Khuddaka Nikāya

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Canto XVII.
Psalms of Thirty Verses


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

Public Domain



Deceased from the Tusita heaven, together with our Bodhisat, he took birth in the family of Amitodana the Sākiyan.[1] And because the kinsfolk said, 'He is born bringing you happiness' (ānanda), so they named him. When he was grown up, and the Renunciation, Supreme Enlightenment and Wheel-rolling had taken place, and the Exalted One had finished his visit to Kapilavatthu, Ānanda renounced the world with Bhaddiya[2] and the others, and was ordained by the Exalted One. Not long after he heard a discourse by Puṇṇa of the Mantānis,[3] and completed the First Path.

[350] Now during the first twenty years of the Exalted One's Buddhahood, his personal attendants were not permanently such. One day it was Nāgasamala,[4] who, taking bowl and cloak, walked [after him]; another day Nāgita,[5] another day, Upavāna,[6] Sunakkhatta,[7] Cunda the novice,[8] Sāgata,[9] Meghiya.[10] Usually the Master did not favour one more than the others. But one day the Master, seated in the Buddha's seat of supremacy, in the cell of the Fragrant Chamber, surrounded by the brethren, addressed them thus: 'I, bhikkhus, am now advanced in years;[11] and some bhikkhus, when they have been told, "Let us go this way," take another way, and some drop my bowl and cloak on the ground. Do ye know of a bhikkhu to be my permanent body-servant?' Then a righteous thrill went through the brethren, and the venerable Sāriputta arose, and, bowing to the Exalted One, said: 'I, lord, will wait upon you.' Him the Exalted One rejected, and Moggallāna the Great also. And all the great disciples said, 'We will wait upon you,' save only Ānanda. But he just sat in silence. Then they said to him: 'Brother, do you, too, ask the Master for the post of attendant?' 'If I did ask, what sort of post-gaining would that be? He himself will say of whom he approves.' Then the Exalted One said: 'Ānanda, bhikkhus, is not to be urged by others; if he knows it of himself, he will wait upon me.' Then the brethren said again: 'Get up, brother Ānanda, ask the Master for the post.'

[351] Then Ānanda stood up and said: 'If, lord, the Exalted One will refuse me four things and grant me four things, then will I wait upon the Exalted One. Will he never give me any choice garment or food gotten by him, nor a separate "fragrant cell," nor go if he has received an invitation? For if he do not deny me these things, some will say: "Where is the burden [of such service]? Ānanda serves that he may get clothes, good fare and lodging, and be included in the invitations." And further, will the Exalted One go when I have received invitations? Will he suffer me to bring those to him who have come from afar and around to see him? Will he, when I am perplexed, suffer me to come to him? Will he repeat to me doctrines he has taught while I was present? [sic. absent, not present][ed1] For if he do not grant me these things, some will say: "Where is the advantage [in such service]?" If when I am asked to bring the Exalted One to a meal next day he will not come, or if he will not consent to see whom I would bring, people will put no trust in me, and will say he shows me no attention. And if he do not explain the doctrine and its divisions, they will say: "Friend, do you not know, however much you follow him like his shadow?" If, then, the Exalted One will grant me these eight boons, I will wait upon him.' And the Exalted One granted them.[12]

So from that day thenceforth Ānanda waited upon him of the Ten Powers, bringing him water and toothpick, washing his feet, accompanying him, sweeping his cell, and so forth. During the day he kept at hand to mark the Master's: 'This should be procured,' 'That should be done.' And at night, taking a stout staff and lantern, he would go nine times round the 'fragrant cell,' making response if the Master called that he might not succumb to drowsiness.

Then the Master, in Ariyan conclave at the Jeta Grove, [352] ranked him the foremost bhikkhu in five respects: erudition, mental vigilance, power of walking, steadfastness, ministering care.[13] ... And so this great Brother, remaining yet a student after the Master had passed away, when admonished by the bhikkhus[14] and alarmed by a fairy[15] - as has been related above-thought, 'To-morrow[16] the Council will take place, but it is not suitable that I, who am doing a student's work, should go to the assembly to recite the Doctrine with the Masters, the Elders.' Then zeal awoke in him, and far through the night he practised insight on the Terrace. His efforts yet unrewarded, he entered the Vihāra, and seated on his couch, and desirous to lie down, he inclined his body. His head had not touched the pillow, nor his feet left the ground, when in that interval his heart was freed from the intoxicants without any grasping whatever, and he won sixfold abhiññā. Therefore he entered the Council Hall.

