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The book that changed my life

dhammapadaIn the late 1970’s, between finishing high school and going to university, I opened a small book of ancient verses, and my life changed forever.

I’d been interested in Buddhism for years, but my local library only had one book on the subject — a rather dated “Teach Yourself” guide to Zen Buddhism. I’d read the book, and found it both intriguing and baffling, but struggled to get a sense of what difference Buddhism would make to my life. And I was looking for something life-changing.

One early autumn day I accompanied my parents on a shopping trip to the nearest large town, which was the possessor of that rare and precious thing — a book shop. I’d inherited a love of reading from my father, and so the two of us went (more or less) one way while my mother went hers. And after a period of browsing, I happened across a slender black-spined volume: “The Dhammapada.” I can still see exactly where in the book shop, on which shelf, and where on the shelf the book sat, as clearly as I can see the book now on the desk in front of me.

I’d heard of the Dhammapada, and knew it was an early Buddhist scripture. I knew it was the real deal — the teaching of the Buddha — as opposed to being merely about Buddhism. And sitting in the passenger seat of my parents’ car, waiting for my mother to return from her bargain-hunting, with my father beside me listening to the droning incantation of the days’ football results, my eager hands slipped the slim book from its paper bag, and skipping past the introduction I read the following words:

What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that draws the cart.

What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, joy follows him as his own shadow.1

These clear and simple words were revelatory. We have choices. The key to happiness and suffering lies in the quality of our thoughts, words, and actions. Reading these verses, I knew I was a Buddhist.

Inherent in these few lines is everything we need to know about what it means to live a Buddhist life. We can find out for ourselves, through experience and observation, which thoughts, words, and actions lead to suffering and which to joy. These choices lie before us in every moment of our lives: the skilful or the unskilful; joy or sorrow. Which are you going to choose? In every moment you make choices that change your life. Choose wisely.

1. Despite the fact that these verses had a big effect on me, this is a terrible translation!

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About Bodhipaksa

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Bodhipaksa is a Buddhist practitioner and teacher, a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, and a published author. He founded Wildmind in 2001. Bodhipaksa has published many guided meditation CDs and guided meditation MP3s.

He teaches at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire. You can follow Bodhipaksa on Twitter, join him on Facebook, or hang out with him on .

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Comments

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Comment from Jenny Iles
Time: September 5, 2013, 2:53 pm

Just wanted to say “Hello, Bodhipaksa”.

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Comment from Annette
Time: September 5, 2013, 3:32 pm

Which translation would you recommend? I see so many versions in bookshops and online.

One book that change my life was Wildmind – I too remember exactly where I found it, downstairs in Waterstones’ Trafalgar Square branch, in London. Although it was some time before I started a regular meditation practice, that book was the first one I read that made meditation seem possible for me, and started me on the path to mindfulness.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 5, 2013, 8:34 pm

Hello back!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 5, 2013, 8:36 pm

That’s lovely to hear. The translation I turn to most is one by Narada Thera, which is very hard to get. But there’s also one by Gil Fronsdal that looks excellent.

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Comment from Scott
Time: September 6, 2013, 9:45 am

I just downloaded Gil Fronsdal’s translation to my Kindle. Thanks for the recommendation! Hope you’re doing well.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 6, 2013, 10:59 am

I am doing well. Thanks, Scott!

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Comment from Annette
Time: September 7, 2013, 5:05 am

Thank you for the recommendation. I’ve now bought the Kindle edition of Gil Fronsdal’s translation.

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