Khuddaka Nikaya

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Canto XVI.
Psalm of the Great Chapter





SHE too, having made her resolve under former Buddhas, and heaping up good of age-enduring efficacy in this and that rebirth, thoroughly preparing the conditions of emancipation, was born, when Koṇāgamana was Buddha, in a clansman's family. When she was of age, she and her friends, clansmen's daughters, agreed together to have a great park made, and handed it over to the Buddha and his Order. Through the merit of that act, she was reborn in the heaven of the Three-and-Thirty. After a glorious period there, she arose once more among the Yāma gods, then among the Blissful gods, then among the Happy Creators, then among the Disposers of others' creations,[1] and there became Queen of the King of the gods. Reborn thereafter, when Kassapa was Buddha, as the daughter of a wealthy citizen, she acquired splendid merit as a lay-believer, winning another rebirth among the gods of the Three-and-Thirty. Finally reborn, in this Buddha-age, at the city of Mantāvatī, as the daughter of King Koñca,[2] she was named Sumedhā. And when she was come to years of discretion, her mother and father agreed to let Anikaratta, [165] the Raja of Varaṇavatī, see her. But she from her childhood had been in the habit of going with Princesses of her own age and attendant slaves to the Bhikkhunīs' quarters to hear them preach the Doctrine, and for a long time, because of her pristine resolve, she had grown fearful of birth in the round of life, devoted to religion and averse to the pleasures of sense.

Wherefore, when she heard the decision of her parents and kinsfolk, she said: 'My duty lies not in the life of the house. I will leave the world.' And they were not able to dissuade her. She thinking, 'Thus shall I gain permission to leave the world,' laid hold of her purpose, and cut off her own hair. Then using her hair in accordance with what she had heard from the Bhikkhunīs of their methods, she concentrated her attention on repugnance to physical attraction, and calling up the idea of 'Foul Things,'[3] then and there attained First Jhana. And when she was thus rapt, her parents came to her apartments in order to give her away. But she made them first and all their retinue and all the Rāja's people believers in religion, and left the house, renouncing the world in the Bhikkhunīs' quarters.

Not long after, establishing insight, and ripe for emancipation, she attained Arahantship, with thorough grasp of the Norm in form and in meaning. And reflecting on her victory, she broke forth in exultation:

[448] King Heron's daughter at Mantāvatī,
Born of his chief consort, was Sumedhā,
Devoted to the makers of the Law.[4]

[449] A virtuous maid was she and eloquent,
Learnèd and in the system of our Lord
Well trained. She of her parents audience sought,
[166] And spake: 'Now listen, mother, father, both!

[450] All my heart's love is to Nibbāna given.
Transient is everything that doth become,
E'en if it have the nature of a god.
What truck have I, then, with the empty life
Of sense, that giveth little, slayeth much?

[451] Bitter as serpents' poison are desires
Of sense, whereafter youthful fools do yearn.
For that full many a night in wretchedness
They drag out tortured lives in realms of woe.[5]

[452] The vicious-minded, vicious doers mourn
In purgatorial lives. Ever are fools
Without restraint in deed and word and thought.

[453] Oh! but the foolish have no wit or will.
They cannot grasp what maketh sorrow rise —
When taught, they learn not; in their slumb'ring minds
The Fourfold Ariyan Truth awakens not.

[454] Those Truths, O mother, that th' Awakened One,
The Best, the Buddha, hath revealed to us,
They, the Majority, know not, and they
Delight in coming aye again to be,
And long to be reborn among the gods.

[455] E'en with the gods is no eternal home.[6]
Becoming needs must be impermanent.
Yet they, the foolish souls, are not afraid
Again, again to come somewhere to birth.

[456] Four are the ways of doleful life, and two
Alone the ways of weal[7] — and these how hard
[167] To win! Nor if one come into the four,
Is there renunciation from that world.

[457] Suffer ye both that I renounce my world;
And in the blessed teaching of the Lord,
Him of the Powers Ten,[8] heedless of all
Without, I'll strive to root out birth and death.

[458] How can I take delight in many births,
In this poor body, froth without a soul?[9]
That I may put an utter end to thirst
Again to be, suffer that I go forth.

[459] Now is the Age of Buddhas! Gone the want
Of opportunity! The moment's won!
O let me never while I live misprize
The precepts, nor withstand the holy life!'

[460] Thus spake Sumedhā, and again: 'Mother
And father mine, never again will I
As a laywoman break my fast and eat.
Here will I sooner lay me down and die!'

[461] Th' afflicted mother wept; the father, stunned
With grief, strove to dissuade and comfort her
Who prostrate lay upon the palace floor: —

[168] [462] 'Rise up, dear child. Why this unhappiness
For thee? Thou art betrothed to go and reign
In Vāraṇavatī, the promised bride
Of King Anikaratta, handsome youth.

[463] Thou art to be his chief consort, his queen.
Hard is it, little child, to leave the world,
Hard are the precepts and the holy life.

[464] As queen thou wilt enjoy authority,
Riches and sov'reignty and luxuries.
Thou that art blest herein and young, enjoy
The sweets life yields. Let's to thy wedding, child.'

[465] Then answered them Sumedhā: 'Nay, not thus!
No soul, no essence, can becoming yield.
One or the other shall be — choose ye which:
Or let me leave the world, or let me die.
Thus, and thus only, would I choose to wed.[10]

[466] What is it worth[11] — this body foul, unclean,
Emitting odours, source of fears, a bag
Of skin with carrion filled, oozing impure

[467] The while? What is it worth to me who know —
Repulsive carcass, plastered o'er with flesh
And blood, the haunt of worms, dinner of birds —
To whom shall such a thing as this be given?

[468] Borne in a little while to charnel-field,
There is this body thrown, when mind hath sped,[12]
Like useless log, from which e'en kinsfolk turn.

[469] Throwing the thing that they have bathed to be
The food of alien things, whereat recoil
[169] The very parents, let alone their kin.

[470] They have a fondness for this soulless frame,
That's knit of bones and sinews, body foul,
Filled full of exudations manifold.

[471] Where one the body to dissect, and turn
The inside outermost, the smell would prove
Too much for e'en one's mother to endure.

[472] The factors of my being, organs, elements,
All are a transient compound, rooted deep
In birth, are Ill, and first and last the thing
I would not.[13] Whom, then, could I choose to wed?

[473] Rather would I find death day after day
With spears three hundred piercing me anew,
E'en for an hundred years, if this would then
Put a last end to pain, unending else.

[474] The wise would with this [bargain] close, and meet
Utter destruction, seeing that His Word,
The Master's, runneth: "Long the wandering
Of them who, smitten, ever rise again."[14]

[475] Countless the ways in which we meet our death,
'Mong gods and men, as demons or as beasts,
Among the shades, or in the haunts of hell.[15]

[476] And there how many doomed tormented live!
No sure refuge is ours even in heaven.
Above, beyond Nibbāna's bliss, is naught.

[477] And they have won that Bliss who all their hearts
[170] Have plighted to the blessed Word of Him
Who hath the Tenfold Power, and heeding naught,
Have striv'n to put far from them birth and death.

[478] This day, my father, will I get me forth!
I'll naught of empty riches! Sense-desires
Repel and sicken me, and are become
E'en as the stump where once hath stood a palm.'

[479] So spake she to her father. Now the King,
Anikaratta, on his way to woo
His youthful bride's consent, drew near
At the appointed time. But Sumedhā

[480] Let down the soft black masses of her hair
And with a dagger cut them off. Then closed
The door that led to her own terraced rooms,
And forthwith to First Jhana-rapture won.

[481] There sat she lost in ecstasy, the while
Anikaratta reached the capital.
Then she fell musing on impermanence,
Developing the thought.[16] Then is she ware

[482] The while Anikaratta swiftly mounts
The palace steps, in brave array of gems
And gold, and bowing low woos Sumedhā.

[483] 'Reign in my kingdom and enjoy my wealth
And power. Rich, happy and so young thou art,
Enjoy the sweets that life and love can yield,
Though they be hard to win and won by few.

[484] To thee my kingdom I surrender! Now
Dispose as thou dost wish, give gifts galore.
Be not downcast. Thy parents are distressed.'

[171] [485] To him thus Sumedhā, for whom desires
Of sensuous love were worthless, nor availed
To lead astray, made answer: 'O set not
The heart's affections on this sensual love.
See all the peril, the satiety of sense.

[486] Mandhātā, King o' th' world's four continents,[17]
Had greater wealth to gratify his sense
Than any other man, yet passed away
Unsatisfied, his wishes unfulfilled.

[487] Nay, an the rain-god rained all seven kinds
Of gems till earth and heaven were full, still would
The senses crave, and men insatiate die.

[488] 'Like the sharp blades of swords are sense-desires.'
'Like the poised heads of snakes prepared to dart.'
'Like blazing torches,' and 'like bare gnawn bones.'[18]

[489] Transient, unstable are desires of sense,
Pregnant with Ill and full of venom dire,
Searing as heated iron globe to touch.
Baneful the root of them, baleful the fruit.

