Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Authentic Dhammapada

What did the Buddha actually teach? Well, the ancient texts are pretty clear. Not only do they communicate the Buddha’s vision, but they present it using different words and from different perspectives dozens, sometimes scores, occasionally hundreds of times. It’s easy to get the general idea while still allowing for flexibility in interpretation.  But this has never worried that  curious breed of people out there who have managed convince themselves that what they believe is exactly what the Buddha taught. The favoured means of doing this is the Dhammapada. Usually knowing no Pali and even less Dhamma, they claim to offer a  “new”   translation of this text and lo and behold it coincides exactly with what they have always thought. There are numerous  such  Dhammapadas out there, I reviewed one of the more silly versions recently, see But now comes one that would have to  take the Nobel Prize for audacity, presumption, gall, cheek, effrontery, nerve, temerity and downright chutzpah, Shakya Aryanatta’s The Authentic Dhammapada of the Buddha. Take verse 380 which in the original is  "Attā hi attano nātho, attā hi attano gati, tasmā saṁyamam-attānaṁ, assaṁ bhadraṁ va vāṇijo."
A word for word translation of this verse is - Attā = self, hi = indeed, attano = of the self, nātho = lord/master, attā = self,  hi = indeed, attano = of the self, gati =  refuge, lit. destiny, tasmā = therefore, saṁyamam = restraint, attānaṁ = of the self, assaṁ = horse, bhadraṁ =  good/auspicious, va = as/like, vāṇijo = merchant.
A perfectly adequate translation of this would be –
“Oneself is indeed master of oneself. Oneself is the refuge of the oneself. 
Therefore, one should restrain oneself, as a merchant (does) a good horse.”
Aryanatta turns this into- 
“The exquisite True Self, is indeed the lord, the master of the True Self, that very Atman utmost! The True Self is the highest borne! The True Self is the supreme refuge, utmost highest hyperborean excellent exquisite bliss indivisible deathlessness, and highest of highest fulfillments! Hence O' monks, guard well that True Self vigilantly! Just as the merchant trader guides and guards his precious Oxen along the hazardous road!”   
The 15 words in the original are expanded into 68 in Aryanatta’s version and along the way it picks up over ten words and phrases which cannot be found in the original, such as “exquisite bliss”, “the highest borne”, “hyperborean”, “indivisible”, “deathlessness”, “highest of highest fulfilments”, “monks”, “guides and guards”, “precious” and a “hazardous road” to boot.
This isn’t translation, it’s transubstantiation!  As one reviewer on Amazon put it: “This is worse than merely amateur scholarship. It’s fake.” If your looking for a Dhammapada as opposed to a Shakyaryanatta have a look at


Ken Yifertw said...

Master Dhammamika,

This is the version I read, but I do not known who the author is.

Do you have any idea about the author?

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Ken, the translation looks quite good but it is only one verse so I can’t say for the other 400. I cannot see the translator’s name and I have no idea who he/she it. On my blog post I have given a link to information for a good translation of the Dhammapada. There are of course other good translations too.

Gui Do said...

It is possible to judge a translation. But it is not possible to know what "the Buddha said". The Palicanon is not a historical record but a piece of creative writing that has to be taken metaphorically.

J said...

the author of this book has been described here: