Book Review—In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon by Bhikkhu Bodhi

In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon by Bhikkhu Bodhi, published by Wisdom Publications, 2005.

Why you should read it:

  • It covers all the important Buddhist concepts
  • You can see exactly what the Buddha taught, not other people’s ideas of what he taught
  • These scriptures are important to all major schools of Buddhism

Many people have an interest in learning more about Buddhism. This is a book that gives the most direct path to finding out what the Buddha actually taught in his own words. This book contains 287 pages of translations of the most ancient teachings of the Buddha, preserved in the Pali language. Each individual scripture is known as a sutta.

The suttas are organized into ten chapters:

1. The Human Condition
2. The Bringer of Light
3. Approaching the Dhamma
4. The Happiness Visible in This Present Life
5. The Way to a Fortunate Rebirth
6. Deepening One’s Perspective on the World
7. The Path to Liberation
8. Mastering the Mind
9. Shining the Light of Wisdom
10. The Planes of Realization

Each one has an introduction to explain any concepts that might be unfamiliar to the reader. The organization quickly reveals that the Buddha’s teachings span a wide range of topics ranging from ordinary happiness in this life to complete liberation from all suffering.

Samples

Here are some samples from the original book. You can also see the detailed table of contents linked to freely available translations on line here.

Chapter 1: The Dart
“Bhikkhus (monks), the uninstructed worldling feels a pleasant feeling, a painful feeling, and a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. The instructed noble disciple too feels a pleasant feeling, a painful feeling, and a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. Therein, bhikkhus, what is the distinction, the disparity, the difference between the instructed noble disciple and the uninstructed worldling?”

“Venerable sir, our teachings are rooted in the Blessed One, guided by the Blessed One, take recourse in the Blessed One. It would be good if the Blessed One would clear up the meaning of this statement. Having heard it from him, the bhikkhus will remember it.”

“Then listen and attend closely, bhikkhus, I will speak.”

“Yes, venerable sir,” the bhikkhus replied. The Blessed One said this:

“Bhikkhus, when the uninstructed worldling is being contacted by a painful feeling, he sorrows, grieves, and laments; he weeps beating his breast and becomes distraught. He feels two feelings—a bodily one and a mental one. Suppose they were to strike a man with a dart, and then they would strike him immediately afterwards with a second dart, so that the man would feel a feeling caused by two darts. So too, when the uninstructed worldling is being contacted by a painful feeling … he feels two feelings—a bodily one and a mental one.

“Being contacted by that same painful feeling, he harbours aversion towards it. When he harbours aversion towards painful feeling, the underlying tendency to aversion towards painful feeling lies behind this. Being contacted by painful feeling, he seeks delight in sensual pleasure. For what reason? Because the uninstructed worldling does not know of any escape from painful feeling other than sensual pleasure. When he seeks delight in sensual pleasure, the underlying tendency to lust for pleasant feeling lies behind this. He does not understand as it really is the origin and the passing away, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in the case of these feelings. When he does not understand these things, the underlying tendency to ignorance in regard to neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling lies behind this.

“If he feels a pleasant feeling, he feels it attached. If he feels a painful feeling, he feels it attached. If he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he feels it attached. This, bhikkhus, is called an uninstructed worldling who is attached to birth, aging, and death; who is attached to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; who is attached to suffering, I say.

“Bhikkhus, when the instructed noble disciple is contacted by a painful feeling, he does not sorrow, grieve, or lament; he does not weep beating his breast and become distraught. He feels one feeling—a bodily one, not a mental one. Suppose they were to strike a man with a dart, but they would not strike him immediately afterwards with a second dart, so that the man would feel a feeling caused by one dart only. So too, when the instructed noble disciple is contacted by a painful feeling … he feels one feeling—a bodily one, not a mental one.