[490] As 'fruit'[19] that brings the climber to a fall,
Are sense-desires; evil as 'lumps of flesh'
That greedy birds one from the other snatch;
As cheating 'dreams'; as 'borrowed goods' reclaimed.

[491] 'As spears and jav'lins are desires of sense,'
[172] 'A pestilence, a boil, and bane and bale.
A furnace of live coals,' the root of bane,
Murderous and the source of harrowing dread.

[492] So hath the direfulness of sense-desires,
Those barriers to salvation, been declared.
Go, leave me, for I do not trust myself,
While in this world I yet have part and lot.

[493] What shall another do for me? For me
Whose head is wrapped in flames,[20] whose steps are dogged
By age and death that tarry not. To crush
Them utterly I needs must strive.'

[494] Then coming to her door she saw the king
Her suitor, and her parents seated there
And shedding tears. And once more spake to them:

[495] 'Long have they yet to wander through the worlds
Who witless aye again their tears renew,
Weeping world without end for father dead,
Or brother slain, or that themselves must die.[21]

[173] [496] Call ye to mind how it was said that tears
And milk and blood flow on world without end.
And bear in mind that tumulus of bones
By creatures piled who wander through the worlds.

[497] Remember the four oceans as compared
With all the flow of tears and milk and blood.
Remember the 'great cairn of one man's bones
From one æon alone, equal to Vipula';

[498] And how 'great India[22] would not suffice
To furnish little tally-balls of mould,
Wherewith to number all the ancestors
Of one's own round of life world without end.'

[499] Remember how 'the little squares of straws
And boughs and twigs could ne'er suffice
As tallies for one's sires world without end.'

[500] Remember how the parable was told
Of 'purblind turtle in the Eastern Seas,
Or other oceans, once as time goes by,
Thrusting his head thro' hole of drifting yoke';
So rare as this the chance of human birth.[23]

[501] Remember too the 'body'-parable,
The 'lump of froth,' of spittle without core,
[174] Drifting. See here the fleeting factors five.
And O forget not hell where many thole.

[502] Remember how we swell the charnel-fields,
Now dying, now again elsewhere reborn.
Remember what was said of 'crocodiles,'[24]
And what those perils meant for us, and O!
Bear ye in mind the Four, the Ariyan Truths.

Canst thou be satisfied with bitter draughts
Of sense satiety? All sensual joys
Are bitterer for the fivefold dogging Ill.[26]

Canst thou be satisfied with fevered fits
Of sense-satiety? All sensual joys
Are burning, boiling, ferment,[27] stew.

Canst thou be satisfied with joys of sense
[175] Engend'ring thee so many foes — the wrath
Or greed of king, or thief, or rival, harm
Through fire, or water — yea, so many foes!

[506] EMANCIPATION[29] WAITS! O how canst thou
Be satisfied with sensual joys, wherein
Lie bonds and death? Yea, in those very joys
Lurk gaol and headsman.[30] They who seek t'indulge
Their lusts needs must thereafter suffer ills.

[507] Him will straw-torches burn who holds them long
And lets not go. So, in the parable,[31]
Desires of sense burn them who let not go.

[508] Cast not away, because of some vain joy
Of sense, the vaster happiness sublime,
Lest like the finny carp thou gulp the hook,
Only to find thyself for that foredone[32]

[509] Tame thou thyself in sense-desires, nor let
Thyself be bound by them, as is a dog
Bound by a chain; else will they do forsooth
With thee as hungry pariahs with that dog.[33]

[176] [510] Once more I say, immeasurable Ills
And many weary miseries of mind
Thou'lt suffer yoked to sensual life. Renounce,
Renounce desires of sense! They pass away.

Canst thou be satisfied with sense-desires
That age so soon? Are not all things reborn,
Where'er it be, gripped by disease and death?

[512] THIS[34] that doth ne'er grow old, that dieth not,
THIS never-ageing, never-dying Path —
No sorrow cometh there, no enemies,
Nor is there any crowd;[35] none faint or fail,
No fear cometh, nor aught that doth torment —

[513] To THIS, the Path Ambrosial, have gone
Full many. And to-day, e'en now 'tis to be won.
But only by a life that's utterly
Surrendered in devotion. Labour not,
And ye shall not attain!'
                         Thus Sumedhā

[514] Ended her say, who found no joy in all
Activities that lead from life to life,
And, to Anikaratta thus her mind
Declaring, dropped her tresses on the floor.

[515] Then up he rose with outstretched folded hands,
[177] And with her father pleaded for her thus:
'O suffer Sumedhā to leave the world,
That she may see the Truth and Liberty!'

