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A Handful of Leaves—For Free January 23, 2007

Posted by jshaheen in Books, Theravada.

The Buddha taught far fewer things than he knew of. He told his disciples:

“[T]hose things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven’t I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That is why I have not taught them.”

He likened what he did teach to a handful of leaves in the forest, which has inspired forest monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu to name his 4-volume anthology of translations from the Pali Canon just that—A Handful of Leaves (a fifth volume is soon to appear). You can’t buy it, but you can have the entire set for free. Than Geoff, as the Bhikkhu is known, offers a range of Buddhist titles at no cost in the spirit of dana, or generosity. This particular anthology can be orderd from the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies (SCBS), a northern California nonprofit that supports the study of Buddhist teachings.

Than Geoff is abbot of the Metta Forest Monastery, near San Diego. MFM covers the printing costs and SCBS covers shipping. Other titles on offer are numerous. “We’ve got a good number of books, some titles in the hundreds, some in the thousands,” Than Geoff told me. The many works include engaging essays, insightful dharma talks, and learned commentaries in the Theravadin tradition. All titles except for A Handful of Leaves can be ordered directly from MFM. Write to Metta Forest Monastery, PO Box 1409 Valley Center, CA 92082.

Another great—and accessible—dana book is Gil Fronsdal’s The Issue at Hand. Gil earned his Ph.D. in Buddhist studies at Stanford. Formerly a Zen monk, he now teaches in the Vipassana tradition at the Insight Meditation Center, in Redwood City, California. You can read the entire book at the link above; you can also order it through Insight Meditation Center’s website, or write to IMC at 1205 Hopkins Avenue, Redwood City, California 94062. Gil recently told me that there are plenty copies available. (Gil’s IMC is closely linked to the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies and hosts all of its events, although both organizations remain independent.)

Turns out it’s true that the best things in life are free. With a Handful of Leaves you needn’t fear a handful of dust….

James Shaheen, Editor



1. Raymond Lam - January 24, 2007

I had almost forgotten about the analogy of the Leaves in the Forest. Perhaps the Buddha really knew how the universe began. Who knows. Blogroll, here you go. 😉

– buddhawarrior

Anonymous - June 3, 2015

In the Canon he says it’s not knowable.

2. seekingfor - January 30, 2007

I love the “handful of leaves” analogy.

Thanks for the information about Fronsdal’s book. I am going to be giving it a read.

He is one of my favorite teachers, I listen to his podcast every week.

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