Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

June 26, 2006

Therigatha: Verses of the Elder Nuns

Filed under: Uncategorized — Clattery MacHinery @ 1:49 am


Below are the excerpts I could find on the web from the Therigatha, the ninth book of the Khuddaka Nikaya, and translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. There are 73 verses altogether, in 16 chapters, written somewhere around 200 BCE. For introduction and commentary, you may click into Susan Elbaum Jootla’s page here: Inspiration from Enlightened Nuns.

Only some of the verses are below, representing only some of the chapters. Before each excerpt is a Roman numeral, a period for punctuation, and an integer, indicating chapter and verse.

Still in this world, it seems important to mention that it is possible for a woman to be as spiritually advanced as any man. As we can apprehend from the Therigatha, a woman may be as far along the road in Buddhism as a man may. If we cross cultures and take a different application, into the mysticism of, say, most Native American cultures, but not limited to them; a woman may have the spiritual gifts (or innateness) of the shaman as much as any man. A woman, therefore, not only may be further along her spiritual road, but no matter where she is on her road, she may be more prone to powerful and culturally informing mystical experiences as any man may. It should not need to be pointed out that, furthermore, a woman may be as good a poet for her culture in time as any man, vis a vis, what follows.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I.1

An Anonymous Bhikkhuni

Sleep, little theri, sleep comfortably,
wrapped in the robe that you’ve made,
for your passion is stilled–
                like a pot of pickled greens
                                boiled dry.

~ ~ ~

I.3

Punna

Punna, grow full with good qualities
like the moon on the fifteenth day.
With discernment at total fullness, burst
                the mass
                of darkness.

~ ~ ~

I.11

Mutta

So freed! So thoroughly freed am I!–
from three crooked things set free:
                from mortar, pestle,
                & crooked old husband.
Having uprooted the craving
that leads to becoming,
I’m set free from aging & death.

~ ~ ~

I.17

Dhamma

Wandering for alms–
weak, leaning on a staff,
with trembling limbs–
I fell down right there on the ground.
Seeing the drawbacks of the body,
my mind was then
                                               set free.

~ ~ ~

II.3

Sumangala’s Mother

So freed! So freed!
So thoroughly freed am I–
                from my pestle,
                my shameless husband
                & his sun-shade making,
                my moldy old pot
                with its water-snake smell.
Aversion & passion
I cut with a chop.
Having come to the foot of a tree,
I meditate, absorbed in the bliss:
                “What bliss!”

~ ~ ~

III.2

Uttama

Four times, five, I ran amok from my dwelling,
                having gained no peace of awareness,
                my thoughts out of control.
So I went to a trustworthy nun.
She taught me the Dhamma:
                aggregates, sense spheres, & elements.
Hearing the Dhamma,
                I did as she said.
For seven days I sat in one spot,
absorbed in rapture & bliss.
On the eighth, I stretched out my legs,
                having burst the mass
                of darkness.

~ ~ ~

III.3

Dantika & the Elephant

Coming out from my day’s abiding
on Vulture Peak Mountain,
I saw on the bank of a river
                an elephant
emerged from its plunge.
A man holding a hook requested:
                                “Give me your foot.”
The elephant
                extended its foot.
The man
                got up on the elephant.

Seeing what was untrained now tamed
brought under human control,
with that I centered my mind–
                why I’d gone to the woods
                                in the first place.

~ ~ ~

III.5

Ubbiri

“‘Jiva, my daughter,’
you cry in the woods.
Come to your senses, Ubbiri.
                                84,000
                all named Jiva
have been burned in that charnel ground.
For which of them do you grieve?”
Pulling out
               –completely out–
the arrow so hard to see,
embedded in my heart,
he expelled from me
               –overcome with grief–
the grief
over my daughter.

Today–with arrow removed,
                without hunger, entirely
                                Unbound–
to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha I go,
                for refuge to
                the Sage.

