VII. Professor Robert Caesar Childers

1. All too brief a life

The curriculum vitae of Robert Caesar Childers (1838–1876) would have hardly filled two printed pages:–

Born in 1838, son of Revd. Charles Childers, English Chaplain, Nice, France. Student of Wadham College, Oxford; awarded a Hebrew Scholarship.

1860–Appointed to the Ceylon Civil Service.
–First appointment as writer or cadet: Private Secretary to Governor, Sir Charles McCarthy.
–Second appointment: Office Assistant to the Government Agent, Kandy.

1860/63–Studied Sinhala (and possibly Pali) from Ven. Yātrāmulle Śrī Dhammārāma Thera at Bentota Vanavāsa Vihāra; established a firm friendship with Ven. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti.

1864–Retired from Civil Service and returned to England.

1866–Secretary to the Cattle Plague Commission in London.

1868–Began serious study of Pali under the influence of Reinhold Rost: Instructed by Viggo Fausböll of Denmark.

1869–Published in JRAS Vol. IV an annotated text of the Khuddakapāṭha with an English translation.

1871–Published in JRAS Vol. V an article: “Notes on Dhammapada, with special reference to the question of Nirvāṇa.”

–Translated, into Pali verse, St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (Bible, New Testament): published with translation and critical comments by James de Alwis in “Pali Translations”, Government Printer, Colombo 1871.

1872–Viggo Fausböll dedicates the translation of ten Jātakas with the acknowledgement that Childers’
“Kind exhortations caused me to renew my Pali studies.”


–-Appointed Sub-librarian of India Office in London under Reinhold Rost.

–Appointed Professor of Pali and Buddhist Literature at University College, London.

1873–Published in JRAS Vol. VI two articles: “Notes on the Sinhalese Language No. I – On the Formation of the Plural of Neuter Nouns” and “The Pali text of the Mahā-parinibbāna-sutta and commentary with an English translation.”

–Published an article on “Buddhist Metaphysics” in Cowell’s edition of H. T. Colebrooke’s Essays.

1874–Assisted Ven. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti with the Introduction in English to his “Nāmāvaliya.”

–Contributed short articles and notices on Pali studies in Sri Lanka to London periodicals: “Academy”, “Athenaeum “ and “ Trübner’s Literary Record.” [lxxxv]


–Published in JRAS Vol. VII a further instalment of the Mahā-parinibbāna-Sutta

1876–Published in JRAS Vol. VHI two articles: “Notes on the Sinhalese Language No. 2: Proofs of the Sanskritic Origin of Sinhalese” and concluding part of the Mahā-parinibbāna-Sutta.

–Began translating ten selected discourses of the Dīghanikāya (completed seven).

–Awarded the Volney Prize by the Institute of France for the Pali Dictionary.

Died on 25th July 1876, survived by wife, Mrs. Anne Childers, two sons and three daughters.

If he did not die so prematurely in the prime of his life, at the age of 38 years, what a magnificent contribution he could have made to Pali and Buddhist studies? But what he did during this all too brief life is, indeed, most remarkable and promised so much.

2. The First Ever Pali Dictionary in Europe

Childers’ contribution to the study of Pali and Buddhism was manifold. But his single most significant legacy is the Pali Dictionary which he published in two volumes in 1872 and 1875. We have an account from Rhys Davids of how Childers planned the Dictionary and it shows, as much as the letters published or summarized in this Volume prove, the extent to which Ven. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti inspired and assisted in this life’s work of Childers:–-

“After the publication of Dhammapada by Fausböll in 1855, the study of Pali again languished for a whole generation and, would in all probability have languished still had it not been for the third landmark in the history of our knowledge of Pali, the publication in two volumes of the Dictionary. [lxxxvi]

This great work was due to the self-sacrificing labour of Robert Caesar Childers of the Ceylon Civil Service. Soon after his retirement in 1866 he set to work to arrange alphabetically all the words found in the Abhidhānappadīpikā, a vocabulary of Pali in 1203 Pali verses, then already edited by Subhūti Unnanse, a well known Ceylon Scholar. In making this re-arrangement, Childers carefully added references to, and also other words taken from the published texts and from scholarly European books on the subject of Buddhism. His work rapidly improved as it went on, and there can be no doubt that its completion was almost a necessary preliminary to any further serious work in Pali scholarship.” Rhys Davids: Loc. cit p. 33.

His method of work, as described above, also explains his dependance on Ven. Subhūti right up to the conclusion of the Dictionary. But it is regrettable that Childers, himself, made no detailed reference to his indebtedness to Ven. Subhūti in this particular manner.

