Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

June 27, 2006

Vangisa, the Venerable Master of Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — Clattery MacHinery @ 1:01 am

As the Therigatha (posted yesterday) translates to “Verses of the Elder Nuns,” Theragatha means “Verses of the Elder Monks.” For this post, I will focus on the last chapter, or Thag XXI, which has the title “Vangisa,” which is the name of its author, and which means “Master of Words” or “Lord of Speech.”

Here is a quote from Vangisa: An Early Buddhist Poet:

The author of these poems, the Venerable Va”ngiisa, was designated by the Buddha as the foremost of his disciples with respect to spontaneity of speech (pa.tibhaanavantaana.m, A I 24). This gift is evidently a reference to the Parosahassa Sutta (S I 192-93) where, after reciting a poem (No. VIII of the translation), the Buddha asked Va”ngiisa whether it had been devised by him beforehand or had occurred to him “on the spot” (.thaanaso va ta.m pa.tibhanti). When Va”ngiisa affirmed the latter, the Buddha invited him to compose some more verses, and the result was the next poem (No. IX).

Apart from what we can glean from the poems themselves and the suttas of the Va”ngiisa-sa.myutta, we know very little about the Venerable Va”ngiisa himself. The commentary (ThagA III 180-81) says he was a brahmin by birth and that, prior to meeting the Buddha, he made a living by tapping the skulls of deceased people and telling thereby where the owners had been reborn.

The following rendition of Vangisa’s verse is taken from this page: Thag 21: Vangisa. Differently from how John D. Ireland chose to cast the verses, they are formatted below with line breaks and indentations. The small width of page here, seemed to me to necessitate this. I mainly stuck to simple clause breaks natural to Ireland’s English sentences, with minor and simple formatting ornamentation, as I did not want to make it an exercise in bucking the spirit of Ireland’s choice not to.

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

by Vangisa, the Venerable Master of Words

translated from the Pali by John D. Ireland

from Theragatha
(Verses of the Elder Monks)

Thag XXI
(Chapter 21)



Departed (Nikkhantam)

Alas! Now that I have departed from home
            to the homeless state,
            these reckless thoughts
from the Dark One come upon me.

Mighty warriors, great archers,
            trained, steady bowmen,
            one thousand fearless men,
might surround me on all sides.

Even if more women than these will come,
            they will not cause me to waver,
            for I am firmly established
in the teaching.

In his presence I heard from the Awakened One,
            the Kinsman of the Sun,
            of this path leading to nibbana;
it is there that my mind is attached.

Evil One, while I am living thus,
            if you assail me,
            so shall I act, O Death,
that you will not see my path.

~ ~ ~


Disliking (Aratim)

Entirely giving up disliking and liking,
            and the thinking associated
            with the life of a householder,
one should not have craving for anything.
            He indeed is a monk
            who is wholly without craving.

Whatever there is here of form,
            inhabiting the earth and the sky,
            immersed in the world,
all is impermanent and decaying.
            So understanding,
            the wise live their lives.

Regarding objects of attachment,
            people are greedy for what is to be seen and heard
            and touched and otherwise experienced.
Being unmoved, dispel desire for them,
            for they call him a sage
            who does not cling to them.

Then, caught in the sixty, full of (speculative) thoughts,
            because of being outsiders,
            they are established in wrong teaching.
But one who is a monk
            would not take up a sectarian viewpoint,
            much less seize upon what is bad.

Intelligent, for a long time composed (of mind),
            not deceitful, wise, not envious,
            the sage has experienced the peaceful state,
depending on which,
            attained to quenching,
            he awaits his time.

~ ~ ~


Despising the Well-Behaved (Pesala-Atimaññana)

            Abandon conceit, Gotama,
get rid of the way of conceit completely.
Because of being infatuated by the way of conceit,
            for a long time you have been remorseful.

            Soiled by contempt (for others),
destroyed by conceit, people fall into hell.
Persons destroyed by conceit grieve for a long time
            upon being reborn in hell.

            A monk never grieves who is a knower of the path,
one who has practiced it properly.
He experiences fame and happiness;
            truthfully they call him “a seer of Dhamma.”

            Therefore be without barrenness here (in this world),
energetic, purified by abandoning the hindrances.
Having completely abandoned conceit, be an ender (of suffering) through knowledge
            and become one who dwells at peace.

~ ~ ~




“I burn with sensual desire,
            my mind is enflamed (with passion).
            Out of pity please tell me, Gotama,
the effective extinguishing of it.”


“Your mind is enflamed
            because of distorted perception.
            Shun the aspect of beauty
associated with passion.

“See constructions as other,
            as painful, not as self,
            (and thus) extinguish strong passion;
do not burn again and again.

“Devote the mind, one-pointed and well-composed,
            to the contemplation of foulness.
            Let mindfulness be directed
towards the body and be full of disenchantment for it.

