A Buddhist Reader: Selections from the Sacred Books


This much-cited scholarly anthology of key Theravada Buddhist documents originally appeared in 1896 as part of the renowned Harvard Oriental Series. An excellent, accessible presentation of the vast range of Pâli Buddhist literature, it was among the first English translations of the direct words of the Buddha.
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This much-cited scholarly anthology of key Theravada Buddhist documents originally appeared in 1896 as part of the renowned Harvard Oriental Series. An excellent, accessible presentation of the vast range of Pâli Buddhist literature, it was among the first English translations of the direct words of the Buddha.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486433738
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 6/4/2004
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.08 (d)

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Selections from the Sacred Books


Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13294-5




IN reading the Pali Scriptures one is impressed with the strong personal influence exercised by The Buddha over the hearts of his followers. He was regarded, not as a mere formulator of dry metaphysical propositions, but as a very wise and compassionate friend of his fellow-men. He was full of tact, and all his ways were ways of peace. To allay discord he would tell a little story or fable with a moral, and his epithet for one of whom he disapproved was merely "vain man." Anger, in fact, had no place in his character, and the reader of this book will find that it had equally none in his religio-philosophic system.

The term "Buddha" means "Enlightened One," and signifies that the person to whom it is applied has solved the riddle of existence, and discovered the doctrine for the cessation of misery. It was by his attainment of this supreme "Enlightenment" or Wisdom that Gotama became a Buddha. During the thirty-five years of his life previous to that event, and during all previous existences from the time he set out towards the Buddhaship, he was a Bodhisatta, —a term which I have freely translated "Future Buddha," but which is more literally rendered "He whose essence is Wisdom."

The Buddha's given name would appear to have been Siddhattha; but as the word means "Successful in his Objects," it looks as though it might be a simple epithet. The Buddha belonged to the Sakya clan. The word "Sakya" means "Powerful;" and the families that bore the name had a reputation for pride and haughtiness. They were of the warrior caste, but cultivated the peaceful arts of agriculture. By his contemporaries The Buddha is usually called Gotama, or, as the word is sometimes Anglicized, the Gotamid. It is not quite clear why he and others of his clan should bear the name of Gotama in addition to that of Sakya. It may be they claimed descent from the ancient sage Gautama (Sanskrit "Gautama" becomes "Gotama" in Pali), to whom are attributed some of the hymns of the Rig-Veda; or it may be, as Burnouf has suggested, "because Gautama was the sacerdotal family name of the military race of Sakyas, who, being of the warrior caste, had no ancestor or tutelar saint like the Brahmans, but might, as the Hindu law permits, have taken the name of the sage to whose family belonged their spiritual guide."

The Buddha was a Hindu, born not far from the Ganges, and during his long ministry wandered about from place to place in the section of country about Benares, very much as did Christ in Judea and Galilee. And just as Christ once left his native country and went to Egypt, so The Buddha is said by native authorities to have paid a couple of visits to Ceylon; but the statement is, I fear, somewhat mythical.

The date of Gotama Buddha is considered to be the sixth century before Christ. It would appear that he lived to his eightieth year, and the time of his death is given by scholars as about 480 B. C.

The first eight sections of the present chapter are from the general introduction to the Jataka ("Book of Birth-Stories"). These Birth-Stories, five hundred and fifty in number, are so called because they are tales of the anterior existences of Gotama Buddha, while he was as yet but a Future Buddha. The Jataka is an extensive work; five volumes have already been edited by Professor V. Fausböll, of Copenhagen, and more is yet to come. It consists of the Birth-Stories themselves, with a commentary and a long introduction. Examples of these Birth-Stories will be given further on; here we have only to do with the Introduction, the author of which and of the commentary is unknown.

After a few preliminary remarks concerning the inception and plan of his work, the author begins by quoting entire the Story of Sumedha as contained in the metrical work called the Buddha-Vamsa ("History of the Buddhas"). He does not quote it all consecutively, but a few stanzas at a time as authority for his prose statements. In this prose is also some matter of a commentary nature, apparently later glosses and not a part of the original text. In my first translation I give the Story of Sumedha as quoted in this Introduction to the Jataka, but I give it consecutively and omit the prose, except that of some of the more interesting and explanatory passages, of the glosses especially, I have made foot-notes.

After the Story of Sumedha our author gives formal descriptions of each of the twenty-four Buddhas that preceded Gotama. These descriptions, however, are tedious, and are not here translated. They mainly concern themselves with such details as the height of each Buddha, his length of life, how many conversions he made, the names of his father, mother, chief disciples, etc. But from the point where my second section begins to the end of the eighth I follow the native text without making any omissions, I have divided one continuous text into seven parts, and then given these divisions titles of my own devising.

