Khuddaka Nikāya

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Canto II.
Psalms of Two Verses


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

Public Domain



Reborn in this Buddha-age at the town of Setavyā, in the family of a merchant, he was named Mahākāḷa.[1] When come of age and dwelling at home, he took five hundred carts of merchandise to trade with to Sāvatthī. While resting there with his men in the evening, he saw the laity going with perfumes and garlands to the Jeta Grove, and went with them. There he heard the Master preach the Norm, believed, and entered the Order. Deciding on cemetery-contemplation, he dwelt in the charnel-field. And one day a woman named Kāḷi, employed as crematrix,[2] in order to give the Thera an object-study, cut off from a recently cremated body both thighs and both arms, and breaking the head into the semblance of a milk-bowl, arranged all [124] the members together, placed them where the Thera studied for him to look at, and sat down at the side. The Thera seeing this exhorted himself in these verses:

Kali's bones

[151] Kāḷī, woman broad and swart of hue as blackbird,
Now hath broken off a thighbone, now another;
Now hath broken off an arm, and now another;
Now the skull hath broken off as 'twere a milk bowl,
Made them ready and is seated.

[152] He who witless doth not understand, but maketh
Cause for life renewed, comes back again to sorrow.
Wherefore he who knows creates no more new causes.
May I ne'er so lie again with scattered members![3]

Thus wholly sell-mastered, the Thera brought forth insight and won arahantship.


[1] So the Commentary; not ºkāla. The name thus means 'big dark one,' or, in the convenient Italian nomenclature, Neraccio. Kāḷī, too, is 'brunette.'

[2] In - Jāt., v. 449, we meet with a man pursuing this trade.

[3] The account of Kāḷī's activity closes with an odd half line, as if to mark, by a pause, the abrupt transition from the Thera's half amused notice of her grisly service, to the solemn quest of the End of Sorrow on which he is bent. This is a good instance of a poem which is scarcely intelligible without the Commentary's help. With that help, the more literal the translation, the more intelligible is the verse. Without it we have but to look at Dr. Neumann's guessing and forced rendering, making Kāḷī a wanton, and the good bhikkhu a prurient-minded fellow, to realize how relatively sane and simple even a scholastic exegesis may be. The practice of Asubha-jhāna, or meditation on a base of some unlovely object, was recommended from the early days of the Saṅgha, and, to judge by the accompanying illustration of a Ceylonese bhikkhu of to-day, is still practised. Cf. Bud. Psy., p. 69, n. 2.


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