Here is a reprint of T.W.Rhys Davids' translation of the Digha Nikaya, first published in
three parts in 1899, 1910 and 1921 respectively.
The Digha Nikaya or "the collection of long doctrinary lectures" of the Buddha is
one of the five Nikayas of collections belonging to the Suttapitaka or "the basket of
(Buddha's) discourses" which is one of the three major collections of Pali Buddhist
texts, the other two being Vinayapitaka and Abhidhammapitaka. It consists of
34 long suttas of which each individual one treats intensively some particular point or
points of the doctrine.
The Buddha, like other Indian teachers of his time, taught by conversation. He
followed the literary habit of his time by embodying his doctrine in set phrases, sutras, on
which he enlarged on different occasion in different ways. When the Buddha died these
sayings (suttas) were collected together by his disciples into the great Nikayas of which
the present one is the first.
Thomas William Rhys Davids (1843-1922) was the foremost and most active
exponent of the study of Pali and Buddhism in England. Rhys Davids studied Sanskrit at
Breslau under Stenzler.
In 1882 he was appointed Professor of Pali in the University College, London. He was
the Founder-Chairman of the Pali Text Society (1881), through which, by the time he passed
away at the age of 80, he had published most of the basic texts and commentaries in Pali
Buddhism, in about 25,000 pages.
Rhys Davids played an active part in founding, in 1992, the British Academy, and
later the School of Oriental Studies, London. He was also the President of the India Society
from its inception in 1910 till his death in 1922.
The Dialogues of the Buddha, constituting, in the Pali text, the Digha and Magghima Nikayas,
contain a full exposition of what the early Buddhists considered the teaching of the Buddha
to have been. Incidentally the contain a large number of references to the social,
political, and religious condition of India at the time when they were put together. We do
not know for certain what that time exactly was. But every day is adding to the number of
facts on which an approximate estimate of the date may be based. And the ascertained facts
are already sufficient to give us a fair working hypothesis.
In the first place the numerous details and comparative table given in the
Introduction to my translation of the Milinda show without a doubt that practically the
whole of the Pali Pitakas were known, and regarded as final authority, at the time and place
when that work was composed. The geographical details given on pp. xliii, xliv tend to show
that the work was composed in the extreme North-West of India. There are two Chinese works,
translations of Indian books taken to China from the North of India, which contain, in
different recensions, the introduction and the opening chapters of the Milinda. For the
reasons adduced (loco citato) it is evident that the work must have been composed at or
about the time of the Christian era. Whether (as M. Sylvain Levy thinks) it is an enlarged
work built up on the foundation of the Indian original of the Chinese books; or whether (as
I am inclined to think) that original is derived from our Milinda, there is still one
conclusion that must be drawn-the Nikayas, nearly if not quite as we now have them in the
Pali, were known at a very early date in the North of India.
Then again, the Katha Vatthu (according to the views prevalent, at the end of the
fourth century A.D., at Kankipura in South India, and at Anuradhapura in Ceylon; and
recorded, therefore, in their commentaries, by Dhammapala and Buddhaghosa) was composed, in
the form in which we now have it, by Tissa, the son of Moggali, in the middle of the third
century B.C., at the court of Asoka, at Pataliputta, the modern Patna, in the North of
It is a recognized rule of evidence nit eh courts of law that, if an entry be found
in the book kept by a man in the ordinary course of his trade, which entry speaks
against himself, then that entry is especially worthy of credence. Now at the time
when they made this entry about Tissa's authorship of the Katha Vatthu the commentators
believed, and it was an accepted tenet of those among whom they mixed-just as it was,
mutatis mutandis, among the theologians in Europe, at the corresponding date in the
history of their faith-that the whole of the canon was the word of the Buddha. They also
held that it had been actually recited, at the Council of Ragagaha, immediately after his
decease. It is, I venture to submit, absolutely impossible, under these circumstances, that
the commentators can have invented this information about Tissa and the Katha Vatthu. They
found it in the records on which their works are based. They dared not alter it. The best
they could do was to try to explain it away. And this they did by a story, evidently
legendary, attributing the fist scheming out of the book to the Buddha. But they felt
compelled to hand on, as they found it, the record of Tissa's authorship. And this deserves,
on the ground that it is evidence against themselves, to have great weight attached to
The text of the Katha Vatthu now lies before us in a scholarly edition, prepared for
the Pali Text Society by Mr. Arnold C. Taylor. It purports to be a refutation by Tissa of
250 erroneous opinions held by Buddhists belonging to schools of thought different from his
own. We have, from other sources, a considerable number of data as regards the different
schools of thought among Buddhists-often erroneously called 'the Eighteen Sects. We are
beginning to know something about the historical development of Buddhism, and to be familiar
with what sort of questions are likely to have arisen. We are beginning to know something of
the growth of the language, of the different Pali styles. In all these respects the Katha
Vatthu fits in with what we should expect as possible, and probable, in the time of Asoka,
and in the North of India.
