The best introductory context for the Dhammapada

“The Dhammapada” translated by Eknath Easwaran

In the quest of reading all religious holy scriptures, I have so far read the Torah, the New Testament, Al Qur’an, Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanishads. And out of respect I gave them all 5 stars and refrained from giving any comment or sharing the many highlighted notes. And this review is no different.

However, here I am writing this on the sole purpose of commenting on the introduction of the book by co-author Stephen Ruppenthal, which takes up about 40% of the book. It is by far the most beautifully written short religious biography that I’ve ever read, with the clearest insight into the concept of Dharma and Karma, the 5 skandhas, with plenty of wonderful stories about the Blessed One, and the incredible blue print into the actual steps of reaching Nirvana.

It also notably provides the fascinating illustration of meditation steps (from the first until the fourth dhyanas) that is deeper than the 2 books on meditation that I’ve so far read, which explains a lot why the sadhus in India can meditate days at a time. Certainly neuroscientists or experts like Steven Kotler could be very intrigued with this “Eastern phenomenon” that has yet been codified in Western science, and the introduction of this book matches their level of expertise.

In fact, in the introduction Ruppenthal draws parallel between the teachings of the Buddha to modern science, in which he commented “[m]uch in the Buddha’s universe, in fact, can be understood as a generalization of physical laws to a larger sphere.” He then proceeded to highlight several similarities between Buddhism and Quantum Mechanics, Einstein’s several theories, and so on.

Indeed, the introduction section alone is worthy of a stand-alone book, but Ruppenthal did not stop there. Right before each 26 chapters of the Dhammapada he provides another clarifying context that will make the actual holy texts – beautifully translated by Eknath Easwaran – crystal clear. It is inline with the one sentence from Ruppenthal’s chapter 19 introduction, which summarizes best what his body of work do for this version of the book: “A person who understands the reason behind a law is more likely to obey it intelligently than someone who is simply ordered to obey.”

And thus, as a result, the many wonderful lessons and laws in the Dhammapada sticks.