Khuddaka Nikaya

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Canto XX. Poem of Sixty Verses


Canto XX.
Poem of Sixty Verses

Mahā Moggallāna

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

Public Domain



His story is told in that of the venerable Sariputta.[1] After he had been ordained a week, and while he was occupied with his duties near the hamlet of Kallavala[2] in Magadha, torpor and sleepiness assailed him, so that the Master aroused him with the words: 'Moggallāna, idleness is not the same as Ariyan silence.' Conquering his weakness by merely hearing an exercise on Elements given him by the Master, he attained the highest insight that a Buddha's disciple can reach. At another time the Master, in conclave at the Jeta Grove, pronounced him foremost in supernormal power of will (iddhi). And the verses which he spoke while thus gifted were collected in a series by the compilers of the Doctrine at the time of the Council:


When exhorting the bhikkhus:

[1146] We forest-dwellers, beggars all,
Pleased with the scraps placed in our bowl.
The hosts of Mara we can smash[3]
If we have well learned self-control.

[1147] [383] We forest-dwellers, beggars all,
Pleased with the scraps by which we're fed,
Mara and hosts let's sweep away,
As elephant a rush-built shed.[4]

[1148] We who at root of shady tree
Work at our task persistently,
Pleased with the scraps placed in our bowl,
The hosts of Mara we can smash
If we have well learned self control.

[1149] We who at root of shady tree
Work at our task persistently,
Pleased with the scraps by which we're fed,
Mara and hosts let's sweep away,
As elephant a rush-built shed.


To a courtesan who sought to allure him:[5]

[1150] Thou with that little hut of framework bony
And flesh encased by sinewy stitchery: -
Fie on thee, fie! thou full of smells unseemly,
Finding thyself in limbs that are not 'thou.'[6]

[1151] O bag of muck enwrapped in skin! O witch
With ulcered breast! nine are the streams
That on thy body trickle night and day;

[1152] Thy body nine-streamed and malodorous,
Maker of bonds:[7] - that let a bhikkhu shun
As one would ordure, would he fain be clean.

[384] [1153] Did but folk know thee as thou art, as I
Do know thee, they would shun thee from afar
As they would shun a cesspool in the rains.

Then that woman felt ashamed and bowed before the Thera saying:

[1154] Yea, O great hero, even so it i
s As thou, O holy friar, hast pronounced.
And herein many miserably fail
And faint, as in a swamp an aged ox.

The Thera:

[1155] He who would fancy he can paint the sky
With yellow, or maybe some other hue,
Is to defeat foredoomed, and only that.

[1156] My heart is like that sky, beyond thy reach,
For it is well controlled within and calm.[8]
Wherefore bring not thine evil thoughts to me,
As bird that flies bewildered into flame.

[1157] Behold the tricked-out puppet-shape, a mass
Of sores, a congeries diseased, teeming
With many purposes and plans, and yet
In whom there is no power to persist.[9]


Concerning the passing away of Sariputta Thera:[10]

[1158] O! then was terror, then was mighty dread,
Then stiffened hair and quivered creeping nerve,
When he, endowed with every crowning grace,[11]
The venerable Sariputta passed away.

[1159] [385] O transient are our life's experiences!
Their nature tis to rise and pass away.
They happen in our ken, they cease to be.
O well for us when they are sunk to rest![12]

[1160] They who our fivefold organism see
As something 'other,' not the self, not soul,[13]
They penetrate the delicate things [of truth]
As arrow-point doth pierce a tip of hair.

[1161] They who behold our life's experience
As something 'other,' not the self, not soul,
They've pierced the subtle [mysteries of truth]
As arrow-point doth pierc e a tip of hair.


Spoken concerning Tissa Thera:[14]

[1162] As one down-smitten by impending sword,
As one whose hair and turban are aflame,
So let the brother, mindful and alert,
Go forth, all worldly passions left behind.

Spoken concerning Yaddhamana Thera:

[1163] As one down-smitten by impending sword,
As one whose hair and turban are aflame,
So let the brother, mindful and alert,
Go forth, all lust of living left behind.



