Feedback on the content of Sujato's Sutta notes: not a thread on the UI

Hi all, I’ve been adding notes to suttas. This is an ongoing project that will take the next year or more. I wrote about this earlier, please check this out.

For my project, I will focus on two kinds of notes.

  1. Explain the translation choices.
  2. Help the general reader.

What I would like is that if someone new to the suttas, with little in the way of background and context, should be trying to read a sutta, they see a note and go, “Hmm, nice.”

And please bear in mind the non-goals:

  • Summarizing the commentaries: refer to commentaries only if they are actually useful to clear up the text or reading.
  • Teaching the controversy: a note is not an essay and not all controversies are worth teaching.
  • Expounding special views: stick to things that are simple and straightforward. See above re “not an essay”.
  • Apologetics: it’s not my position to judge but to clarify.
  • Linguistics: only discuss the Pali if it is necessary to explain a translation choice.
  • Comparatives: checking the Chinese and other parallels for everything is out of scope: I have to make a limit somewhere, else it won’t get done.
  • Referencing the literature: this is not an academic project, and will generally not refer to articles and the like, again, except where they directly affect the translation.

As with all things, this will be an evolving situation, and I’m seeking feedback.

I have published brief notes for the books of KN, and now I am starting on DN. Right now I’m in the middle of DN 16. I will be publishing these on the website as I go.

I’m interested in specifics (“what does that mean?”) as well as generalities (“I read the notes and they sucked the wisdom out of my soul!”). Please be gentle, I can’t satisfy everyone!

  • to see the notes, go to “views” and select option at the very left.
  • there are some bugs with the implementation of notes, we have a plan for this, so no need to report them
  • notes for KN have been added to the books project, and at some point they will be added for other volumes as well. We will ultimately provide both annotated and plain editions.

I’m new to the suttas and I noticed the notes in my readings this week.

I liked them. I found them to be useful.

The last one I recall coming across was somewhere in the DN noting that advice to a king to use his wealth to fund economic opportunities would end up giving him more wealth back as taxes making the whole kingdom better off. The note stated that advice is Keynesian economics.

I found the red squiggly line a bit odd, as that is what my spellchecker uses.

It stumped me for a nano second until I hovered over it and saw the balloon with the interesting note. does notes in a similar way. does footnotes in many suttas and introductions for some suttas. Very useful.

Hey thanks! It’s especially valuable to hear from new people.

Umm, not sure what you’re seeing, can you share a screenshot?

They’re awesome, and some of the notes even have pictures!

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I know it’s a lot to ask, and it probably isn’t your preference, but I find the asterisks less than ideal.

They’re very small, so they aren’t very visible. And clicking them is a bit less accessible as well; especially on mobile sometimes. The red color is very light and not very bold. I think footnotes would be really nice, maybe just a footnote section that one can toggle on/off visibility. But this is just a suggestion in case there’s any interest.

Asterisks make sense for variant readings to me. But notes on phrasing, translation, or the general meaning/context of passages feels more appropriate as a proper footnote rather than hidden away in a tiny asterisk among a sea of text. Also, for ebooks and print forms of the translations, they would need to be footnotes.

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I have to apologize. I checked my notes, I’m pretty sure it was in DN 5, section 4, before you get to section 4.1…BUT I can’t find it there now.

I’m guessing it must have been some artefact of your browser or something, there shouldn’t be any squiggly lines in the UI. But do share if you see it again.

I also felt the same way about footnotes in the past, based mostly on (1) the way footnotes and other details seem to clutter up translations in printed books, (2) lack of native support for translation notes in HTML (which you mention). But I do think that sometimes translation notes are very helpful and interesting.

I like how the notes are presented entirely on the side, in their own space. They are not taking space away from the main text, and they’re not introducing any distracting or unattractive typographic elements into the translated text.

