The Dhammapada: Verses and Stories

Dhammapada Verse 40
Pancasatabhikkhu Vatthu

The Dhammapada Commentary
Courtesy of
Translated by the Department of Pali
University of Rangoon, Burma

Kumbhupamam kayam imam viditva
nagarupam cittam idam thapetva
yodhetha Maram pannavudhena,
jitan ca rakkhe anivesano siya.

(Realising that this body is (fragile) like an earthen pot and establishing this mind firm like a fortress, let him fight Mara with the weapon of knowledge, keep up his conquest and be free from attachment.)

The Master while residing at Savatthi gave this religious discourse beginning with "Kumbhupamam" in connection with the Bhikkhus who were exerting for the attainment of spritual insight.

It is said that, at Savatthi, five hundred Bhikkhus having obtained from the Master a subject of meditation (leading) to Arahatship and with the idea of carrying out the practices of a Bhikkhu, travelled a distance of about a hundred leagues and went to a large village. People saw them and arranged and offered seats and having served them with delicious rice gruel and other eatables, they enquired of them as to where they were going. When told that they were going to a suitable place, they requested them saying, "Venerable Sirs, may you reside even here during these three months. We too will take recourse to the Three Refuges and will observe the precepts under your guidance." When they knew of their acceptance, they said: "Venerable Sirs, not far from here there is a big forest-grove. May you please reside there." They conducted them to that place and there the Bhikkhus took up their residence.

The gods who were inhabiting in that grove thought thus: "The virtuous Bhikkhus have come to this grove, and they are residing here, it is improper for us to live with our families on the trees", and coming down (from the trees), sat on the ground with the thought that the Venerable ones would be stopping there only for one night and they would surely go away the next day. However on the following day the Bhikkhus entered the village for alms-food and returned to the same grove. The gods thought to themselves: "The Bhikkhus might have been invited by some one for the following day, so they have come back again. To-day they are not moving out, but it seems they will be going away tomorrow." In this way they remained on the ground for a fortnight. They then discussed among themselves thus: "It appears that the Venerable ones will reside at this very place for these three months and while they are living here it will not be proper for us to live on the trees with our families. To live for there months with the family on the ground is difficult. Something should be done to make these Bhikkhus run away from here. The gods then started showing the bodiless heads and headless trunks, and also make them hear ghostly sounds at various places wherever the Bhikkhus used to spend the day or the night and also at the corners of the cloister walk. It so happened that the Bhikkhus suffered from ailments like sneezing, coughing and so on. On enquiring from each other as to the ailment they were suffering from the Bhikkhus came to know that some one was suffering from sneezing, some one from coughing and so on. Further, they learnt that some one had seen a bodiless head at the end of the cloister walk and some other had seen a headless trunk at the place where he spent the night, while others again had heard ghostly sounds at the places where they were spending the day. They decided that that place should be abandoned because it was ill-suited to their convenience and to go to the Master. Accordingly they left the place, went to the Master, paid obeisance, and took their seats on one side. The Master asked them, "Bhikkus, is it not possible for you to live in that place?" "No, Lord, people living there used to witness such dreadful visions and experienced such inconveniences. Therefore we have decided that that place should be abandoned and accordingly we have left that place and come to you?' "Bhikkhus, you ought to go back to the same place". "It is impossible, Lord." "Bhikkhus, previously you had gone there without any weapons. Now you take them and go." "What may be the weapons, Lord?" The Master, saying "I shall give you the weapons, take them and go", taught them the entire Metta Sutta (Sermon on Loving Kindness) beginning with.

Karaniyam atthakusalena
yantam santam padam abhisamecca
sakko uju ca suhuju ca
suvaco c'assa mudu anatimani.

(One who understands the path of tranquility and is skilled (in acquiring) one's own benefit should be proficient, upright, very straight, mild in speech, gentle and free from conceit.)