Spoken in connection with the 'Act of the Terrace' Dialogue:[15]

[1164] By Him advised, who, perfectly evolved,[16]
For the last time a mortal body bore,
My foot uplifting with my toe I shook
The Terrace by Migāra's Mother built.


Spoken concerning a certain bhikkhu:[17]

[1165] Nothing hath this to do with tepid slackness,
Not by a little toil canst gain Nibbāna,
Deliverance from every tie and chain.

[1166] See this young brother, this among you peerless!
Mara and all his host hath he defeated,
And [therefore] weareth he his final frame.


Concerning his own detached life:

[1167] The lightnings flash e'en in the rocky cave,
Smiting Vebhāra's crest and Paṇḍava,
And in the mountain-bosom hid, a child
Of the incomparable Master sits,
Ardent in contemplative ecstasy.[18]



Entering Rajagaha for alms, he admonishes a nephew of Sariputta Thera, a brahmin of wrong opinions, who on seeing Kassapa the Great felt repugnance, as if he had seen the goddess of ill-luck herself:

[1168] The seer calm and serene, dead to the world,
Whose dwelling is remote, aloof from men,[19]
The heir of Buddha, Wake and Chief of all,
Greeted with honour by great Brahma's self;

[1169] Behold him, calm, serene, dead to the world,
The sage who dwells remote, aloof from men,
The heir of Buddha, Wake and Chief of all: -
Brahmin, give greeting low to Kassapa!

[1170] He who a hundred generations back
Can trace descent, all brahmin ancestors,
Himself as graduate and Veda-wise,
Again, again among mankind reborn,

[1171] Though he as teacher in the Vedas three
Past-master rank, wouldst honour him for that,
To him thy homage were not worth a straw.

[1172] He who before he breaks his fast can touch
Mental emancipation's eight degrees,
In grade ascending and so back again:-[20]
Then, only, cometh forth to seek for alms: -

[1173] Assault[21] thou not a bhikkhu such as this.
Refrain from digging up thyself, [thy good]![22]
Appease, brahmin, and gratify thy mind
In [contemplating] such an arahant.
[388] Swiftly lift up thy hands and greeting give.
Set not that head of thine in jeopardy.[23]


When admonishing a bhikkhu named Poṭṭhila:

[1174] He doth not yet behold the blessed
Norm Who hath eternal living in his train;
From course precinct he wandereth afar,
Straying in error's devious dangerous ways.

[1175] Like to a worm obscene besmeared with dung,
He walloweth in the tainted things of life,[24]
Plunged in pursuit of favours and of gain,
Bare [of true profit] goeth Poṭṭhila.


In praise of the venerable Sariputta:[25]

[1176] Yonder behold where Sariputta goes
So nobly fair! Emancipated he
By contemplation rapt, and purity,[26]
And all his inner self is well composed.

[1177] Exempt from moral scathe, all fetters broke,
In higher Vedas versed, slayer of Death,
Worthy that men should bring him offerings;
Incomparable field for great reward.[27]


Spoken by the venerable Sariputta in praise of Moggallāna the Great Thera:

[1178] See how they stand, those thronging deities[28]
Of mystic potency and glorious,
Ten times a thousand, Brahma's ministers,
Acclaiming Moggallāna reverently: -

[1179] 'Hail thou, humanity's aristocrat!
Glory to thee, thou highest among men!
Perished for thee are the intoxicants,
And thou, O lord, most worthy art of gifts!

[1180] In honour held by men and gods alike,[29]
Uprisen as the conqueror of death,
As lotus from the water takes no smear,
So thou in changing world dost not adhere.'[30]

[1181] He who e'en in a moment by a thousand ways can take
Purview of all the world,[31] as were he Brahma's very self.[32]
Yea, here's a brother versed in power of magic[33] who doth see
What time doth suit [for gods and men] to die and come to be.[34]



Moggallana the Great speaks, affirming hia own gifts:

[1182] Now Sari's son by wisdom, virtue, self-control
Excelleth all; here let this brother stand supreme.

