General Introduction

The materials for this book are drawn ultimately from the Pāli writings of Ceylon and Burma, — that is to say, they are to be found in palm-leaf manuscripts of those countries, written in the Singhalese or Burmese alphabet, as the case may be, but always in the same Pāli language, a tongue very nearly akin to the Sanskrit. These Pāli writings furnish the most authoritative account of The Buddha and his Doctrine that we have; and it is therefore to be regretted that, inasmuch as so little has been known in the Occident until recently of either Pāli or Pāli literature, the information of the public concerning Buddhism has been so largely drawn from books based on other, non-Pāli, sources, on works written in the Singhalese, Chinese, and Tibetan languages, and in the Buddhist-Sanskrit of Nepaul. But a large number of Pāli manuscripts have now been edited and printed in the publications of the Pāli Text Society of London, and in scattered works both in England and in other European countries, and several volumes of translations into English have appeared, so that all excuse for not deriving our knowledge of Buddhism from the most authentic sources is fast disappearing.

As the work on this book has been done wholly in America, my main reliance has naturally been on printed texts. Still, I have had the use of a number of Pāli manuscripts. In Brown University at Providence, Rhode [xvi] Island, there are many manuscripts, in the Burmese character, of works belonging to the Buddhist Scriptures. These were presented by the Rev. Dr. J. N. Cushing, Baptist missionary to Burma, and an alumnus of the University. But the manuscripts which, as being both important and unedited, have proved of most value to me, are four copies of the extensive and systematic treatise on Buddhist Doctrine composed by the famous Buddhaghosa, who flourished in the fourth century A. D. It is called the "Way of Purity" (in Pāli, Visuddhi-Magga). These four manuscripts have come to me from England: one is from the private collection of Prof. T. W. Rhys Davids, Secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society; the second belonged to the late Rev. Dr. Richard Morris of Harold Wood, Essex; the third to Henry Rigg, Esq., consulting engineer to the Government of India, for railways; while for the loan of the fourth, a Burmese manuscript, my thanks are due to the India Office Library.

The Pāli literature chiefly consists of the Buddhist Scriptures and their commentaries. These form an extensive body of works, many of which are individually very large. The Singhalese canon proper — that is to say, the texts without the commentaries — has been estimated by Prof. Rhys Davids to contain about twice as much matter as the Christian Bible. From this estimate Professor Davids excludes the repetitions, which, as he well says, are "some of them very frequent, and others very long." The Christian Bible is divided into two Testaments, whereas the Buddhist canon, or Bible, has three main divisions called "Baskets" (in Pāli, Pitaka), and the Buddhist Bible, consequently, is called "The Three Baskets" (Ti-Pitaka).

The first Testament, Basket, or Pitaka has been edited and published by Oldenberg, and a translation [xvii] of a large part of it has appeared in the "Sacred Books of the East." This Pitaka gives the various rules and ordinances to be observed by the Buddhist Order, and is therefore called the "Discipline-Basket" (in Pāli, Vinaya-Pitaka). A large part of this Pitaka is dry and technical reading; but by no means all of it is of this nature, for there is interspersed much narrative of events in the life of The Buddha. The Buddha himself is supposed to have laid down all these rules as occasion suggested their necessity, and the object of these stories is to explain the circumstances under which he did so. The works of this Pitaka are five, as follows: —


The second of the three Testaments, or Baskets, is called the Sutta-Pitaka, which may be translated the "Sermon-Basket." It consists of a great number of sermons and discourses in prose and verse, delivered by The Buddha or some one of his disciples, and is extremely interesting to any one studying the philosophy and folk-lore of Buddhism. The list of the works which, according to the Singhalese canon, belong to this Pitaka is as follows: —

Khuddaka-Nikāya, consisting of:



The works composing the third and last Pitaka are, of all the Buddhist Scriptures, the dreariest and most forbidding reading, and this is saying a great deal. However, like the desert of Sahara, they are to be respected for their immensity; and when they are all printed, no doubt something can be made of them. The title of this Pitaka is the "Metaphysical Basket" (in Pāli, Abhidhamma-Pitaka). It is composed of the following works:—


