Introduction to the Khuddakapāṭha

This, the first book in the Khuddaka Nikāya (Collection of Short Discourses), appears to have been designed as a primer for novice monks and nuns. In nine short passages it covers the basic topics that one would need to know when beginning Buddhist monastic life; many of the passages also serve as useful introductions to Buddhist practice in general.

Passages 1 and 2 cover the ceremony for taking ordination as a novice. Passage 3 gives preliminary guidance in the contemplation of the body, a meditation exercise designed to overcome pride in one’s own bodily appearance, and lust for the bodies of others. Passage 4 introduces many of the basic categories of analysis through which discernment can be developed, beginning with the most basic formulation of the causal principle so central to the Buddha’s teaching. By stating that all beings subsist on food, this formulation provides a graphic image for the causal principle, while at the same time indicating that causality is not an innocent or painless process.

Passage 5 gives an overview of the practice as a whole—beginning with the need to associate with wise people, and ending with the attainment of unbinding (nibbāna/nirvāṇa). This overview is presented in the context of the concept of protective rituals, and makes the point that—given the nature of human action and its results—the best protection comes not from rituals but from acting in a generous, moral, and wise manner. Passage 6 expands both on Passage 1 and on Passage 5, detailing some of the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha, while at the same time elaborating on the practice of meditation and the attainment of stream entry—the point at which the meditator has his/her first glimpse of unbinding. Passage 7 elaborates on the theme of generosity, showing how gifts to the Saṅgha can be dedicated to the welfare of one’s dead relatives. Passage 8 presents meritorious action in general as an investment more reliable and longer lasting than material investments. Passage 9 returns to the subject of meditation, focusing on the development of goodwill as a topic of concentration, in the context of the complete training in virtue, concentration, and discernment.

These nine passages, in different contexts, are frequently chanted in Theravāda countries even today. Lay and ordained Buddhists chant Passage 1 daily, as an affirmation of their refuge in the Triple Gem. Monks will often chant Passages 5–9 as blessings when lay people make merit, and frequently use verses from Passage 5 as sermon themes.

Thus the passages contained in this short book serve as a useful introduction both to early Buddhist training and to modern Theravāda practices.

Homage to the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Rightly Self-Awakened One.