Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Ye sotavanto pamuñcantu saddhaṃ;1
‘Open for those are the doors of the deathless
Let those intend on hearing deliver their faith!’
This chapter is titled ‘dullabho2’ – ‘ so rare’ as it presents original texts where the Buddha himself indicates how rare it is to encounter the teaching of the Enlightened One, to hear the Dhamma –‘saddhammassavanaṃ’– and being able, because of this, to actually walk the path as so generously laid out by the Buddha. Therefore these lovely lines are chosen as introductory verses, introducing the language of the Dhammapada.
One of the intention of this ‘Exploring the Path’ (ETP) is to acquaint the reader with various texts from different sources in the Tipiṭaka. While the first lesson3 chose a sutta from the Itivuttaka the current verse is selected from the most famous and most often translated book, the Dhammapada4.
The Dhammapada expresses in its 432 verses in altogether 26 chapters succinctly the essence of the Buddha’s teaching in linguistic and poetical magnificence. Many verses likewise appear in different other texts as well and various verses will be quoted in this ETP.
This verse, the fourth of the Buddhavaggo was uttered by the Buddha to ease the despair of a king of dragons by the name of Erakapatta. This king had once in his previous life, in spite of persistent and unblemished efforts in his meditation, neglectfully broken a leaf of the Erakatree (hence his name: eraka – patta: leaf) when passing by boat on a river. Considering it a mere trifle5 he was therefore reborn as Erakapatta. Waiting during the entire, everlasting period of one Buddha for the next to arise, he asked his beautiful daughter to dance and sing every fortnight on uposatha-days. He was in this way presenting his daughter to any suitor by hoping that for one who would give the proper reply to a riddle she was singing. He knew that this riddle could only be solved by someone who had encountered the teaching of the Buddha.
Finally, after the appearance of Siddhattha, the Brahmin Uttara learned the correct replies to the riddle from the Buddha, was successful in his courtship and gained Erakapatta’s full approval for the bride. Full of inspiration, knowing that the next Buddha had now appeared Erakapatta went to Siddhattha and weepingly expressed his sadness that he had to wait so enduringly long for the next Buddha to appear. The Buddha tried to soothe him by stating the facts expressed in this stanza.
The term: ‘saddhammassavanaṃ’6 is a compound ‘saddhamma + savana’ and means ‘listening to the true, ‘existing’ Dhamma’. The term saddhamma can also be derived from saddhā and dhamma and contains the following seven saddhammas: saddha—faith, sati—awareness, hiri—sense of shame, otthappa—moral sense of guilt , bahusacca—ample learning, vīriya—diligence and paññā—wisdom. A person who desires to develop deeper in meditation should perfectly accomplish these seven saddhammas together with sīla and bhojhanamattaññutā—moderation in eating, jāgariyanuyoga—wakefulness and indriyasaṃvara— guarding the sense doors.7
1. Pāsarāsisuttaṃ, Opammavaggo, Mūlapaṇṇāsapāḷi, Majjhimanikāyo
It was after the Buddha was addressed by Brahma Sahampatti who requested him to teach the Dhamma to those who would be able to understand it! (see Introduction to 1.3.1 Saṅgāravasuttaṃ - The Questions of Saṅgāravo)
2. dullabho: du + l + labho: difficult + to gain, to achieve
4. For the purpose of this presentation the Pāli as presented in the Chatta Saṅghayana Tipiṭaka published by VRI is taken as base. ETP’s sole purpose is to stir readers to individual study of this ancient language to gain inspiration for practice. Especially the Dhammapada exists in manifold versions in different traditions with minor and major changes and in a great many translations and it is left to scholars here to discuss the origin and original version.
6. : sa +d+ dhamma: with true dhamma,
lit.: sant pr.p of atthi: —to be, existing—by the sandhi rules it develops into: sant –sat –sad + d + dhamma