[1183] But I can instantly innumerable times
Create a living shape; skilled to transform myself
As other, yea, all magic power have I at will.[35]

[1184] He of the Moggallānas, in the Rule of Him
Who stands alone,[36] hath perfected his powers;[37]
In contemplative ecstasy and higher lore
Expert, valiant and self-controlled hath burst his bonds,
As doth the elephant a rotten fibre rope.[38]

[1185] The Master hath my fealty and love, [39]
And all the Buddha's ordinance is done.
Low have I laid the heavy load I bore;
Cause for rebirth is found in me no more.

[1186] The Good for which I bade the world farewell,[40]
And left the home to dwell where is no home,
That highest good have I attained and won,
And all that bound and fettered me is gone.



In reproof of Māra who, had entered and then left the Thera's bowels:[41]

[1187] What sort of hell was it where Dussi cooked
In anguish, when he injured Vidhura,
Disciple, holy Kakusandha too?

[1188] 'Twas the infernal realm of iron spikes,
A hundred points, each dealing bitter pain.
This sort of hell it was where Dussi cooked
In anguish, when he injured Vidhura,
Disciple, holy Kakusandha too.

[1189] If thou a brother who can tell thus much -
Disciple of the Buddha-dost assail,
Black-hearted sprite! to misery thou must go.[42]

[1190] Far in the midst of ocean, palaces
Have stood an aeon, exquisite, with hue
Of beryl-stones, flashing like crests of flame.
There dance full many nymphs in divers hues:-

[1191] If thou a brother who can tell thus much -
Disciple of the Buddha-dost assail,
Black-hearted sprite! to misery thou must go.

[1192] Incited by the Buddha's self I wrought,
With all the Bhikkhu-Order looking on,
[392] My foot uplifting, with my toe I shook
The Terrace by Migāra's Mother built.[43]

[1193] If thou a brother who can tell thus much -
Disciple of the Buddha-dost assail,
Black-hearted sprite! to misery thou must go.

[1194] I who my foot uplifting, with my toe
Caused Vejayanta's terraced fane to shake,
Rigid as iron by my magic power,
And thro'the deities sent thrill of dread:-[44]

[1195] If thou a brother who can tell thus much -
Disciple of the Buddha-dost assail,
Black-hearted sprite! to misery thou must go.

[1196] He who in Vejayanta's terraced fane
Did take Sakka the deity to task:-[44]
'Come, friend, and didst thou really understand
Release through end of craving [taught to thee]?'
To whom Sakka made answer truthfully-

[1197] If thou a brother who can tell thus much -
Disciple of the Buddha - dost assail,
Black-hearted sprite! to misery thou must go.

[1198] Who catechized great Brahma's very self,
Seated in conclave in Sudhammā's hall: -[45]
'Come tell me, friend, hast thou to-day the views
Which in the days gone by were views of thine?
Or seest thou now the glory of thy heaven,
How age by age it all is passing by?'

[393][1199] To whom Brahma made answer truthfully: -
'My lord, no longer do I hold the views,
Which in the days gone by were views of mine.

[1200] I do behold the glory of my heaven,
How age by age it all is passing by.
To-day I hold it false what once I said: -
"I am eternal; permanent am I!"'

[1201] If thou a brother who can tell thus much -
Disciple of the Buddha - dost assail,
Black-hearted sprite! to misery thou must go.

[1202] Who in emancipation['s ecstasy][46]
Hath touched great Neru's topmost pinnacle,[47]
Pubbavideha's forest world hath seen,[48]
And men that live on that remotest plain: -

[1203] If thou a brother who can tell thus much -
Disciple of the Buddha - dost assail,
Black-hearted sprite! to misery thou must go.

[1204] Fire doth not think: 'Lo! I will burn the fool!'
But if the fool lay hands on blazing fire,
The fire must burn and he must needs be burned.

[1205] Thus, Māra, thou on One who Thus hath Come[49]
Hast made attack, but 'tis to thine own hurt,
As when a foolish child doth touch the fire.

