Khuddaka Nikaya

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Canto XVI. Psalms of Twenty Verses


Canto XVI.
Psalms of Twenty Verses


Translated from the Pali by Mrs. C.A.F. Rhys Davids.

Public Domain



Reborn in this Buddha-age, in Anguttarapa,[2] in a brahmin family, at the brahmin village of Āpaṇa, he was named Sela. And he dwelt there when adult, proficient in the three Vedas and in brahmin arts, teaching mantras to 300 brahmin youths. Now at that time the Master, leaving Sāvatthī, toured in Anguttarāpa with 1,250 bhikkhus. And divining the maturity of insight in Sela and his pupils, he halted at a certain wood. Then Keniya, the ascetic, having invited the Master and his band for the following day, made preparation of much food. And Sela with his 300 visited the hermitage and asked: 'What now, Keniya, is a minister of the King expected?' and so on. Keniya replied: 'I have invited the Buddha, the Exalted One for to-morrow.' Now Sela, thrilled with joyful enthusiasm at the word 'Buddha,' sought out the Master straightway with his youths, and after exchange of courtesies seated himself at one side. Contemplating the Exalted One, he thought: 'He has all the marks of one who is either a world-emperor, or a Buddha rolling back the veil of the world; yet I know not whether this religious Brother be a Buddha or not. But I have heard that they who are Exalted 0nes, Arahants, Buddhas supreme, reveal themselves when their praises are uttered; for one who is not such a Buddha, when some one in his presence praises the virtues of a Buddha, is irritated and dissatisfied, because he has not won the [311] serene confidence of Buddhas,[3] and cannot endure the allusions.[4] What if I were now to praise the Samana Gotama to his face with suitable verses? So he began:

[818] O thou of perfect form and beauty rare,
Of fairest parts[5] and lovely to behold,
Exalted One! thy colour like fine gold,
Thou valiant spirit, with the dazzling teeth,

[819] Whose body shows the features that betray
The man of perfectly adjusted parts,
Yea, all the traits that mark the Super-Man;

[820] Thou with the eyes so clear, thy countenance
So fair, broad,[6] straight, majestic, thou dost shine
As doth the sun, the centre thou of all
The chosen band of brethren gathered round.

[821] Thou bhikkhu noble of aspect, whose skin
Resembleth gold, say, what is friar's life
To thee with presence so supremely fair?

[822] A Prince thou dost deserve to be, a Bull
Drawing the chariot of the world's empire;
Lord of the earth from end to end foursquare,
A conqueror, of Jambudīpa chief.

[823] Nobles and wealthy lords thy vassals be,
Thou sovran lord of lords, thou king of men,
Take thou thy power, O Gotama, and reign!

Then the Exalted One, fulfilling Sela's wish, replied:

[824] 'A king, O Sela, verily am I;
King of the Norm, above me there is none.
[312] And by my doctrine[7] do I turn the wheel
Of sovereignty, wheel irreversible.'

Then Sela to win confirmation spoke again:[8]

[825] Wholly enlightened thou dost own thyself:
'King of the Norm, above me there is none
And by my doctrine do I turn the wheel
Of sovereignty' - so sayst thou, Gotama.

[826] Who is the general of my lord the King,
Disciple following in the Master's steps?
Who after his example turns the wheel?

Now the venerable Sāriputta was Beated at the right of the Exalted One, his head shining in beauty like a pile of gold. And showing him the Exalted One said:

[827] 'The wheel I set a-going of the Norm,
Above which, Sela, there is none, that wheel
Doth Sariputta after my example[9] turn,
Who hath become like Him-who-Thus-hath-Come.

[828] All that which should be known is known by me,
All culture of the mind, that have I wrought,
Whate'er should be renounced I have renounced,
Hence, brahmin! am I Buddha - one Awake.

[829] [313] Subdue thy doubts regarding me, brahmin!
Have faith in me. Hard, hard it is to win
Repeated seeing - [as thou mayest now] -
Of them who rise on earth Buddhas Supreme.

[830] And 'tis of such whose advent in the world
Is difficult and rare, that I in sooth
Am one, 0 brahmin! yea, a Buddha I,
Surgeon and Healer,[10] over whom there's none.

[831] Supreme my place and past compare my work,
In crushing the assaults of Māra's hosts. All that is hostile lieth 'neath my sway,
And I rejoice for no whence cometh fear.'

Then Sela the brahmin, so convinced by the Exalted One as to wish to take orders, said:

[832] 'Now pay good heed, sirs, to the words that He
Who sees, Healer and Hero, speaks to us,
Impressive as a forest lion's roar.

