A Manual of the Dhamma

Translator’s Preface

The Dhamma Dīpanī, written in Burmese by the late Venerable Ledi Sayādaw, a famous scholar and meditation master, is, I think, the best of his many expositions (Dīpanī). This work concerns the Vinaya. The survival of the Buddha’s Dispensation depends on the survival of the Vinaya. The Sayādaw answered thirteen questions asked by devoted lay persons in 1901. All lay supporters want to see virtuous monks guiding the people and serving the dispensation effectively, for the Sangha is the mainstay of the Buddha’s teachings. To prolong the Buddha’s dispensation, all well-wishers want to purify the Sangha by suppressing immoral monks. Nowadays, the purification of the Sangha is an urgent matter, as neglect of the Vinaya rules is commonplace.

Moreover, the monks who scrupulously observe the Vinaya are the best ones to guide the laity in the attainment of the highest merit. It is hardly surprising that lay disciples do not want sham monks to prosper and wield influence among ignorant lay Buddhists. Thus the regulations of the Sangha, especially the guidelines for lay-monk relationships, are of universal interest. All Buddhists should ponder the questions and answers in this book. Because they are subtle, they should contemplate them very deeply.

Since these problems are of practical and fundamental importance for both the laity and Sangha, an expositor must possess genuine insight and a comprehensive knowledge of Vinaya. Fortunately, the Sayādaw fulfilled these qualifications. All his expositions display not only his academic mastery, but also his practical inclination. Though knowledge is important, mere learning leads us nowhere. His well-reasoned answers, with relevant quotations from the texts, reveal his many-faceted ability.

In the affairs of monastic discipline, partial knowledge and facile solutions will only harm the Buddha’s dispensation, in which the Sangha plays the central role. It is due to monks who respect the Vinaya that the true Dhamma and the correct way to salvation still exist. Some think that the Vinaya is unimportant, maintaining that many rules should now be amended. Such people lack the correct understanding of the authority of the Buddha in prescribing the discipline. They fail to appreciate the profound nature of the Buddha’s command and its sanctity. If they study the five books of Vinaya and their commentaries in detail, a strong faith in the Vinaya will emerge. Confidence is fundamental for monks, and wide-ranging knowledge is essential for scholars.

The readers will find profound thoughts in each answer expressed by the Venerable Sayādaw. Though profound, the explanations are clear. The Sayādaw explains the classification of all types of monks, past and present. The reader will gain much useful information and wise guidance from this book as it deals with the laity’s difficulties too. Ignorance of the Vinaya among the laity hastens the decline in the moral standards of the monks. Intelligent lay people should promote good standards by skilful actions as explained herein.

Because of the great significance of the thirteen questions, the Primate of the Shwegyin sect, the most Venerable Mahāvisuddhārāma Sayādaw of Mandalay, asked Venerable Ledi Sayādaw to answer them. After examining the Vinaya texts, commentaries, and subcommentaries, the Venerable Sayādaw gave comprehensive answers correctly and wisely, for he had analysed the problems in great depth. Those who adopt unskilful attitudes towards scrupulous monks (lajjī), shameless monks (alajjī), and immoral monks (dussīlo) will adjust their views after carefully reading this exposition.

The great merit of this book consists in its sound advice, caution, and warning. Moreover, skilful ways to deal with all types of monks are given for the benefit of the laity. The most important point lies, I think, in the well-defined classification of monks, along with the factors and characteristics required to evaluate a monk in question. The profundity and sacredness of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha are also clearly explained for ordinary lay people. Monks, too, will gain new insights if they appreciate the intrinsic power of Vinaya, which displays the supreme authority of the Buddha himself. Then their behaviour and outlook will improve.

As the book deals with Vinaya matters, some technical terms are difficult to translate. To avoid misunderstanding, I have purposely retained some original Pali terms and Vinaya categories. After repeated study I hope these basic terms will become familiar and meaningful, like the Pāli words kusala, akusala, Dhamma, Sangha, or kamma, which are now in common usage. They have gained wide currency in many countries and retain their original meanings without any need for explanation.

I have tried to follow the original Burmese text closely so that the author’s profound answers, warnings, remarks, and guidelines will remain faithful in the translation. In a technical book like this some inaccuracies of translation can occur for which I crave the indulgence of the reader. Polishing is an endless job, but one has to stop somewhere. I have tried to make the work both readable and accurate. The ordinary reader can consult other translations of the Vinaya texts, but scholars may wish to study further. For them the Vinaya commentaries will be helpful.

I have to thank James Ross for his urgent and repeated request to translate this most important work of the international scholar-monk. The staff of the library department of the Religious Affairs Directorate at Kaba-Aye, Rangoon, gave me vital assistance in checking references and quotations. I owe them a deep debt of gratitude.

I am sure that the dispensation will continue to shine in many countries with the spread of the original Vinaya texts and explanatory books like this. Buddhism has attracted many students and scholars everywhere. Scientists especially are researching Buddhism as it conforms with scientific principles and methods. A deep sense of joy arising from sublime, noble conduct will result if they develop morality, concentration, and wisdom.

U Han Htay

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