sExcerpts from Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Pandita’s Treasury of Good Advice
Sakya Pandita (John Davenport, translator) – Wisdom Publications


A compendium of profound, down-to-earth, and practical Buddhist advice on the art of living, the Sakya Legshe—or "Treasury of Good Advice"—has been fundamental to the development of Tibetan culture and character. As in Aesop's Fables, Sakya Pandita uses proverbs and stories to address the basic question: "How are we to live peaceably with ourselves and with others?" This is the only available English translation of the Sakya Legshe—a book that reveals the heart of the Buddhist way of life.

An Examination of the Foolish and the Wise


A fool's knowledge shows on the surface,
But a wise person's knowledge is hidden within.
A straw floats on top of the water;
A jewel sinks even when placed on the surface.

Fools with little understanding of temporal and spiritual matters do not assimilate what they learn into their physical, verbal, and mental activity, yet they prance around showing off: what they know like a dog with a yak-skin butter sack in its mouth. The wise, on the other hand, integrate their experience into their deeds. At appropriate times they draw from'scriptural authority, logic, and their own experience to give thoughtful instruction on the collections of merit and wisdom; when circumstances are unsuitable they keep their knowledge hidden within rather than display it openly. Practiced in maintaining a positive view of things, they live in harmony with others.

A straw, light and hollow like a fool lacking the weight of experience, floats on top of the water. The heavy wish-fulfilling jewel, like a wise person weighted by the capacity to grant what is needed and desired, settles into the depths even if carefully placed on the surface.


Those with limited knowledge have great pride,
But when they become wise, they are composed.
A small creek babbles incessantly,
But what clamor does the ocean produce?

Some people may gain a little knowledge from being educated in general worldly affairs, but because their learning is neither internalized nor serves as an antidote for mental coarseness, they become arrogant. However, once they fully assimilate their learning, they regard the fine qualities in others as superior to themselves and maintain a temperate demeanor free of pride. Fast-flowing little creeks tumble noisily downhill, but large accumulations of water like the great ocean, whose undulations are unpretentious, do not rush around with a lot of hullabaloo.


Coarse people disparage the noble,
But noble people do not belittle anyone.
Though lions treat the foxes well,
The foxes quarrel among themselves.

Because of their bad attitudes, ill-mannered people show their contempt for those of noble character through offensive behavior. But good people are impartial, belittling no one and holding a benevolent attitude toward all. As king of beasts, the lion is protective of other animals like foxes. But foxes are competitive and contentious creatures, and create more woe among themselves than for anyone else.
All beings want only happiness and wish to avoid suffering, so cultivate the temperament of fine people who make themselves and others happy at no expense to others.


Noble people, when angry, are mollified by apology,
But coarse people become even more obstinate.
Solid gold and silver can be melted,
But heating dog turds just creates a foul stench.

Good people usually will not become angry because they analyze and understand the causes of a situation. If for some reason they do get rankled, as soon as others apologize they calm down, in keeping with their excellent character. However, coarse people get angry if they fail to achieve the slightest objective. Apologies make them yet more irate because the issue appears so important. Gold and silver are hard by nature, yet become fluid when subjected to heat; but when dog excrement is put into a fire, the only result is a repulsive smell that offends everyone.


The wise possess all virtuous qualities,
While fools have only shortcomings.
From precious jewels comes whatever one needs;
Poisonous snakes bring only misfortune.

The truly wise continuously possess all the finest attributes such as learnedness, nobility, and kindness--the consummate marks of those who serve both sentient beings and the Buddha's teachings. Conversely, foolish people who lack these good qualities have only deficiencies, like jealousy and competitiveness. As a consequence, not only are they of no help to others, they end up ruining themselves and others. A wish-fulfilling jewel will provide all the gold, silver, and fine silk clothing one desires, but only the misfortune of sickness and death ensues from a poisonous snake. Therefore, do not follow fools; rely instead on the accomplished ones whose purpose goes beyond mere talk.


Even in the forest malicious people deteriorate,
Even in the city noble people remain serene.
One sees that forest animals are wild and ferocious,
But the best horses are well-disciplined in town.

Degenerate behavior among ill-mannered fools with undisciplined minds is not solely caused by unfavorable external conditions; it is also due to their own mental delusions. Merely dwelling in a mountain hermitage free of desire and competitiveness does not ensure that one will develop seclusion of the inner mind. Decent people integrate the Dharma into their lives, and because of their good character their conduct never deteriorates, whether they stay in isolated places or in cities amid many people. Leopards and other wild animals in the deep forest are vicious by nature for no apparent reason. But a superb horse with a fine canter, even in the city among mules, will remain steady and disciplined.


The excellent observe their own faults,
While the coarse seek faults in others.
Peacocks attend to their own form,
While owls hoot bad omens to others.

Wise people investigate situations differently than fools do. Well-trained to uphold the glorious spiritual and worldly traditions, the wise realize that because of their faults they cannot achieve their own objectives, let alone benefit others. By looking within they try to eliminate weaknesses of body, speech, and mind, and to strengthen their good qualities. Coarse, ignoble people, however, do not analyze themselves but instead look outward, seeking imperfections in the ways good people do things. Peacocks examine their form and their way of moving, and notice how their shadows are cast by the sun so they can improve what is good and lessen what is bad. But owls land on top of a house, cry out, and send forth bad omens.

Since nothing worthwhile is accomplished for either oneself or others when one has shortcomings, it is always good to practice as the wise do. Some great masters have said,

To hide the body--live alone on a remote mountain;
To hide speech--resolve not to talk too much;
To hide the mind focus only on your own shortcomings:
One who does this is certainly called a hidden yogi!


Noble people gently care for themselves and others;
Bad people stubbornly torment themselves and others.
A fruit-laden tree shelters itself and others;
A dry, brittle tree incinerates itself and others.

Because they have calmed their own minds, good people are like the bird that dwells on the golden mountain: skillfully knowing what to do and what to avoid, they protect not just themselves but also their dependents. But fools whose minds are estranged from the Dharma are like birds living on a mountain of poison. Their obstinacy brings misery not just to themselves but to their associates as well. The tree that bears fine fruit not only protects itself from being cut down, it nourishes others with its abundant yield. But dead, dry trees will not merely catch" fire themselves; the whole forest goes up in smoke.