Khuddaka Nikāya

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Canto XII.
Poems of Twelve Verses


Translated from the Pali by Mrs. C.A.F. Rhys Davids.

Public Domain



Reborn in this Buddha-age at Rājagaha, as a son of King Bimbisāra, he was named Sīlavat. When he was come of age, his brother Ajātasattu was king, and wished to put him to death, but was unable, because Sīlavat was in his last span of life, and had not won arahantship.[1] Then the Exalted One, discerning what was going on, sent Moggallāna the Great to fetch him. And Prince Sīlavat alighted from his elephant, and did obeisance to the Exalted One. Then the latter taught him, adapting the doctrine to his temperament, so that the youth won faith, entered the Order, and in due time became an arahant. He dwelt in Kosala, and when Ajātasattu sent men to murder him, he taught them and converted them, so that they, too, joined the Order. And he preached to them thus:

[608] In morals[2] 'tis that ye should train yourselves
Here on this earth, in morals practised well.
For moral culture well applied doth bring
Near to our reach success of every kind.[3]

[609] Let the wise man protect his morals well,
Who doth to threefold happiness aspire:
A good name and the gain of this world's goods
And, when this life is o'er, the joys of heaven.

[610] The moral man, restrained, wins many friends;
Th'immoral, working mischief, loseth friends.

[611] Dispraise and ill-fame wins th'immoral man;
Aye wins the good man fame, approval, praise.

[612] Nothing there is of spiritual worth
But hath the moral habit as its base,
Its matrix and its vanguard and its source;
Make ye therefore your morals wholly pure.

[613] Morals do give the tether and the term,
Light and delight affording to the heart;[4]
The strand whence all th'enlightened put to sea;[5]
Make ye therefore your morals wholly pure.

[614] No force is there like unto moral force;
Weapon supreme the moral habit is;
Chief decoration is the moral life;
Wondrous invulnerable coat of mail.[6]

[615] A mighty causeway is morality;
A peerless fragrance, sov'reign frankincense,
Wherewith we safely travel far and wide.[7]

[616] Good morals are the best viaticum,[8]
Sov'reign munitions [for life's pilgrimage],
Good morals are a peerless talisman,
Wherewith we safely travel far and wide.[9]

[617] The evil-minded man[10] wins blame on earth,
And in the after-life a woeful doom;
A fool no matter where hath sorry cheer,
Not firmly planted on morality.

[618] The man of virtuous mind wins fame on earth,
And in the after-life the radiant realms.
No matter where, the brave are of good cheer,
Their hearts well stablished in morality.

[619] Chief here below is morals, but the man
Of wisdom is supreme; 'mong gods and men
He doth prevail who is both good and wise.[11]


[1] Cf. CCXXVII., CCXL.; also Vinnya Texts, iii. 241 f.

[2] I was tempted to retain the pretty word sīla for our more cumbrous 'morality,' etc. 'Virtue' is more elegant, but a little vague. Sīla is moral habit, habitual good, or moral conduct - the conduct of one who does not hurt or rob living things, is sexually straight, truthful, and gentle of speech, and sober as to drink. That is all. Such conduct is only the essential basis of the higher life. The sermon is addressed to hired assassins, not to bhikkhus.

[3] Success as man, as god, or in Nibbāna (Commentary).

[4] Abhibhāsanaɱ means either; the Commentary reads the latter meaning.

[5] 'In fording the great river (or sea) of Nibbāna' (Commentary).

[6] The Commentary maintains that abbhutay, wondrous, means abhejjaɱ, unbreakable.

[7] Lit., from one quarter (of the compass) to another, so acceptable to all men are virtuous qualities.

[8] Sambalaɱ is illustrated by the puṭabhattaɱ, or leaf-wrapped pudding taken by a traveller.

[9] See note 5.

[10] Dummano and its opposite are usually rendered 'gloomy' and 'cheerful,' but the context demands an ethical rendering. The Commentary paraphrases by pāpadhammo, etc., and kalyānadhammo.

[11] = verse 70.


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