The Sutra of the wise and the Foolish (mdo mdzangs blun) also known as Ocean of Narratives (uliger-un dalai) is one of the most popular
Buddhist scriptures concerning the previous lives of the Buddha. Translated widely into Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian and Oirat etc., these tales
have been widely read in every Buddhist country for its universal appeal in explaining the Karmic relationship of human tragedy and trumph,
happiness and sorrow.
This is the first translation from Mongolian that the Library of Tibetan Works & Archieves is publishing. As a mine of Buddhist and
specifically Tibetan Buddhist literature is available in Mongolian, we hope that this Library would be able to cooperate in further translation and
publication of similar works. We also congratulate Dr. Stanley Frye for his excellent translation of the Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish and
hope that all readers of this work will earn much merit and benefit from reading this.
One of the great treasures of Buddhist literature which have come down to us in Tibetan translation is the Do-dzang-lun (mDo-mdzangs-blun) or
the Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish, known to the Mongols, into whose language it was translated from Tibetan, as the Uliger-un dalai or Ocean
of Narratives. The history of this unusual scripture is still uncertain, e.g. we are not sure whether there ever was a Sanskrit or Prakrit original
(none has yet been found). Though legend telling us that the tales were heard in Khotan by Chinese monks who translated them (but from what
language?) into Chinese from which language it was translated into Tibetan, thence into Mongolian and Oirat. Whatever the history of the Sutra
may be, it is one of the most interesting, enjoyable and readable of Buddhist scriptures and has for centuries been an inexhaustible source
inspiration, instruction and pleasure for all who have been able to read it.
The narratives (of which the Tibetan version has fifty-one, the Mongolian fifty-two) are Jatakas or rebirth stories whose purpose is to
trace the causes of present tragedy in human lives to events which took place in former lifetimes. The theme of each Narrative is the same: the
tragedy of the human condition, the reason for this tragedy and the possibility of transcending it. It might be of interest to point out here that
unlike Greek tragedy, Buddhist tragedy is never an end in itself, i.e. a catharsis, but a call to transcend that which can be transcended and need not
be endlessly endured.
The people we meet in the Narratives, although supposedly living in the India of the Buddha’s time, might also be living at present in
New York City, a small Midwestern town or Leningrad and the problems they face are the same problems that men have had to face always and
everywhere. We see two thieves on their way to receive punishment for their misdeeds, a clergyman wavering in his faith and vows, an
agriculturalist who has lost his neighbor’s property, orphans deprived of their inheritance, a man in so deep a depression that he considers
suicide, unjust confiscation of property by the state-the entire human tragedy. But whereas we of today would be likely to turn for relief to a
psycho-analyst or the law, the people in the Narratives seek the Buddha or one of his disciples who, through wisdom and compassion, show that a
change of thought-processes can bring about a change in circumstances, i.e. when the eye of prajna is opened and insight into the true nature of
things are seen, things themselves change and are not what they seem. This is certainly the underlying message of the Sutra and the reason why
generations of Tibetans and Mongols have read and re-read it.
But the Sutra contains much more, and great adventure awaits the reader, adventure no less amazing than that which we read in modern
science fiction. We travel through outer space at a speed faster than light, visit other worlds and realms of the universe where there are beings of
a quite different order than humans, see shining beings descend to our earth and converse with man, meet sub-human species of beings and other
unusual creatures. Amazing illumination appears and astonishing sounds become audible. Matter changes its from before our very eyes and time,
as we know it, ceases to exist and loses all meaning: at one moment we are standing on the banks of an Indian river, in a second we have traveled
back countless kotis of kalpas of time and are watching events take place inn worlds of which we have no record or name. one is tempted to
wonder whether the compilers of the Narratives were writing science fiction two thousand years in advanced, or whether it might not be possible
that the science fiction writers of today are one which the Buddhist have always claimed (and still claim) is there “for those who have eyes to
Not the least of the charms of the Narratives is the gentle humor which occasionally peeps out from between the lines. Somehow one
cannot help but feel that when the monk Majestic Being, after going through a shattering psychic experience which shook him to his very
foundations and transformed him from a self-pitying old man into an Arhat, comes before the Buddha and the Buddha asks him: “Well, Majestic
Being, have you been to the seashore? And the monk replies: “Yes, Lord, I have indeed been to the seashore”-that the Buddha’s eyes twinkled and
that Majestic Being came close to a chuckle which the other monks would hardly have understood. The ghastly scene in which a wealthy society
matron, shrieking in uncontrolled rage, orders the corpse of her pilfering old maid-servant (because the latter had deceived her, even in death)
dragged out of her apartment with a rope, would certainly provide high comedy if seen on the stage. The Narratives are not funny stories any
more than the other scriptures, but the element of humor is unquestionably there.
