Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Introduction to 1.4.1
Rohinītherīgāthā - That is Why They are so Dear to Me
Nānākulā pabbajitā, nānājanapadehi ca;
Aññamaññaṃ piyāyanti, tena me samaṇā piyā1
From different families they have renounced the world,
And come from different places,
They love and respect each other in highest esteem:
That is why they are dear to me!
The world is fortunate to encounter the second sāsana of the Buddha Gotama’s teaching (or the second half of this very sāsana). While it seems that during the lifetime of Gotama his teaching spread more among the monks, who had ripened pāramī2 and could thus quickly realise liberation, today under the current circumstances it is the householders that are attracted. Even so this rousing verse resonates with the experience that many meditators around the world have. As a meditator, or especially a Dhamma server joining different courses in various centres around the world, one is bound to meet some comrades on the path whom one has met in past courses. The deep feelings of empathy, friendship in Dhamma, mutual understanding and recollection of previous encounters that reverberate in these verses are a common thrilling and joyful experience to many. The Buddha at one time pointed this out to Ananda by calling it ‘beneficial friendship on the path’ (kalyāṇamitta), and pointing to its importance he stated:3
Sakalamevidaṃ, ānanda, brahmacariyaṃ, yadidaṃ– kalyāṇamittatā kalyāṇasahāyatā kalyāṇasampavaṅkatā.4
Having virtuous people as friends, companions and colleagues is actually the whole of the holy life.
The selection of verses chosen for this current lesson introduces one more book of the Pāli Canon, from the collection of the Khuddakanikāya, called Theragāthāpāḷi and Therīgāthāpāḷi. Thera means senior monks and Therī means senior nuns; the collection reports about their respective aspirations, experiences (of enlightenment) and exclamations of joy that were mostly uttered in verses. Together with the Apadāna this compilation of texts gives some hint about the joy and delight expressed by those who have reached the various stages of liberation, but also about the arduous and vigorous work undertaken to reach those goals. These current verses are exemplary and taken from the Therīgāthā, a collection of jubilant exclamations uttered by the nuns.
One selection refers to a lady named Rohinī, whose father, a rich Brahmin of Vesālī, was repeatedly displeased with her benevolence towards the Bhikkhus when she was a young girl. Filled with prejudices and quite biased with a common view about monks being lazy and dependent on others, he often articulated his disagreement and pointed out the faults of these ascetics. He did so in verses that kept on asking Rohinī: “Why are those Samaṇas so dear to you?” (Kena te samaṇā piyā?). Rohinī then took on a phrase — turning the interrogative pronoun kena into the demonstrative tena — enlisting all the qualities of the monks that she felt were inspiring. Thus after each verse she concluded with: “That is why those Samaṇas are so dear to me!” (Tena me samaṇā piyā!).
Therefore, seeing a good opportunity to reveal and praise the good qualities of their noble conduct, she recited the stirring stanzas represented in this lesson. In addition to the inspiring description of the qualities of the monks, a play on words (akammakāmā alasā turning into kammakāmā analasā) shows the beauty of the Pāli language.
After Rohinī had extolled the qualities of the Bhikkhus to her father, he expressed his pride in having such a daughter and called her a shining example for their family. He then finally himself took refuge with the following words.
Upehi saraṇaṃ buddhaṃ, dhammaṃ saṅghañca tādinaṃ; samādiyāhi sīlāni, taṃ me atthāya hehiti!5
To the Buddha I go for refuge, to the Dhamma and to the Saṅgha. I undertake the rules of moral conduct, this will be to my gain!
2. pāramī or pāramitā: perfection, completeness is an (post-canonical) expression describing the qualities of a person who walks the path. The necessary completeness refers to ten special qualities that need to be developed and perfected which are: sīla, nekkhamma, viriya, khanti, sacca, adhiṭṭhāna, paññā, upekhā, mettā, dāna.
4. kalyāṇamittatā: kalyāṇa + mittatā — wholesome, beneficial + friendship, friendship with the virtuous; kalyāṇasahāyatā: companionship with the virtuous; kalyāṇasampavaṅkatā: being colleagues of the virtuous.
5. hehiti: bhavati (fut.): it will be.