Khuddaka Nikāya

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Canto XII.
Poems of Twelve Verses


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

Public Domain



Reborn in this Buddha-age as one of a family of flower-scavengers,[1] he earned his living as a road-sweeper, not making enough to still his hunger. Now in the first watch of the night the Exalted One, attaining that mood of great pity so largely practised by Buddhas, surveyed the world. And he marked the conditions of arahantship in the heart of Sunīta, shining like a lamp within a jar. And when the night paled into dawn he rose and dressed, and with bowl and robe, followed by his bhikkhu train, walked to Rājagaha for alms, and sought the street where Sunīta was cleaning. Now Sunīta was collecting scraps, rubbish, and so on into heaps, and filling therewith the baskets he carried on a yoke. And when he saw the Master and his train approaching, his heart was filled with joy and awe. Finding no place to hide in on the road, he placed his yoke [272] in a bend of the wall, and stood as if stuck to the wall saluting with clasped hands. Then the Master, when he had come near, spoke to him in voice divinely sweet, saying: 'Sunīta! what to you is that wretched mode of living? Can you endure to leave the world?' And Sunīta, experiencing the rapture of one who has been sprinkled by ambrosia, said: 'If even such as I, Exalted One, may in this life take orders, why should I not? May the Exalted One suffer me to come forth.' Then the Master said: 'Come, bhikkhu!' And he, by that word receiving sanction and ordination, was by magic power invested with bowl and robes. The Master, leading him to the Vihāra, taught him an exercise, and he won first the eight attainments[2] and fivefold abhiññā; then developing insight, the sixth. And Sakka and the Brahmā gods came and did homage to him, as it is written:

Those deities seven hundred, glorious,
Brahmas and Indra's following drew nigh
And gladly paid Sunīta homage due,
As high-bred victor over age and death.[3]

The Exalted One saw him surrounded by gods, and smiled and commended him, teaching the Norm by the verse:

'By discipline of holy life! ...[4]

Now many bhikkhus, desirous of raising their 'lion's roar,' asked Sunīta: 'From what family did you come forth? Or why did you leave the world? And how did [273] you penetrate the truths?' Then Sunīta told them the whole matter thus:

[620] Humble the clan wherein I took my birth,
And poor was I and scanty was my lot;
Mean task was mine, a scavenger of flowers.

[621] One for whom no man cared, despised, abused,
My mind I humbled and I bent the head
In deference to a goodly tale of folk.

[622] And then I saw the All-Enlightened come,
Begirt and followed by his bhikkhu-train,
Great Champion ent'ring Magadha's chief town.

[623] I laid aside my baskets and my yoke,
And came where I might due obeisance make,
And of his lovingkindness just for me,
The Chief of men halted upon his way.

[624] Low at his feet I bent, then standing by,
I begged the Master's leave to join the Rule
And follow him, of every creature Chief.

[625] Then he whose tender mercy watcheth all
The world, the Master pitiful and kind,
Gave me my answer: Come, bhikkhu! he said.
Thereby to me was ordination given.[5]

[626] Lo! I alone in forest depths abode,
With zeal unfaltering wrought the Master's word,
Even the counsels of the Conqueror.

[627] While passed the first watch of the night there rose
Long memories of the bygone line of lives.
While passed the middle watch, the heav'nly eye,
Purview celestial, was clarified.
While passed the last watch of the night, I burst
Asunder all the gloom of ignorance.[6]

[274] [628] Then as the night wore down at dawn
And rose the sun, came Indra and Brahmā,
Yielding me homage with their clasped hands:

[629] Hail unto thee, thou nobly born of men!
Hail unto thee, thou highest among men!
Perished for thee are all th' intoxicants;
And thou art worthy, noble sir, of gifts.

[630] The Master, seeing me by troop of gods
Begirt and followed, thereupon a smile
Revealing, by this utterance made response:

[631] 'By discipline of holy life, restraint
And mastery of self: hereby a man
Is holy; this is holiness supreme!'[7]


[1] I.e., removers of cut flowers, wreaths, etc., thrown aside. This was a 'low' hereditary trade.

[2] Cf. Bud. Psy., 846, n. 3; Compendium, p. 133, n. 3 (read part IX., § 11, for XI., § 12. The five Jhānas are often taken as four). The sixth abhiññā is abolition of the Āsavas = arahantship.

[3] Cf. Sisters, p. 146, verse 365. These lines are not quoted as from the Apadāna. The spiritual breeding, transmitted from the past, is doubtless emphasized in aesthetic and ethical contrast with the sordid circumstances of his last span of life.

[4] Verse 681.

[5] Cf. above, Bhadda, CCXXVI.; Sisters, verse 109

[6] Nearly identioal with Sisters, verses 172, 173.

[7] I.e., says the Commentary, supreme brahminhood (brahmaññaɱ), "not caste and the like, and quotes Dhammapada, verses 58, 59:

'As on a rubbish-heap on highway cast
A lily there may grow, fragrant and sweet,
So among rubbish-creatures, worldlings blind
By insight shines the Very Buddha's child.'

'Holy life,' 'holy,' 'holiness,' are in the Pali brahmacariyaɱ, brāhmaṇo, brāhmaṇaɱ.
Celestial tribute evokes a smile from a great Thera in Ps. CCLXI., verse 1086. One is tempted to think it was because of the humorous element in the situation-the man become as god - and not from complacency alone.


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