~ ~ ~

V.2

Vimala, the Former Courtesan

Intoxicated with my complexion
figure, beauty, & fame;
haughty with youth,
                I despised other women.
Adorning this body
embellished to delude foolish men,
I stood at the door to the brothel:
                a hunter with snare laid out.
I showed off my ornaments,
and revealed many a private part.
I worked my manifold magic,
laughing out loud at the crowd.
Today, wrapped in a double cloak,
                my head shaven,
                having wandered for alms,
I sit at the foot of a tree
and attain the state of no-thought.
All ties–human & divine–have been cut.
Having cast off all effluents,
cooled am I,                                unbound.

~ ~ ~

V.4

Nanda’s Vision

“Sick, putrid, unclean:
look, Nanda, at this physical heap.
Through contemplation of the foul,
develop your mind,
make it one, well-centered.
                As this (your body), so that.
                As that, so this.
It gives off a foul stench,
the delight of fools.”

Considering it thus,
untiring, both day & night,
I, with my own discernment
                dissecting it,
                                saw.

And as I, heedful,
                examined it aptly,
this body–as it actually is–
was seen inside & out.

Then was I disenchanted with the body
                & dispassionate within:
Heedful, detached,
                calmed was I.

                                Unbound.

~ ~ ~

V.6

Mittakali

Going forth through conviction
from home into homelessness,
I wandered this place & that,
greedy for tribute & gains.
Missing out on the foremost goal,
I pursued a lowly one.
Under the sway of defilements
I surrendered the goal
of the contemplative life.
Then, sitting in my dwelling,
I suddenly came to my senses:

I’m following a miserable path.
I’m under the sway of
                                craving.
                Next to nothing, my life–
                                               crushed
                by aging & illness.
                Before the body breaks apart,
                I have no time
                                for heedlessness.
After watching, as it actually was,
the rising & falling of aggregates,
I stood up with mind released,
the Awakened One’s bidding
                                done.

~ ~ ~

V.8

Sona, Mother of Ten

Ten children I bore
from this physical heap.
Then weak from that, aged,
I went to a nun.
She taught me the Dhamma:
                aggregates, sense spheres, & elements.
Hearing her Dhamma,
I cut off my hair & ordained.
Having purified the divine eye
while still a probationer,
I know my previous lives,
where I lived in the past.
I develop the theme-less meditation,
well-focused oneness.
I gain the liberation of immediacy–
from lack of clinging, unbound.
The five aggregates, comprehended,
stand like a tree with its root cut through.
                I spit on old age.
There is now no further becoming.

~ ~ ~

V.10

Patacara

(I thought:)

“Plowing the field with plows,
sowing the ground with seed,
supporting their wives & children,
young men gather up wealth.
So why is it that I,
                consummate in virtue,
                a doer of the teacher’s bidding,
don’t gain Unbinding?
I’m not lazy or proud.”

Washing my feet, I noticed
                                the
                                water.

And in watching it flow from high
                                to
                                low,
                my heart was composed
                like a fine thoroughbred steed.

Then taking a lamp, I entered the hut,
                checked the bedding,
                sat down on the bed.

And taking a pin, I pulled out the wick:
                Like the flame’s unbinding
                was the liberation
                                of awareness.

~ ~ ~

V.11

Patacara’s Thirty Students

(Patacara taught:)

“Taking the pestle,
young men grind the corn.
Supporting their wives & children,
they gather up wealth.
Do the Awakened One’s bidding,
                which, having done,
                you’ll have no regret.
Intent on tranquillity of awareness,
do the Awakened One’s bidding.
Quickly:
                Having washed your feet,
                go sit to one side.”
Hearing these words,
Patacara’s bidding,
they washed their feet
and retired to one side.
Intent on tranquillity of awareness,
they did the Awakened One’s bidding.
In the first watch of the night,
                they recollected their previous lives.
In the middle watch,
                purified the divine eye.
In the last,
                burst the mass of darkness.
Getting up, they bowed down to her feet.

