Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 1.3.4
Catutthavaggo - The Few and the Many

The Catutthavaggo1 is one more selection from the Aṅguttaranikāyo as found in the chapter of Ekakanipātapāḷi — the collection of ‘one thing’ — Ekadhammapāḷi. This chapter is also termed Jambudīpapeyyālo because based on the first paragraph (appamattakaṃ imasmiṃ jambudīpe to khāṇukaṇṭakaṭṭhānaṃ pabbatavisamaṃ2) it provides various different similes comparing the few very delightful groves found in Jambudīpa with allegories that are likewise extremely rare. They all once again point to the rarity of those exceptionally few beings (appakā te sattā) that are born as human and not only encounter the teaching but also walk the path. Literally Jambudīpa refers to India: ‘land, country, island’ (dīpa) and of the ‘rose-apple-tree’ (jambu). It is considered a great privilege to be born in Jambudīpa, where Gotama the Buddha and all the Buddha’s of the past have arisen. Another name for India in the past was majjhima janapada or majjhimadesa (the middle land), probably located in the current northern Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and parts of Nepal.

When this lesson refers to the minority of beings who encounter the teaching and actually ‘practise in accordance with the Dhamma’ the term dhammānudhammaṃ paṭipajjanti is used. If translated literally it means ‘following (anu) the Dhamma in the Dhamma’: ‘practising and developing Dhamma according to Dhamma within’. According to the Buddha this is the accurate way of expressing one’s respect and veneration for the Enlightened One: Imāya dhammānudhamma paṭipattiyā buddham pūjemi (By following the Dhamma in the Dhamma I pay homage to the Buddha).

The very question of why the Buddha — in spite of his aspiration and arduous work over many aeons — hesitated to help others cross the shore, still distressed King Milinda five hundred years later. King Milinda is identified with the renowned and righteous Bactrian King Menander, who continued the dominion founded by Alexander the Great.3

Bhante nāgasena, tumhe bhaṇatha ‘tathāgatena catūhi ca asaṅkhyeyyehi kappānaṃ4 satasahassena ca etthantare sabbaññutañāṇaṃ paripācitaṃ mahato janakāyassa samuddharaṇāyā’ti.5 Puna ca ‘sabbaññutaṃ pattassa appossukkatāya6 cittaṃ nami, no dhammadesanāyā’ti. Ayampi ubhato koṭiko pañho gambhīro dunnibbeṭho7 tavānuppatto, so tayā nibbāhitabbo8’ti.

Venerable Nāgasena, you say on the one hand, that the Tathāgata worked for four asaṅkhyeyye and one hundred thousand kappā to realize omniscient wisdom in order to take a great number of beings safely across the shore. But on the other hand, you say, that after having realized omniscient wisdom he was reluctant to teach Dhamma. Either the one or the other must be false, not both can be true. This is a double-edged question for you, profound, difficult to unravel, that you will now have to solve!”

Yathā, mahārāja, bhisakko sallakatto anekabyādhiparipīḷitaṃ9 naraṃ upasaṅkamitvā evaṃ cintayati ‘kena nu kho upakkamena katamena vā bhesajjena imassa byādhi vūpasameyyā’ti, evameva kho, mahārāja, tathāgatassa sabbakilesabyādhiparipīḷitaṃ10 janaṃ dhammassa ca gambhīranipuṇaduddasaduranubodhasukhumaduppaṭivedhataṃ11 disvā ‘kiṃ nu kho, kathaṃ nu kho’ti appossukkatāya cittaṃ nami, no dhammadesanāya, sattānaṃ paṭivedhacintanamānasaṃ yevetaṃ.12

Just, great king, as a skilful physician having been called to a man suffering from manifold diseases will consider well, how to ease and treat those illnesses, in the same way, great king, the Tathāgata, considering on the one hand how profound, obscure subtle, intricate to grasp and difficult to penetrate the Dhamma was and on the other hand perceiving the beings, oppressed by suffering due to manifold impurities wonders: ‘Why should I? How should I?’ Reflecting on the mental ability of beings for deeper penetration, he was reluctant to teach Dhamma.

1. From the fourth sub-chapter Catutthavaggo.

2. See lesson for the meaning and vocabulary.

3. For a short note on Milindapañha, the questions that King Milinda asks the Venerable Nāgasena see previous lesson 1.3.3 Pāraṅgamasuttaṃ - The Going Beyond; and for more details refer to 3.7.0 Sīlalakkhaṇapañho - Proceeding further on the Path… (Right Effort).

4. One the duration of the terms asaṅkhyeyye and kappa see Introduction to 1.1.0 Bahujanahitasuttaṃ - For the Benefit of Many.

5. samuddharaṇāyā’ti: sam + uddharaṇa + ti — pulling out, lifting, raising + quote ending.

6. appossukkatāya: appa + ussukkatāya — little + energy, eagerness.

7. dunnibbeṭho: du + n + nibbeṭho — difficult + unwinding, unravelling.

8. nibbāhitabbo: nibbāhati (fut.pass.p.) — pull out, remove.

9. anekabyādhiparipīḷitaṃ: aneka + byādhi + paripīḷitaṃ — many + diseases + oppressed, vexed.

10. sabbakilesabyādhiparipīḷitaṃ: sabba + kilesa + byādhi + paripīḷitaṃ — many + impurities + diseases + oppressed, vexed.

11. gambhīranipuṇaduddasaduranubodhasukhumaduppaṭivedhataṃ: gambhīra + nipuṇa + du + d + dasa + du + r + anubodha + sukhuma + du + p + paṭivedha + taṃ — deep, profound + subtle, skilful + difficult + see + understanding, recognition + fine, subtle + difficult + penetration, comprehension.

12. Dhammadesanāya, Appossukkapañho, Meṇḍakapañho, Milindapañhapāḷi.

Last modified: Sunday, 20 August 2023, 11:31 AM