The reader is thus brought up to the ministry of The Buddha. This ministry lasted some forty-five years, and an account of part of it is given by the author of the Introduction. It is, however, only a part that he gives, just enough to conduct his reader up to the time when The Buddha was presented with Jetavana monastery, the importance of which event to our author will be readily perceived when it is remembered that this was the monastery in which The Buddha is represented as having related the greater part of the Birth-Stories. As our author fails to give us a complete life of The Buddha, and as I know of none in Pali literature, none is attempted in this book. But in order that the reader may have at an early stage an idea of what the matters were wherein The Buddha considered himself "enlightened," two passages are translated from the Maha-Vagga. Then follows a description of the daily routine of The Buddha's ministry, and the last section of this chapter gives the Pali account of how The Buddha died. It is not because the philosophical ideas expressed and the references to meditation and trance made in these four sections are supposed to be self-explanatory, that I make no comment on them in this chapter; but because the next three chapters, as I have already stated in my General Introduction, are devoted to the Doctrine, and constitute the philosophical and systematic part of this work. It appeared desirable to give the reader a general idea of what the Buddhists consider to be the salient features of their system of religion before beginning its detailed discussion.


Translated from the Introduction to the Jataka (i.3).

A hundred thousand cycles vast
And four immensities ago,
There was a town named Amara,
A place of beauty and delights.
It had the noises ten complete
And food and drink abundantly.
The noise of elephant and horse,
Of conch-shell, drum, and chariot,
And invitations to partake —
"Eat ye, and drink!" — resounded loud.
A town complete in all its parts,
Where every industry was found,
And eke the seven precious gems,
And foreigners from many lands.
A prosperous city of the gods,
Full of good works and holy men.
Within this town of Amara
Sumedha lived, of Brahman caste,
Who many tens of millions had,
And grain and treasure in full store.
A student he, and wise in spells,
A master of the Vedas three.
He fortunes told, tradition knew,
And every duty of his caste.
In secret then I sat me down,
And thus to ponder I began:
"What misery to be born again!
And have the flesh dissolve at death!
"Subject to birth, old age, disease,
Extinction will I seek to find,
Where no decay is ever known,
Nor death, but all security.
"What if I now should rid me of
This body foul, this charnel-house,
And go my way without a care,
Or least regret for things behind!
"There is, there must be, an escape!
Impossible there should not be!
I'll make the search and find the way,
Which from existence shall release!
"Even as, although there misery is,
Yet happiness is also found;
So, though indeed existence is,
A non-existence should be sought.
"Even as, although there may be heat,
Yet grateful cold is also found;
So, though the threefold fire exists,
Likewise Nirvana should be sought.
"Even as, although there evil is,
That which is good is also found;
So, though 't is true that birth exists,
That which is not birth should be sought.
"Even as a man befouled with dung,
Seeing a brimming lake at hand,
And nathless bathing not therein,
Were senseless should he chide the lake;
"So, when Nirvana's lake exists
To wash away corruption's stain,
Should I not seek to bathe therein,
I might not then Nirvana chide.
"Even as a man hemmed in by foes,
Seeing a certain safe escape,
And nathless seeking not to flee,
Might not the blameless pathway chide;
"So, when my passions hem me in,
And yet a way to bliss exists,
Should I not seek to follow it,
That way of bliss I might not chide.
"Even as a man who, sore diseased,
When a physician may be had,
Should fail to send to have him come,
Might the physician then not chide;
"So, when diseased with passion, sore
Oppressed, I seek the master not
Whose ghostly counsel me might cure,
The blame should not on him be laid.
"Even as a man might rid him of
A horrid corpse bound to his neck,
And then upon his way proceed,
Joyous, and free, and unconstrained;
"So must I likewise rid me of
This body foul, this charnel-house,
And go my way without a care,
Or least regret for things behind.
"As men and women rid them of
Their dung upon the refuse heap,
And go their ways without a care,
Or least regret for what they leave;
"So will I likewise rid me of
This body foul, this charnel-house,
And go my way as if I had
Cast out my filth into the draught.
"Even as the owners leave and quit
A worn-out, shattered, leaky ship,
And go their ways without a care,
Or least regret for what they leave;
"So will I likewise rid me of
This nine-holed, ever-trickling frame,
And go my way, as owners do,
Who ship disrupted leave behind.
"Even as a man who treasure bears,
And finds him in a robber-gang,
Will quickly flee and rid him of
The robbers, lest they steal his gold;
"So, to a mighty robber might
Be likened well this body's frame.
I'll cast it off and go my way,
Lest of my welfare I be robbed."
Thus thinking, I on rich and poor
All that I had in alms bestowed;
Hundreds of millions spent I then,
And made to Himavant my way.
Not far away from Himavant,