“We have done your bidding.
Like the thirty devas honoring Indra,
unvanquished in battle,
we–endowed with the three knowledges,
                effluent-free–
will continue honoring you.”

~ ~ ~

V.12

Canda, the Beggar

Before, I had fallen on evil times:
                no husband, no children,
                no relatives, friends,
                no way to obtain clothing & food.
So, taking a staff & bowl in hand,
begging for alms from house to house,
feverish from the cold & heat,
I wandered for seven full years.
Then seeing a nun
obtaining food & drink,
I approached her & said:
                “Let me go forth into homelessness.”
She, Patacara, from sympathy,
let me go forth;
then, exhorting me,
urged me on to the highest goal.
Hearing her words,
I did her bidding.
Her exhortation was not in vain.
                Endowed with the three knowledges,
                I’m effluent-free.

~ ~ ~

VI.1

Pañcasata Patacara

“You don’t know
                the path
of his coming or going,
that being who has come
                from                                where?–
the one you lament as ‘my son.’
But when you know
                the path
of his coming or going,
you don’t grieve after him,
for that is the nature
                of beings.
Unasked,
he came from there.
Without permission,
he went from here–
coming from                where?
having stayed a few days.
And coming one way from here,
he goes yet another
                from there.
Dying in the human form,
he will go wandering on.
As he came, so he has gone–
                so what is there
                to lament?”

Pulling out
               –completely out–
the arrow so hard to see,
embedded in my heart,
he expelled from me
               –overcome with grief–
the grief
over my son.

Today–with arrow removed,
                without hunger, entirely
                                Unbound–
to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha I go,
                for refuge to
                the Sage.

~ ~ ~

VI.2

Vasitthi the Madwoman

Overwhelmed with grief for my son–
                naked, demented,
                my hair dishevelled
                my mind deranged–
I went about here & there,
living along the side of the road,
in cemeteries & heaps of trash,
                for three full years,
afflicted with hunger & thirst.
Then I saw
the One Well-gone,
gone to the city of Mithila:
                tamer of those untamed,
                Self-Awakened,
                with nothing to fear
                from anything, anywhere.

Regaining my mind,
paying him homage,
                I sat myself down.
He, Gotama, from sympathy
taught me the Dhamma.
Hearing his Dhamma,
I went forth into homelessness.
Applying myself to the Teacher’s words,
I realized the state of auspicious bliss.

All griefs have been cut off,
                                abandoned,
                                brought to this end,
for I’ve comprehended
the grounds from which griefs
come into play.

~ ~ ~

VI.5

Anopama, the Millionaire’s Daughter

Born in a high-ranking family
with much property, great wealth,
consummate in complexion & figure,
I was the daughter of Majjha, the treasurer.
Sons of kings sought for me,
sons of rich merchants
                longed for me.
One of them sent my father a messenger,
saying, “Give me Anopama.
I will give in return
                eight times her weight
                in jewels & gold.”
But I, having seen
                the One Self-awakened,
                unsurpassed, excelling the world,
paid homage to his feet,
sat down to one side.
He, Gotama, from sympathy,
taught me the Dhamma.
And as I sat in that very seat,
                I attained the third fruit
                (of non-return.)
Then I cut off my hair,
and went forth into homelessness.
Today is the seventh day
since I made craving
                wither away.

~ ~ ~

XII

Punnika & the Brahman

(Punnika:)

I’m a water-carrier, cold,
always going down to the water
from fear of my mistresses’ beatings,
harrassed by their anger & words.
But you, Brahman,
                what do you fear
that you’re always going down to the water
with shivering limbs, feeling great cold?

(The Brahman:)

Punnika, surely you know.
You’re asking one doing skillful kamma
& warding off evil.
Whoever, young or old, does evil kamma
is, through water ablution,
from evil kamma set free.

