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The Life of the Buddha: According to the Pali Canon [Paperback]

Nanamoli , Nyanaponika Thera
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Pariyatti Press; New Ed edition (1 Sep 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1928706126
  • ISBN-13: 978-1928706120
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 13.9 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 488,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Composed entirely of texts from the Pali canon, this unique biography presents the oldest authentic record of the Buddha's life and revolutionary philosophy. The ancient texts are rendered here in a language marked by lucidity and dignity, and a framework of narrators and voices connect the canonical texts. Vivid recollections of his personal attendant Ananda and other disciples bring the reader into the Buddha's presence, where his example offers profound inspiration and guidance on the path to freedom.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The next best thing to an autobiography 25 Aug 2000
This books provides a rough chronological description of the Buddha's life and teaching based on the Pali canon, the oldest and most complete systematic treatment of classical Buddhism.
It contains numerous autobiographic accounts from the Buddha himself from his birth to a very full account of his final passing away.
The book is a celebration of the clarity, versatility and depth of the Buddha shorn of a great deal of elaboration which appeared in later texts.
In part the book is like a play with the translator Nanamoli, being an excellent one at that - providing a first voice, introducing the reader to a location and time in ancient India into which the narrative breaks through.
A very pithy digest of an enormous compendium. This book constitutes a comprehensive treasure.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I needed it 16 Jan 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
on time. Good quality. Great price. Thank you very much for spreading this teachings. Not available in my country. Etc.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
141 of 146 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MORE THAN AN ANCIENT LEGEND RETOLD... 9 Jan 2000
By Roger H. Fisher - Published on Amazon.com
One of the most ancient Buddhist texts, the Digha Nikaya, summarizes the Buddha's teaching this way:
"To do no evil deeds, to give effect to good, to purify the heart."
The essense of this teaching can be conveyed no more powerfully than by a carefully told account of the Buddha's life, and no account of his life can be told more carefully than the one by Bikkhu Nanamoli.
Nanamoli, a scholar-monk, deliberately chooses not to glorify the tale by weaving it into yet another overly rich, silk-and-gold tapestry of the sort which the oriental world has loved to make of it. Instead he patiently pieces together dozens of bits from the oldest fabrics he can find, and creates from them a simple quilt, stunning in the geometrical honesty of its design and beautiful in the precision with which it is crafted.
The ancient fabrics from which Nanamoli snips out the elements of this biography are selected exclusively from works encompassed by the Pali Tipitika. By imposing this limit on his sources Nanamoli does not compromise the completeness of the work nor diminish the elegance of the story; in a remarkable way, he actually enhances both. Nanamoli brings to life a flesh-and-blood Buddha, and convinces the reader than anxient India and its people are more like the world today than different from it. The evolution of the Buddha's doctrine is allowed to remain an epic, but on a human scale. Nanamoli preserves the grandeur of the great Teacher's achievements without aggrandizing him as a person. By the book's end the reader will surely concede that fanciful myth and axaggerated exploits about the Buddha are not needed to enhance our admiration of him. As this stimple story gains momentum, we are allowed to experience first-hand how one of the world's most compelling leaders created himself through the sheer power of his intellect and the wonder of his spiritual perfection.
For the serious student, Nanamoli's book selects, organizes and reproduces all the basic facts of the Buddha's life and most of his essential ideas. (One entire chapter uses selections from the Tipitika just to summarize the major components of his teaching or dhamma). Through its other footnotes and indices, the book also equips the reader to turn to and review the original Tipitika sources any times he wishes. In effect Nanamoli creates a historical road-map, starting with specific events, ideas and people, and leading straight back to the original texts themselves. The index is very complete, and the lengthy list of sources neatly summarizes each fragment taken from a given scripture, then locates it by title and page. A real map helps to find most of the places the Buddha frequented, and documents the scope of all the world he knew and wandered.
If one proposes to confine himself only to a single book about Buddhism, this would not be a bad choice. However if one is committed to read all he can about the Buddha, Nanamoli's biography should be within reach at all times. More than just another ancient legend retold, this unpretentious book gives great coherence and meaning to the intricate web of Buddhist teaching and doctrine. In my view it sheds far more light on this web than do a great many of the other highly elaborate books written with the ambitious aim of explaining or expounding upon that doctrine.
Nanamoli's work is devoted to the Buddha's life. However the reader may find that the book has the power to deal with other lives as well. It will certainly inform and stimulate. But I predict that it might actually reach into the very lives of all those who read and study it, and could dramatically change those lives forever.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Buddhist Bible 23 Nov 2007
By Daiho - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Buddhists have no equivalent of the Bible. But this book is perhaps is as close as it comes in the English language, a history of the Buddha, his teachings, and his community, derived entirely from original translations of the earliest sources.

Shortly after World War II, Englishman Osbert Moore went to Sri Lanka to monastic vows - and a Buddhist name. In his 11 years of practice, he translated a number of important Buddhist texts to English, but perhaps his best known work is this history of the Buddha, published posthumously after a heart attack at the age of 55 in 1960.

Bhikku Nanamoli's work is based on his own translations of the Tripitaka, the earliest written records of the Buddha and his teachings, recorded in the ancient language of Pali more than 200 years after the Buddha's death. The bulk of the material included monastic rules and a collection of suttas, the Buddha's lectures and sermons. There is no chronological history linking these rules and teachings, which requires a historian to search the Tripitaka for clues to help place events in some sort of sequence. Nanamoli consulted two additional sources in corroborating his sequencing, a 5th century BCE Pali source (the Acariya Buddhaghosa) and a 15th century Burmese history (the Malalankaravatthu).

