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Dhammapada | 23. Nāga Vagga

23. Nāga Vagga
The Tusker

Many People Are Immoral

1. Ahaṁ nāgo’va saṅgāme, cāpāto patitaṁ saraṁ
Ativākyaṁ titikkhissaṁ, dussīlo hi bahujjano.
2. Dantaṁ nayanti samitiṁ, dantaṁ rājābhirūhati
Danto seṭṭho manussesu, yo’tivākyaṁ titikkhati.
3. Varam assatarā dantā, ājānīyā ca sindhavā
Kuñjarā ca mahānāgā, attadanto tato vara.

1. As an elephant in the battlefield withstands the arrows shot from a bow, even so will I endure abuse; truly most people are undisciplined.

2. They lead the trained (horses or elephants) to an assembly. The king mounts the trained animal. Best among men are the trained who endure abuse.

3. Excellent are trained mules, so are thoroughbred horses of Sindh and noble tusked elephants; but far better is he who has trained himself.

The Buddha’s Self Control

Māgaṇḍiyā, who bore a grudge against the Buddha, became one of the chief queens of King Udena. She hired some slaves to abuse the Buddha:

When he entered the city for alms they shouted, “You are a robber, a fool, an idiot, a camel, an ox, a donkey, a denizen of hell, a beast. You have no hope of salvation, you are destined for hell.”

The Elder Ānanda, unable to endure such abuse, suggested to the Buddha that he leave the place and go to another city, but the Buddha advised him to practise patience and compared himself to an elephant who had entered the battlefield prepared to endure all attacks.

Self-control Leads to the Goal

4. Na hi etehi yānehi, gaccheyya agataṁ disaṁ
Yathā’ttanā sudantena, danto dantena gacchati.

4. Surely never by those vehicles would one go to the untrodden land
(nibbāna) as does one who is controlled through his subdued and well- trained self.

The Elephant-trainer Monk

A monk who had been an elephant-trainer was watching an elephant-trainer failing to control the animal.

He suggested to another monk that if he prodding the elephant in a particular place it would soon be tamed. The elephant-trainer overheard, adopted the suggestion, and succeeded.

When this matter was reported to the Buddha, he admonished the monk that he could not reach that destination not reached before by riding elephants. He should train himself to reach his ultimate goal.

An Elephant Longs for the Forest

5. Dhanapāla nāma kuñjaro,
kaṭukabhedano dunnivārayo
Baddho kabalaṁ na bhuñjati,
sumarati nāgavanassa kuñjaro.

5. The uncontrollable, captive tusker named Dhanapālaka, with pungent juice flowing, eats no morsel; the tusker calls to mind the elephant forest.

The Elderly Brahmin’s Story

An old Brahmin who had eight lakhs of wealth gave one lakh to each of his four sons when they married.

When his wife died, his sons consulted and decided that if their father remarried the remaining wealth would be divided among the children of his new wife, and they would lose it, so they would take good care of him in turns.

Thus he was persuaded to give the remaining four lakhs to his four sons, and went to stay with his eldest son.

After a while, the wife of the eldest son insulted asked him if he didn’t know the way to the house of his second son. Enraged, the Brahmin left the house and went to the house of his second son.

Again, after some time he was made unwelcome, and went to the house of the third son, and then the fourth son, and finally became a homeless wanderer.

One day he went to see the Buddha, who taught him a verse to recite when the Brahmin’s assembled.

At their birth I rejoiced, having wished for it.
Urged by their wives they drove me out like a pig by a dog.

Wicked and two-faced they say to me, "Dear father, father dear."
Ogres in the guise of sons, they forsake me in old age.

When a horse grows old, he is deprived of food.
Likewise, the father of fools, begs his food from door to door.

Better this staff for me than disobedient sons.
The staff at least wards against wild dogs and oxen.

When I stumble into a hole in the darkness,
With the aid of this staff I recover my footing.

The Brahmins were outraged, and the sons had to beg forgiveness and promise to care for their father properly to avoid a death sentence.

When later invited to the eldest son’s house for alms, the Buddha related the Mātuposaka Nāgarāja Jātaka:

At one time there was an elephant Dhanapāla who cared for his blind mother. When captured and imprisoned in the king’s elephant-stable he refused to eat even when offered the choicest food.

Having identified himself with the elephant Dhanapāla showing his former powerful wish to fulfil his duty to his mother, the Buddha concluded with the above verse.

On listening to the discourse, the audience shed floods of tears, and the Brahmin, his sons, and their wives attained Stream-winning.

Be Moderate in Eating

6. Middhī yadā hoti mahagghaso ca,
niddāyitā samparivattasāyī
Mahāvarāho’va nivāpapuṭṭho,
punappunaṁ gabbham upeti mando.

6. The stupid one, when he is torpid, gluttonous, sleepy, rolls about lying like a great hog nourished on pig-wash, goes to rebirth again and again.

