This review of “In the Buddha’s Words” will undoubtedly be a bit longer than many of my other posts. If you haven’t guessed by now I am more than a little interested in Buddhism, which you can find out more about on my other blog thestoicbuddhist. I have the soft cover version of the book, which is 485 pages. The books has high quality print and the font is not too small, making it very readable. The book starts out with a forward by the Dalai Lama, then a preface, list of abbreviations, key to pronunciation in Pali, and a detailed list of the contents of the book. This is a scholarly explanation and exploration of discourses in the Pali Canon. The book is divided into 10 sections and each section includes a somewhat lengthy introduction that helps provide a better understanding of the the text in the Pali Canon.
The Pali Canon represents the words of the Buddha, more specifically his teachings, which his followers had committed to memory and recited to each other. Within the Pali Canon texts know as the Nikayas are the earliest cohesive collection of the Buddha’s teaching in his own words. The preface goes into a lot of great detail about how the Pali Cannon is organized and a good bit of history. Bikkhu Bodhi hand selected the texts for this book and has ordered the chapters in a way that build upon each other. To give you an idea of the concepts that are included in the book here are the 10 sections:
- The Human Condition
- The Bringer of Light
- Approaching the Dhamma
- The Happiness Visible In This Present Life
- The Way To A Fortunate Rebirth
- Deepening One’s Perspective On The World
- The Path To Liberation
- Mastering The Mind
- Shinning The Light Of Wisdon
- The Planes Of Realization
Of course I could not help myself from bookmarking and highlighting some of the Buddha’s teachings, such as in Chapter 3 Approaching The Dhamma on page 88:
“These three things, monks, are conducted in secret, not openly. What three? Affairs with women, the mantras of the brahmins, and wrong view. But these three things, monks, shine openly, not in secret. What three? The moon, the sun, and the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathagata.”
Without going into all the details the Buddha speaks of the Five Precepts in Chapter 5, The Way To A Fortunate Rebirth, page 173. Note: I am using the location in the book and not in the Pali Canon.
“There are further, monks, these five gifts pristine, of long standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated and never before adulterated, that are not being adulterated and that will not be adulterated, not despised by wise ascetics and brahmins. What are these five gifts?”
“Here, monks, a noble disciple gives up the destruction of life and abstains from it.”
“Further monks, a noble disciple gives up the taking of what is not given, and abstains from it.”
“Further monks, a noble disciple gives up sexual misconduct and abstains from it.”
“Further monks, a noble disciple gives up false speech and abstains from it.”
“Further monks, a noble disciple gives up wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the basis for negligence, and abstains from them.”
There are many of the Buddha’s teachings to numerous to mention contained in this book, along with The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold path as you would expect. In explaining the difference between the Tathagata (Buddha) and a monk liberated by wisdom, the Buddha said:
“The Tathagata, monks, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One, is the originator of the path unarisen before, the producer of the path unproduced before, the declarer of the path undeclared before. He is the knower of the path, the discoverer of the path, the one skilled in the path. And his disciples now dwell following that path and become possessed of it afterward.”
I really enjoyed reading this book and the author Bhikkhu Bodhi does a great job of setting up sections of the book mentioned above. His introductions are quite lengthy and I sometimes found myself skipping some of this text in a hurry to read what the Buddha had to say. If someone was new to Buddhism, I would not recommend this book as there are many other books that are easier to read that would prepare someone for what is basically excerpts from the Pali Canon. For the novice of Buddhism, you will not be introduced to the history of Buddhism or various flavors of Buddhism, but if you already have a good grasp of the religion then I would recommend this book to you. On reading the text presented from the Pali Cannon, you will find that the Buddha’s teaching contained a lot of repetition that can sometimes be painful to read, but this is easily overcome as you can skip ahead to the next paragraph.
Overall this is a great presentation of selected texts from the Pali Canon organized in a logical fashion. It is obvious that the author has an in-depth knowledge of the books (Nikayas) that make up the Pali Canon. For me this was an opportunity to read what the Buddha said, not some modern day interpretation of what the Buddha said. If you are a student of Buddhism, I would classify this as a must read. This is a book that you can read over and over again, providing new insights with each reading.
Check out my companion blog The Stoic Buddhist for more on Buddhism, Philosophy, and Stoicism.