And the Master saying "Bhikkhus, recite this starting from the forest-grove outside the hermitage, and enter your residence", sent them away. They left having paid obeisance to the Master, and in course of time, arrived at that place. Reciting together in a group the Sutta outside the hermitage, they entered the forest-grove, receiving the good will, went forth to welcome them, requested the bhikkhus to allow them to take their bowls and robes and to massage the bodies. Having well-provided them with proper protection everywhere, they lived together. No more were there the ghostly sounds, and they began to have peace of mind. Seated in their respective places for spending day and night, the bhikkhus directed their thoughts to spiritual insight and bearing in mind the decay and destruction in one's own body, they developed the spiritual insight being aware that "this body resembles the unbaked vessel and it has in its nature fragility and impermanance". The Buddha in his Perfumed Chamber, realising how they have striven for the spiritual insight, addressed those bhikkhus, "True, bhikkhus, because of its fragile and impermanant nature, that this body is like the unbaked earthern pot". Having said thus, the Perfectly Enlightened One shed forth radiance, though staying at a distance of a hundred leagues, and appeared as if he was seated in their presence in visible form letting out the six-hued ray, and spoke the verse:

Kumbhupamam kayam imam viditva
nagarupamam cittam idam thapetva
yodhetha Maram pannavudhena,
jitan ca rakkhe anivesano siya.

Realising that this body is (fragile) like an earthen pot and establishing this mind firm like a fortress, let him fight Mara with the weapon of knowledge, keep up his conquest and be free from attachment.

Therein, Kumbbhupamam implies that realising (viditva) that this body (kayam), which is constituted of a collection of hair etc., resembles an earthen pot (Kumbhupamam) which has not been baked, because of the fact that it is not strong and frail, and being not lasting for long stable only for a single span of life. In the expression, nagarupamam (like a fortress) means that which is fortified from outside, surrounded by deep mote and walls fitted with gates and turrets, within which are provided well laid-out streets, squares, cross roads and shops. Robbers, coming from outside with the intention of plundering it being unable to force an entrance, go away like those falling back in trying to climb the mountain. Similarly, a respectable wise man, having made his meditative mind strong like a fortress, repulses the mental depravities, personified as Mara which would be destroyed by the various paths with the help of the weapon of his knowedge which is made up of spiritual insight and the noble path. Like a man standing inside the citadel (repelling) alone the gang of robbers with the help of various kinds of weapons such as sharp edged weapons etc. should strike (yodhetha) at that mental depravities deified as Mara.

Jitan ca rakkhe means he should guard over that which he has conquered while resorting to the primary insight which he had caused to arise, having regard to the suitability of residence, climate, food, associates and religious discourse, and at intervals he should enter upon ecstatic meditation and then arising from that form of meditation and with his purified thought he should keep up the practice (reflecting upon) unstable nature of the constituted things.

Anivesano siya means one should be free from attachment. As for example, a warrior while fighting with the enemy after deploying his army at the forefront, becomes either hungry, thirsty or loses his men or arms, and he would return to the base and after taking rest, food and drinks, having re-armed with armaments, goes back again and fights the foe. After he had crushed the enemy forces, and conquered what he had not conquered before he preserves his conquest. If he would remain resting at the base thus keeping the army at rest he would have had his kingship gone to some other. Similarly, a bhikkhu having entered upon the ecstatic meditation frequently and thereby (developing) the primary insight which he has gained, rising out of the meditation, reflecting with a pure mind on the (unstable nature) of all constituted things he is able to preserve (insight). Furthermore, he conquers the depravities defied as Mara by the attainment of the path. If, however, he is contented with his attainment in meditation alone and does not reflect upon the unstability of constituted things frequently with his pure mind, he will not be able to realize the path and the fruition. And so, preserving what ought to be preserved and concentrating the attainment in meditation, one should not cling to it nor should he be attahed to it; this is what is meant by anivesano siya.

By the expression "You, too, conduct yourselves in this way" the Teacher thus sermonized those bhikkhus. At the end of the sermon, the five hundred bhikkhus, even while seated where they were, attained Arahatship together with analytical knowledge and departed after appreciating, praising and paying respect to the golden-hued person of the Buddha.



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*These two stories have the same verse.