The European scholarly circles were, no doubt, impressed with this pioneering lexicographical efforts in a language which, Childers claimed, he hardly knew seven years before the publication of the first volume. A friendly review in the Athenaeum of 21 August 1875, which went to the extent of saying “The University of London is to be congratulated in possessing a professor of an Eastern language who has done more for its critical study and development than can well at present be estimated”, praised the Dictionary:–

“Prof. Childers has ploughed, and sown, and reaped a rich harvest from a field which has never had due attention paid to it. His is the first dictionary of the Pali language. He has not had a stone of another scholar’s foundation to build upon – not even the merest vocabulary. As a first work on such a difficult subject, Prof. Childers’s Dictionary may be termed a truly marvellous result of patience, indomitable energy, and conscientiously-laborious research. Of course, faults may be found with the work, just as faults might be found with a road roughly traced out over, and boldly pushed into, an unexplored mountainous [lxxxvii] country by an adventurous engineer. Prof. Childers is just such a pioneer in a hitherto untrodden department of literature. Our readers should have their attention directed to one simple fact. We have mentioned that there is no other dictionary, or even vocabulary, of the language Prof. Childers has treated of, and yet the work before us contains nearly fourteen thousand words and forty-five thousand references! This will at least prove the industry of Mr. Childers.

We are aware of the criticisms of Dr. Weber and M. Foucaux on the first portion of the Pali Dictionary. The criticisms of the latter are based on views of a metaphysical theory of the Nirvāṇa (final annihilation, extinction, absorption, or whatever it be!) which any scholar may hold and any reject – any opinion on such a moot point does not affect the value of a dictionary. As for Dr. Weber, perhaps the perusal of the second part of Prof. Childers’s Dictionary will convert him to a different estimate of the work as a whole. We only allude to these writers, seeing that Pali scholars who are, like them, qualified to express a scientific opinion on a book like this, are so rare.

As for ourselves, we believe that, in the work before us Prof. Childers does himself full justice as the first European Pali scholar. In detail, and in the matter of minute particulars of arrangement, &c., Prof. Childers lays himself open to the strictures of the critic. Indeed, we are only surprised that this is not more glaringly the case in a book which is so novel and without precedent in Pali. But looking at the dictionary as a new work – as a work which reveals, more than any other work we know of, the internal tissue, the sinews and arteries and heart, and very spirit, of one of the most ancient but least noticed members of the Aryan family of tongues, – Prof. Childers’s volumes must be regarded as a masterpiece.”

Rhys Davids in the foreword of the PTS Pali Dictionary wrote in 1921:–

“It is somewhat hard to realize, seeing how important and valuable the work has been that when Rober Caesar Childers [lxxxviii] published, in 1882, Ed. note: Text reads 1782. the first volume of his Pali Dictionary, he only had in his command a few pages of the canonical Pali books.”

What he lacked in the form of well-edited books was more than amply compensated by the access he had to three of the best scholars to answer his queries and to place at his disposal their knowledge. They were Ven. Yātrāmulle Śrī Dhammārāma (whose hand-written notes are preserved in the Oriental Manuscripts and Publications Branch of the British Library – Or. 2258), Ven. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti (the correspondence with whom constitutes the first part of Book One of this Volume) and Mudliar Louis Corneille Vijesimha (whose comments on the origin of Buddhist Commentaries in a personal letter to Childers were published as an article in JRAS Vol. V in 1871 with an introduction by Childers). Cf. Heinz Bechert; Some Side-Lights on the Early History of Pali Lexicography; Anjali – O. H. de A. Wijesekera Feli-citation Volume, Colombo 1970 p. 3. “Spiegel’s Lexicon Palicum gives a quite interesting impressisn of the standard of Pali studies of the 19th Century. The difficulties which scholars had to face in Europe without the help of the learned priests and pandits in the Buddhist countries to whom the father of moden Pali lexicography, Robert Caesar Childers, was so much indebted are clearly seen.” The assistance that was given by them has been acknowledged by Childers in the Introduction to the Dictionary and also in the body of the articles. It is interesting that the only criticism which the review in the “Athenaeum” had to make was on the frequent citation of Ven. Subhūti in statements as “Subhūti sent me this or that”. It is evident that the reviewer had no idea how much Childers esteemed the opinions of Ven. Subhūti and how eager Childers had been to cite the Nāyaka Thera as an authority.

3. A Pali Dictionary or An Encyclopaedia of Buddhism?

With all the shortcomings which one naturally expects in a pioneering work, a question which baffles us today is how Childers actually combined a Pali Dictionary with an Encyclopaedia on Buddhism. Key words on Buddhist doctrines were treated in such detail that articles of varying length were written on them quoting [lxxxix] a variety of publications of the day to present diverse opinions and interpretations. I would reproduce here four such articles, both because the substance is of very great importance and because the Dictionary is now so very rare that only a few have access to them. These articles speak for themselves and enable us to form our judgement on both Childers and his Sri Lankan helpers:–

(1) Upādiseso Ed. note: Childers used a form of transcription no longer in use today, I have therefore updated it to the new standards so that the text is easier to understand.