Introductory Note From Second Volume
The growing demand for translations of the Pali canon has encouraged the Pali Text Society,
which manages the Sacred Books of the Buddhists Series, to bring out a new edition of the
important second volume of the Dialogues of the Buddha. The original edition of 910 has now
been out of print for fifteen years or so; and before it had been published for as long as
eighteen months, practically the whole of the second edition was destroyed during the war of
1939-45. it has been impossible to find a copy of this second edition, and the present
edition is therefore a reprint of the 1910 edition. But it includes the Preface Mrs. Rhys
Davids wrote for the second edition, and which she then published in a slightly revised form
in her Wayfarer's Words, vol. III, p. 963-972 (Messrs. Luzac & Co., 1942). Although
possessing a proof copy of the former, we have decided that it would be more in accordance
with her wishes to reprint here the version in Wayfarer's Words, containing as it does her
own revision of what she had already written.
Her Preface has as its principal object the correction of "much error (as well as
much knowledge) disseminated by the first edition" (Wayfarer's Words, III, p. 962). After
studying it, it will be found quite easy to substitute in this reprint of the original
edition the alterations she would have made, but did not for reasons she gives, as well as
those she did in fact make in the now virtually lost, but not greatly revised, second
edition of 1938.
Introduction From Third Volume
It is now twenty years since the first volume of this translation of the Digha was
published. Other work, infirmities and old age have contributed to the delay, and the work
would never have been finished if it had not received the co-operation of my wife, who in
spite of much other work to do, found time to assist me so often and so much.
In the opening pages of the first volume eight facts were referred to as evidence
of the age of the Digha, and incidentally of the rest of that part of the Pali literature
which belonged to the same period. The conclusions drawn from these facts were that the
books in question were North Indian in origin; that they belonged to a period before the
time of Asoka, and before South India and Ceylon were well known in the North of India; and
that they contained good evidence for the 5th century, and indeed, in parts of them, for the
6th century B.C.
Since these conclusions were drawn the Pali Text Society has published nearly fifty
volumes of Pali texts. They belong to all periods. But so far as they throw light on the
subject, they confirm the above conclusions. Two valuable treatises on Pali Literature have
also appeared-the one by Professor Winternitz in the 2nd vol. of his Geschichte der
Indischen Litteratur, and the other by Professor Geiger in his Pali Literatur und Sprache.
The two scholars, though differing on many points of detail, agree on the main point of the
general accuracy of the above conclusions.
We can now go a little further. With the whole of the texts before us we can speak
with more certainty as to the method of their gradual growth, and as to the difference of
age of the various portions. We have no space here to repeat the arguments put forward in
Buddhist India, pp. 165-188. We can only give the general conclusions. These are-
1. Of the twenty-nine books in the canon only one the latest-has a putative author,
and even in that case 'editor' would be more accurate than 'author.'
2. Most of them, including all the most important, are anthologies, collections of
3. Some of this older material had already been collected into smaller anthologies, now
no longer extant as separate books, but incorporated in the existing ones. Such are the
Patimokkha, the Silas, the Parayana, and the Octades.
4. The older material consists of hymns or ethical verses or ballads; and of prose
passages on doctrine or ethics or conduct, and of parables, or short episodes in the life
history of the principal contemporaries of the Buddha. Such passages can often be
distinguished from the context in which they now stand by the fact that they are found in
identical words in two or more of the existing anthologies.
5. The great compendiums-that is the Four Nikayas, and the Vinaya-grew up side by side,
by side, and were probably completed in their present shape about a century after the
6. When such a passage or stanza as is mentioned in 4 occurs in two or more of these
five there need be no question of one having borrowed from the other. Each may have
incorporated the passage or stanza or episode from the common stock of such passages, etc.,
handed down in the community.
7. Each of them has at the end an appendix which is a little later than the rest of the
8. We have now a long and increasing list of words or thoughts which are tests of
age-words used in one sense in the older strata of the literature and in another sense in
later strata (abhinna, anagamin, abhidhamma, ogha, etc.)-new words introduced to modify or
supplement ideas in older works (dukkata, dhutanga, etc.) and new words formed to express
new ideas. Such text-word are invaluable in assisting us to determine the comparative age
(with reference to other passages) of the particular passage in which they occur.
9. It has been possible therefore to arrange the canonical books into a list showing
their comparative age during the period from the time of the Buddha to that of Asoka.
10. Not one of these twenty-nine Pali books, has been, so far as we know, translated
into Sanskrit. When some Buddhists, notably the Sabbatthivadins (to be henceforth known as
Sarvastivadins), began to write in Sanskrit about the time of Kanishka, they wrote new
works, or made new anthologies. These sometimes had titles imitated from the titles of the
Pali books; and the anthologies, whether in prose or verse or both, contained some of the
selections included in the Pali anthologies with similar names. But they were new books.
11. Their historical value is all the greater on that account. It is the differences we
want to know about. What changes did they make in doctrine or discipline, and why? It is
waste of time to speculate without the texts. And especially we want a complete edition of
all the Sarvastivadin works (except more story books-they can wait.)
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend