Khuddaka Nikaya


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PSALMS OF THE SISTERS

Canto I. Psalms of Single Verses


 

Canto I.
Psalms of Single Verses

 

I

Verse uttered by a certain Sister, a Bhikkhunī of Name Unknown

[idx][than]

 

[1] Sleep softly, little Sturdy, take thy rest
At ease, wrapt in the robe thyself hast made.
Stilled are the passions that would rage within,
Withered as potherbs in the oven dried.

How was she reborn?

Long ago, a certain daughter of one of the clans became a fervent believer in the teaching of the Buddha Konagamana[1], and entertained him hospitably. She had an arbour made with boughs, a draped ceiling, and a sanded floor, and did him honour with flowers and perfumes. And all her life doing meritorious acts, she was reborn among the gods, and then again among men when Kassapa was Buddha, under whom she renounced the world. Reborn again in heaven till this Buddha-dispensation, she was finally born in a great nobleman's family at Vesalī. From the sturdy build of her body they called her Sturdykin. She became the devoted wife of a young noble. When the Master came to Vesalī, she was convinced by his teaching, and became a lay-disciple. Anon, hearing the Great Pajāpatī the Elder preaching the Doctrine, the wish arose in her to leave the [9] world, and she told this to her husband. He would not consent; so she went on performing her duties, reflecting on the sweetness of the doctrine, and living devoted to insight. Then, one day in the kitchen, while the curry was cooking, a mighty flame of fire shot up, and burnt all the food with much crackling. She, watching it, made it a basis for rapt meditation on the utter impermanence of all things. Thereby she was established in the Fruition of the Path of No-Return. Thenceforth she wore no more jewels and ornaments. When her husband asked her the reason, she told him how incapable she felt of living a domestic life. So he brought her, as Visakha brought Dhammadinna,[2] with a large following, to Great Pajāpatī the Gotamid, and said: 'Let the reverend Sisters give her ordination.' And Pajāpatī did so, and showed her the Master; and the Master, emphasizing, as was his custom, the visible basis whereby she had attained, spoke the verse above.

Now, when she had attained Arahantship, the Sister repeated that verse in her exultation, wherefore this verse became her verse.

 


 

II

Verse wherewith the Exalted One frequently exhorted Mutta while a Student

[idx]

 

[2] Get free, Liberta,[3] free e'en as the Moon
From out the Dragon's jaws[4] sails clear on high.
Wipe off the debts that hinder thee,[5] and so,
With heart at liberty, break thou thy fast.

 

[11] This is the verse of a student named Mutta. She, too, being one who had made a resolve under former Buddhas, went on heaping up good of age-enduring efficacy in this and that state of becoming. Finally, she was reborn in this Buddha-dispensation as the child of an eminent brahmin at Sāvatthī , and named Mutta. And in her twentieth year, her destiny being fully ripe, she renounced the world under the Great Pajāpatī the Gotamid, and studied the exercises for ecstatic insight. Returning one day from her round for alms, she discharged her duties toward her seniors, and then going apart to rest, and seated out of sight, she began to concentrate herself. Then the Master, sitting in the 'Fragrant Chamber'[6] of the Vihāra, sent forth glory, and revealing himself as if seated before her, uttered the verse above. And she, steadfast in that exhortation, not long after attained Arahantship, and so attaining, exulted in the words of that verse. Completing her studies and promoted to full rank, she yet again uttered it, when about to pass away.