Upādiseso (adj.), Having the Skandhas remaining. Upādi is a masc. noun formed from the verb Upādā as upadhi is formed from upadhā, and is a name for the five khandhas (catūhi upādānehi upādiyatī ti upādi, pañcakkhandhassa etaṁ adhivacanaṁ). As I have shown in art. Nibbānaṁ, Nirvāṇa is of two sorts, upādisesanibbānaṁ or Arhatship and anupādisesanibbāṇaṁ or extinction. These terms mean respectively, “having the Skandhas remaining”, and “not having the Skandhas remaining”. For upādisesa we sometimes have sa-upādisesa or savupādisesa. The North Buddhists, puzzled by the anomalous form upādi, concluded it must be a mistake for upadhi, and have turned upādisesa into sopadhiceśa. Hence we have the curious anomaly of the North Buddhists terming the Arhat sopadhiceśa, “having upadhi”, while nirupadhi, “free from upadhi”, is with the South Buddhists a distinctive epithet the Arhat! (B. Int. 590). See art. Nibbānaṁ, p. 267 (b), line 5.

(2) Nekkhamma

Nekkhammaṁ, Forsaking, separating from; giving up the world, devoting oneself to the ascetic life, entering the priesthood (= abhinikkhamana and pabbajjā); self-abnegation, giving up all pleasures; attainment of the first Jhāna, which consists in separating oneself from Kāma and other evil states; emancipation from human passion, Arhatship, Nirvāṇa; the supernatural illumination called vipassanā; piety, holiness niṣkrama+ya. Ab. 831. Nekkhamma is one of the Pāramitās, and consists in the complete abandonment of all possessions and objects of desire (Man. B. 102). Nekkhamme ānisaṁso, the blessings of self-abnegation (Pāt. xxii). At Dh. 270 kāyaviveko [xc] is explained to be the act of vavakaṭṭhakāyānaṁ nekkhammābhiratānaṁ, “those who practise bodily retirement from the world, who delight in seclusion”. Nekkhammūpasame ratā, delighting in the peace of emancipation (Dh. 33, the comment at 343 says it means Arhatship, “that Nirvāṇa which is the cessation of human passion).” At Dh. v. 272 the comment explains nekkhamma by the enjoyment of the state of anāgāmin. Nekkhammato paṭṭhāya, from the time he gave up the world (Dh. 153). B. Lot. 552; Dh. 137; Pat. 29. Nekkhamma represents a Sanskrit form naiṣkramya, and has nothing to do with naiṣkarmya; the impossibility of identifying it with the latter word becomes obvious, when we consider that in the Buddhist system earnestness, zeal and energetic action are the very basis of all holiness (e.g. witness the well-known formula ye keci kusalā dhammā sabbe te appamādamūlakā, “all good qualities or conditions have their root in diligence”, and comp. the eight Arambhavatthus). As nekkhamma is sometimes opposed to kāma (see the articles Akusaladhātu and Kusalo), it might at first sight appear also to represent a S. form naiskāmya, but in the first place nis+kāma+ya could rather become nekkamma (comp. nikkāmin, “free from desire”), and secondly since abandonment of the world involves abandonment of all objects of desire, naiskāmya may well form the antithesis to kāma.

(3) Viññāṇa

Viññāṇaṁ, Intelligence, knowledge; consciousness; thought, mind [Vijñāna.] Ab. 152. Patto buddhiñ ca viññāṇaṁ, having attained wisdom and intelligence (Ras. 28, comp. 26, and see Viññutā; should buddhiṁ be vuddhiṁ ?). Matā dārukkhandhasadisā apagataviññāṇa, dead, deprived of consciousness, like logs of wood (Dh. 179, comp. 8). Cakkhuv., eye-consciousness, sight (B. Lot. 511). Manov., mind-consciousness, thought (Ditto). Ayaṁ kho me kayo... idañ ca pana me viññāṇaṁ ettha sitaṁ ettha paṭibaddhaṁ, this is my body, and this again is my Mind, residing in my body, imprisoned within it (Sām. S.).

Viññāṇa is one of the Khandhas (Dh. 420; B. Int. 502), and in this sense is generally rendered “consciousness”, a term, however, which is inadequate to express all that is meant by [xci] viññāṇa. It may I think sometimes with advantage be rendered by Thought or Mind, the more so as both cittaṁ and mano are more or less accurate synonyms for it. It will be seen further that it consists mainly of thoughts or mental impressions of various sorts. Viññāṇa as the thinking part of the individual is the most important of the five khandhas, and if any one khandha can be said to constitute the individual it is this. In Buddha’s words, viññānassa nirodhena etth’ etaṁ uparujjhati, by the destruction of Mind the whole being perishes. Of the four mental khandhas the superiority of V. is strongly asserted in the first verse of Dhammapada: Manopubbangamā dhammā manoseṭṭhā manomayā, the mental faculties (vedanā, saññā and saṅkhāra) are dominated by Mind, they are governed by Mind, they are made up of Mind (that this is the true meaning of the passage I am now convinced, see Alw. N. 70–75).