King Kosala’s Diet

Due to overeating, King Kosala had to experience great discomfort. As advised by the Buddha he became moderate in eating and improved in health.

Having reduced his daily food intake and enjoying good health again, he offered the incomparable almsgiving to the Buddha and the Saṅgha for seven days.

Control Your Thoughts

7. Idaṁ pure cittam acāri cārikaṁ,
yena’icchakaṁ yatthakāmaṁ yathāsukhaṁ
Tadajj’ahaṁ niggahessāmi yoniso,
hatthippabhinnaṁ viya aṅkusaggaho.

7. Formerly the mind wandered wherever it liked, following its pleasure and desire. Today I keep it in check with attentiveness, as a mahout controls an elephant in rut.

Sāmaṇera Sānu’s Story

The novice Sānu, who had led the holy life diligently since the age of seven, wished to leave the Saṅgha when he came of age. When he told his mother, she warned him of the suffering of household life, asking him to wait until after the meal.

A Yakkhiṇī, who had been his mother in a previous life, gained great benefits when Sānu shared merits of reciting the suttas. Fearing that she would lose her status if he disrobed, she possessed the novice and made him throw a fit.

When he came round and was told what had happened he realised the advantages of the holy life, and asked for the higher ordination. The Buddha uttered the above verse to admonish him.

Avoid the Evil Way

8. Appamādaratā hotha, sacittam anurakkhatha
Duggā uddharath’attānaṁ, paṅke sanno’va kuñjaro.

8. Take delight in heedfulness. Guard your mind well.
Draw yourselves out of evil ways as an elephant sunk in mud.

The Elephant Pāveyyaka

The elderly elephant Pāveyyaka got stuck in the mud. The mahout made it ready as if for battle and battle drums were beaten. The elephant exerted itself and extricated itself from the mud.

This matter was reported to the Buddha and he advised the monks to exert themselves as did the elephant stuck in mud.

Associate with the Wise or Stay Alone

9. Sace labetha nipakaṁ sahāyaṁ,
saddhiṁ caraṁ sādhuvihāridhīraṁ
Abhibhuyya sabbāni parissayāni,
careyya ten’attamano satīmā.

10. No ce labetha nipakaṁ sahāyaṁ,
saddhiṁ caraṁ sādhuvihāridhīraṁ
Rājā’va raṭṭhaṁ vijitaṁ pahāya,
eko care mātaṅgaraññ’eva nāgo.

11. Ekassa caritaṁ seyyo,
natthi bāle sahāyatā
Eko care na ca pāpāni kayirā,
appossukko mātaṅgaraññ’eva nāgo.

9. If you get a prudent companion (who is fit) to live with you, who behaves well and is wise, you should live with him joyfully and mindfully, overcoming all dangers.

10. If you do not get a prudent companion who (is fit) to live with you, who behaves well and is wise, then like a king who leaves a conquered kingdom, you should live alone as an elephant does in the elephant forest.

11. It is better to live alone. There is no fellowship with the foolish. Live alone doing no evil, care-free, like an elephant in the forest.

The Pālileyyaka Forest

At one time the Buddha was dwelling alone in the Pālileyyaka forest, attended only by an elephant.

At the end of the Rains Retreat the Elder Ānanda came to see him with five hundred monks, but asked them to wait at some distance while he approached alone. As he approached, the elephant rushed to attack him, but the Buddha called the elephant back.

Commenting on his solitary life, the Buddha uttered the above verses.

The Causes of Bliss

12. Atthamhi jātamhi sukhā sahāyā,
tuṭṭhī sukhā yā itarītarena
Puññaṁ sukhaṁ jīvitasaṅkhayamhi,
sabbassa dukkhassa sukhaṁ pahānaṁ.

13. Sukhā matteyyatā loke, atho petteyyatā sukhā
Sukhā sāmaññatā loke, atho brahmaññatā sukhā.

14. Sukhaṁ yāva jarā sīlaṁ, sukhā saddhā patiṭṭhitā
Sukho paññāya paṭilābho, pāpānaṁ akaraṇaṁ sukhaṁ.

12. It is pleasing to have friends when need arises. It is good to be content with little. Merit is a blessing when life is at an end. Blissful is the shunning of all ill.

13. Happy in this world is ministering to mother. Ministering to father too is blissful. Ministering to those gone forth is a pleasure. Blissful too is ministering to Perfected Ones.

14. Virtue maintained until old age is blissful. Pleasing is steadfast confidence. Blissful is the attainment of wisdom. It is good to do no evil.

Māra Invites the Buddha to Become A King

At one time, reflecting on how kings punished and persecuted their subjects, the Buddha was moved to compassion and thought, “Is it not possible to rule without persecuting others?”

Māra approached the Buddha and invited him to become king, to rule righteously, and do whatever good could be done with wealth. The Buddha remarked that Māra had nothing in common with him and uttered the above verses regarding the causes of happiness.