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Therigatha

Therīgāthā 16.1
The Verses of Arahant Nun Sumedhā (447-521)

This Arahant Nun gave up power and wealth to follow the Supreme Buddha's teachings.

447. In the city of Mantāvatī, the daughter of King Koñca’s chief queen was named Sumedhā. She was confident in the Buddha’s path.

448. She was virtuous and her speech was sweet. She had memorized much Dhamma and was disciplined in the Buddha’s path. One day, she went up to her mother and father and said: “Both of you, please listen to me.”

449. I only delight in ultimate freedom. Even heavenly rebirth is not eternal, not to speak of human sensual pleasures. They are base, give little enjoyment, and come with much suffering.

450. Foolish people are intoxicated with sensual pleasures. But they are bitter, like a snake’s poison. Chasing after sensual pleasures, those foolish people fall into hell and suffer for a long, long time.

451. Gaining knowledge that leads to harm, foolish people commit evil by body, speech, and mind. Then they fall into hell and sorrow greatly.

452. Those foolish people are unwise and are unable to think properly. They are enveloped in the arising of suffering and even if they are taught the Noble Truths they do not understand and realize them.

453. My dear mother, the majority of people in this world don’t know the Four Noble Truths taught by the excellent Buddha. They long only for rebirth in heaven.

454. Everything included in existence is impermanent. Even rebirth among gods is non-eternal. But foolish people are not afraid of being reborn again and again.

455. For the most part, beings are reborn in the four planes of misery. Rebirth in the human and heavenly worlds is gained with much difficulty, but there is no living of the nun’s life at all for those who have been born in planes of misery.

456. Therefore I ask that both of you give me your permission to become a nun in the path of the Buddha who possesses the ten powers. I will strive very hard for the elimination of birth and death.

457. What good will come to me by delighting in this existence? This body is indeed unsubstantial. I shall become a nun to achieve the cessation of the craving for existence. Please give me your permission.

458. A Buddha has appeared into the world in this era that we live in. I have avoided the occasions where I would have lost the opportunity of realizing the Dhamma. The moment when one should realize the Dhamma has been obtained by me. I will protect my virtuous and celibate life as long as I live.

459. Sumedhā spoke further to her mother and father and said, “If you don’t permit me to become a nun, I will starve myself to death.”

460. Feeling much pain, her mother started to cry. Her father, also full of tears, sought to dissuade Sumedhā as she lay on the mansion floor. Her father tried to arouse a desire in her to live the household life again.

461. [King:] “My dear daughter, please stand up! What benefit will you gain by being sad? Besides, you have been given in marriage to King Anīkadatta in the city of Vāraṇavatī. And most importantly, he is very handsome. You have been betrothed to him.

462. Once you become the wife of King Anīkadatta, you will be the chief queen. But, oh Daughter, protecting precepts, living a celibate life, and being a nun are difficult things to do.

463. With royal power you will be able to give orders. You will have authority over the family and wealth. All the enjoyments in the palace will be yours. Daughter, you are still young, enjoy sensual pleasures and let your marriage take place!”

464-65. Sumedhā spoke to them and said: “I don’t need anything that’s part of this unsubstantial existence! Either I will become a nun or die! There will be no marriage!”

465. This impure body is filthy, foul smelling, frightful, a heap of disgusting things, always oozing, and is like a bag filled with excrement. How can I enjoy such a filthy body?

466. This body, smeared with flesh and blood, is repulsive. I have realized the true nature of this body. It is a resort for worms, and food for vultures and other birds. To whom should I give such a body in marriage?

468. In the cemetery, this body will become food for dogs and wolves. After having thrown away this body in the cemetery, the mother and father of that person, disgusted with the dead body, bathe themselves. This is the unfortunate destiny of everybody.

469. The body is bound together with bones and tendons. It is filled with saliva, tears, excrement, and urine, but foolish people are attached to the body.

470. If anyone, dissecting it, were to turn this body inside out, even one’s own mother, being unable to bear the foul smell of it, would be disgusted.

471. I am reflecting on the true nature of the five groups of clinging, the four elements, the six sense bases, things dependently arisen, and the suffering arisen from birth. While reflecting in this way, how can I wish for marriage?

472. The Buddha taught the simile that a person strikes another person with three hundred spears a day and in the end he guarantees the Dhamma realization to that person. Let me be struck by three hundred iron spears every day. Even if the striking lasts a hundred years, it would better for me if this was the way to the end of suffering.

473. In this way, even when one knows the words of the Great Teacher, if one delights in this tragedy of aging and death, one has to be born again and again. In this way their journey of misery gets prolonged.

474. Immeasurable suffering is seen in heaven, the human world, the animal world, the titan world, the ghost world, and hell.

475. If one falls into hell, the animal world, the titan world, and the ghost world, one has to suffer immensely. One doesn’t have protection even among the gods; therefore there is nothing superior to the happiness of Nibbāna.

476. But those who follow the instruction of the ten-powered Buddha and strive for the elimination of birth and death can attain ultimate freedom, Nibbāna.

477. Dear father, this very day I will renounce the household life; what have I to do with this unsubstantial wealth? I gave up these sensual pleasures as if vomiting something up. I made my desire extinct, like a palm tree that has been cut down.