[516] The parents suffered her, and forth she went,
Afeared to stay and build up fear and grief.
Six branches of Insight she realized,
As learner, winning to the Topmost Fruit.



[517] O wondrous this! O marvellous in sooth!
Nibbāna for the daughter of a king!
Her state and conduct in her former births,
E'en as she told in her last life were these:

[518] 'When[36] Koṇāgamana was Buddha here,
And in a new abode, the Order's Park,
Took up his dwelling, two o' my friends,[37] and I
Built a Vihāra for the Master's use.

[519] And many scores and centuries of lives
We lived among the gods, let alone men.

[520] Mighty our glory and our power among
The gods, nor need I speak of fame on earth.
Was I not consort of an Emperor,
The Treasure-Woman 'mongst the Treasures Seven?[38]

[521] Endurance[39] in the Truth the Master taught —
This was the cause, the source, the root,
This the First Link in the long Causal Line,
This is Nibbāna if we love the Norm.

[178] [522] Thus acting,[40] they who put their trust in Him,
Wisdom Supreme,[41] lose every wish and hope
Of coming back to be — and thus released
They from all passion's stain are purified.[42]


[1] See Ps. lxi, n.

[2] The two Kings and their capitals are all names unknown in Indian records. Vāraṇavati = having elephants, or ramparts. Koñnca = heron.

[3] Cf. Ps xli. In the Commentary, p. 273, read, for patikulamanasikāraṅ, paṭikkūla°.

[4] Sāsanakārā = according to the Commentary, Ariyans — i.e., Arahants, including the Buddhas. Just below, sāsana is rendered by 'system.' Sumedhā = very wise.

[5] See note, verse 436.

[6] In Pali 'no eternal rebirth.'

[7] Rebirth in 'hell,' as animal, as 'ghost,' as demon, are the four ('purgatorial lives,' vinipāta, in 452); as human or as god, the two.

[8] The Ten Powers peculiar to a Tathāgata are: (1) He knows thoroughly right and wrong occasions; (2) he knows thoroughly the effect of all karma-series; (3) the methods for accomplishing anything; (4) the elements (data) of the world; (5) the various tendencies, inclinations, of beings; (6) the capacities of beings; (7) the nature and procedure of all contemplative disciplines; (8) former lives; (9) he has the 'celestial vision'; (10) he has realized the intellectual emancipation of the Arahant (A., v. 33 ff.).

[9] Kāyakalinā asārena. The rendering of the former obscure term is, perhaps, a trifle forced, but was chosen from the use of kali in Jātaka, v. 134 (= khela, spittle, froth), because of the juxtaposition of asāra = pithless, without essence (cf. Saṅy. Nik., iii. 140), in preference to the more usual association of kali with gambling. See ver. 501.

[10] Vāreyyaɱ. So above, lit., 'Let there be choosing for thee, child,' the term for marriage in high life, whether or no the woman had any voice in the matter.

[11] Lit., 'What is it like?'

[12] Apetaviññāṇo.

[13] Yoniso aruciṅ. Cf. Pss. xxx., xxxviii., lvii.

[14] Cf. Samyutta Nikāya, iii. 149: 'Eternal, brethren, is the wandering (saṅsāro) — nor is the beginning thereof revealed — of them, who, hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving, run to and fro, and wander (among rebirths). ...' So op. cit., v. 431: 'It is because we had not grasped the Four Truths, brethren, that we have run and wandered up and down so long, both I and you.'

[15] 'In the Nirayas.' See p. 162, n. 1.

[16] The Commentary holds she went on to the other 'signs' — Ill, or Sorrow, and Soullessness.

[17] A mythical ancestor of Sumedhā's and the Buddha's people, the Sākiyas. Mentioned in Ang. Nik., ii. 7; Jātaka, ii. 310, iii. 454 ff.; Dīpavansa, iii. 5; Mahāvansa, 8, 231; Milindapañha, 115, 291, etc.

[18] These similes are all quoted from Majjhima Nikāya, i. 180, 364 ff. Cf. Nik., i. 128; Ang. Nik., ii. 97. See below.

[19] The text in these four lines gives merely the metaphor As this would call up no associated similes in us, I expand the terms after the similes in Majjhima Nikāya, 54th Sutta, whence they are borrowed.

[20] A simile frequent in the Nikāyas. Presumably muslin turbans, let alone oily hair-dressing, often caused such mishaps. Cf. Saṅy. Nik., i. 108, v. 440; Any. Nik., i. 93, etc.