There was a hill named Dhammaka,
And here I made and patterned well
A hermitage and hut of leaves.
A walking-place I then laid out,
Exempted from the five defects,
And having all the virtues eight;
And there I gained the Six High Powers.
Then ceased I cloaks of cloth to wear,
For cloaks possess the nine defects,
And girded on a barken dress,
Which is with virtues twelve endued.
My hut of leaves I then forsook,
So crowded with the eight defects,
And at the foot of trees I lived,
For such abodes have virtues ten.
No sown and cultivated grain
Allowed I then to be my food;
But all the many benefits
Of wild-fruit fare I made my own.
And strenuous effort made I there,
The while I sat, or stood, or walked;
And ere seven days had passed away,
I had attained the Powers High.
When I had thus success attained,
And made me master of the Law,
A Conqueror, Lord of All the World,
Was born, by name Dpamkara.
What time he was conceived, was born,
What time he Buddhaship attained,
When first he preached, — the Signs appeared.
I saw them not, deep sunk in trance.
Then, in the distant border-land,
Invited they this Being Great,
And every one, with joyful heart,
The pathway for his coming cleared.
Now so it happened at this time,
That I my hermitage had left,
And, barken garments rustling loud,
Was passing o'er them through the air.
Then saw I every one alert,
Well-pleased, delighted, overjoyed;
And, coming downward from the sky,
The multitude I straightway asked:
"Well-pleased, delighted, overjoyed,
And all alert is every one;
For whom is being cleared the way,
The path, the track to travel on?"
When thus I asked, response was made:
"A mighty Buddha has appeared,
A Conqueror, Lord of All the World,
Whose name is called Dpamkara.
For him is being cleared the way,
The path, the track to travel on."
This word, "The Buddha," when I heard,
Joy sprang up straightway in my heart;
"A Buddha! Buddha!" cried I then,
And published my heart's content.
And standing there I pondered deep,
By joyous agitation seized:
"Here will I now some good seed sow,
Nor let this fitting season slip."
"For a Buddha do ye clear the road?
Then, pray, grant also me a place!
I, too, will help to clear the way,
The path, the track to travel on."
And so they granted also me
A portion of the path to clear,
And I gan clear, while still my heart
Said "Buddha! Buddha!" o'er and o'er.
But ere my part was yet complete,
Dipamkara, the Mighty Sage,
The Conqueror, came that way along,
Thronged by four hundred thousand saints,
Without depravity or spot,
And having each the Six High Powers.
The people then their greetings gave,
And many kettle-drums were beat,
And men and gods, in joyous mood,
Loud shouted their applauding cries.
Then men and gods together met,
And saw each other face to face;
And all with joined hands upraised
Followed The Buddha and his train.
The gods, with instruments divine,
The men, with those of human make,
Triumphant music played, the while
They followed in The Buddha's train.
Celestial beings from on high
Threw broadcast over all the earth
The Erythrina flowers of heaven,
The lotus and the coral-flower.
And men abiding on the ground
On every side flung up in air
Champakas, salalas, nipas,
Nagas, punnagas, ketakas.
Then loosened I my matted hair,
And, spreading out upon the mud
My dress of bark and cloak of skin,
I laid me down upon my face.
"Let now on me The Buddha tread,
With the disciples of his train;
Can I but keep him from the mire,
To me great merit shall accrue."
While thus I lay upon the ground,
Arose within me many thoughts:
"To-day, if such were my desire,
I my corruptions might consume.
"But why thus in an unknown guise
Should I the Doctrine's fruit secure?
Omniscience first will I achieve,
And be a Buddha in the world.
"Or why should I, a valorous man,
The ocean seek to cross alone?
Omniscience first will I achieve,
And men and gods convey across.
"Since now I make this earnest wish,
In presence of this Best of Men,
Omniscience sometime I'll achieve,
And multitudes convey across.
"I'll rebirth's circling stream arrest,
Destroy existence's three modes;
I'll climb the sides of Doctrine's ship,
And men and gods convey across.
"A human being, male of sex,
Who saintship gains, a Teacher meets,
As hermit lives, and virtue loves,
Nor lacks resolve, nor fiery zeal,
Can by these eight conditions joined,
Make his most earnest wish succeed."
Dipamkara, Who Knew All Worlds,
Recipient of Offerings,
Came to a halt my pillow near,
And thus addressed the multitudes:
"Behold ye now this monk austere,
His matted locks, his penance fierce!
Lo! he, unnumbered cycles hence,
A Buddha in the world shall be.
"From the fair town called Kapila
His Great Retirement shall be made.
Then, when his Struggle fierce is o'er,
His stern austerities performed, —
"He shall in quiet sit him down
Beneath the Ajapla-tree;
There pottage made of rice receive,
And seek the stream Neranjar
"This pottage shall The Conqueror eat,
Beside the stream Neranjar,
And thence by road triumphal go
To where the Tree of Wisdom stands.
"Then shall the Peerless, Glorious One
Walk to the right, round Wisdom's Throne,
And there The Buddhaship achieve,
While sitting at the fig-tree's root.
"The mother that shall bring him forth,
Shall Maya called be by name;
Suddhodana his father's name;
His own name shall be Gotama.
"Kolita, Upatissa too, —
These shall his Chief Disciples be;
Both undepraved, both passion-free,
And tranquil and serene of mind.


