Buddhist Books Blog

Readings and writings on Buddhism, yoga, and contemplative science

In the Buddha’s Words by Bhikkhu Bodhi

In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon, edited and introduced by Bhikkhu Bodhi.  Wisdom Publications 2005, 485 pages.

This is the most recent of several Pali-only anthologies of Buddhist texts I’ve read, the other two being Word of the Buddha and Path To Deliverance, both by the famous German monk Nyanatiloka.  (The latter is especially good.)  This one is easily the most comprehensive.

For those of you who find the suttas tough going on account of their lack of thematic organization, this book will be a godsend.  As Bhikkhu Bodhi explains in the introduction, the idea for it had its genesis in a series of lectures he gave on the Majjhima Nikaya.  His goal therein was to arrange materials from simplest to most profound, giving a progressive, graded course of theoretical and practical instruction.  He then decided to turn that approach to the Sutta Pitaka as a whole.  The result is the present work.

The specifics of this structure are as follows, where each number refers to a part of the book:

  1. The Buddha’s description of the human condition
  2. The nature of the Buddha and his attainment
  3. How to approach the Dhamma
  4. How the Dhamma contributes to happiness in this life
  5. How it can contribute to happiness in future rebirths
  6. The Dhamma on why renunciation is the safest course to take (the perils of samsara)
  7. The nature of the path to liberation
  8. How to master the mind
  9. The nature of transcendent wisdom
  10. Stages of realization

Each of these sections is prefaced with a substantial introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi, and some of these are surprisingly good.  (I have often felt a little sour toward BB’s writing because he is such a slave to the Commentaries and tends to express himself with a slightly stilted, pompous air.)  I was especially impressed by his introduction to part 3 (“Approaching the Dhamma”), which is, in effect, an essay on the place and nature of faith (saddha) in the Buddha’s teaching.  I think anyone, no matter how knowledgeable, can benefit from these pages (81ff).  It is especially useful as a contrast to Christian notions of faith.

So who would benefit most from this book?  I think beginning students would especially be served by it, or at least those who have until now subsisted mainly on a diet of secondary texts and haven’t yet plunged into the jungle of the suttas.  This book is excellent for providing an orientation, and if read two or three times so that one really becomes familiar with the passages contained therein, when the passages are finally encountered in their full form it should prove very rewarding.  But then, anyone who wants a refresher, or a different manner of presentation from, say, the four noble truths and the three-fold training (sila, samadhi, paññā), will also benefit.

My Amazon rating: 5 stars



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