The notes that I find least helpful are ones presenting basic information that the average Buddhist would already know, or could already know. The most interesting notes to me are the ones related to how the text itself is translated (e.g. literal readings), and tie-ins with other texts and traditions.

For example, this note doesn’t seem necessary to me, because it is very general and possibly relevant in many places where the topic of sila comes up:

Ethics (or morality or virtue, sīla) is important in the world, but it pales in comparison with the higher dimensions of the Buddha’s path.

On the other hand, this note gives helpful information about the translation and an interesting tie-in to the Vinaya:

The Pali is literally “gold and silver”, but the corresponding Vinaya rule makes it clear that any form of money is included.

Likewise, I really like the mention of a metaphor being shared in an early upanisad:

This metaphor is found at Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4.3.36, where it refers to the separation of the self from the body at death.

I like this type of note, but some additional details about sati not being specifically a Buddhist virtue, would make the note even better:

Note that mindfulness (sati) is not held to be a specifically Buddhist virtue. Here it refers to a sense of moral compass and self-awareness, rather than a meditation practice.

In general, the notes that are detailed, concrete, and targeting very specific things in the text, seem the most helpful to me.


And this also applies to this very helpful feedback, thank you!

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Thanks Bhante,

The notes in the Snp, which have been there for a while, are excellent. More than once I’ve seen people post on this or some other forum asking “what does this passage mean?”, and you’ve already explained it. :joy:

One thing I would have liked is some cross-referencing. I know that I can look at the parallels to Snp5.3, and find the discussion at AN6.61, but I would have thought it was worth noting, for example, that the passage:

That thoughtful one, having known both ends,
is not stuck in the middle.

Is discussed in much more detail in AN6.61.

Similarly, for Ud1.10 and SN35.95.


I clicked your link to DN1 with notes.
It’s note-soup in here! (all the notes are overlapping)
Chrome Version 110.0.5481.100 (Official Build) (x86_64) for Mac OS10.14.4

It’s been a long day of brainstorming and I’m a little slower as a result, but I can’t see how to turn the notes off and on individually. I thought that if I clicked the note that was behind it might change it’s z-index to 999 so that I could read it. :person_shrugging:

Thanks everyone for feedback, may I remind you all:

This is about the content, not the UI.

From another thread, @kaccayanagotta said:

I did have a suggestion though. On DN 15, I noticed @sujato didn’t add any notes/explanation for the 8 liberations or the section on contact (*nāmarūpapaccayā phasso). I was a bit disappointed; it is always nice to see people’s thoughts on these.

It’s sometimes hard to know exactly what to say on these philosophically dense passages. Is there anything specific you’d look for?

It’s still not easy to comment on content if you’re not able to read what’s there.

I can read them if I click on a note and hold the mouse button pressed down.

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…alternatively use the tooltip view instead of sidenotes, though at time of writing, you lose a wee bit of formatting.


This is fantastic, I really like this feature. Thanks for this development. :pray:

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The reason I mention the 8 liberations (attha vimokkhā) is because this is ambiguous and unclear. Even to experienced Buddhists the list can read as kind of unhelpful and hard to implement. Getting the thoughts of an experienced translator who also has access to the commentaries and whatnot would be really helpful.

This applies to all these scenarios: If there is some kind of practice, doctrine, or phrase in the suttas that is not very clear or is ambiguous, it would be really nice to have some notes on it. Even if it is just an opinion, having an informed opinion is better than having a non-sensical passage. The latter is essentially useless.

Mettā! :pray:

EDIT: Also @sujato , at DN 11 at section 4, one of the notes I believe is mistaken. It says that Kevaḍḍha was asking how to go beyond the formless attainments, but surely this is a typo for the form attainments associated with the elements and described right before this in the note?

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Great work, bhante. But since you asked for feedback, one problem I see is that the two kinds of notes are of a very different nature. I personally found that the notes for the general reader discouraged me from reading the notes in general, as they often have information I’m not interested in. I guess more “general readers” may have the same feeling but with the more technical notes on translations. In other words, they address two very different audiences.