[21] These and the following verses are apparently allusions to the first Vagga of the Anamatagga Saɱyutta ('World-without-end' Collocation) in the Saɱyutta Nikāya, vol. ii., 178 ff. The only feature lacking there is the perennial blood-flow — a point not without interest in the history of the Pali Canon. The bone-cairn gāthā in the Vagga is quoted by the Commentator, and runs thus:

'But one man's bones who has one æon lived
Might form a cairn — so said the Mighty Seer —
High as Vipulla, higher than the Peak
Of Vultures, mountain-burg of Magadha' —

i.e., the ancient hill fortress of the Magadhese before they built their capital Rājagaha in the plain. No more ancient remains than these in India have yet been identified (Rhys Davids, Buddhist India, 37).

The repetition in verses 496, 497 is curious in a work where redundancy is so severely repressed. Either it goes to strengthen the symptoms that the last two Psalms are by a different and later hand, or else two versions have here been incorporated. In 496 Sumedhā first speaks to all her three chief hearers: 'Call ye to mind' (saratha); the following admonitions are to the Prince only: 'bear in mind' and 'remember' (sarāhi, sara).

[22] In the Vagga just alluded to, the earth itself, and not India (Jambudīpa), is the insufficient source. The 'squares of straw' is from the same Vagga.

[23] This simile is from Majjhima Nik., iii. 169, and Saɱyutta Nik., v. 455. The 'body-parable' is from the latter work (iii. 140). The body (rūpa) is as empty of essence (soul) as the clot of foam drifting down the Ganges.

[24] The danger from crocodiles is, in two of the Nikāyas, used metaphorically for gluttony, one of the four perils of 'those who go down to the water'; it is in the Canon applied only to a Bhikkhu's temptations (Majjh. Nik., i. 460; Ang. Nik., ii. 124).

[25] Nectar = amataṅ, rendered elsewhere in this work by 'ambrosia,' its etymological equivalent. Usually considered one of the many terms for Nibbāna, it is here by the commentarial tradition associated with the Dhamma — 'the Amata of the Norm brought to us by the Very Buddha in his great compassion.'

[26] Lit., 'Are bitterer by the fivefold-bitter,' explained by the Commentary as 'by the following after of the yet sharper Ill' (dukkhaṅ). Fivefold, referring to the five senses.

[27] Kuthitā may be from one of three roots: kuth, smell; kuth, distressed; kvath, cook (cf. M¨ller, Pali Grammar, 41). The first, chosen by Dr. Neumann, seems forced here. The last accords best with the other three metaphors of heating process.

[28] Lit., 'The unhostile being' (locative absolute). The Pali has no metaphor of place whatever.

[29] Mokkhamhi vijjamāne, lit., exists. Mokkho, probably substituted metri causa for vimutti, is a relatively late term.

[30] These two terms are, in the text, the same as the corresponding pair in the preceding line.

[31] In Majjhima Nik., i. 365, where the torch is said to be borne against the wind, not held too long.

[32] A simile from Saɱyutta Nik., ii. 226, — iv. 158; Jātaka, v. 389; vi. 416, 432, 437.

[33] The dog, according to the Commentary, being unable to get away from them, is killed, and presumably eaten. There is no suggestion to the effect that it was acting as watch-dog, and that the pariahs were thieves, beyond stealing the dog. 'Will they do' = kāhinti; Commentary = karīssanti. Pischel pronounced the other reading khāhinti as 'no doubt correct,' because of a passage in Hemacandra's Prakrit Grammar. But Dhammapāla, nearer to the age of the Therīgatha Pali by at least 500 years, seems to me to have the stronger claim, let alone plausibility.

[34] She now, says the Commentary, turns to show forth the excellence of Nibbāna.

[35] Asambadhaṅ. The Commentary takes this figuratively: 'from the absence of the crowd of corruptions' (or torments, kilesā). In view of the cardinal importance in the Vinaya of cultivating solitude (cf. Dhammadinnā in Ps. xii.), because, too, of its being the path of the minority, and because of the Suttanta phrase calling the lay life sambādha, and the religious life abbhokāsa, free as air, I incline to take it literally.

[36] This narrative repeated in from the Apadāna.

[37] The two friends are said to have been Khemā (Ps. lii.) and Dhanañjānī, a brahminee convert (Saṅ. Nik., i. 160).

[38] For these, see Buddhist Suttas (S.B.E., xi.), pp. 251 ff.

[39] Khanti. See Digha Nik. i. 49.

[40] Another reading is, 'Thus telling.'

[41] Lit., 'Who has immeasurable wisdom.'

[42] This line expands the Pali word virajjati, according to the commentary, which supplements 'purified' by 'set free.' On the metre of the whole Psalm, see Introduction.

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