[1206] Demerit hath the Evil One begot,
Who made attack on One who Thus hath Come.
What? dost imagine, O thou Evil One,
That evil brings thee not its sure reward?

[1207] For this that thou hast done, long will it be,
Before that evil dieth out, O Death.[50]
[394] Aroint thee, Māra, from the awakened mind![51]
Against the brethren cease thy wicked plots.

[1208] Thus in the forest of Bhesakaḷā[52]
Did Māra by a Brother censured stand.
Thereat the rated imp, dejected sore,
E'en where he stood, did Vanish quite away.

[1209] Thus verily did the venerable Moggallāna the Great utter his verses.


[1] See CCLIX.

[2] See Ang. Nik., i. 28. On iddhi, see Compendium, 60 f.

[3] On the Optative in emu, cf. E. Müller's Pali Grammar, p. 109.

[4] Cf. verse 256; Saɱy. Nik., i. 156.

[5] According to Sisters, p. 52, this was Vimalā of Vesālī notoriety. She became a lay-adherent, then a bhikkhunī, eventually an arahant.

[6] Paragatte. On para-, 'other,' see Sisters, verse 101, n. 8: parato disvā. Cf. Majjh, i. 465, Ang. iv. 422. The Cy. adds: gattabhūte kaḷevare mamattaɱ karosi: 'thou makest mineness wilh regard to the be-limbed carcase.' Apparently there is no reference to another's limbs.

[7] The Commentary reads kariparibandhaɱ, but omits the kari- from its analysis: sammāpaṭipatti paribandhabhūtaɱ.

[8] = verbatim, the last line of verse 1146. Cf. Majjh, i. 127.

[9] Cf. verses 769, 1020.

[10] Cf. verse 1046.

[11] The Commentary instances 'virtuous conduct, self-control,' etc.

[12] The Commentary gives these lines in full. They amount to a proverb for Buddhists, and familiarity with them is probably the reason why, though they occur but this once in these poems, the manuscripts used by the editor of this text give only the first line, with 'eto.' added. See Dialogues, ii. 175; 176, n. 1; 194. Dhammapāla makes no comment. I prefer to treat sankhārā as phenomena subjectively considered (experiences); things as known and felt; in Buddhist phrase, sankhārā of deed, word, and thought. Cf. verses 1175, 1180, v. 3.

[13] Tattha parato ti anattato; tassa attagāha-paṭikkhepa-dassanaɱ h'etaɱ, ten'āha no ca attato ti (Commentary). (No license is given for anything so revolutionary as to call the five classes of sensations five khandhas. Cf. Neumann.)

[14] Verse ascribed to the Buddha, addressing Tissa, XXXIX, and Vaḍḍhamāna, XL.

[15] 'Pāsādakamma-Suttanta.' See Majjh. Nik., i. 337. The Dialogue is, in the Majjhima, named the 'Māra-tajjaniya-Sutta[nta]' (spurning of Māra) - another difference of title that is not without interest. The toe-feat is only alluded to in the verses appended to the Suttanta. Migāra's Mother - Visāākhā, mother also of Thera Migajāla, CCXVII. Dh'pada Cy. i., p.384 f.

[16] Bhāvitattena, lit., by him who had the state of being developed or practised - i.e., who had finished the entire course of developing body and mind -namely, the Buddha.

[17] Two bhikkhus are apparently contrasted; but the Commentary mentions only the one first referred to, as being 'slack and sensuous,' and not the second one.

[18] = verse 41, Sirivaḍḍha's psalm.

[19] Cf. Kassapa Thera's characteristics, CCLXI., 1057 ff.

[20] Dialogues, ii. 119. 'Touch,' ap(h)assayi = samāpajji.

[21] Āhari', paraphrased by āsādeti. Vinaya Texts, ii. 373; Milinda text), 100.

[22] So the Commentary.

