All experience is preceded by mind,
All that time that the Buddha taught, forty-five years, and no one was taking notes. That’s because no written language was present in the area. It wasn’t until about 450 years after the Buddha’s death that his teachings were written down. Prior to that, the discourses were memorized and passed on orally.
The Pali Canon, written in the Pali language, is the most complete Early Buddhist canon still available today. The Dhammapada is part of this canon. (Other collections are available in other languages, and some are earlier, but none is thought to be as complete.)
The meanings of ancient foreign languages are subject to the interpretation of the translator. I put together the version of the stanzas at the beginning based on a number of translations into English, including that of Gil Fronsdal, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Glenn Wallis, and Jay N. Forrest. I also checked the English meanings of some terms in the Pali Text Society’s Pali–English Dictionary.
The problem with translations is that often they reflect the preferences, cultural beliefs, or level of understanding of the translator. My version naturally reflects my choice of “best words” based on my own understanding.
Even well-known interpreters can put an odd slant on translations. Thomas Byrom, a scholarly translator of Buddhist works who died in 1991, comes under criticism for translating the first line as “We are what we think.” The Pali version says no such thing. (See author Bodhipaksa’s critique in the fall 2014 issue of Tricycle.)
Looking deeper into meanings, “mind” could also be “heart” or “heart-mind,” because the seat of consciousness in Buddhism is in the chest (i.e., the heart) and not in the head. The word for “mind” might also be translated as “thought” or “intention.” If the mind/thought/intention is obscured, polluted, or wishing harm, then the result is suffering. If the mind/thought/intention is clear, pure, or bright, then the result is joyousness or happiness.
This idea doesn’t mean you change your outlook in order to change the world. The world is how it is, regardless. It also doesn’t mean that you pretend you aren’t angry when you are, or that you adopt a false generosity to make yourself feel better. The important thing from a Buddhist point of view is to shift your own perception, understanding, and intentions.
10/29/2021 07:59:54 am
I really enjoyed this post and the research you included. Yes I agree, my perceptions, culture, and experiences color my perspective. As I walk the path of life,I choose to travel light and release that which no longer serves. I let go of worn out patterns of behaviors and thought that weigh me down.
10/29/2021 11:07:26 am
Teresa, I so appreciate your comments. I'm glad that you found the post meaningful!
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