Now the verses he had uttered from time to time were collected, and included in the Brethren's Psalms at the recital of the Khuddaka-Nikāya.[17]

The first stanzas were delivered in admonition to those bhikkhus whom he saw consorting with Devadatta's partisans:

[1018] With slanderer and man of wrath,
With the mean-hearted and malign[18]
No commerce should the wise man hold.
Evil is concourse with the bad.

[1019] With the believer and the wise,
The gentle and the learned man[19]
Communion should the wise man hold.
For blest is concourse with the good.

[353] The following verse was uttered, when the lay-follower Uttarā was suffering her own beauty to dispose her to sensuality, and in order to make her understand the frailty of the body. Some say it was spoken in admonition of those who lost their heads at sight of Ambapali:[20]

[1020] 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.

[1020a] Behold the tricked-out form, bejewelled, ringed,
All sheathed in bones and skinny envelope,
By help of gear made fine and fair to see.[21]

The next two verses were a psalm uttered by the Thera when he had won arahantship that night on his couch:

[1021] Much learn'd in holy lore and eloquent,
The leal henchman of the Buddha he;
Now hath the burden fallen from his back.[22] Released, the Gotaimid lies down to rest.

[1022] For him the deadly cankers live no more;
Gone are the chains, the barriers all behind;
In blissful cool he bears his final frame,
For ever past the power of birth and death.

[1023] Wherein are founded and set up the truths
Taught by the Buddha of the Sun's great line: -
The Path that to Nibbāna straight doth lead -
There, too, stands Ānanda the Gotamid.[23]

[354] Now one day Moggallāna the brahmin cattle-herd[24] asked the Thera: 'You are very learned in the Buddha's Rule. How many of the doctrines your Master taught do you keep in your mind?' The Thera replied:

[1024] Eighty-two thousand from the Buddha's self
I've learned, from brethren yet two thousand more:
Hence four and eighty thousand texts in all
The number that for me have currency.[25]

One day the Thera showed a man of desultory life the danger of no culture thus:

[1025] Whoso but little knowledge hath,
That man grows old as doth an ox.[26]
His fleshly bulk is multiplied,
But understanding groweth not.

The following verses he said concerning a bhikkhu who despised another as less learned than himself:

[1026] The learned man who doth despise,
For knowledge, him who little knows,
Is as a blind man who doth bear
A lamp: - so 'tis borne in on me.[27]

[1027] Wait on the men of learning; look
That learning nowise injured be;
For 'tis the root of holy life;[28]
Hence bear the Doctrine in your hearts.

[1028] Knowing the sequence of the text,[29]
And versed in what the text doth mean,
[355] Apt to interpret and explain:[30]
This scholar grasps the Norm aright,
And well its sense doth ascertain.

[1029] By patience eager purpose grows,[31]
Up surges effort; then he weighs;
Thus timely exercising will,[32]
Within he grows composed, intent.

[1030] Who in the Norm is widely versed
And bears its doctrines in his heart,
Disciple of the Buddha, wise,
Eager to understand the Norm:[33]
Such as he is, him follow ye.

[1031] Who in the Norm is widely versed
And bears its doctrines in his heart,
Of the great Master's treasure Ward,[34]
An eye is he for all the world,
Whom all should honour and revere.

[1032] Who in the Norm is widely versed
Who in the Norm takes his delight,[35] Doth love and con it over well,
And lets it live in memory,
That brother from the holy Norm
Will ne'er secede nor fall away.

[356] One day he stirred up a listless, slothful bhikkhu thus:

[1033] Art thou so heavy, loth to act?
Life hourly ebbing, canst not rise?
To give thy body pleasures gross
So greedy? Whence should come to thee
The happy ease of holy friar?

The following verse the Thera uttered on hearing of the passing away of the General of the Norm:[36]

[1034] The firmament on every hand
Grows dim, yea, all confused stand
The truths I seemed to understand.[37]
Gone is the noble friend we love,
And dark is earth and heaven above.