As one of the Khandhas and a metaphysical term, Viññāṇa has no less than eighty-nine subdivisions, which I will now briefly elucidate from Visuddhi Magga and Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha. First we have the broad division into kusalaviññāṇam, akusalv. and avyākatav., meritorious thought, demeritorious thought and indifferent thought. Kusalaviññāṇa consists of 8 kāmāvacara kusalacittas, 5 rūpāvācarakusalacittas, 4 arūpāvacarakusalacittas, and 4 lokuttarakusalacittas. Akusalaviññāṇa consists of 8 lobhasahagatacittas, 2 paṭighasampayuttacittas, and 2 momūhacittas. Avyākataviññāṇa has two broad subdivisions into vipāka and kiriyā. To the former belong 7 akusalavipākacittas, 8 kusalavipākahetukacittas, 8 sahetukakāmavacaravipakacittas, 5 rūpāvacaravipākacittas, 4 arūpāvacaravipākacittas and 4 lokuttaravipākacittas: to the latter belong, 3 ahetukākriyācittas, 8 sahetukakāmāvacarakriyācittas, 5 rūpāvacarakriyācittas, 4 arūpāvacarakriyācittas (these numbers added together will be found to amount to 89, which is the number given by Hardy at Man. B. 419). It is impossible in a work of this extent to enumerate [xcii] the whole of the 89 cittas, but I will give a few as specimens,and, add a quotation from Vis. M which will give a fair idea of the nature of the Buddhist metaphysics. I hope to take an early opportunity of printing the text of Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha (a modem Burmese work), which is an able and lucid compendium of the Abhidhamma.

The following is the text of the seven akusālavipākacittas, or thoughts having an evil result: Upekkhāsahagataṁ cakkhuviññāṇaṁ, upekkhāsahagataṁ sotaviññāṇaṁ, upekkhāsahagataṁ ghānaviññāṇaṁ, upekkhasahagataṁ jivhāviññāṇaṁ, dukkhasahagataṁ kāyaviññāṇaṁ, upekkhāsahagataṁ sampaṭicchanacittaṁ, upekkhāsahagataṁ santiraṇacittam, eye-consciousness attended with indifference (viz. attended by neither pain nor pleasure, ear-consciousness attended with indifference, nose-consciousness attended with indifference, tongue-consciousness attended with indifference, touch-consciousness based on suffering, acquiescing thought attended with indifference, deciding thought attended with indifference. The five Rūpāvacaravipakācittas are the good thoughts or states of mind leading to the five Jhānas, vitakkavicārapītisukhekaggatāsahitaṁ paṭhamajjhānakusalacittaṁ, vicarāpītsukhekaggatāsahitaṁ dutiyajjhānakusalacittaṁ, pītisukhekaggatāsahitaṁ tatiyajjhānakusalacittaṁ, sukhekaggatāsahitaṁ catutthajjhānakusalacittaṁ, upekkhekaggatāsahitaṁ pañcamajjhānakusalacittaṁ. The five Rūpāvacaravipakācittas are five states of mind in which the five Jhānas result, vitakkavicārapītisukhe- kaggatāsahitaṁ paṭhāmajjhānavipākacittaṁ, and so on as in the last category. The four Arūpāvacarakriyācittas are four thoughts combined with action(?) causing birth in the four Arūpabrahmalokas, ākāsānañcāyatanakriyācittaṁ, viññāṇañcāyatanakriyācittaṁ, etc. The four Lokuttarakusalacittas are four states of mind leading to the four Paths, sotāpattimaggacittaṁ, sakadāgāmimaggacittaṁ, anāgāmimaggacittaṁ, arahattamaggacittaṁ. The four Lokuttaravipākacittas are four states of mind leading to the four Fruitions, sotapattiphalacittaṁ, and so on. The enumerations in the above paragraph are taken from Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha. [xciii]

