The Buddha before Buddhism
Wisdom from the Early Teachings
A Translation of the Aṭṭhakavagga with Commentary
Shambhala, Boulder, 2016
The book is outrageously priced at $18.95 for a 180 page paperback.
First off, the book is mis-titled. It is not about the Buddha before Buddhism, it is 1. a theory about the implications of the style of the Aṭṭhaka-Vagga of the Sutta Nipāta relative to the way the doctrine is presented in other parts of the collection of Buddhist documents; and 2. it is a translation of this sub-chapter of a sub-division of the Kuddhaka Piṭaka.
On two grounds I do not recommend this book:
1. Because the theory is propounded by a teacher who, when examined by the evidence before us, is subject to error and bias based on greed, hate and confusion; and
2. Because the translation, although perporting to represent the original spirit of the teacher, makes changes against that spirit; and because the whole collection called the Kuddhaka Piṭaka is suspect and while not rejecting it outright would be better put to the side in favor of study of the four Nikāyas.
How is the author flawed such that we can see it with our own eyes?
He has done this work for money. Even if he gives away the proceeds, he has first received the proceeds and then given them away. Then, the public must pay to receive whatever wisdom this work may contain. This is essentially living off theft of Dhamma. Whatever the laws of the land say, this work does not belong to him. He is living off the misery of those seeking salvation. From this it cannot be argued that publishing this work was an act done from compassion and a desire to bring the word of the Dhamma to those in need of hearing it. What remains is that this was a work done against the spirit of the Dhamma, from greed and ambition. Such a thing done from greed and ambition is done from confusion. That's the whole bag as far as evaluating the teacher goes.
What can be expected in the way of advice helpful to awakening from a teacher that is not proceeding from the spirit of the Dhamma?
His first proposition is that because certain statements are consistently missing from this work, the implication is that this work is making the point that these missing elements are a. later additions, and b. point to an understanding of the Dhamma contrary to that which would be had when taking the whole of it into consideration.
In a nutshell this author is saying "Limiting one's understanding of the Dhamma to this group of suttas; and interpreting them narrowly, attainment of the goal is simple."
The 'this is earlier than that' argument continuously pops up from Rhys David's on. This is a very interesting subject for linguists and archaeologists and historians. It is irrelevant for anyone seeking to understand the Dhamma.
What is necessary for one seeking to understand the Dhamma is whether or not a pronouncement is consistent with what is necessary to attain the goal. Short of understanding what is necessary to attain the goal, the learner needs to know only whether or not the pronouncements are consistent with the work as a whole.
The absence of certain constructions of the Dhamma from any given sutta or collection of suttas does not indicate that the absent construction is in error or disagreement with the work from which it is absent, nor does it indicate that it should be absent from the rest of the Dhamma because it absent from this work.
And that is in fact the case here. Nothing that is said in this collection disagrees with the rest of the Dhamma, and the rest of the Dhamma agrees with the statements made in this collection. Understanding the full scope of what is said in this collection of suttas one can infer the missing doctrines.
Conclusion: Don't waste your time with this book, read the original documentation.
Aṭṭhakavagga of the Sutta Nipāta the BJT edition proofed against the P.T.S. 2010 printing of the Dines Andersen and Helmer Smith 1913 edition. This is the version of the Pali used in the 'Goettingen' collection.
The Aṭṭhakavagga of The Sutta Nipāta: A Collection of Discourses, Being One of the Canonical Books of the Buddhists. Volume X, Part II, of The Sacred Books of the East, edited by F. Max Müller, translated from the Pali by V. Fausbøll
Various translations from the The Aṭṭhakavagga by Bhikkhu Thanissaro, linked to from both the Pali text and the Fausbøll translation.