■ ■ ■

[1035] And is the comrade passed away,
And is the Master gone from hence?
No better friend is left, methinks,
Than to mount guard o'er deed and sense.[38]

[1036] They of the older time are gone;
The new men suit me not at all.
Alone to-day this child doth brood,
Like nesting-bird[39] when rain doth fall.

The next stanza was spoken by the Master, and the next by the Thera, delighting to do his will:

[1037] Full many folk from divers regions come
To see. Forbid them not as hearers of the Norm;
Suffer them to behold me, 'tis the hour.

[357] [1038] Full many folk from divers regions come
To see. The Master opportunity
Doth give. The Man who Sees forbiddeth none.[40]

The next five stanzas were spoken to show his position as chief attendant:

[1039] For five-and-twenty years a learner I;
No sensual consciousness arose in me.
O see the seemly order of the Norm![41]

[1040] For five-and-twenty years a learner I;
No hostile consciousness arose in me.
0 see the seemly order of the Norm!

[1041] For five-and-twenty years on the Exalted One
I waited, serving him by loving deeds,
And like his shadow followed after him.

[1042] For five-and-twenty years on the Exalted One
I waited, serving him with loving speech,
And like his shadow followed after him.

[1043] For five-and-twenty years on the Exalted One
I Waited, serving him with loving thoughts,
And like his shadow followed after him.

[1044] When pacing up and down, the Buddha walked,
Behind his back I kept the pace alway;
And when the Norm was being taught, in me
Knowledge and understanding of it grew.

[1045] But I am one who yet has work to do,
A learner with a mind not yet matured;
And now the Master hence hath passed away,
Who e'er to me such sweet compassion showed![42]

[1046] O! then was terror, then was mighty dread,
Then stiffened hair and quivered creeping nerve,
[358] When he, endowed with every crowning grace
The All-Enlightened Buddha passed away.

The three following stanzas were added by the members of the Council in praise of the Thera:

[1047] Who in the Norm is widely versed,
And bears its doctrines in his heart -
Of the great Master's treasure Ward -
An eye was he for all the world,
Ānanda, who is passed away.

[1048] Who in the Norm is widely versed,
And bears its doctrines in his heart -
Of the great Master's treasure Ward -
An eye was he for all the world,
Dispelling gloom in darkest place.

[1049] Sage of the tireless ministry,
Foremost in mindful vigilance,
Foremost in steadfast fortitude,[43]
Upholder of the holy Norm,
Of all its jewels living mine: -
Our Elder Brother, Ānanda.

And this verse he said as he lay a-dying his last death:

[1050] The Master hath my fealty and love,
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.[44]


[1] Cf. the genealogical table in Rhys Davids, Buddhism, p. 52, where, according to authorities later than Dhammapāla, he is made son of Suklodana, another brother of Suddhodana. Here he is made brother (possibly half-brother) to Mahānāma and Anuruddha (see CCLVI.).

[2] Cf. CCLIV.

[3] Cf. IV.

[4] Cf. CLXXXVI.

[5] Cf. LXXXVI.

[6] Cf. Dialogues, ii. 151.

[7] Cf. Dialogues, iii., XXIV., §§ 8, 4.

[8] Apparently not Cunda the Great (CXXXI.). He was attendant on Sāriputta till the latter died. He then announced the death to Ānanda and the Buddha (Saṅy. Nik., v. 161 f.).

[9] Cf. Vinaya Texts, ii. 2 ff.; Jātaka, i., No. 81.

[10] Cf. LXVI.

[11] Judging by Ānanda's account of his term as constant attendant, in verses 1089-1043, the Buddha will have been at this time fifty-six years old. The twenty years of temporary attendance added to these twenty-five just make up the period of the Buddha's ministry.

[12] Buddhaghosa's account of Ānanda's judicious contract (Commentary on Aṅguttara, i. 24 f.) is more coherent than that in our Burmese manuscript of Dhammapāla's Commentary. I have used its help in the above, somewhat condensing both accounts.

[13] Ang. Nik., i. 24 f.

[14] Vinaya, ii. 288.

[15] Saṅy. Nik., i. 199. Cf. above, CXIX.

[16] Vinaya Texts, iii. 373 f.

[17] The fifth and concluding section of the Sutta-Piṭaka, containing, inter alia, the present work.