Besides problems of historicity, Nanamoli has in brining this text to a modern English readership to wrestle with issues of accuracy and style. As the Tripitaka was for nearly three centuries an oral tradition, it's structure was built on repetition, both of phrases and key ideas. As modern song writers employ a verse-chorus-verse-chorus pattern, so too did the monks of 2,500 years ago repeat elements in their verse to facilitate memorization. For a modern reader, these elements are initially quaint, but very quickly become tiresome. Nanamoli has judiciously elided most of the extraneous recycled verses, thankfully leaving in a smattering taste.

The result is a work that reads like epic myth, with a flavor and texture lacking in modern biographies. This is often charming and engaging, as in the repetition throughout the text of key phrases, such as:

+ Thus I heard. At one time the Blessed One was living at ...
+ The Blessed One instructed and urged and roused and encouraged with talk on the Dhamma.
+ She paid homage and sat down at one side of the Blessed One.
+ He paid homage to the Blessed One and departed, keeping him on his right.
+ The Blessed One set out to wander by stages to ....

It is also to be found in refrains, as from this extract where the Buddha shows his exasperation with a monk who broke his vows by having sex with an alms giver's daughter:

Have I not taught the Dhamma in various ways for the sake of dispassion, not for the sake of passion? Have I not taught the Dhamma in various ways for the sake of unfettering, not for the sake of fettering? Have I not taught the Dhamma in various ways for the sake of relinquishing, not for the sake of clinging? The Dhamma thus taught by me for dispassion, unfettering, and relinquishment you would conceive to be for passion, fettering and clinging. Has the Dhamma not been taught by me in many ways for dispassion, disintoxication, for curing thirst, for abolishing attachment, for severing the round of being, for exhausting craving, for dispassion, for cessation, for Nibbana? Have I not described in many ways the abandoning of sensual desires, the full understanding of perceptions of sensual desires, the curing of thirst for sensual desires, the eradication of thoughts of sensual desires, the allaying of the fever of sensual desires? (p159)

Attentive readers will have no trouble comprehending the main ideas or following Nanamoli's narrative, though at times the text would benefit from explanatory notes. In some instances historical or cultural references are perplexing, such as fire chambers, the Four Divine Kings, or the Brahma Sahampati, the god that knows the Buddha's mind and as his better conscience intervenes from time to time to change the course of events. Conversation in verse between Buddha and his nemesis Mara is not attributed, causing the reader to have to parse the exchange. And there are times when an explanation of nomenclature would save time searching for references, such as Mara's Hindu name, Namuci. In order to preserve the historical accuracy of his text, Nanamoli provides no analysis or interpretation, an understandable decision but one that will leave many readers without a clear understanding of some of the more difficult theories, such as Dependent Origination. Thankfully, the author has collected most of these suttas on theory to a separate chapter on Doctrine.

These are small quibbles, though, and in no way detract from the overall experience of the text or from an appreciation of the scholarship, expertise and effort that went into the translation, organization and composition of this book. It is recommended especially for Buddhists who'd like to sample the original source material without having to first master Pali.

40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Straight from the horse's mouth 17 Aug 2000
By Sarakani - Published on Amazon.com
This is an excellent book using only material from the earliest accounts provided from the time of the Buddha.
You can make your own mind up about this enigmatic human being rather than relying on hearsay. It includes biographical material by observers, autobiographical accounts from the Buddha and also includes a section on the teaching. All sections are prefaced with opening remarks like the acts of a play in more or less chronological sequence of the Buddha's life.
Nanamoli was one of the best Pali translators and tries to produce as authentic and as lucid an account based on the Pali sources used.
41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Work... 16 Nov 2004
By Harlan Kerr - Published on Amazon.com
Firstly, Bhikkhu Nanamoli (Osbert Moore) was a gifted intellectual and prized authentic textual translation above mere book writing. Unlike soooo many Buddhist authors in the West, he was NOT looking to sell a book and become an Author to impress friends and family or help sell his meditation retreats. His intent was always aimed at a scholarly (re: intellectually rigorous) rendering of sacred texts. This rare combination of a deeply intellectual mind with the veneration of a monk's spirit towards his textual sources has given us some of the most pristine English translations of the Buddha's works.
This book was culled from the Pali canon and aims to give the modern reader an overview of the life of the Buddha. As the texts chosen for this work are strewn across 10 000 or so pages of the Pali language canon, the author has achieved a remarkable feat of editing. It gives the English world an authentic overview of who the Buddha was and what he did. The selections are rendered in clear lucid English, with every passage referenced. It is not a biographical novel however. There are no artificial attempts at plot, or other literary devices, or to turn the Canon into something more conventional. It is wholly faithful to the source material.
If you have any interest in whom the Buddha was and what he taught, start with this book. And leave the pseudo-biographies and novelizations to the hacks.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for what it is 19 Sep 2008
By Joshua M. Hudson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a very well documented book, but it is not for someone who isn't already familiar with the suttas. It presents a history of the Buddha academically with FOUR different narrators. Each part of the Buddha's history is told four time from each narrator pulling from historical and traditional stories and suttas.

While I found the book VERY useful, it was not something you can put on the night stand and enjoy before bed or use to find inspiration from. It is for studying with at the library.
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