The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha - Preface

A Translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya


1,944 pages, 5 3/8 x 8.5 inches


ISBN 9781614290407

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The present work offers a complete translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya, the fourth major collection in the Sutta Piṭaka, or “Basket of Discourses,” belonging to the Pāli Canon. An English translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya published by the Pali Text Society has long been in print under the title The Book of the Gradual Sayings. It was issued in five volumes, I, II, and V translated by F.L. Woodward, and III and IV by E.M. Hare. First published between 1932 and 1936, this translation is now dated both in style and technical terminology. In the late 1990s I collected Nyanaponika Thera’s four-part series of Wheel booklets, An Aṅguttara Nikāya Anthology, into a single volume for the International Sacred Literature Trust, adding sixty suttas to the original anthology. The resulting volume, published as Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (Walnut Creek, Ca.: AltaMira Press 1999), contained 208 suttas, perhaps an eighth of the full Aṅguttara Nikāya. Translations of many individual Aṅguttara suttas have also been available over the internet, but a selection, however valuable, cannot do service for a translation of the complete work. Thus a fresh English rendering of the entire Aṅguttara Nikāya has long been a pressing need.

This translation, like my previous renderings from the Pāli Canon and commentaries, aims to fulfill two ideals that are to some degree in tension with one another: first, to be faithful to the meaning of the text; and second, to express this meaning in clear contemporary English. My translation is based on three different editions of the Pāli text. I used the Sinhala-script Buddha Jayanti edition as my root text, but I compared this edition with the Vipassana Research Institute’s electronic version of the Burmese-script Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana (Sixth Council) edition and with the PTS’s Roman-script edition, which was based on Sri Lankan and Burmese manuscripts. I also consulted the footnotes on variants in the PTS edition, which occasionally, in my view, had a better reading than any in the printed editions. In defense of this approach, as against translating exclusively from one tradition, I appeal to Professor E. Hardy’s words in his Preface to Part V of his PTS edition of the Aṅguttara Nikāya: “It may be open to dispute, whether our Sinhalese Mss. of the Aṅguttara are the more reliable, or our Burmese.... As a rule, there is no Ms. nor any set of Mss. which can be relied on indiscriminately” (p. v).

The contents of the Aṅguttara Nikāya (AN) prove especially challenging to modern readers because there is virtually no “rhyme or reason” to their order apart from their conformity to the numerical scheme that governs each book. To help the reader make sense of the work, I prepared a thematic study guide to the Aṅguttara, which follows the introduction. The guide lays out the principal themes of AN in a meaningful sequence, which is similar to the one I used in my anthology, In the Buddha’s Words. On this basis I then classified the suttas of AN (the great majority, though not all) according to the way they exemplify the scheme. I suggest that readers new to the Aṅguttara consider reading the work twice. First, read the suttas in the order in which they fit into the thematic guide; then read the entire Nikāya again in the original order, from the Ones through the Elevens. The first reading will enable readers to grasp the main contours of the Buddha’s teachings as they are represented by AN; the second will enable them to follow the work in its original arrangement. My long introduction is primarily intended to explain AN using the thematic guide as a framework for making sense of the mountain of material found in this collection.

In the course of preparing this translation, I have had the generous help of several people whose contributions have been invaluable. First and foremost is John Kelly, who offered his help even before I actually embarked on the project and unfailingly assisted me through the five years it has taken to bring the work to completion. A keen student of Pāli since 2003, John read the translation alongside the Pāli text at several stages, offering useful comments and suggestions and occasionally catching lines of text that I had overlooked. He maintained the electronic files, entered the page numbers of the PTS edition into the files, and helped in a variety of other ways, including compilation of the two appendices and the Pāli-English glossary. His monograph, “The Buddha’s Teachings to Lay People,” which I cite several times in the introduction, is a bountiful source of information that helps us better understand the place of the Aṅguttara Nikāya in the corpus of Buddhist canonical literature. Occasionally John’s wife Lynn also offered suggestions.

Another major helper was Bhikkhu Brahmāli of Bodhinyana Monastery in Serpentine, Australia. Ven. Brahmāli read the translation alongside the Pāli text in two stages, offering incisive comments. Often his comments necessitated revisions in the draft or required me to add explanatory notes to clarify the reasons behind my rendering. On a few occasions I have quoted Ven. Brahmāli’s comments in my note.

Towards the very end of this project, Vanarata Ānanda Thera, a senior bhikkhu in Sri Lanka with an excellent knowledge of Pāli verse, checked my translations of the verse portions of AN. He wrote extremely helpful comments into a printout of the manuscript. Bhikkhu Nyanatusita, current editor of the Buddhist Publication Society, kindly photographed these pages and sent them to me by email. Ven. Vanarata’s comments again led to revisions in the verses, and I have occasionally included his remarks in the notes.

Bhikkhu Pāsādiko, also of Bodhinyana Monastery, William Pruitt of the Pali Text Society, and American Bhikkhu Khemaratana read various versions of the translation and offered useful suggestions and comments. Pamela Kirby read the proofs with sharp eyes for minor typographical and stylistic flaws.

I must also thank Tim McNeill and the team at Wisdom Publications for such a fine job of production, consistent with their treatment of the earlier volumes in this series. I reserve a special word of thanks to David Kittelstrom for repeatedly urging me on whenever I became negligent.

I am grateful to all these helpers for their selfless assistance, offered entirely from their love of the Dhamma. May they share in any merits that might arise from the publication of this work. I myself, of course, take responsibility for any errors or faults that remain.

Bhikkhu Bodhi
Chuang Yen Monastery
Carmel, New York


How to cite this document:
© Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2012)

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