I will conclude by quoting Buddhaghosa’s brief account in Vis. M. of the eight Kāmāvacarakusalacittas, as it affords a good specimen of the practical bearing of Buddhist metaphysics, and of the life that animates compositions which at first sight might be mistaken for lists of barren technicalities. Tattha kāmāvacaraṁ somanassupekhāñāṇasaṅkhārabhedato aṭṭhavidhaṁ seyyathīdaṁ, somanassasahagatañāṇasampayuttaṁ asaṅkhāraṁ sasaṅkhārañ ca tathā ñāṇavippayuttaṁ, upekhāsahagataṁ ñāṇasampayuttaṁ asaṅkhāraṁ sasaṅkhārañ ca tathā ñāṇavippayuttaṁ. The foll. is the full text, Somamassasahagataṁ ñāṇasampayuttaṁ asañkhārikam ekaṁ sasankhārikam ekaṁ, somanassasahagataṁ ñāṇavippayuttaṁ asankhārikam ekaṁ sasañkhārikam ekaṁ, upekkhāsahagataṁ ñāṇasampayuttaṁ asaṅkhārikaṁ ekaṁ sasaṅkhārikaṁ ekaṁ, upekkhāsahagataṁ ñāṇavippayuttaṁ asaṅkharikaṁ ekaṁ sasaṅkhārikam ekaṁ ti imāni aṭṭha kāmāvacarakusalacittāni nāma (Abhn Saṅgaha). Yadā hi deyyadhammapaṭiggāhakādisampattiṁ aññaṁ vā Somanassahetuṁ āgamma haṭṭhapahaṭṭho atthi dinnan ti ādinayappavattaṁ sammādiṭṭhiṁ purakkhatvā asaṁsīdanto anussānito parehi dānādini puññāni karoti tadā ’ssa cittaṁ somanassasahagatañāṇasampayuttaṁ asaṅkhāraṁ hoti. Yadā pana vuttanayena haṭṭharuṭṭho sanunādiṭṭhiṁ purakkhatvā pi amuttacāgatādivasena saṁsidamāno vā parehi vā ussāhito karoti tadā ’ssa tad eva cittam sasaṅkhāraṁ hoti: imasmiṁ hi atthe saṅkhāro ti etaṁ attano vā paresaṁ vā vasena pavaṭṭassa pubbapayogassādhivacanaṁ. Yadā pan’ assa ñātijanassa paṭipattidassanena jātaparicayā bālakā bhikkhu disvā somanassajātā sahasā kiñcid eva hatthagataṁ dadanti vā vandanti vā tadā tatiyaṁ cittaṁ uppajjati. Yadā pana detha vandathāti ñātihi ussāhita evaṁ paṭipajjanti tadā catutthaṁ cittaṁ uppajjati. Yadā pana deyyadhammapaṭiggāhakādinaṁ asampattiṁ aññesaṁ vā somanassahetūnaṁ abhāvā āgamma catusu pi vikappesu somanassarahitā honti tadā sesāni cattāri upekhāsahagatāni uppajjanti ti, evaṁ somanassupekkhāñāṇāsaṅkhārabhedato aṭṭhavidhaṁ kāmāvacarakusalaṁ veditabbaṁ. I translate this passage thus: “Now the Kāmāvacara Viññāṇa is eightfold from its division under the heads of joy, indifference, knowledge and spontaneity, See art. Sankhāro, p. 455 (b), line 14. as follows: Viññāṇa accompanied with joy and connected with knowledge, and either spontaneous [xciv] or unspontaneous, and in the same way unconnected with knowledge; and Viññāṇa accompanied with indifference and connected with knowledge, and whether spontaneous or unspontaneous, and in the same way unconnected with knowledge. For when a man gives alms and does other meritorious actions not listlessly, not incited by others, but gladly and cheerfully, for the sake of benefiting the recipient of the gift, etc., or for some other pleasurable motive, while he is influenced by right views expressed in such phrases as “there is almsgiving” (compare the opposite view n’atthi dinnaṁ, p. 511 b, line 1), then he has spontaneous thoughts attended with joy and connected with knowledge. On the other hand, when a man, with a glad and cheerful heart as aforesaid, while acting according to the dictates of steady liberality, or other virtue, may while still influenced by right views, yet acts mechanically or by the suggestion of others, then these same thoughts of his are called unspontaneous. For in this connexion the word Saṅkhāra designates an inducement proceeding either from oneself or from others. Again, when youthful monks, (sic - AG) emulous from witnessing the good conduct of relatives, filled with pleasure, impulsively (sahasā) give away whatever they happen to have in their hands, or perform an act of religious worship, then the third mental state is acquired. And when they act in the same way because they are incited by their relatives saying “Give”, or “Worship”, then the fourth state is acquired. But when owing to the recipients of gifts, etc., being unbenefitted, or from the absence of other pleasurable motives, they are deprived of satisfaction in each of the four alternatives, then the remaining four (states of mind), which are accompanied with indifference, are called into existence. And thus the kāmāvacarakusala Viññāṇa may be considered as eightfold from its division under the heads of joy, indifference, knowledge, and spontaneity.”