 


 

III

Puṇṇā

[idx][than]

 

The following verse is that of a student named Punna.[7] She, heaping up good of age-enduring efficacy under former Buddhas in this and that state of becoming, was born — when the world was empty of a Saviour Buddha — as a fairy, by the River Candabhaga.[8] One day she worshipped a certain Silent[9] Buddha with a wreath of reeds. Thereby gaining [12] heaven, she was, in this Buddha-dispensation, reborn as the child of a leading burgess of Sāvatthī and named Punna. When she had so dwelt for twenty years, her destiny then being fully ripe, she heard the Great Pajāpatī teach the doctrine, and renounced the world. Becoming a student, she began to practise insight. And the Master from the 'Fragrant Chamber' shed a glory, and spake this verse:

[3] Fill up, Punna,[10] the orb of holy life,
E'en as on fifteenth day the full-orb'd moon.
Fill full the perfect knowledge of the Path,
And scatter all the gloom of ignorance.[11]

Hearing this, her insight grew, and she attained Arahantship. This verse is the expression of her exultation and the affirmation of her Aññā.[12]

 


 

IV

Tissā

[idx]

 

The following verse is that of Tissa, a student. Heaping up merit under former Buddhas, Tissa was, in this Buddha-dispensation, reborn at Kapilavatthu in the noble clan of the Sākiyas. Made a lady of the Bodhisat's court, she renounced the world with Great Pajāpatī the Gotamid, and practised herself in insight. To her the Master appeared as to the foregoing Sisters, and said:

[4] O Tissa! train thyself in the trainings three.
See that the great conjuncture[13] now at hand
[13] Pass thee not by! Unloose all other yokes,
And fare thou forth purged of the deadly Drugs.[14]

And she, when she heard the verse, increased in insight, and attained Arahantship. Thereafter she was wont to repeat the lines.

 


 

V

Another Sister Tissa

[idx]

[5] Tissa! lay well upon thy heart the yoke
Of noblest culture. See the moment come!
Let it not pass thee by! for many they
Who mourn in misery that moment past.

 


 

VI

Dhirā

[idx]

[6] Come, O Dhira, reach up and touch the goal
Where all distractions cease, where sense is stilled,
Where dwelleth bliss; win thou Nibbana, win
That sure Salvation[15] which hath no beyond.

 


 

VII

Another Sister Dhirā

[idx]

[7] Dhira, brave[16] Sister! who hath valiantly
Thy faculties in noblest culture trained,
Bear to this end thy last incarnate frame,
For thou hast conquered Māra and his host.

 


 

VIII

Mittā

[idx]

[8] Mitta, thou Sister friend![17] who camest forth
Convinced in heart, love thou in thought and deed
Friends worthy of thy love.[18] So train thyself
In ways of good to win the safe, sure Peace.

 


 

IX

Bhadrā

[idx]

[9] Bhadra, who camest forth convinced in heart,
To sure felicity, O fortunate![19]
That heart devote. Develop[20] all that's good,
Faring to uttermost Security.

 


 

X

Upāsāmā

[idx]

[10] Upasama! cross thou serene and calm[21]
The raging difficult Flood where death doth reign.
Bear to this end thy last incarnate frame,
For thou hast vanquished Māra and his host.

 

Threshing Rice In 'Mortar,' Bandipur, Kashmir
Threshing Rice In 'Mortar,' Bandipur, Kashmir

 

[15] Of all these six Sisters the story is similar to that of Tissa, with this exception: Dhira, called 'another Sister Dhira,' had no glory-verse pronounced to her, but was troubled in heart at the Master's teaching. Leaning on his words, she strove for insight, and when she had reached Arahantship, she declaimed her verse in exultation. All the others did the same.

 


 

XI

Muttā[22]

[idx][than]

Mutta, heaping up good under former Buddhas, was, in this Buddha-dispensation, born in the land of Kosala as the daughter of a poor brahmin named Oghataka. Come to proper age, she was given to a hunchbacked brahmin; but she told him she could not continue in the life of the house, and induced him to consent to her leaving the world. Exercising herself in insight, her thoughts still ran on external objects of interest. So she practised self-control, and, repeating her verse, strove after insight till she won Arahantship; then exulting, she repeated:

[11] O free, indeed! O gloriously free
Am I in freedom from three crooked things: —
From quern, from mortar, from my crookback'd lord![23]
Ay, but I'm free from rebirth and from death,
And all that dragged me back is hurled away.