The general notes I feel are also rather often superfluous, even if I were to be completely new to the suttas. Some examples:


  • “The truth is extremely hard to see, but it is possible. The Buddha has done it.” The text already says that it is hard to see, and I think everybody will know the Buddha did so (at least according to the texts).
  • “This is the Triple Gem that makes up the Buddhist religion. They are not known by that term in the early texts.” - How does it matter or relate to this specific text?
  • "The very first words of the Buddha in the Suttapiṭaka: he asks to hear what others are saying. " Okay?


  • “Even a servant believed in the doctrine of kamma.” Here you seem to want to make a point, but it is not clearly stated what that point is. Whatever it is, I don’t think it matters for understanding the text.
  • “There is no question of the divinity of kings.” Idem.
  • “Mendicants must not have slaves.” Adds nothing to what the text already says when it says to refrain from having slaves.
  • “These are animals raised for food.” No as pets, clearly. :smiley:
  • “Deep meditation is pursued in the seclusion of nature.” Isn’t that already exactly what the text says?
  • “The Buddha continues to appeal to Ajātasattu with gorgeous and clarifying similes. Gemwork was clearly advanced at the time. Strung gems were loved in India from the time in the Harappan civilization, millennia before the Buddha.” Nice to know, but it doesn’t make me understand the text (and the simile of the beryl gem) any better.


  • “I have been asked to do the same thing for the same reason.” - So? :slight_smile:

I mean, the more notes there are, the clumsier it looks, and the less likely people who are interested in digging deeper will read them. So perhaps you can consider whether notes like these are actually necessary.

Also because other things that seem more worthy of a general note are often left unexplained. It creates a strange contrast. For example when you comment on the history of gem making but leave the simile to speak for itself.

Not to be discouraging! Many of the general notes are also very explanatory. But even they perhaps better fit an essay or general introduction to the text. To give an example, Bhikkhu Bodhi’s notes always feel well placed, as they are always about the translations. And for “beginners” he has explanations elsewhere, like in the introductions to the translations.

Again, just feedback. We have a saying in Dutch: “The best helmsmen are standing on the shore.” It means it’s easy to talk about how things should be done, but it’s hard to actually do it. :smiley:


No worries, I’m enjoying writing them!

Okay sure, I’ll consider it.

No, it says “go beyond to the formless attainments”. But anyway I’ve made it clearer.

Yeah, I deleted that one.

also delete.

So, this is not something that just happens in an ancient fable. Most the other examples you give are similar, they are supplying background that many people do not have, and which they ask about when reading suttas. Source: 20+ years of teaching suttas. As I go through, I’m taking a maximalist approach, commenting on anything that seems noteworthy. I’ll probably slim it down somewhat over time.

This just isn’t true. He constantly gives paraphrases from the commentary, as well as all sorts of other information. BB is writing for a different information context, where he assumes most readers will be dedicated and interested enough to spend a whole bunch of money on a book, then read the introduction before the text. I’m writing for the web, where people have zero investment, I cannot assume any prior interest, and most people won’t have read the introduction.


I like the addition Bhante👍

Only one issue…the asterisks.

( IPad, Safari)

My eyesight is pretty good, but it takes a fair amount of squinting to find a previous asterisk I just passed. Bold + a space, maybe?

I am begging everyone once more to please bear in mind, this is a thread about the content of the notes, not the UI.


Bhante thank you for adding these notes. I appreciate very much both the general ones and the more specific translation notes, and I decided to include them in my translation.

Currently the plan is, after completing the SN (which isn’t very far any more), to address those Suttas that are still left of the DN, that is, most of the Sīlakkhandhavagga, and to tranlsate the notes along with the Suttas. Then I’ll probably continue with the notes of the DN Suttas that are already translated, and at the same time revise them.

I haven’t looked into the content of the notes in too much detail yet, but you might hear more as I am going along with them.

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