[23] Lit., let not your coiffure be undone! (ironically spoken}. On the risk, see Dialogues, i. 116. The brahmin is stated to have begged forgiveness for his want of courtesy.

[24] Sankhārā. Poṭṭhila is the subject of Dhammapada Commentary, iii. 417 ff., on verse 282.

[25] Mogallāna speaks to himself (Commentary).

[26] See Dialogues, ii. 70. Lit., 'freed-on-both-sides.'

[27] A favourite metaphor for the Order generally. Merit accrues to pious supporters, as a harvest from seed. Cf. (1087).

[28] Cf. 1082; also 629.

[29] The Commentary suggests, as an alternative reading, 'by the man-god, the Exalted One, who is uprisen,' etc.

[30] Cf. Sutta-Nipāta, verse 547. Sankhāragate, born amid phenomena, he adheres not to the slime of craving and error; na upalimpati (sic) katthaci pi, anissito ti attho (Commentary). Cf. the slight metrical irregularity in Sutta-Nipāta, verse 812, where sankhārā's are detailed as diṭṭhasutaɱ-mutesu,

[31] The world of space (Commentary).

[32] Here (cf. n. to verse 629) [sic v 631] sa-Brahmakappo is explained as Mahā-Brahma-sadiso.

[33] On iddhi, cf. Compendium, p. 71, with Dialogues, i. 87 f.

[34] Here the Commentary makes no effort to associate devatā, deity spirit, angel, with a particular being, as in Anuruddha's poem, verse 911. This leaves the use of devatā a little unusual. Moggallāna's vision is as that of a deva - 'a devatā is that bhikkhu!'

[35] See n. 6, p. 389.

[36] Asitasea, taṇhānissāyadi rahitassa. (Cy.)

[37] Jātaka i. (text) 1789

[38] Cf. Sutta-Nipata, verse 29. In Suttanta 141 of the Majjh. Nik. these great 'twin brethren' are thus characterized by their Master:
'Sāriputta is as she who brings forth, Moggallāna is as the nurse of what is brought forth. The former trains for the fruit of the first Path, the latter for that of the highest. The former is able to teach and make plain the four Ariyan truths.'

[39] = 604, 656, 687, 792, 891, 918, 1016, 1088, 1050.

[40] = 136, 380, 605.

[41] Told in Majjh. Nik., i., 50th Sutta. Cf. verse 1164. Dussi, a name for Māra in a previous life. Kakusandha, Buddha next but two before Gotama. Vidhura (or Vidhūra, cf. Oldenberg's ed. in loco; Br. Cy. Vidūra), one of his two chief disciples. The hell of the spikes was one of the many purgatories. The Commentary, for a description of it, refers to the Devadūta-Sutta (Ang. Nik., i. 138 ff.). On the fiend's singular retreat, cf. Uppalavanns's poem, Sisters, p. 114

[42] =verse 25.

[43] Cf. verse 1164, and n.

[44] Related in Majjh. Nik., i., No. 37, 'Cūla Taṇhā Saŋkkhaya Sutta'; referred to at such by the Commentary. Cf. Saɱy i. 234 f. Dhp. Cy. i. 273.

[45] Lit., 'Brahmā having a conclavc present.' This is related in Majjh. Nik., i., No. 49, 'Brahmā Nimantaṇika-Suttaɱ' referred to by the Commentary as 'Baka-Brahma Sutta.' The Commentary reads ṭhito sabhaɱ, but adds only: 'This is the Sudhamma hall in the Brahma-world, not that in the Tavatɱsa realm. There is no celestial world without its Sudhammā hall.'

[46] Jhāna-vimokhena (Commentary).

[47] Mount Sineru, or Meru, the hypothetical centre of tue world.

[48] The eastern of the four great continents grouped round Meru.

[49] Tathāgata is here clearly, in the Commentary explicitly, applied to a Thera Arahant.

[50] Antaka, or 'Ender' (of a span of life); used of Māra, in these poems, only here and in Sisters, verses 59, 62.

[51] Buddhamhā (abl.), applied to a disciple.

[52] Cf. verse 18.


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