Excerpted from A BUDDHIST READER by HENRY CLARKE WARREN. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Abbreviations xiii
General Introduction xv
Chapter I. The Buddha
Introductory Discourse 1
1. The Story of Sumedha 5
2. A List of former Buddhas 32
3. The Characteristics of a Future Buddha 33
4. The Birth of The Buddha 38
5. The young Gotamid Prince 48
6. The Great Retirement 56
7. The Great Struggle 67
8. The Attainment of Buddhaship 71
9. First Events after the Attainment of Buddhaship 83
10. The Conversion of Sariputta and Moggallana 87
11. The Buddha's daily Habits 91
12. The Death of The Buddha 95
Chapter II. Sentient Existence
Introductory Discourse 111
13. Questions which tend not to Edification 117
14. King Milinda and Nagasena come to an Understanding 128
15. There is no Ego 129
16. All Signs of an Ego are Absent 146
17. No continuous Personal Identity 148
18. The Mind less permanent than the Body 150
19. What is Unity or One? 153
20. Analysis of the Human Being 155
21. The Composition of the Body 157
22. On getting Angry 159
23. The Origin and Cessation of the Human Being 159
24. Inanimate Nature 164
25. The Middle Doctrine 165
26. Ignorance 170
27. Karma 179
28. Consciousness 182
29. Name and Form 184
30. The Six Organs of Sense 186
31. Contact 186
32. Sensation 187
33. Desire 187
34. Attachment 189
35. Existence 194
36. Birth etc. 201
37. Discussion of Dependent Origination 202
Chapter III. Karma and Rebirth
Introductory Discourse 209
38. Be a Friend to Yourself 213
39. The Cause of Inequality in the World 214
40. Fruitful and barren Karma 215
41. The Death of Moggallana 221
42. Good and bad Karma 226
43. How to obtain Wealth, Beauty, and Social Position 228
44. The Round of Existence 232
45. Cause of Rebirth 232
46. Is this to be my Last Existence? 233
47. Rebirth is not Transmigration 234
48. Reflections on Existence 242
49. Different kinds of Death 252
50. How Existence in Hell is Possible 253
51. Death's Messengers 255
"The Three Warnings" 259
52. The Ass in the Lion's Skin 262
53. The devoted Wife 264
54. Friendship 267
55. Virtue is its own Reward 269
56. The Hare-mark in the Moon 274
Chapter IV. Meditation and Nirvana
Introductory Discourse 280
57. The Way of Purity 285
58. Concentration 288
59. The Thirty-one Grades of Being 289
60. The Forty Subjects of Meditation 291
61. The Earth-kasina 293
62. Beauty is but Skin-deep 297
63. The Conversion of Animals 301
64. Love for Animals 302
65. The Six High Powers 303
66. Spiritual Law in the Natural World 306
67. Going Further and Faring Worse 308
68. Sariputta and the Two Demons 313
69. World-cycles 315
70. Wisdom 330
71. The Summum Bonum 331
72. Mara as Plowman 349
73. The Fire-sermon 351
74. The Four Intent Contemplations 353
75. The Attainment of the Paths 376
76. Nirvana to be attained at Death 380
77. The Attainment of Nirvana by Godhika 380
78. The Trance of Cessation 383
79. The Attainment of Nirvana 390
Chapter V. The Order
Introductory Discourse 392
80. Conduct 393
81. The Admission and Ordination Ceremonies 393
82. The Serpent who wanted to be a Priest 401
83. The Buddhist Confession of Priests 402
84. The Order receive leave to dwell in Houses 411
85. Residence during the Rainy Season 414
86. The Mendicant Ideal 417
87. The Value of Training in Religion 420
88. The colorless Life 421
89. Can the Saint suffer? 422
90. The Body is an open Sore 423
91. Heaven not the Highest Good 424
92. The Saints Superior to the Gods 424
93. The Anger-eating Demon 426
94. Contentment is Riches 428
95. The Story of a Priest 430
96. The young Stone-Thrower 432
97. "And hate not his father and mother" 434
98. No Buddhist should commit Suicide 436
99. The Admission of Women to the Order 441
100. A Family of Magicians 448
101. The Story of Visakha 451
102. The Buddhist Apocalypse 481
103. The Five Groups 487
Index 497
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