(Punnika:)

Who taught you this
— the ignorant to the ignorant–
‘One, through water ablution,
is from evil kamma set free?’
In that case, they’d all go to heaven:
                all the frogs, turtles,
                serpents, crocodiles,
                & anything else that lives in the water.
Sheep-butchers, pork-butchers,
fishermen, trappers,
thieves, executioners,
& any other evil doers,
would, through water ablution,
be from evil kamma set free.
If these rivers could carry off
the evil kamma you’ve done in the past,
they’d carry off your merit as well,
and then you’d be
                completely left out.
Whatever it is that you fear,
that you’re always going down to the water,
                don’t do it.
Don’t let the cold hurt your skin.”

(The Brahman:)

I’ve been following the miserable path, good lady,
and now you’ve brought me
                back to the noble.
I give you this robe for water-ablution.

(Punnika:)

Let the robe be yours. I don’t need it.
If you’re afraid of pain,
if you dislike pain,
then don’t do any evil kamma,
in open, in secret.
But if you do or will do
any evil kamma,
you’ll gain no freedom from pain,
even if you fly up & hurry away.
If you’re afraid of pain,
if you dislike pain,
go to the Awakened One for refuge,
go to the Dhamma & Sangha.
Take on the precepts:
                That will lead to your liberation.

(The Brahman:)

I go to the Awakened One for refuge;
I go to the Dhamma & Sangha.
I take on the precepts:
                That will lead to my liberation.
Before, I was a kinsman to Brahma;
now, truly a brahman.
I’m a three-knowledge man.
consummate in knowledge,
                safe & washed clean.

~ ~ ~

XIII.1

Ambapali

Black was my hair
–the color of bees–
& curled at the tips;
                with age, it looked like coarse hemp.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.
Fragrant, like a perfumed basket
filled with flowers: my coiffure.
                With age it smelled musty,
                like animal fur.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Thick & lush, like a well-tended grove,
made splendid, the tips elaborate
with comb & pin.
                With age, it grew thin
                & bare here & there.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Adorned with gold & delicate pins,
it was splendid, ornamented with braids.
                Now, with age,
                that head has gone bald.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Curved, as if well-drawn by an artist,
my brows were once splendid.
                With age, they droop down in folds.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Radiant, brilliant like jewels,
my eyes: elongated, black–deep black.
                With age, they’re no longer splendid.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Like a delicate peak, my nose
was splendid in the prime of my youth.
                With age, it’s like a long pepper.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Like bracelets–well-fashioned, well-finished–
my ears were once splendid.
                With age, they droop down in folds.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Like plaintain buds in their color,
my teeth were once splendid.
                With age, they’re broken & yellowed.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Like that of a cuckoo in the dense jungle,
flitting through deep forest thickets:
sweet was the tone of my voice.
                With age, it cracks here & there.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Smooth–like a conch shell well-polished–
my neck was once splendid.
                With age, it’s broken down, bent.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Like rounded door-bars–both of them–
my arms were once splendid.
                With age, they’re like dried up patali trees.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Adorned with gold & delicate rings,
my hands were once splendid.
                With age, they’re like onions & tubers.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Swelling, round, firm, & high,
both my breasts were once splendid.
                In the drought of old age, they dangle
                like empty old water bags.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Like a sheet of gold, well-burnished,
my body was splendid.
                Now it’s covered with very fine wrinkles.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Smooth in their lines, like an elephant’s trunk,
both my thighs were once splendid.
                With age, they’re like knotted bamboo.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Adorned with gold & delicate anklets,
my calves were once splendid.
                With age, they’re like sesame sticks.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

As if they were stuffed with soft cotton,
both my feet were once splendid.
                With age, they’re shriveled & cracked.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

Such was this physical heap,
now: decrepit, the home of pains, many pains.
                A house with its plaster all fallen off.
The truth of the Truth-speaker’s words
                                doesn’t change.

