Dhammapada verses 268–269 are knotty and not easy to parse. They are one of those passages that relies on multiple puns and allusions to illustrate a meaning. It’s always difficult to capture such passages in translation, but in this case the obscurity is found in the texts itself.
The verses concern the one who is a muni (“sage”), and contrasts one who is “silent” (mona) with one who, having taken up a set of scales, measures or weighs (munāti in the sense of mināti, “to measure”) good and bad.
Na monena munī hoti,
Yo ca tulaṃva paggayha,
sa munī tena so muni;
Yo munāti ubho loke,
“muni” tena pavuccati.
I won’t go into too much detail here, as I am still considering the question, but it seems to me that the translations I have consulted do not quite capture the force of the comparison. here, as an example, is Anandajoti’s translation:
Not through silence is a deluded fool considered to be a seer,
the wise one, like one holding the balance, takes up what is noble.
The seer who rejects wicked deeds through that is considered a seer,
whoever understands both worlds because of that is said to be a seer.
One thing to bear in mind is the sheer number of terms starting with mu- or mo-:
- mona: “silence”?, “wisdom”?
- muni: sage
- mūḷha: confused
- munāti: measure? think?
To this, we might add some terms from the vinaya. In Kd 4, some monks decide to spend the vassa without talking, and the Buddha scolds them for taking up a vow of silence, the practice of other sects.
- mūgabbata: vow of silence (“dumbness”)
In all this there is evidently a rather promiscuous mix of terms and ideas from different roots. Some of those roots are well-known, but the forms are complex. In other cases, especially muni itself the root meaning is obscure; in the earliest sense found in the Rg Veda, it refers to people who are excited and noisy, not silent.
I think the verses are playing on these different senses, contrasting the “dumb” silence of supposed sages, who have no true discernment, with a more active form of wisdom, gained by the practice of actually measuring and evaluating good and bad. It seems clear from the image of the scales that the sense of “measure” must be intended.
In addition, I agree with KR Norman that ubho “both” refers not to “both worlds” but to “both good and bad”.
I am not sure that I am able to successfully render the grammar meaningfully, but the sense is, I believe:
You don’t become a sage by silence,
while still confused and ignorant.
The astute one holds up the scales,
taking only the best,
and rejecting the bad;
a sage becomes a sage by measuring.
One who measures good and bad in the world,
is thereby said to be a sage.