 


 

XII

Dhammadinnā

[idx]

Now, she, in the time when Padumuttara was Buddha, lived at Hamsavati in a state of servitude; and because she ministered and did honour to one of the chief apostles when he rose from his cataleptic trance, she was reborn in heaven and so on, among gods and men, till Phussa was Buddha. Then she worked merit by doubling the gift prescribed by her husband to the Master's half-brothers while they were staying in a servant's house. And when Kassapa was Buddha, she came to birth in the house of Kiki, King of Kāsī, as one of the Seven Sisters, his daughters,[24] and for 20,000 years lived a holy life. ... Finally, in this Buddha-dispensation, she was reborn of a clansman's family at Rājagaha, and became the wife of Visakha, a leading citizen. Now one day her husband went to hear the Master teaching, and became One-who-returns-no-more. When he came home, Dhammadinna met him as he went up the stairs; but he leant not on her outstretched hand, nor spoke to her at supper. And she asked: 'Dear sir, why did you not take my hand? Why do you not talk to me? Have I done anything amiss?' ''Tis for no fault in you, Dhammadinna; but from henceforth I am not fit to touch a woman or take pleasure in food, for of such is the doctrine now borne in upon me. Do you according as you wish, either continuing to dwell here, or taking as much wealth as you need and going back to your family.' 'Nay, dear sir, I will make no such goings back. Suffer me to leave the world.' 'It is well, Dhammadinna,' replied Visakha, and sent her to the Bhikkhunīs in a golden palanquin. Admitted to the Order, she shortly after asked permission of her teachers to go into retreat, saying: 'Mothers, my heart hath no delight in a place of crowds; I would go into a village abode.' The Bhikkhunīs brought her thither, and while there, because in her past lives she had subjugated the complexities of thought, word, and deed, she soon attained Arahantship, together with thorough mastery of the form and meaning of the Dhamma.[25] Thereupon she thought: 'Now have I reached the summit. What shall I do here any longer? I will even go to Rājagahaand worship the Master, and many of my kinsfolk will, through me, acquire merit.' So she returned with her Bhikkhunīs. Then Visakha, hearing of her return, curious to know why she came, interviewed her with questions on the Khandhas and the like. And Dhammadinna answered every question as one might cut a lotus-stalk with a knife, and finally referred him to the Master. The Master praised her great wisdom, as it is told in the Lesser Vedalla (Miscellany) Sutta,[26] and ranked her foremost among the Sisters who could preach.

But it was while she was dwelling in the country, and, while yet in the lowest path, was acquiring insight to reach the highest, that she uttered her verse:

[12] In whom desire to reach the final rest
Is born suffusing all the mind of her,
Whose heart by lure of sense-desire no more
Is held — BOUND UPSTREAM: — so shall she be called.[27]

 


 

XIII

Visākhā

[idx]

Her story is similar to that of the Sister Dhira.[28] After winning Arahantship she pondered on the bliss of emancipation, and thus announced Aññā:

[13] The Buddha's will be done! See that ye do
His will. An ye have done it, never more
Need ye repent the deed. Wash, then, in haste
Your feet and sit ye down aloof; alone.[29]

Thus she admonished others to follow her example.

 


 

XIV

Sumanā.

[idx]

Her story is similar to that of Sister Tissa.[30] Sending forth glory, the Master revealed himself as if seated in front of her, and spake:

[14] Hast thou not seen sorrow and ill in all
The springs of life? Come thou not back to birth!
Cast out the passionate desire again to Be.
So shalt thou go thy ways calm and serene.

 


 

XV

Uttarā

[idx]

Her story is also similar to that of Sister Tissa.[31] And it was the 'Glory-verse' through which she won Arahantship that she declaimed in exultation:

[15] Well have I[32] disciplined myself in act,
In speech and eke in thought, rapt and intent.
Craving with root of craving[33] is o'ercome;
Cool am I now; I know Nibbana's peace.[34]

 


 

XVI

Sumana
(Who left the world when old).

