Buddhist Wisdom Verses Home PageFirst Chapter
Introduction to the English Edition
This collection of verses, made by one of the leading scholar-monks in Sri Lanka in the 20th century, is one of the most useful compilations on the moral life of the layman that can be found.
Drawn mainly from the great verses collections in the Pāḷi Nikāyas See The Source of the Verses for the exact location of the verses.01 almost all aspects of the lay life have been covered, and it brings together in a fairly comprehensive way many teachings that would otherwise be lost in obscurity.
Throughout the book it is possible to find teachings on all matters of the ethical life, that will help guide anyone to make better life-choices whether it be at business and work, or in the home life and their various relationships.
Around two-thirds of the verses are drawn from the Jātaka stories, and it was this great storehouse of wisdom stories that formed the ethical thinking of most of the Buddhist societies in the Middle Ages, but which now has gone out of fashion.
The great heroes of those days, in such strong contrast to the present day, were the Bodhisatta, the penitant hermits in the woods, the great Kings who ruled justly, and the clever and mischievous animals who had a moral to illustrate, and who all came alive on the greater canvas of the moral universe.
These days, of course, things appear to be much more confusing. They are, in the sense that the lines between right and wrong can often be very grey, and actions may seem remote from results; they are not, when ethical principles are clearly understood and applied.
The teachings herein cover how to live in the right way and avoid the wrong way; how to honestly gain one's wealth and use it fruitfully; how to choose one's friends and be wary of the treacherous; what are helpful and harmful modes of speech; how to judge the character of others; and many other topics, that are all dealt with in a memorable and succint way.
This is also a book that can be returned to time and again to remind oneself of the teachings, and in that sense each of the stories is a meditative reflection. In its present form it also acts as an easy source book for some of the many teachings there are for the lay community in the Canon, and can be utilised to find guidance when in doubt.
There are altogether 251 sections to the book, and each story has anywhere between one and eleven verses See Sakkasaṁyuttaṁ (SN 1.11.4) vs. 390-400 in this collection. 02 attached to it. Sometimes we also find that different verses have been drawn from the same source, but separately, so as to illustrate different moral points. For instance there are 23 verses that have been extracted from the Sigālasuttaṁ (DN 31), but they appear in 6 different places. 03
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In the Text and Translation edition of this book there will be found the Pāḷi text along with a literal translation, and also translations of the variant readings and relevant material from the commentaries, which help explain the text. This is intended for the student, who wants to understand precisely what the Pāḷi is saying and what the commentarial exegesis of difficult terms amounts to.
In this edition, though, I have dropped all the annotation so as to highlight the ethical message contained in the verses themselves, as this is meant more for those who want guidance for their life from the Teaching.
Against my normal practice in the English section, though, I have included the Pāḷi in this edition, as I wanted to include it as part of the reading of the text.
As regard to content I have modified the literal version so that it reads more fluently, and have organised it into mainly 6, 8 and 10 syllabic lines of unrhymed unstressed English verse. This is fairly close to the structure of the original Pāḷi, where the verses are mainly 8 (Siloka) 11 (Tuṭṭhubha) and 12 (Jagatī) syllabic unrhymed and unstressed lines. 04
The translation is clarified in some ways compared with the literal version, but I have endeavoured to stay as close as possible to the latter wherever it was possible, and indeed many of the translations are identical between the editions.
However, there are occasionally ways in which I sought to make the meaning of the text more clear and more natural for the English edition. For instance, when making general statements in English, we normally use the plural, so I have sometimes changed the singular of the original into the plural here. This has the added advantage of getting round the problem we face in English with using the predominantly male voice in the singular. 05
Where I have judged the verse to contain repetition or padding that really adds nothing to the sense and has only been included to fill out the metre I have taken the liberty of excluding it, in order to get the message across in a more concise way.
I have generally taken the verses one at a time, but sometimes it has seemed to me to give a more flowing translation to take two verses together; and occasionally to redivide the verses according to their sense.
Because of the decision to exclude annotation, I have occasionally been obliged to include the commentarial definition in the translation, where the meaning would be otherwise unclear; but only rarely I have gone as far as paraphrase, when I could see no other way of getting the teaching of the verse across.
Buddhist Wisdom Verses Home PageFirst Chapter
last updated: February 2011