“Being contacted by that same painful feeling, he harbours no aversion towards it. Since he harbours no aversion towards painful feeling, the underlying tendency to aversion towards painful feeling does not lie behind this. Being contacted by painful feeling, he does not seek delight in sensual pleasure. For what reason? Because the instructed noble disciple knows of an escape from painful feeling other than sensual pleasure. Since he does not seek delight in sensual pleasure, the underlying tendency to lust for pleasant feeling does not lie behind this. He understands as it really is the origin and the passing away, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in the case of these feelings. Since he understands these things, the underlying tendency to ignorance in regard to neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling does not lie behind this.

“If he feels a pleasant feeling, he feels it detached. If he feels a painful feeling, he feels it detached. If he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he feels it detached. This, bhikkhus, is called a noble disciple who is detached from birth, aging, and death; who is detached from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; who is detached from suffering, I say.

“This, bhikkhus, is the distinction, the disparity, the difference between the instructed noble disciple and the uninstructed worldling.”

The wise one, learned, does not feel
The pleasant and painful mental feeling.
This is the great difference between
The wise one and the worldling.

For the learned one who has comprehended Dhamma,
Who clearly sees this world and the next,
Desirable things do not provoke his mind,
Towards the undesired he has no aversion.

For him attraction and repulsion no more exist;
Both have been extinguished, brought to an end.
Having known the dust-free, sorrowless state,
The transcender of existence rightly understands.

The Dart—SN 36:6

© Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Connected Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2000) This excerpt from The Connected Discourses of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Bodhi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Chapter 1: The Vicissitudes of Life
“Bhikkhus (monks), these eight worldly conditions revolve around the world, and the world revolves around these eight worldly conditions. What eight? Gain and loss, disrepute and fame, blame and praise, and pleasure and pain. These eight worldly conditions revolve around the world, and the world revolves around these eight worldly conditions.

“Bhikkhus, an uninstructed worldling meets gain and loss, disrepute and fame, blame and praise, and pleasure and pain. An instructed noble disciple also meets gain and loss, disrepute and fame, blame and praise, and pleasure and pain. What is the distinction, the disparity, the difference between an instructed noble disciple and an uninstructed worldling with regard to this?”

“Bhante, our teachings are rooted in the Blessed One, guided by the Blessed One, take recourse in the Blessed One. It would be good if the Blessed One would clear up the meaning of this statement. Having heard it from him, the bhikkhus will retain it in mind.”

“Then listen, bhikkhus, and attend closely. I will speak.”

“Yes, Bhante,” those bhikkhus replied. The Blessed One said this:

“(1) Bhikkhus, when an uninstructed worldling meets with gain, he does not reflect thus: ‘This gain that I have met is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change.’ He does not understand it as it really is. (2) When he meets with loss … (3) … fame … (4) … disrepute … (5) … blame … (6) … praise … (7) … pleasure … (8) … pain, he does not reflect thus: ‘This pain that I have met is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change.’ He does not understand it as it really is.

“Gain obsesses his mind, and loss obsesses his mind. Fame obsesses his mind, and disrepute obsesses his mind. Blame obsesses his mind, and praise obsesses his mind. Pleasure obsesses his mind, and pain obsesses his mind. He is attracted to gain and repelled by loss. He is attracted to fame and repelled by disrepute. He is attracted to praise and repelled by blame. He is attracted to pleasure and repelled by pain. Thus involved with attraction and repulsion, he is not freed from birth, from old age and death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and anguish; he is not freed from suffering, I say.

“But, bhikkhus, (1) when an instructed noble disciple meets with gain, he reflects thus: ‘This gain that I have met is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change.’ He thus understands it as it really is. (2) When he meets with loss … (3) … fame … (4) … disrepute … (5) … blame … (6) … praise … (7) … pleasure … (8) … pain, he reflects thus: ‘This pain that I have met is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change.’ He thus understands it as it really is.

