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some words about the words
This Dhammapada song project began somewhat unintentionally. A Buddhist teacher remarked that I might work on setting some teachings from the Pali canon to music. He knew that I wrote songs, and had an interest in the early Buddhist literature. I thanked him for the suggestion and went on to other things.

A couple of months later, I was aimlessly strumming away on the guitar in between songs at a strolling-musician job (my partner and I would go from table to table at a Mexican restaurant taking requests). A little chorus fragment presented itself: 'hatred has never been ended by hatred ..'. I recognized it as being from the start of the Dhammapada, and managed to repeat it enough to remember it when I got home. Later on that night I filled out the chorus some and started the verse.

Further work was more deliberate. We are what we think eventually closed in on its final form, and Thousands and another song were slowly constructed via inspiration and consternation.

In arriving at words for the songs, I tried to be guided by three basic principles:

Spirit, rather than letter. I would read a range of versions, and try to understand the message that tied them all together. Communicating the Buddha's message was more important than the use of particular words.

Keep it simple. I concentrated on the most basic content of each passage: the most important ideas. I was not much concerned about possible omission of accessory ideas.

Talk the talk. I tried to express the message in the informal English that is a main language of modern popular music. I wanted it to be easily understood by people with no background in Buddhism; people from a range of formal and informal religions.

 

  -- Rick Ferriss, July 2010


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