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The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya by Maurice Walshe

The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya by Maurice Walshe.  Wisdom Publications 1995, 648 pages.

Originally published as Thus Have I Heard, this careful and very readable translation of the first of the four major nikayas from the Pali canon was a much needed replacement for the outdated, three volume, overpriced and generally inaccessible Pali Text Society version by the husband and wife team of Rhys-Davids.  In its reissue, it became the first of what presumably will be retranslations of the first four nikayas coming out of Wisdom Publications in Boston.  Thank the devas for Wisdom!  It was about time.  Now all we need is the Anguttara Nikaya (Bhikkhu Bodhi has promised it!) and we can sit back and sing a song of thanks to Brahma Sahampati.

This translation (as well as those of the Majjhima and Samyutta Nikayas) abridges the endless repetitions, renders the suttas in modern day English (as opposed to stilted Victorian), and packages it all in one handsome, affordable volume.  There are extensive endnotes and it is obvious that Mr. Walshe (1911-1988) did his homework.  The only real complaint I have about the book is that the introduction is somewhat lame—very basic—so if you’ve read a few introductory books on Buddhism and know something about the traditional cosmology, you could just as well skip this part.

Regarding the text proper: the Digha Nikaya is a collection of thirty-four of the Buddha’s “long discourses” (digha means “long”) and is typically listed first among the nikayas.  Much of the material is mythological; many of the suttas have a fabulistic feel to them—visits to the gods, stories of past lives, past Buddhas and the like.  Some are heavy on fluff and light on Dhamma, and for the serious sort may wear upon the patience.  They are important, nonetheless, for they have informed the worldview of Buddhists since the beginning, and if they are not so vital doctrinally, they are still important from an aesthetic and cultural standpoint.  That said, some of the most important suttas in the canon can be found here, among them the Brahmajala Sutta (#1), the Samaññaphala Sutta (#2), the Mahasihanada Sutta (#8), the Potthapada Sutta (#9), the Kevaddha Sutta (#11)—important especially for its characterization of nibbana, the Mahanidana Sutta (#15), the Mahaparinibbana Sutta (#16)—the story of the Buddha’s last days and passing, the Mahasatipatthana Sutta (#22)—possibly the single richest sutta in the canon from the standpoint of practice, the Pasadika Sutta (#29), and, for laypeople especially, the Sigalaka Sutta (#31).

My Amazon rating: 5 stars


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