To accompany our review of The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic With Annotations (Shambhala Publications, 2005), Inquiring Mind book review editor Ronna Kabatzick chatted with translator Gil Fronsdal.
Ronna Kabatznick: How would you like readers to benefit from your translation?
Gil Fronsdal: I hope readers get a sense of the directness and immediacy of the Buddhist path. The Dhammapada is a remarkable testimony to the Buddha’s very pragmatic and nonmetaphysical presentation of the path to liberation. It encourages us to face our clinging in an honest and direct way, and then to let go of that clinging without the need for a lot of ritual, religious doctrine or complicated practice.
RK: Was it difficult to make your translation accessible to Westerners?
GF: It was a challenge to make it readable while staying true to the original. I very much wanted the translation to reflect accurately the ancient teaching rather than my own interpretations or biases. Sometimes it took a lot of care to tease those apart. It is likely that many of the verses were meant to challenge the usual ways people live. I often had to consider whether I understood the challenge of the original and whether I was then able to convey it in English so that it would be understandable and perhaps even relevant for the modern reader.
RK: What do you think is the overarching message of this classic text?
GF: That the choices we make in how we live have consequences for our long-term well-being. It is important to know which choices are beneficial and which are not and then to follow the path of the beneficial ones. Actually, the text offers two paths to greater joy and happiness. The first is the path to worldly happiness in this life and in lives to come. The second is the path to complete awakening, to nibbana, to an ultimate peace. I remain inspired by how the Dhammapada conveys a sense of the joy and freedom that this latter path offers.