[18] Lit., delighting in ruin (of others). On Devadatta, see preceding poem. [v 1009 f.]

[19] Pesalo, amiable, is, in the Commentary, having charming virtue (piyasīlo).

[20] I can trace neither episode. See verses 769, 770. Uttarā, a lay-follower, has a story in the Dhammapada Commentary, iii. 802 ff, but it is not that alluded to above.

[21] Dr. Oldenberg allows for the pe, 'etc.,' in the manuscripts, only one verse (769), but the Commentary gives verses 769, 770, in full.

"In Bunyan." Characteristic of the English author [of Pilgram's Progress, among other works] John Bunyan 1628-1688. What characteristic of this man is meant here is beyond my knowledge of Bunyan.

p.p. explains it all — p.p.

[22] Pannabhāro, 'a fallen-burden-er' (Majjh. Nik., i. 189, etc.). This, a qualification in Bunyan of the new convert, is in Buddhism a culminating event for the arahant.

[23] The Commentary makes a Great Brahmā god vindicate Ānanda's rank as arahant on his entry at the Council by these words. Cf. above, Khujja-sobhita, CLXXV. On the Sun lineage of the Gotama clan, cf. XXVI. and CXXXIX.

[24] Ānanda's interlocutor in the 'Gopaka-Moggallāna-Sutta' (Majjh. Nik., iii. 7. ff.), where, however, this question does not find a place.

[25] Pavattino, 'that proceed'; the better way, in Buddhist psychology, of expressing the popular 'keep in mind' (dhāreti).

[26] I.e., not seeking the good of parents, kin, or anyone (Commentary).

[27] I.e., while his knowledge benefits others, his pride darkens his own progress (Commentary).

[28] The fulcrum for saintly effort (Commentary).

[29] I.e. if half a stanza is given, he can supply the other half (Commentary).

[30] Nirutti here represents the other three paṭisambhidās as well (Commentary). Cf. Sisters, p. 17, n. 1.

[31] Chandikato hoti. In Vibbanga, p. 208, chandīkatā, the corresponding abstract noun, is synonymous with kattukamyatā, desire to do. The Commentary paraphrases by chandajāto. Hence apparently -kato signifies 'formed' or 'set up,' and not 'done' or 'fulfilled.'

[32] Padahati.

[33] Dhamma-viññāṇaɱ ākankhaɱ: dhamma-viññāṇsankhātaɱ dhammaññāṇnaɱ. Viññāṇaɱ is knowing on occasion of, or in connection with, sense-objects. It is probably used here metri causa for ñāṇaɱ, for I cannot match such usage of the term.

[34] Kosāarakkho: an allusion to his usual (Commentarial) title of Dhammabhaṇḍāgārika, Treasurer of the Norm.

[35] Lit., having the Doctrine as his pleasaunce (Dhammapada Commentary, 364).

[36] Sāriputta. The first part of the verse is put in Ānanda's mouth when passing on the news brought by Cunda, Sāriputta's attendant, to the Master (Saṅy. Nik., v. 163). Verses 1035 f. were presumably uttered later, after the Great Decease. Possibly the Br. MS. has omitted the introductory sentence from the Commentary.

[37] 'The doctrines (pariyattidhammā) I had well learnt, even about death' (Commentary).

[38] Cf. Dialogues, ii. 177 ff., on the need, in bereavement, of kāyagatā sati.

[39] 'Gone to its nest in the rainy season' (Commentary).

[40] Cf. Ānanda's sixth request, p. 351.

[41] Cf. XXIV., n.

[42] Cf. Dialogues, ii. 158 f., where Ānanda laments and the Master comforts him; again ibid., p. 177, for the next verse.

[43] Gatimanto, satīmanto, dhitimanto, strictly nominative plurals, are explained in the Commentary as adjectives to isi, and are presumably a poetic liberty. The first is explained as paññāṇagati. Buddhaghosa, however (Commentary on Ang. Nik., i. 24), dwells on Ānanda's untiring activity and readiness to act in his Master's service.

[44] See verse 1016 and notes there given.


[ed1] D.P.P.N. has 'absense', as does the story as told in the preface to Jātaka 456. This makes better sense in that Ānanda was reported to have had a photographic memory. See AN 1 220


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