The word paṭisandhiviññāṇaṁ occurs in a remarkable passage at Dh. 255. When the Arhat Godhika died and consequently ceased to exist, Māra, the Buddhist Satan, who had as he thought prevented his attaining Arhatship, is represented as exclaiming, kattha nu kho imassa paṭisandhiviññāṇam patiṭṭhitaṁ, which may be freely rendered “where has this man’s soul fixed itself?” [xcv] i.e. in what form has he been reborn? Buddha addressing his disciples says, “Priests, Māra the Evil One seeks for the soul of the noble-born Godhika, and asks where his soul has fixed itself: but I tell you, priests, that Godhika has entered Nirvāṇa without his soul fixing itself anywhere”. And he says to Māra, “What, O wicked one, have you to do with the place of rebirth of Godhika? A hundred or a thousand such as you can never find his place of rebirth (as it does not exist)”. Paṭisandhiviññāṇa means then the viññāṇa (fifth khandha) which passes into a new state of existence when a man dies, lit. “rebirth-consciousness or rebirth-mind”. I have said for convenience sake “passes into a new state”, but it must be remembered that in reality it is not the same viññāṇa, but a new one (corresponding to it and as it were carrying it on) which starts into existence instantaneously on the destruction of the old viññāṇa (see Khandho, p. 198, b, lines 29 and foll.). Ed. note: for reasons best known to himself Guruge here included a 20-page article by Childers on the subject of Nibbāna, which, although ground-breaking at the time, was unorthodox, and cannot have come from the Sri Lankan elders this volume is concerned with; as it it tiring and irrelevant to the subject at hand I have therefore decided to omit it.

Childers was conscious that these articles exceeded “the legitimate limits of a dictionary article”. He was impelled by a desire to share whatever information he had access to and whatever conclusions he could derive from them. Evaluating these and similar articles on points of Buddhist doctrine and discipline over a century after they were written, one is, no doubt, amazed to find that Childers’ knowledge of these subjects was as good as that of many scholars who had greater access to Pali canonical works. His conclusions and interpretations may be challenged and criticized but the thoroughness with which the researches were conducted has to be admired. Once again, the conclusion one is induced to draw is that the helpers of Childers compensated with their traditional learning what was not still published in books in the West.

4. Childer’s Efforts in Pali Composition

According to Childers’ own statement in an appendix entitled “My critics” in the second edition of the Pali Dictionary, he did begin his Pali studies in Sri Lanka:–

“I went to Ceylon as a member of the Civil Service at the end of 1860, and for three years was private secretary to the then Governor, Sir C. MacCarthy. In 1863 I received an appointment in the Civil Service, but after a few months’ work my health broke down, and I returned to Europe in March, 1864. During [cxvi] my stay in Ceylon I enjoyed the friendship of that gifted Frenchman, the late M. Paul Grimblot, who first drew my attention to the importance and interest of Buddhist literature. Shortly before my health failed I made an effort to learn Pali under a native pandit, but met with indifferent success, and I did no more until the autumn of 1868, when Dr. Rost induced me to take up the study of Pali in earnest.”

When he recommenced his Pali studies, Viggo Fausböll had been his teacher, as acknowledged in the Preface. Whether Childers went to Copenhagen or whether Fausböll came to London or the teaching was through postal guidance, it is not clear. But Childers did have a close contact with Copenhagen and he has mentioned how he benefited from studying the unpublished edition of Milindapañha, which Trenckner had prepared under Fausböll. It is also interesting to note that with the same enthusiasm Childers acknowledged Fausböll as his teacher of Pali, Fausböll credits Childers on having rekindled in Fausböll his interest in Pali. Nurtured by his manifold influences from Sri Lanka, London and Copenhagen, Childers wanted to master Pali – not merely to read and translate but also to write in it.

As mentioned in Book One Part I, he tried his hand on many occasions to write in Pali to Ven. Subhūti. In almost every letter he wrote at least a few sentences – encouraged, no doubt, by the Nāyaka Thera, who invariably wrote in Pali. Sometime in 1870, Childers felt adequately confident to write a Pali composition in verse for publication and it appeared in Trübner’s Literary Record in February, 1871. It was a translation of the XIIIth chapter of St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians. Childers called his version the Metta-Sutta:–


I. Corinthians Cap. xiii. Ed. note: I have updated the spelling again here, and included an English translation from the King James Bible.

Brahmaghosena yo bhāse, mettacitto ca no siyā,
Sa ve tucchaṁ kare saddaṁ kaṁso upahato viya.

1. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

Dibbacakkum-pi sampatto, sabbapañño, mahiddhiko,
No ce mettavihāri ’ssa sa ve adhamaporiso.

2. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

Sabbadānāni yo datvā jīvitam-pi pariccaje,
No ce mettavihāri ’ssa sa ve adhamaporiso.

3. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Titikkhā vā averi so mettavihāriyo naro,
Appagabbho anatimānī, na piheti parassa ca.

4. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.

Khuddaṁ na carati kiñci, attalābhass’ agiddhako,
Akopito ca tucchena, dukkhaṁ parassa n’ icchati.

5. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.

Arato pāpadhammesu saccadhamme pamodati,
Mahāsaho, Mahāsaddho, supaṇidhī, mahabbalo.

6-7. Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Aniccā vata vijjāyo, iddhiyo vayadhammino,
Atha sabbesu lokesu metti tiṭṭhāti sassatā.

8. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

Bhāgamattam hi jānāsi, tava paññā parittakā,
Uttamatthe ca sampatte sabbañāṇam upehisi.

9-10. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

Bālassa bālasaṅkappo, bālavācā, jalā mati,
Yo ca poso vayappatto bāladhamme vinodaye.

11. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Andhabālo hi dāni ’si, pacchā sacchikarissasi,
Bhāgamattam-pi jānitvā sabbañāṇam upehisi.

12. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Atthi c’ ete tayo dhammā, saddhā mettañ-ca patthanā,
Yesaṁ sabbavarā esā yad-idam mettasampadā.

13. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Mettasuttaṁ niṭṭhitaṁ.
R. C. Childers.

James de Alwis was, indeed, quite impressed. He wrote a longish commentary on each verse, discussing every expression in Childers’ version and correcting errors in grammar and prosody. At the end, de Alwis attempted his own translation of the chapter. This was published by the Government Press thus according to Childers’ translation quite a special recognition. The comments of James de Alwis on the overall appreciation of the translation are noteworthy:–

“This is a clever little performance, it reflects great credit on its author. It proves that he is in a fair way of soon attaining a high reputation for his knowledge of Pali. It is decidedly superior [cxviii] to the miserable version which we give in the Appendix. It may not be quite correct as a “translation”, whether literal, or, as it is stated to be, “free”. He may have slightly erred in his grammar, and may be faulty in his prosody. But these defects are forgotten in the consideration of the uncommonly accurate and idiomatic knowledge of “the foreign language”, acquired, as we have reason to believe, in a marvellously short time – knowledge which even St. Paul regards, in the opening of this beautiful chapter on Charity, as “a signally valuable endowment amongst nations”. The author therefore deserves all the encouragement which can be extended to him; and he may feel assured that Ceylon and the Sinhalese, with whom he was once officially connected, do not fail to appreciate his endeavours to master the sacred language of Lanka.

We moreover accept this as the laudable effort of an Oriental student to apply his studies to some practical purpose, and to exhibit his knowledge of two systems of religion – Christianity and Buddhism – which, as to the moral virtues which they inculcate, are undoubtedly superior to all other systems. But we are decidedly opposed to the mode adopted by the translator of using Buddhist phraseology, especially metaphors and technical terms.”

De Alwis was certainly correct that Childers was due to attain “a high reputation for his knowledge of Pali.”

5. Childers and his Critics

Childers’ work aroused much interest and in its wake came much criticism. While he maintained a scholarly objectivity on the importance of correcting errors in subsequent editions and publications, he was agitated by some criticisms. Those that came from the less informed, he shrugged off as his comment on one de Alwis in one of the letters to Ven. Subhūti shows (Paragraph 118). But he was unhappy when scholars made unfair comments or misconstrued him. (Paragraphs 115 and 118). His general reaction to critics is [cxix] best gauged from the replies he gave to those who criticized the first edition of Vol. I of the Pali Dictionary:–

“I am conscious of many imperfections in this dictionary, but the fact that it contains more than thirteen thousand words, and nearly forty thousand references and quotations, and that seven years ago I hardly knew a word either of Pali or Sanskrit, entitles me, I think, to be treated tenderly by my critics. At the end of 1869 Mr. Trübner liberally offered to publish my dictionary at his own expense, and the first part (pp. 1–276) appeared with a temporary preface in October, 1872. During the course of the next few months it received most friendly and favourable reviews – for which I beg to return my sincere thanks – from Dr. Kern in the Bijdragen tot de Taal-Land-Ned. Indie for 1873; from M. Léon Feer in the Revue Cirtique (Dec. 7, 1872); from Mr. Pincott in the Oriental (Sept. 1873); from Mr. J. F. Dickson in the Ceylon Times (Jan. 6, 1873), and from unknown reviewers in the Church Missionary Intelligencer, the Homeward Mail, and (oddly enough) the Derby Mercury. In reply to one of M. Feer’s friendly criticisms, I would point out that he quotes me incorrectly as saying that “le commun des Bouddhistes aspire non au néant comme but supreme, mais au svarga”. What I said was that Buddhists who are not Arhats look immediately to svarga as the reward of a virtuous life. I ought perhaps to have added then, and I add now explicitly, that all true Buddhists “aspire” to Nirvāṇa as an ultimate reward, though of course only Arhats expect Nirvāṇa immediately after death and without further transmigration.