[idx]

She too, having made her resolve under former Buddhas, and heaping up good in this life and in that, was, in this Buddha-dispensation, born at Sāvatthī as the sister of the King of Kosala. Hearing the Master preach the doctrine to the King Pasenadi in the discourse beginning, 'There are four young creatures, sire, who may not be disregarded,'[35] [20] she believed, and was established in the Refuges and the Precepts. Fain to leave the world, she put off doing so that she might take care of her grandmother as long as she lived. After the grandmother's death, Sumana went, accompanied by the King, to the Vihāra, taking much treasure in carpets and shawls, and presenting them to the Order. And hearing the Master teach, she attained the fruit of the Path of No-return, and asked for ordination. And the Master, discerning the maturity of her knowledge, spake thus:

[16] Happily rest, thou venerable dame!
Rest thee, wrapt in the robe thyself hast made.
Stilled are the passions that have raged within.
Cool art thou now, knowing Nibbana's peace.

And when he had finished, she won Arahantship, together with thorough knowledge of the Norm in form and in meaning.[36] In her exultation she uttered that same verse, so that it became the announcement of her Aññā.. Straightway she left the world for the Order.

 


 

XVII

Dhammā.

[idx][than]

She, too, having made her resolve under former Buddhas, and heaping up merit in this and that state of becoming, was, in this Buddha-dispensation, born in a respectable family at Sāvatthī . Given in marriage to a suitable husband, she became converted, and desired to leave the world, but her husband would not consent. So she waited till after his death, and then entered the Order. One day, returning to the Vihāra from seeking alms, she lost her balance and fell. Making just that her base of insight, she won Arahantship with thorough knowledge of the Norm in form and in meaning.[37] And, triumphing, she uttered this verse:

[17] Far had I wandered for my daily food;
Weary with shaking limbs I reached my rest,
Leaning upon my staff, when even there
I fell to earth. — Lo! all the misery
Besetting this poor mortal frame lay bare
To inward vision.[38] Prone the body lay;
The heart of me rose up in liberty.

 


 

XVIII

Sanghā..

[idx]

Her story is like that of Sister Dhira,[39] but her verse is as follows:

[18] Home have I left, for I have left my world!
Child have I left, and all my cherish'd herds!
Lust have I left, and Ill-will, too, is gone,
And Ignorance have I put far from me;
Craving and root of Craving overpowered,
Cool am I now, knowing Nibbana's peace.

 


[1] Konagamana and Kassapa successively preceded Gotama as Buddhas.

[2] See Ps. XI.

[3] Mutta =freed (woman).

[4] Cf. the 'Ford' Jātaka (Buddhist Birth Stories, 253):

'He has gained freedom — as the moon set free,
When an eclipse has passed, from Rahu's jaws.'

[5] Cf. Dialogues of the Buddha, i. 82-84.

[6] Gandha-kuti, the traditional term for the Buddha's own room, especially that at the Jetavana Vihāra, Sāvatthī .

[7] Cf. Ps. LXV., note.

[8] Ca = Cha. The word is equivalent to 'moonlight.' Cf. Ps. XXIX., XXXI.

[9] A free rendering of Pacceka-Buddha — one enlightened for himself alone, not a world-Saviour.

[10] Puṇṇā = 'full.'

[11] The words 'holy life,' 'of the path,' 'of ignorance,' are from the Commentary.

[12] Pronounce Anyā = literally, her having come to know. A subjective synonym of Arahantship.

[13] There is more in this little poem than is at first sight apparent. Tissa — i.e., (a girl) born under the lucky star or constellation of Tissa, a celestial archer (partly identical with Cancer) — suggests a word-play on tisso sikkhayo, the three branches of religious training (morals, mind, 'insight'). Again, that a word-play on yoga is intended is intelligible even without the Commentary. 'Let the lucky yoga (conjuncture) — to wit, your rebirth as human, your possession of all your faculties (read indriya-avekallam), the advent of a Buddha, your getting conviction — not slip; for by this yoking of opportunities you can free yourself from the Four Yokesviz., sense, renewed existence, opinion, ignorance — which bind you to the Wheel of Life.

