Dhammapada Songs: Liner notes

from rick ferriss

Back in 2010, I decided to write some songs based on the Dhammapada, an ancient collection of sayings attributed to the Buddha.

An illustrated version of the Dhammapada by Thomas Byrom was one of the first Buddhist books I owned, and when a friend suggested that I write something based on the Pali canon, I immediately thought of it. In particular I thought of the very beginning of the first chapter: “We are what we think” became the first line of the first song.

My songwriting process involved reading, contemplating, writing, and editing. There are many versions of the Dhammapada, but I concentrated my reading on two of them: the poetical Byrom rendering I was familiar with, and the more literal translation by Acharya Buddharakkhita. I tried to perceive a common ground within the two versions, and then to translate my understanding into singable lyrics that express the ideas using the language and features of our modern culture.

I think of the songs as relatives of the Dhammapada, rather than alternate translations. They are of the same family as the translations, but have different backgrounds (some closer than others).

In 2010 I released Dhammapada Songs, a CD with 5 tracks of two songs based on the Dhammapada: “We Are What We Think”, and “Thousands”. In 2017, I finished a third song, “Your Work”, and released a 3-song collection, titled Dhammapada Songs #2, that also includes another version of “We Are What We Think”, and an extended remix of “Thousands” that Bill Dudley created from the original recordings.

In the three posts that follow these comments and links, the lyrics for each song are compared with short passages from the Byrom and Buddharakkhita Dhammapadas:
Chapter 1 (We are what we think)
Chapter 8 (Thousands)
Chapter 12 (Your Work)

The Dhammapada:

The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom.
Translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita.
Buddhist Publication Society, 1985.
Buying links at goodreads
Read online at Access to Insight
Free dowloads at Reading Faithfully

The Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha.
Rendered by Thomas Byrom.
Various editions, 1976
Buying links at goodreads
Free dowload of pdf

Michael P. Garofalo’s Dhammapada Sutta page has links to many translations and commentaries.

Dhammapada Songs

free streaming and free good-quality mp3 downloads:
free streaming and paid high-quality downloads in MP3, FLAC and more at Bandcamp:
Dhammapada Songs
Dhammapada Songs #2

youtube video for “We are what we think”.


3 thoughts on “Dhammapada Songs: Liner notes

  1. Pingback:   Dhammapada chapter 12: parallel texts | Biology, Buddha and Beyond

  2. Pingback:   Dhammapada chapter 8: parallel texts | Biology, Buddha and Beyond

  3. Pingback:   Dhammapada chapter 1: parallel texts | Biology, Buddha and Beyond

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