“Contemplate the signless and cast out
            the underlying tendency to conceit.
            Then by the penetration of conceit
you will go about at peace.”

~ ~ ~


Well-spoken (Subhasita)

One should speak only that word
            by which one would not torment
            oneself nor harm others.
That word is indeed
            well spoken.

One should speak only pleasant words,
            words which are acceptable (to others).
What one speaks
            without bringing evils to others
            is pleasant.

Truth is indeed the undying word;
            this is an ancient verity.
Upon truth, the good say,
            the goal and the teaching are founded.

The sure word the Awakened One
            speaks for the attainment of nibbana,
for making an end of suffering,
            is truly the best of words.

~ ~ ~



Of profound wisdom, intelligent, skilled in knowledge
            of the right and wrong path,
Sariputta of great wisdom teaches
            Dhamma to the monks.

He teaches in brief, he speaks with detailed explanation,
            his voice is (pleasing) like that of the mynah bird;
he demonstrates readiness of speech.

Listening to his sweet utterance while he is teaching
            with a voice that is captivating,
            pleasing, and lovely,
the monks give ear,
            with minds elated and joyful.

~ ~ ~


The Invitation Ceremony (Pavarana)

Today on the fifteenth (of the fortnight) five hundred monks
have gathered for the ceremony of purification,
            cutters of fetters and bonds, untroubled,
            seers finished with renewed existence.

As a wheel-turning monarch, surrounded by his ministers,
            tours all around this ocean-girt earth,
so do the disciples with the threefold knowledge,
who have left death behind,
            attend upon the victor in battle,
            the unsurpassed caravan leader.

All are the Fortunate One’s sons;
            there is no chaff found here.
I pay homage to the destroyer of the dart of craving,
            the Kinsman of the Sun.

~ ~ ~


More than a Thousand (Parosahassam)

More than a thousand monks attend
            upon the Happy One
as he is teaching the stainless Dhamma concerning nibbana,
            where no fear can come from any quarter.

They hear the taintless Dhamma
            taught by the Fully Awakened One.
The Awakened One is truly resplendent
            as he is revered by the community of monks.

You are called a naga, Fortunate One;
            of seers, you are the best of seers.
Like a great rain-cloud,
            you rain down upon the disciples.

Leaving his daytime abode,
            wishing to see the Teacher,
your disciple Vangisa pays homage
            at your feet, Great Hero.

~ ~ ~


Overcoming (Abhibhuyya)

Overcoming the devious ways and range of Mara,
                        he walks (free),
            having broken up the things that make for barrenness of mind.
See him producing release from bonds,
            separating (the Teaching) into its constituent parts.

He has shown the path in a variety of ways
                        with the aim
            of guiding us across the flood.
Since the undying has been shown (to them),
                        the Dhamma-seers
            (are those who) stand immovable.

The light-maker,
                        having penetrated (the Dhamma),
            saw the overcoming of all standpoints.
Having understood and experienced it,
                        he taught the topmost
            (Dhamma-teaching) to the five.

When the Dhamma has been thus well taught,
            what indolence could there be
                        in those who know the Dhamma?
Therefore, vigilant and ever revering,
            one should follow the training
                        in the Fortunate One’s dispensation.

~ ~ ~



            The Elder Kondañña, strong in energy,
who was enlightened after the Awakened One,
is repeatedly the obtainer
            of pleasurable abidings and seclusions.

            Whatever is to be attained by a disciple
who does the instruction of the Teacher,
all that has been attained by him,
            vigilant and disciplined.

            Having great power and the threefold knowledge,
skilled in knowing the thoughts of others,
Kondañña, the Awakened One’s heir,
            pays homage at the Teacher’s feet.

~ ~ ~



            possessors of the threefold knowledge
                        who have left death behind,
attend upon the sage
            seated on the mountain side,
                        who has gone to the far shore beyond suffering.

            of great supernormal powers,
                        encompasses (their minds) with his mind,
seeking their minds,
            completely freed,
                        without attachments.

Thus do they attend
            upon Gotama
                        endowed with so many virtuous qualities,
the sage possessed of all the attributes
            and gone to the far shore
                        beyond suffering.

~ ~ ~



As the moon shines in the sky free from clouds,
                        as also the spotless sun, even so,
            Resplendent One, Great Sage,
do you outshine the whole world with your fame.

~ ~ ~


Vangisa (1)

Intoxicated with skill in the poetic art,
formerly we wandered
            from village to village, from town to town.
Then we saw the Awakened One
gone to the far shore beyond
            all (worldly conditioned) phenomena.

The sage gone
to the far shore beyond suffering
            taught me the Dhamma.
On hearing the Dhamma
we gained confidence in him;
            faith arose in us.

Having heard his word
and learnt
            of the aggregates, bases, and elements,
I went forth
            into homelessness.