“Gain does not obsess his mind, and loss does not obsess his mind. Fame does not obsess his mind, and disrepute does not obsess his mind. Blame does not obsess his mind, and praise does not obsess his mind. Pleasure does not obsess his mind, and pain does not obsess his mind. He is not attracted to gain or repelled by loss. He is not attracted to fame or repelled by disrepute. He is not attracted to praise or repelled by blame. He is not attracted to pleasure or repelled by pain. Having thus discarded attraction and repulsion, he is freed from birth, from old age and death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and anguish; he is freed from suffering, I say.

“This, bhikkhus, is the distinction, the disparity, the difference between an instructed noble disciple and an uninstructed worldling.”

Gain and loss, disrepute and fame,
blame and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions that people meet
are impermanent, transient, and subject to change.

A wise and mindful person knows them
and sees that they are subject to change.
Desirable conditions don’t excite his mind
nor is he repelled by undesirable conditions.

He has dispelled attraction and repulsion;
they are gone and no longer present.
Having known the dustless, sorrowless state,
he understands rightly and has transcended existence.

The World—AN 8:5

© Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2012) This excerpt from The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Bodhi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Chapter 4: Freedom From Debt
Then the householder Anāthapiṇḍika approached the Blessed One…. The Blessed One said to him:

“Householder, there are these four kinds of happiness that may be achieved by a layperson who enjoys sensual pleasures, depending on time and occasion. What four? The happiness of ownership, the happiness of enjoyment, the happiness of freedom from debt, and the happiness of blamelessness.

(1) “And what, householder, is the happiness of ownership? Here, a clansman has acquired wealth by energetic striving, amassed by the strength of his arms, earned by the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained. When he thinks, ‘I have acquired wealth by energetic striving … righteously gained,’ he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of ownership.

(2) “And what is the happiness of enjoyment? Here, with wealth acquired by energetic striving, amassed by the strength of his arms, earned by the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained, a clansman enjoys his wealth and does meritorious deeds. When he thinks, ‘With wealth acquired by energetic striving … righteously gained, I enjoy my wealth and do meritorious deeds,’ he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of enjoyment.

(3) “And what is the happiness of freedom from debt? Here, a clansman has no debts to anyone, whether large or small. When he thinks, ‘I have no debts to anyone, whether large or small,’ he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of freedom from debt.

(4) “And what is the happiness of blamelessness? Here, householder, a noble disciple is endowed with blameless bodily, verbal, and mental action. When he thinks, ‘I am endowed with blameless bodily, verbal, and mental action,’ he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of blamelessness.

“These are the four kinds of happiness that a layperson who enjoys sensual pleasures may achieve, depending on time and occasion.”

Having known the happiness of freedom from debt,
one should recall the happiness of ownership.
Enjoying the happiness of enjoyment,
a mortal then sees things clearly with wisdom.

While seeing things clearly, the wise one
knows both kinds of happiness.
The other is not worth a sixteenth part
of the bliss of blamelessness.

Freedom From Debt—AN 4:62

© Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2012) This excerpt from The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Bodhi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Other Benefits of this book

  • Each of the suttas has a standard citation so it is easy to find them in other translations. In fact, this book is part of a series that includes translations of the first four canonical collections of suttas.
  • It contains three comprehensive indexes: subjects, people and places, and similes.

Using this book for a daily reading practice

If you want to get the deepest benifit of reading this book, it is best to read just a few of the suttas each day. This allows time for the meaning to seep into your day to day life.

About the translator

Translator Bhikkhu Bodhi
Photo credit: Ivan Boden

Bhikkhu Bodhi is an American Theravada Buddhist monk, ordained in 1972. In addition to this book, he has published a complete translation of two of the canonical collections of suttas and edited a third. His deep Buddhist faith comes through in the precision and beauty of his translation work. He is also a popular teacher of the Buddhist suttas.

How to buy

Photo credit: Ourit Ben- Haim

You can buy the print edition as well as electronic edition directly from the publisher at WisdomPubs.org. If you are planning to buy the electronic edition, buy it from them because it contains all three formats (Epub, Kindle and PDF) without any DRM restrictions. The print edition is available from on-line shop and your local bookseller can order it in if they don’t carry it.

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