[833] Supreme in place and past compare in work,
Who crusheth the assaults of Māra's hosts: -

[834] Who that hath seen him would not feel convinced,
And were he never so obscure of birth?[11] He who is fain for me may follow me;
And whoso is not fain may go his way;
But I will in this Rule renounce the world,
'Neath him who is so noble and so wise.'

Then the brahmin youths also, because they had attained to the requisite conditions, replied:

[835] 'If to thy judgment, sir, this Rule of him.
The Supreme Buddha, doth commend itself,
We too will in that Rule renounce the world,
'Neath him who is so noble and so wise.'

[314] Then Sela, delighted because those youths shared in his resolve, showed them to the Master and asked for ordination:

[836] These thrice one hundred brahmins with clasped hands
Beseech thee, O Exalted One, that we
May lead the holy life beneath thine eye.

Then the Exalted One, inasmuch as in past ages Sela, as teacher of just those 300, had sown the root of merit, and now in the last life had produced both his own insight and their maturity, discerned that they were ripe for ordination and said:

[837] 'Well, Sela, is the holy life set forth,
Clear to be seen and heard; swift is the fruit,[12]
Wherein not futile is the coming forth
For one who earnestly doth train himself.'

Thereupon the Exalted One said: 'Come ye, bhikkhus!' And they, by his mystic power endued with the robes and bowl of bhikkhus of long-standing,[13] did obeisance and began their studies for insight, attaining arahantship on the seventh day. Thereat they came to the Master and confessed aññā thus, Sela speaking:

[838] Lo! thou who seest all, 'tis eight days since
We came and refuge found. In one se'nnight,
Exalted One! we're trained in thy Rule.

[839] Thou art Buddha! our Master thou! and thou
The mighty Seer who Māra didst o'erthrow.
Thou who all evil tendencies hast purged,
And crossed [the flood of life's eternal sea],
'Tis thou dost aid the sons of men to cross.

[315] [840] Thou hast transcended every cause of birth,
And shattered every poison-growth within,
Thou even as a lion, grasping nought,
Hast banished every source of fear and dread.

[841] Three hundred bhikkhus lo! before thee stand,
With clasped hands outstretched to honour thee,
Stretch forth thy feet, O hero! suffer them,
Thine arahants,[14] their Master to salute.


[1] Both story and poem form the greater part of the 'Sela-Sutta' in the Sutta-Nipāta and in the Majjhima Nikāya (ii. 146). Dhammapāla is strangely silent over these older versions. His own version is briefer and, except for the more evolved myth alluded to below (p. 314, n. 2), more simple. His use of ādi, 'and so on,' seems, however, to hint at a more standard account as known to him.

[2] In the Sutta-Nipāta Commentary this is the country about the River Mahī, north of the Ganges. Āpaṇa means 'bazaar,' 'market.'

[3] This is based on the conviction that they have the genuine intellectual and moral qualities required in a Buddha, and that what they teach is true and its results certain (Ang. Nik., ii 8).

[4] These negative clauses are not in the Sutta-Nipāta narrative.

[5] In the Commentary sujāto is 'perfect in presence,' as to height and breadth. On these proportions, see Dialogues, ii. 14-16.

[6] Brahā; the Commentary reads brahmā, excellent - i.e., in proportions.

[7] Pariyatti-dhammo, the Norm in its literary form, or formulated doctrines (Commentary).

[8] I omit from the text the glosses 'thus Sela said,' etc., which hamper the Pali metre.

[9] Ang. Nik., i. 28. Anu, in anuvatteti, anujāto, is intended to express conformity, likeness, and not so much succession in time. Cf. the latter term in Iti-vuttaka (trans. Sayings of Buddha), Ī 74, where it is applied to children whose lives resemble those of their parents. In becoming an Ariya, says the Commentary, Sāriputta became of like birth or caste (jāti) with the Tathāgata. Sāriputta did not live to succeed the Master as leader.

[10] I.e., of greed, hate and illusion (Commentary).

[11] Lit., 'one of dark descent,' paraphrased as nīcajāto.

[12] Paccakkho is the paraphrase of sandiṭṭhiko; akāliko - lit., 'not-time-ish' - is explained as where fruition is to be won immediately after [each] path, without interval of time. The Sutta-Nipāta Commentary explains in practically identical terms.

[13] This legendary feature is not in the Suita-Nipāta story.

[14] Nāgas. On this term, see Udāvi's psalm (CCXLVII.).


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