“In the Revue Bibliographique for June 15, 1874, M. Foucaux published an article of four pages, in which he takes up a position of strong antagonism to my view of Nirvāṇa as expressed in my article Nibbāṇaṁ. His criticisms are expressed in temperate and courteous language, and I have read them with the attention which they merit as coming from a scholar of M. Foucaux’ eminence; but I am bound to say that they do not in the slightest degree shake my confidence in my own view. How little common ground of discussion there is between us may be seen at the outset, where M. Foucaux quotes against me the Lalita Vistara, [cxx] and calls it a “canonical text!” For the benefit of Sanskritists I propose to compile a work on the plan of Westergaard’s Radices, giving the Sanskrit roots in the Nagari Character, and grouping around them all the Pali verbal derivatives. However, the passage quoted is not irreconcilable with orthodox Buddhism, and I am very willing to accept it. But when M. Foucaux says, “Et comme it faut, pour arriver au Nirvāṇa, se délivrer de tout compose, la comparaison de la lampe qui s’eteint ne nous montre que la disparition d’un composé, et nullement l’annihilation de l’esprit,” it is clear that he is under the belief that mind is not a saṁskāra. I venture therefore to refer him to my artcle Saṅkhāro, which will show him that mind is a most important saṁskāra, and afford a complete answer to his argument. Further, M. Foucaux brings against me the eight Vimuttis. Had his reading not been limited to North Buddhist texts, he would have known that the Vimuttis belong to the ecstatic meditation, and are not “degrees of perfection to which a saint may attain”. For an answer to his argument I must refer him to my article Viññāṇañcāyatanaṁ (also ākāsānañcayātanaṁ, etc.), from which he will see that Burnouf has absurdly mistranslated the Pali text. Vijñāṇa exists just as much in the eighth Vimutti as in the fourth or fifth, only it is in a state of trance (see art. Nirodho).

I shall make no attempt to reply at full length to Dr. A. Weber’s criticisms upon me in the Centralblatt of Feb. 8, 1873. In the first place, a considerable portion of his critique is directed against the form or plan of my work as being unscientific; and I may reply generally, first that I purposely adopted an unscientific form to suit the convenience of non-Sanskritists (who prove to be about two-thirds of my subscribers); secondly that, in a first edition at least, I have a right to be judged by the matter and not the form of my work; and thirdly that Dr. Weber has really put himself out of court in this matter by bestowing, in this identical number of the Centralblatt, the warmest praise upon Monier Williams’ Sanskrit Dictionary, which is also on an unscientific plan. Dr. Weber thinks Professor Williams’ plan “convenient”: exactly so, and that is the advantage I claim for mine. Dr. Weber complains that I have not brought under the simple root the [cxxi] various compounds of the root with prepositions. It is easy to see that had I done so I could not have begun to print until the whole dictionary was finished, in other words I should have been delayed about two years. Another section of Dr. Weber’s criticisms deals with the deficiencies of my dictionary, and here again I am not careful to answer him, the mere size of the work being a sufficient answer, not to speak of the Addenda. Dr. Weber has made no allowance for the exceptional difficulties I have had to deal with, as the total absence of previous dictionaries, or even the merest vocabulary, to guide me, and the incredible blunders with which almost all the texts I had to incorporate abounded. The remainder of Dr. Weber’s paper is taken up with philological criticisms. I have to thank him for three or four slight corrections, which I have adopted, but some of his criticisms simply show how ill even the best Sanskrit scholarship qualifies one to lay down the law about Pali. I shall give only one example. I said that appamaññā represents the Sanskrit apramāṇ+ya, and Dr. Weber summarily brushes away this etymology with the words “appamaññā Demuth, Bescheidenheit, aus alpamanyā”. To prove that I was right, and that the word has nothing to do with “humility”, I will here print the text of the first appamaññā: Idh’ āvuso bhikkhu mettāsahagatena cetasā ekaṁ disaṁ pharitvā viharati tathā dutiyaṁ tathā tatiyaṁ tathā cātutthiṁ, iti uddhamadho tiriyaṁ sabbadhi sabbattatāya sabbāvantaṁ lokaṁ upekkhā sahagatena cetasā vipulena mahaggatena appamāṇena averena aryāpajjhena pharitvā viharati. I trust that Dr. Weber will forgive me if I have proved restive under his somewhat heavy lash, and will believe me when I say that I entertain towards him unaltered feelings of friendship and respect.”

As he claims in respect of Weber’s criticism, he was restive in the sense of “rejecting control”. He was, on the other hand, always restless and that enabled him to achieve so much in so short a life-time. [cxii]