This completes the list of the works composing the Tipitaka or Buddhist Scriptures. A number of them have not been printed in their entirety, and still others not at all.[1]

The non-canonical works consist of numerous commentaries on the Tipitaka, and of several other writings of more or less importance. The Buddhaghosa above mentioned was a most prolific commentator, and his Sumangala-Vilāsinī; or commentary on the Dīgha-Nikāya, [xix] is in the Providence collection, and has also partially appeared in type. Of others of his commentaries I have seen only fragments; but, as above stated, I have his general work entitled the Visuddhi-Magga.

Of works which are not commentaries, there is a dictionary of synonyms written in verse, and called the Abhidhāna-ppadīpikā. Then there is the Milindapañha (Questions of Milinda). Milinda (Greek Menander) was a Greek king who carried on the Greek dominion in Bactria founded by Alexander the Great. He probably lived in the second century B. C., and the Milindapañha was probably composed about the beginning of our era. The Milindapañha is, strictly speaking, a North Buddhist work, but it is considered so orthodox by the South Buddhists, i.e. by the Buddhists of Ceylon, Burma, and Siam, that I have felt bold to draw upon it freely in this book. Then there are the Abhidhammattha-Sangaha, the Sārasangaha, the Anāgata-Vamsa, and some other works on grammar, history, and so forth, the names of which I spare the reader, as no translation from them occurs in this book.

After long bothering my head over Sanskrit, I found much more satisfaction when I took up the study of Pāli. For Sanskrit literature is a chaos; Pāli, a cosmos. In Sanskrit every fresh work or author seemed a new problem; and as trustworthy Hindu chronology and recorded history are almost nil, and as there are many systems of philosophy, orthodox as well as unorthodox, the necessary data for the solution of the problem were usually lacking. Such data, I mean, as who the author was, when he lived and wrote, what were the current beliefs and conceptions of his day, and what his own position was in respect of them; such data, in short, as are necessary in order to know what to think [xx] of an author, and fully to understand what he says. Now the subject matter of Pāli literature is nearly always the same, namely, the definite system of religion propounded by The Buddha. Indeed, in a large part of the writings, The Buddha appears as a dramatis persona. We have volumes and volumes of sermons, discourses, and moral tales credited to him, and hundreds of incidents related, apropos of which he pronounced some dictum. And the place of such utterance is usually given. Consequently, although there is a large field for text criticism — a field on which I have not felt it desirable to enter in this book — there is, in a general way and in respect of subject matter, considerable unity in Pāli literature.

The aim of the present work is to take different ideas and conceptions found in Pāli writings, and present them to the reader in English. Translation has been the means employed as being the most effectual, and the order pursued is in the main that of the Buddhist "Three Jewels" (in Pāli, Ti-Ratana), to wit, The Buddha, the Doctrine, and the Order. The selections of the first chapter are on The Buddha; next follow those which deal chiefly with the Doctrine; while others concerning the Order and secular life constitute the closing chapter of the book.

[1]Since the above was written, the King of Siam, who has long been a patron of Pāli studies, has presented Harvard College and a number of other institutions of learning with an edition of Tipitaka works. This gift was made on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his accession to the throne, and consists of thirty-nine volumes printed in the Siamese character. The first and third Pitakas are complete, as well as the first four Nikāyas of the second Pitaka; but of the Khuddaka-Nikāya I find only the Khuddaka-Pātha, Dhammapada, Udāna, Itivuttaka, Sutta-Nipāta, Niddesa, and Patisambhidā-Magga. Most of the other works of this Nikāya have been or are being edited in Europe, so that the only Tipitaka work which has not appeared, at least partially, in type is the Apadāna. This splendid present made by the King of Siam was, I am sorry to say, received too late to be drawn upon for selections for this volume.


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