~ ~ ~

XIII.2

Rohini

(Rohini’s father:)

You go to sleep saying,
                “Contemplatives.”
You wake up,
                “Contemplatives.”
You praise only
                contemplatives.
No doubt you will be
                a contemplative.
Abundant food & drink
you give to contemplatives.
Now, Rohini, I ask you:
                Why do you hold
                contemplatives dear?

They don’t like to work,
                they’re lazy,
living off what’s given by others,
full of hankerings,
wanting delicious things:
                Why do you hold
                contemplatives dear?

(Rohini:)

For a long time, father,
you’ve quizzed me
about contemplatives.
I’ll praise to you
their                discernment,
                virtue,
                endeavor.
They do like to work,
                they’re not lazy.
They do the best work:
                                They abandon
                                passion & anger.
                That’s why I hold
                contemplatives dear.

They rid themselves
of the three evil roots,
doing pure actions.
                                All their evil’s
                                abandoned.
                That’s why I hold
                contemplatives dear.

Clean                                their bodily action,
so is                                their verbal action.
Clean                                their mental action:
                That’s why I hold
                contemplatives dear.

Spotless, like mother of pearl,
pure within & without,
perfect in clear qualities:
                That’s why I hold
                contemplatives dear.

Learned,                maintaining the Dhamma,
noble, living the Dhamma,
they teach the goal
                                & the Dhamma:
                That’s why I hold
                contemplatives dear.

Learned,                maintaining the Dhamma,
noble, living the Dhamma,
with unified minds
                                & mindful:
                That’s why I hold
                contemplatives dear.

Traveling far, mindful,
giving counsel unruffled,
they discern the end
                                of suffering:
                That’s why I hold
                contemplatives dear.

When they leave any village
they don’t turn to look back
                                at anything.
How free from concern
they go!
                That’s why I hold
                contemplatives dear.

They don’t store in a granary,
                                pot,
                                or basket.
They hunt (only)
for what’s already cooked:
                That’s why I hold
                contemplatives dear.

They take neither silver,
                nor gold,
                nor money.
They live off whatever is present:
                That’s why I hold
                contemplatives dear.

Having gone forth
from different families
& from different countries,
                                still they hold
                                one another dear:
                That’s why I hold
                contemplatives dear.

(Rohini’s father:)

Rohini, truly for our well-being
were you born in our family.
You have conviction
in the Buddha & Dhamma,
and strong respect
for the Sangha.
You truly discern
this field of merit
                unexcelled.
These contemplatives will receive
our offering, too,
for here we’ll set up
our abundant sacrifice.

(Rohini:)

If you’re afraid of pain,
if you dislike pain,
go to the Buddha for refuge,
go to the Dhamma & Sangha.
Take on the precepts:
                That will lead
                to your well-being.
(Rohini’s father:)

I go to the Buddha for refuge;
I go to the Dhamma & Sangha.
I take on the precepts:
                That will lead
                to my well-being.
Before, I was a kinsman to Brahma;
now, truly a brahman.
I’m a three-knowledge man & safe,
consummate in knowledge,
                washed clean.

