Sacred Books of the East: The Dhammapada and Sutta Nipata

‘A Brahman youth, born in the neighbourhood of the terrace of the great Bo-tree (in Magadha), accomplished in the “vigga” (knowledge) and “sippa” (art), who had achieved the knowledge of the three Vedas, and possessed great aptitude in attaining acquirements; indefatigable as a schismatic disputant, and himself a schismatic wanderer over Gambudipa, established himself, in the character of a disputant, in a certain vihara[2], and was in the habit of rehearsing, by night and by day with clasped hands, a discourse which he had learned, perfect in all its component parts, and sustained throughout in the same lofty strain. A certain Mahathera, Revata, becoming acquainted with him there, and (saying to himself), “This individual is a person of profound knowledge, it will be worthy (of me) to convert him;” enquired, “Who is this who is braying like an ass?” The Brahman replied to him, “Thou canst define, then, the meaning conveyed in the bray of asses.” On the Thera rejoining, “I can define it;” he (the Brahman) exhibited the extent of the knowledge he possessed. The Thera criticised each of his propositions, and pointed out in what respect they were fallacious. He who had been thus refuted, said, “Well, then, descend to thy own creed;” and he propounded to him a passage from the Abhidhamma (of the Pitakattaya). He (the Brahman) could not divine the signification of that passage, and enquired, “Whose manta is this?”–“It is Buddha’s manta.” On his exclaiming, “Impart it to me;” the Thera replied, “Enter the sacerdotal order.” He who was desirous of acquiring the knowledge of the Pitakattaya, subsequently coming to this conviction, “This is the sole road” (to salvation), became a convert to that faith. As he was as profound in his eloquence (ghosa) as Buddha himself, they conferred on him the appellation of Buddhaghosa (the

[1. See Bigandet, Life of Gaudama. pp. 351, 381.

2. On this vihara, its foundation and character, see Oldenberg, Vinaya, vol. i. p. liii; Hiouen-thsang, III, p. 487 seq.]

p. xxii voice of Buddha); and throughout the world he became as renowned as Buddha. Having there (in Gambudipa) composed an original work called Nanodaya (Rise of Knowledge), he, at the same time, wrote the chapter called Atthasalini, on the Dhammasangani (one of the commentaries on the Abhidhamma).

‘Revata Thera then observing that he was desirous of undertaking the compilation of a general commentary on the Pitakattaya, thus addressed him: “The text alone of the Pitakattaya has been preserved in this land, the Atthakatha are not extant here, nor is there any version to be found of the schisms (vada) complete. The Sinhalese Atthakatha are genuine. They were composed in the Sinhalese language by the inspired and profoundly wise Mahinda, who had previously consulted the discourses (kathamagga) of Buddha, authenticated at the three convocations, and the dissertations and arguments of Sariputta and others, and they are extant among the Sinhalese. Preparing for this, and studying the same, translate them according to the rules of the grammar of the Magadhas. It will be an act conducive to the welfare of the whole world.”

‘Having been thus advised, this eminently wise personage rejoicing therein, departed from thence, and visited this island in the reign of this monarch (i.e. Mahanama, 410-432). On reaching the Mahavihara (at Anuradhapura), he entered the Mahapadhana hall, the most splendid of the apartments in the vihara, and listened to the Sinhalese Atthakatha, and the Theravada, from the beginning to the end, propounded by the Thera Sanghapala; and became thoroughly convinced that they conveyed the true meaning of the doctrines of the Lord of Dhamma. Thereupon paying reverential respect to the priesthood, he thus petitioned: “I am desirous of translating the Atthakatha; give me access to all your books.” The priesthood, for the purpose of testing his qualifications, gave only two gathas, saying, “Hence prove thy qualification; having satisfied ourselves on this point, we will then let thee have all our books.” From these (taking these gatha for his text), and p. xxiii consulting the Pitakattaya, together with the Atthakatha, and condensing them into an abridged form, he composed the work called the Visuddhimagga. Thereupon, having assembled the priesthood, who had acquired a thorough knowledge of the doctrines of Buddha, at the Bo-tree, he commenced to read out the work he had composed. The devatas, in order that they might make his (Buddhaghosa’s) gifts of wisdom celebrated among men, rendered that book invisible. He, however, for a second and third time recomposed it. When he was in the act of producing his book for the third time, for the purpose of propounding it, the devatas restored the other two copies also. The assembled priests then read out the three books simultaneously. In those three versions there was no variation whatever from the orthodox Theravadas in passages, in words, or in syllables. Thereupon, the priesthood rejoicing, again and again ferventIy shouted forth, saying, “Most assuredly this is Metteya (Buddha) himself,” and made over to him the books in which the Pitakattaya were recorded, together with the Atthakatha. Taking up his residence in the secluded Ganthakara-vihara (at Anuradhapura), he translated, according to the grammatical rules of the Magadhas, which is the root of all languages, the whole of the Sinhalese Atthakatha (into Pali). This proved an achievement of the utmost consequence to all beings, whatever their language.

‘All the Theras and Akariyas held this compilation in the same estimation as the text (of the Pitakattaya). Thereafter, the objects of his mission having been fulfilled, he returned to Gambudipa, to worship at the Bo-tree (at Uruvelaya, or Uruvilva, in Magadha).’

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