Dhammapada | 12. Atta Vagga


12. Atta Vagga
The Self

Be Vigilant

1. Attānañce piyaṁ jaññā, rakkheyya naṁ surakkhitaṁ
Tiṇṇam aññataraṁ yāmaṁ, paṭijaggeyya paṇḍito.

1. If one holds oneself dear, one should protect oneself well.
At least in one of the three ages of life a wise man should be vigilant.

Prince Bodhi’s Story

On the completion of his palace, Prince Bodhi spread the floors with mats and carpets, inviting the Buddha and the Saṅgha for alms.

When the Buddha arrived, the prince paid homage, took his bowl, and invited him in. However, the Buddha refused to enter, even when invited a third time. The Venerable Ānanda took one look at the Buddha, and told Prince Bodhi to roll up the carpets.

Then Prince Bodhi led the monks into the palace and served the meal. After the meal, the prince asked the Buddha why he had refused to tread on the carpets.

The Buddha asked him why he had laid them down. The prince said that he had done so thinking, “If I am destined to obtain a son or a daughter, the Teacher will step on these carpets.”

The Buddha said that was the very reason why he did not step on them, explaining the cause in the past:

The Couple Who Ate Birds’ Eggs

At one time a ship was wrecked in mid-ocean. The only two survivors were a man and his wife who clung to a plank. They landed on an island inhabited only by birds, and survived by eating the birds’ eggs and young chicks.

The Buddha explained that the reason they were destined to remain childless was because not even once, during their youth, middle-age, or old age, did they feel any remorse about eating the eggs.

Then he uttered the above verse, advising that one should be heedful of the Dhamma, at least during one period of life.

Advisers Should Set A Good Example

2. Attānam eva paṭhamaṁ, patīrūpe nivesaye
Ath’aññam anusāseyya, na kilisseyya paṇḍito.

2. Let one first establish oneself in what is proper, and then instruct others. Such a wise man will not be defiled.

The Elder Upananda

The Elder Upananda was a skilled preacher, and went from monastery to monastery, preaching the Dhamma and greedily gathering any gifts offered to him.

One day he met two young monks who could not divide between themselves two robes and a costly blanket. The elder settled the dispute by giving a robe to each of them and taking the blanket for himself.

The disgruntled young monks reported this to the Buddha. The Buddha told a story of the past, when two otters quarrelled over a fish, and a jackal divided it for them, taking the best portion for himself.

He admonished Upananda, consoled the young monks, and said that advisers should set a good example.

Act As You Instruct Others

3. Attānaṁ ce tathā kayirā, yathaññamanusāsati
Sudanto vata dametha, attā hi kira duddamo.

3. As he instructs others so should he act. Fully self-controlled, he could control (others); for oneself is difficult to control.

Elder Tissa the ‘Striver’

The Elder Tissa urged the other monks to practise meditation diligently, then went to sleep. When they came into the monastery to rest, he woke up and chased them out to practise some more.

They got no sleep, and were disgusted when they watched him and found out what he was doing. The Buddha advised instructors to act as they instruct others.

Self is One’s Refuge

4. Attā hi attano nātho, ko hi nātho paro siyā
Attanā’va sudantena, nāthaṁ labhati dullabhaṁ.

4. Oneself is one’s own refuge, what other refuge could there be? With
oneself well controlled one obtains a refuge hard to gain.

The Mother of Kumāra Kassapa

She was the daughter of a millionaire in Rājagaha, and as soon as she was old enough to think for herself, she asked to go forth as a nun.

Her parents refused, and she was married as soon as she was old enough. While living with her husband, she soon got pregnant, but didn’t know it. With his permission, she went forth as a nun.

When the nuns found out that she was pregnant, they took her to Devadatta, who was their teacher. He wanted to expel her, but she begged the nuns to take her to the Teacher.

The Buddha summoned King Pasenadi, Anāthapiṇḍika and his son, and Vesākhā, and gave instructions to the Vinaya master, Venerable Upāli, to clear the nun of any blame.

Visākhā drew a curtain around her, and examined her, computing the days and months since her going forth to establish her innocence. The Venerable Upāli announced her innocence in the assembly.

She gave birth to a son, and King Pasenadi adopted him. Having come of age, the boy learned who his mother was, and at once asked to became a novice, and was granted the going forth.

After becoming a full bhikkhu, he obtained a meditation object from the Teacher, and retired to the Blind Man’s Grove, where he attained Arahantship.

The nun could not give up her affection for her son. One day she met him on the street going for alms. She approached him with affection, but he spoke harshly to her.

She abandoned her affection towards him and attained Arahantship. Hearing of her realisation the Buddha explained that the best refuge is oneself.

By Oneself is Evil Done

5. Attanā hi kataṁ pāpaṁ, attajaṁ attasambhavaṁ
Abhimatthati dummedhaṁ,
vajiraṁ v’asmamayaṁ maṇiṁ.

5. By oneself is evil done; it is self-born, it is self-caused.
Evil grinds the unwise as a diamond grinds a hard gem.
See the Vammika Sutta, Majjhimanikāya, Sutta

The Lay Disciple Mahākāḷa
This devout layman, having listened to the Dhamma throughout the night, was washing his face at the monastery’s pond in the morning.

At that time, a thief who was being pursued, threw his stolen goods near him and fled. The owners, mistaking Mahākāḷa for the thief, beat him to death.

When the young monks found his dead body, and reported it to the Buddha, they said that he did not deserve to die like that. The Buddha explained that it was due to his past evil kamma.

The Soldier and the Beautiful Wife

The king of Benares posted a soldier at a frontier town, with orders to escort travellers through a forest where there were robbers.

One day, a man and his wife arrived. On seeing the man’s wife, the soldier fell in love with her at first sight. In spite of the man’s protests, he had the carriage turned back, and arranged for them to be lodged for the night.

During the night, the soldier hid a precious jewel in the travellers’ carriage, and made a noise as if thieves had broken in. In the morning he ‘discovered’ the theft, and sent his men to search for the thieves.

When the man and his wife left in the morning, their carriage was searched, the gem discovered, and the headman of the village had the man led away and beaten to death.

After the soldier died, he was reborn in hell, and during the Buddha’s time he was reborn as Mahākāḷa.

Having told this story of Mahākāḷa’s past life, the Buddha uttered the above

The Corrupt Ruin Themselves

6. Yassa accantadussīlyaṁ, māluvā sālam iv’otataṁ
Karoti so tathattānaṁ, yathā naṁ icchatī diso.

6. He who is exceedingly corrupt, like a māluvā creeper strangling a sal tree, does to himself just what an enemy would wish.

The Elder Devadatta

The Buddha uttered the above verse concerning the evil nature of the Elder Devadatta, who had made several unsuccessful attempts to kill Him.

Evil is Easy to Do

7. Sukarāni asādhūni, attano ahitāni ca
Yaṁ ’ve hitañca sādhuñca, taṁ ve paramadukkaraṁ.

7. Easy to do are things that are harmful to oneself,
but to do what is beneficial and good is very difficult.

Devadatta Creates A Schism

While he was walking for alms in Rājagaha, the Venerable Ānanda met Devadatta, who announced that he would perform the Pāṭimokkha separately. When Venerable Ānanda reported this to the Buddha, he uttered the above verse.

Do Not Scorn the Noble

8. Yo sāsanaṁ arahataṁ, ariyānaṁ dhammajīvinaṁ
Paṭikkosati dummedho, diṭṭhiṁ nissāya pāpikaṁ
Phalāni kaṭṭhakass’eva, attaghātāya phallati.

8. The stupid man, who, on account of false views,
scorns the teaching of the Arahants, the Nobles, and the Righteous,
ripens like the fruit of the Kāṣṭhā reed, only for his own destruction.

The Elder Kāla

The elder tried to dissuade his supporter from hearing the Dhamma from the Buddha, fearing that she would no longer take care of his needs. In spite of his attempts the woman went to see the Buddha.

Hearing about this from her daughter he went to the Buddha and suggested that he modify his sermon and preach on charity and morality, as the woman was too stupid to understand anything more profound. The Buddha, knowing his evil intention, uttered the above verse.

Purity and Impurity Depend on Oneself

9. Attanā hi kataṁ pāpaṁ, attanā saṁkilissati
Attanā akataṁ pāpaṁ, attanā’va visujjhati
Suddhi asuddhi paccattaṁ, n’āñño aññaṁ visodhaye.

9. By oneself is evil done; by oneself is one defiled.
By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself is one purified.
Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another.

The Lay Disciple Cūḷakāḷa

A devout layman, having listened to the doctrine throughout the night, set out on the road to Sāvatthī.

At that moment, a thief, who was being pursued, threw his stolen goods near him and fled. The owners of the goods beat him, thinking that he was the thief.

Some prostitutes who were passing that way, saved him. He went and told the monks what had happened. When the monks told him about this, the Buddha uttered the above verse.

Strive for Your Spiritual Welfare

10. Attadatthaṁ paratthena, bahunā’pi na hāpaye
Attadattham abhiññāya, sadatthapasuto siyā.

10. For the sake of others’ welfare, however great, let one not neglect one’s own welfare. Clearly perceiving one’s own welfare, let one be intent on one’s own goal.

The Elder Attadattha

After the Buddha announced that he would pass away within four months, his disciples flocked from far and near to pay their last respects.

Instead of joining them, a certain elder retired to his cell and meditated diligently. The other monks reported this to the Buddha.

When asked about his conduct, the elder replied. “Lord, as you would be passing away soon I thought the best way to honour you would be by attaining Arahantship during your lifetime itself.”

The Buddha praised him for his exemplary conduct and remarked that one’s own spiritual welfare should not be neglected for the sake of others.