Although most of the Pali Canon has been translated into English, and many of the translations are quite good, there has long been a need for translations available free of charge. After all, the Buddha never charged for his teachings. He taught freely, both as an expression of his own generosity and as a sign of his respect for the priceless value of the dhamma.
In early 1996, John Bullitt asked me to provide a few translations from the canon for his fledgling website, Access to Insight (www.accesstoinsight.org). What began as a casual project quickly grew to a major production as the positive response to the initial translations showed a widespread interest in the Pali discourses. In 2001, the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies offered to print these discourses for free distribution, and so the four-volume set, Handful of Leaves, was born.
I learned my philosophy of translation from my first teacher, Ajaan Fuang Jotiko, who had me translate into English the writings of his teacher, Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo, as a way of supplementing my meditation practice. When I asked him whether the translations should aim at literal accuracy or essential meaning, he replied, “Both.” And in the process of trying to meet both aims, my understanding of the dhamma was forced to stretch and grow.