Whenever we read the Narratives to gain instruction, knowledge and enlightenment (which it is the function of the scriptures to give),
or whether we read them for other reasons, it must always be remembered that the compilation is a do (mdo) or Sutra in the original meaning of
a cord or thread upon which are strung the precious jewels of the Enlightened One’s teaching. Like the fool (lun, blun), we may miss what is
important if we become infatuated with the unimportant. This, of-course, the dzang-pa (mdzangs-pa) or intellectual man will not do.
The Ocean of Narratives has long been known to Western scholars. The Dutch-Russian scholar, I.J. Schmidt translated the entire Sutra
into German in the 19th century. Jaschke was thoroughly acquainted with its contents and used its vocabulary extensively for his
Tibetan-German, then Tibetan-English dictionary and Das, in his dictionary, repeats these entires. It has been mentioned by almost all
Mongolists and is found in all the great Western collections and catalogues. From time to time fragments of translation have appeared in English
(e.g. by Professor John R. Krueger in The Mongolia Society Occasional Papers, No. 4, Bloomington, 1967 and by Geshe Wangyal in his Door
of Liberation New York, 1967), but a complete English translation of this unusual scripture has long been overdue.
The present translation of the Do-dzang-lun was made from the Mongolian translation of the Tibetan, which differs from the original
in only a few minor details. The translation is, admittedly, tentative as there exists as yet no good dictionary of Mongolian Buddhist terminology.
Most of the proper names, it is believed, have been correctly returned to Sanskrit, although the name of the custodian monk. Paladi,
transliterated straight from the Mongolian galik letters, is doubtful. The xylograph used is the Peking edition of 1714 which was graciously sent
to the translator several years ago by Professor Luvasanvandan of the State University, Ulan Bator, Mongolian People’s Republic.
Back of the Book
One of the great treasures of Buddhist literature, is mDo-madzangs-blun or the Sutra of the wise and the Foolish as it is known to the Mongols.
The text was translated to Mongolian from Tibetan as the Uliger-un dalai or Ocean of Narratives. It is one the most interesting, enjoyable and
readable Buddhist scriptures. For centuries, it has been an inex-haustible source of inspiration, instruction and pleasure for all who have been
able to read it. The history of this unusual scripture is still uncertain. Legend has it that the tales were heard in Khotan by Chinese monks, who
translated them (but from what language?) into Chinese, from which it was translated into Tibetan, then into Mongolian and Oirat.
The Narratives are Jatakas, or rebirth stories, tracing the causes of present tragedy in human lives to events which took place in former
life-time. The theme of each narrative is the same: the tragedy of the human condition, the reason for this tragedy and the possibility of
transcending it. But unlike Greek tragedy, Buddhist tragedy is never an end in itself, i.e. a catharsis, but a call to transcend that which can be
transcended and need not be endlessly endured. The people we meet in the Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish, although supposedly living in the
India of the Buddha’s time, might also be living at present in New York City, a small rural town or Leningrad, and the problems they face are the
same problems that men have had to face always and everywhere. Herein lies the timeless appeal of this profound Buddhist scripture.
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