[14] The Four āsavas, or Intoxicants (another metaphor for the Four Bonds, or Yokes).

[15] Yogakkhema, a term adapted from secular use, therein meaning well-being or security in possession.

[16] Her name means 'brave,' 'heroic.'

[17] Mitta = 'friend'; but see note 2 to Ps. XXV.

[18] 'In thought and deed,' 'worthy of thy love,' are from the Commentary. 'Peace' is another rendering of yogakkhema, so is 'security' (verse 9).

[19] Bhadra = Felicia.

[20] The graceful progression — bhadraratā bhava, bhāvehi ... cannot well be reproduced. It is merely suggested by 'devote. Develop.'

[21] Upāsāma = tranquil, calm.

[22] Cf. Ps. i.

[23] The Thera Sumangala also celebrates his release from three crooked things — the sickle, the plough, and the spade. See Ps. XXI.

[24] The seven most illustrious women of early Buddhism have been grouped as these Seven Sisters in the Apadāna: Khemā, Uppalavaṇṇā, Paṭācārā, Bhaddā (Ps. XLVI.), Kisāgotamī, Dhammadinnā, and Visākhā, the wealthy lay sister. On the last see Warren, Buddhism in Translations, 451 f.

[25] Literally, 'together with the Paṭisambhidā's,' or four aspects of doctrinal knowledge. These four — analytical knowledge in meaning, doctrine, interpretation, and distinctions — are very variously interpreted, both in works of Abhidhamma content (Paṭisambhidāmagga, Vibhanga) and in commentarial writings of various later dates (see Childers's Dictionary, s.v.). The phrase is of commentarial date, and recurs frequently in Dhammapala (see following Psalms).

[26] In the Majjhima Nikāya, i., p. 299 ff.; [M 44] discussed by the writer in J.R.A.S., 1894, p. 321. Cf. Mrs. Bode in J.R.A.S., 1893, p. 562 ff.

[27] In the mythology of Buddhism respecting the after-life, the Uddhaŋ-soto was one who, having destroyed here below only the first five of the ten Fetters (to destroy all ten meant Nibbāna in this life), was reborn successively in an ever higher heaven, till, reaching the Supreme or Akaniṭṭha Sphere, he there passed away. The expression means rather rising above the stream of saŋsara than going against it; but it is ambiguous, and, anyway, the upward effort is expressed in either metaphor. The Commentary has, as the last word, not ti vuccati ('is called'), but vimuccati ('is set free'). As it does not comment on the latter term, I incline to hold it a misreading.

[28] Ps. VI.

[29] Cf. Ps. XLVi.

[30] Ps. IV.

[31] Ps. IV.

[32] Āsi. The aorist tense is applicable to first, second, or third person singular, and 'myself' is not in the Pali. Hence the former half of the verse might have been said equally to or by the Therī.

[33] I.e., ignorance (Commentary).

[34] Sītibhūt'amhi nibbutā, lit., 'Become cool am I, content,' or 'at peace.' See Introduction. The phrase is an oft-recurring refrain, implying — whatever other implications of peace, happiness, serenity went with it — the attainment of Nibbāna. 'Rapt and intent' (samādhinā) is the Commentary's explanation of 'disciplined thought.'

[35] Contained in Samyutta Nikaya, i. 68-70; see also 97, and Rhys Davids, Buddhist India, 10, on the affection of brother and sister for their grandparent. The 'young creatures' in the parable are a prince, a serpent, a fire, and a bhikkhu. All four are great potential agencies for good or evil. Pronounce Pase'nādī.

[36] See p. 15, n. 1.

[37] See p. 15, n. 1.

[38] The text has simply disvā, 'seeing.' But the word, when applied to spiritual insight, has the glamour of our 'Seer'; hence the Commentary's comment, 'Seeing with the eye of Insight.' 'Rose up' in the Pali is 'was set at liberty.'

[39] Presumably Ps. VI.

 


 

Next: Canto II: Psalms of Two Verses


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