way. I couldn’t recommend it higher.