Indeed Tathagatas appear
for the good
            of the many men and women
            who practice their teaching.

Indeed the sage attained enlightenment
for the good
            of those monks and nuns
            who see the course to be undergone.

Well taught are the Four Noble Truths
            by the Seeing One,
            the Awakened One,
            the Kinsman of the Sun,
                        out of compassion for living beings.

Suffering, the origin of suffering, the overcoming of suffering,
            and the noble eightfold path
            leading to the allaying of suffering.

            Thus these things, thus spoken of,
            have been seen by me as they really are.
The true goal has been reached by me;
            the Awakened One’s instruction has been done.

            It was good indeed for me,
my coming into the presence of the Awakened One.
            Among things shared out
            I obtained the best.

I have attained the perfection of the direct knowledges,
I have purified the element of hearing,
I have the threefold knowledge and obtained supernormal powers
and am skilled in knowing the minds of others.

~ ~ ~


The shorter version of the previous poem

Vangisa (2)

            Intoxicated with skill in the poetic art,
formerly we wandered from village to village,
from town to town.
            Then we saw the Awakened One
            and faith arose in us.

He taught me the Dhamma concerning
            the aggregates, bases, and elements.
            Having heard his Dhamma,
I went forth into homelessness.

Indeed the sage attained enlightenment for the good
            of the many monks and nuns
                        who see the course to be undergone.

            It was good indeed for me,
my coming into the presence of the Awakened One.
            The three knowledges have been attained;
                        the Awakened One’s instruction has been done.

            I know my former abodes,
            (I possess) the purified divine eye,
            I have the threefold knowledge
            and obtained supernormal powers
and am skilled in knowing the minds of others.

~ ~ ~



“I ask the teacher of superior wisdom,
one who in this very life
                        is the cutter-off of doubts:
                        The monk, well known and famous,
            who has died at Agga.lava,
was he completely quenched in mind?

“Nigrodhakappa was the name given to
            that brahmin by you, Fortunate One.
Looking for release, strenuously energetic,
            he went about revering you,
                        O seer of the secure state (i.e., nibbana).

            “Sakka, All-seeing One,
we all wish to know concerning that disciple.
Our ears are ready to hear.
            You are the teacher, you are unsurpassed.

                        “Sever our doubt.
                        Tell me this, you
of extensive wisdom, that he experienced quenching.
                        Speak in our very midst,
                        All-seeing One,
like the thousand-eyed Sakka in the midst of the gods.

“Whatever bonds exist here (in the world),
                        ways of delusion,
on the side of ignorance,
                        bases for doubt,
they no longer exist on reaching the Tathagata,
            for that vision of his is supreme among men.

“If no man were ever to disperse the defilements
            as the wind disperses a mass of clouds,
            the whole world, enveloped,
would surely be darkness,
and even illustrious men would not shine forth.

“But the wise are light-makers.
            O Wise One, I think you are just such a one.
            We have come upon him who knows and is gifted with insight.
Make evident to us, within the companies (of disciples), the fate of Kappa.

“Quickly enunciate your beautiful utterance, O beautiful one!
            Like a goose stretching forth (its neck),
                        honk gently with
                        your melodious and well-modulated voice;
we are all listening to you attentively.

“Pressing the one who has completely abandoned birth and death,
I shall urge the purified one to speak Dhamma.
For among outsiders there is no acting as they wish,
            but among Tathagatas there is acting with discretion.

            “This full explanation of yours,
(coming from) one with upright wisdom, is well learnt.
This last salutation is proferred.
You of superior wisdom, knowing (Kappa’s fate),
            do not keep us in ignorance.

“Having known the noble Dhamma in its full extent,
            you of superior energy, knowing (Kappa’s fate),
            do not keep us in ignorance.
I long for your word
            as one overcome by heat in the hot season longs for water.
                        Rain down on our ears.

“Surely the purpose for which Kappayana practiced
            the holy life was not in vain.
Was he quenched or had he a residue remaining?
            Let us hear in what way he was released.”

“He cut off craving here for mind-and-materiality”, said the Fortunate One,
            “the stream of craving
                        which for a long time had lain latent within him.
He has crossed beyond birth and death completely.”
            So spoke the Fortunate One, the foremost of the five.

“On hearing your word, O best of seers, I believe.
            My question was truly not in vain;
            the brahmin did not deceive me.

            “As he spoke, so he acted.
He was a disciple of the Awakened One.
He cut through the strong, spread-out net
            of Death the deceiver.

“Kappiya saw the starting point of grasping, O Fortunate One.
            Kappayana has certainly gone beyond the realm of Death,
                        so difficult to cross.

“I pay homage to you, the god of gods,
            and to your son, O best of bipeds,
            to the great hero born in your tracks,
                        a naga, a true son of the naga.”

~ ~ ~

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