~ ~ ~

XIV

Subha & the Libertine

As Subha the nun was going through Jivaka’s delightful mango grove, a libertine (a goldsmith’s son) blocked her path, so she said to him:
‘What wrong have I done you
that you stand in my way?
It’s not proper, my friend,
that a man should touch
a woman gone forth.
I respect the Master’s message,
the training pointed out by the one well-gone.
I am pure, without blemish:
                Why do you stand in my way?
You–your mind agitated, impassioned;
I–unagitated, unimpassioned,
with a mind entirely freed:
                Why do you stand in my way?’
‘You are young & not bad-looking,
what need do you have for going forth?
Throw off your ochre robe–
                Come, let’s delight in the flowering grove.
A sweetness they exude everywhere,
the towering trees with their pollen.
The beginning of spring is a pleasant season–
                Come, let’s delight in the flowering grove.
The trees with their blossoming tips
moan, as it were, in the breeze:
What delight will you have
if you plunge into the grove alone?
Frequented by herds of wild beasts,
disturbed by elephants rutting & aroused:
you want to go
                unaccompanied
into the great, lonely, frightening grove?
Like a doll made of gold, you will go about,
like a goddess in the gardens of heaven.
With delicate, smooth Kasi fabrics,
you will shine, O beauty without compare.
I would gladly do your every bidding
if we were to dwell in the glade.
For there is no creature dearer to me
                than you, O nymph with the languid regard.
If you do as I ask, happy, come live in my house.
Dwelling in the calm of a palace,
                have women wait on you,
                wear delicate Kasi fabrics,
                adorn yourself with garlands & creams.
I will make you many & varied ornaments
                of gold, jewels, & pearls.
Climb onto a costly bed,
scented with sandalwood carvings,
with a well-washed coverlet, beautiful,
spread with a woolen quilt, brand new.
Like a blue lotus rising from the water
where no human beings dwell,
you will go to old age with your limbs unseen,
if you stay as you are in the holy life.’

‘What do you assume of any essence,
here in this cemetery grower, filled with corpses,
this body destined to break up?
What do you see when you look at me,
                you who are out of your mind?’

‘Your eyes are like those of a fawn,
like those of a sprite in the mountains.
Seeing your eyes, my sensual delight
                grows all the more.
Like tips they are, of blue lotuses,
in your golden face
               –spotless:
Seeing your eyes, my sensual delight
                grows all the more.
Even if you should go far away,
I will think only of your pure,
                long-lashed gaze,
for there is nothing dearer to me
                than your eyes, O nymph with the languid regard.’

‘You want to stray from the road,
you want the moon as a plaything,
you want to jump over Mount Sineru,
you who have designs on one born of the Buddha.
For there is nothing anywhere at all
in the cosmos with its gods,
that would be an object of passion for me.
                I don’t even know what that passion would be,
                for it’s been killed, root & all, by the path.
Like embers from a pit–scattered,
like a bowl of poison–evaporated,
                I don’t even see what that passion would be,
                for it’s been killed, root & all, by the path.
Try to seduce one who hasn’t reflected on this,
or who has not followed the Master’s teaching.
But try it with this one who knows
                and you suffer.
For in the midst of praise & blame,
                pleasure & pain,
my mindfulness stands firm.
Knowing the unattractiveness
                of things compounded,
my mind cleaves to nothing at all.
I am a follower of the one well-gone,
riding the vehicle of the eightfold way:
My arrow removed, effluent-free,
I delight, having gone to an empty dwelling.
For I have seen well-painted puppets,
hitched up with sticks & strings,
made to dance in various ways.
When the sticks & strings are removed,
thrown away, scattered, shredded,
smashed into pieces, not to be found,
                in what will the mind there make its home?
This body of mine, which is just like that,
when devoid of dhammas doesn’t function.
When, devoid of dhammas, it doesn’t function,
                in what will the mind there make its home?
Like a mural you’ve seen, painted on a wall,
smeared with yellow orpiment,
there your vision has been distorted,
meaningless your human perception.
Like an evaporated mirage,
like a tree of gold in a dream,
like a magic show in the midst of a crowd–
                you run blind after what is unreal.
Resembling a ball of sealing wax,
set in a hollow,
with a bubble in the middle
and bathed with tears,
eye secretions are born there too:
The parts of the eye
are rolled all together
in various ways.’

Plucking out her lovely eye,
with mind unattached
she felt no regret.

‘Here, take this eye. It’s yours.’

Straightaway she gave it to him.
Straightaway his passion faded right there,
and he begged her forgiveness.

‘Be well, follower of the holy life.
                This sort of thing
                won’t happen again.
Harming a person like you
is like embracing a blazing fire,
It is as if I have seized a poisonous snake.
So may you be well. Forgive me.’

And released from there, the nun
went to the excellent Buddha’s presence.
When she saw the mark of his excellent merit,
                her eye became
                as it was before.

~ ~ ~

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