478. In this way she spoke to her father. In the meantime, King Anīkadatta, to whom she was promised, left the city of Vāranavati for the wedding.

479. Inside her room, Sumedhā cut off her soft, rich, black hair with a sword. With the door closed, she started meditating and reached the first meditative absorption.

480. She entered the jhāna well. King Anīkadatta arrived at the city of Mantāvatī. Sitting in the mansion, Sumedhā was skillfully developing the perception of impermanence.

481. While she was developing the perception of impermanence, King Anīkadatta, adorned with jewels and gold, quickly entered the mansion. Placing his hands together worshipping, he begged Sumedhā:

482. The authority, wealth, and all the enjoyments of the kingdom belong to you. You are still young. Enjoy sensual pleasures. In this world, happiness from sensual pleasures is hard to obtain.

483. Even rulership has been offered to you. Enjoy sensual pleasures and offer alms. Don’t be depressed. Your mother and father are in great pain.

484. Sumedhā replied to him saying, “I have nothing to do with sensual pleasures. I am not deluded with them anymore. I tell you this: do not delight in sensual pleasures. See the danger in sensual pleasures.

485. Once in the past, there was a wheel-turning monarch named Mandhātu. He ruled over the four great continents. He was the foremost of those who enjoyed sensual pleasures. Even he died unsatisfied with his wishes unfulfilled.

486. Even if the seven-jewels-great-rain falls all around in the ten directions, still, there won’t be satisfaction with sensual pleasures; indeed people die unsatisfied.

487. Sensual pleasures are like a butcher’s knife and a heap of meat. Sensual pleasures are like a snake’s head, they are like volcanoes, and they are like a bony skeleton.

488. Sensual pleasures are impermanent and unstable. They cause much suffering and are extremely painful. They are like a heated iron ball. Sensual pleasures are the root of all suffering. They have pain as the fruit.

489. Sensual pleasures are like the fruits of a tree being cut down. They are like lumps of flesh. They are painful. They are as if you were tricked in a dream. Sensual pleasures are like borrowed goods.

490. Sensual pleasures are like swords and sticks smeared with poison, like diseases, and are painful like a tumor. They take beings to death. They are dangerous like a charcoal pit. They are like an executioner.

491. In this way, sensual pleasures are said to cause much suffering, and are very dangerous. Therefore you may return home. I don’t believe that anything belonging to self is found in this repeated existence.

492. What can someone do for me when his own head is burning? When one is followed closely by old age and death, one must strive to end them.

493. I opened the door. I saw my mother, father, and King Anīkadatta seated on the ground crying. I said to them:

494. The beginning of this journey of misery cannot be discovered. When foolish people repeatedly cry at the time of their father’s death, at the tragedies of their brother, and at their own tragedies, this journey becomes prolonged for them.

495. In the long journey of repeated rebirth, recollect how many tears one has shed, the amount of mother’s milk one has drunk, and the amount of blood one has shed. Recollect the size of the heap of bones of those beings who are journeying on.

496. The Buddha asked us to compare the tears we have shed to the water of the great oceans and the same with the amount of milk we have drunk. The Buddha asked us to recollect the heap of bones of a person as equal to the size of the mountain Vepulla.

497. Again the Buddha asked us to recollect the simile of splitting up the great earth into little clay balls the size of berries and separating them, saying: “This ball represents my mother in this life, that ball represent my mother’s mother.” By this task, all the clay balls will be used up, but not the generations of mothers in this long journey of rebirth.

498. Also, the Buddha asked us to recollect the simile of splitting up all the trees, shrubs, and grass in this world into four-inch pieces and separate them, saying: “This piece represents my father in this life, that piece represents my father’s father.” By this task, all the pieces will be used up, but not the generations of fathers in this long journey of rebirth.

499. The Buddha asked us to recollect the simile of the blind turtle at the bottom of the great ocean who comes to the surface once every hundred years, puts its head through a small piece of wood with a hole in it and looks at the sky. Obtaining a human life is even more difficult.

500. The Buddha asked us to understand unsubstantial form as a lump of foam to understand the five groups of clinging as impermanent, and to recollect the immense suffering in hell.

501. He asked us to recollect how beings fill up the cemetery again and again as a result of being born in this life and that life. He asked us to recollect the greediness for food by comparing it to the simile of a person’s fear when going into the water with a crocodile. He asked us to reflect on the Four Noble Truths.

502. At a time when the Buddha’s Dhamma is available in the world, what is the point of chasing sensual pleasures? All the delights in sensual pleasures are extremely bitter.

503. At a time when the Buddha’s Dhamma is available in the world and it is obvious that sensual pleasures are like a burning fever, what is the point of chasing sensual pleasures? All delights in sensual pleasures are like fire, unsubstantial, agitating, and burning.

504. This nun-life and monk-life don’t bring enemies, but sensual pleasures bring many enemies. What use are sensual pleasures to you? Sensual pleasures are subject to destruction by kings, fire, thieves, floods, and undesirable people.

505. At a time when there is access to liberation, what is the use of sensual pleasures? Why do you create suffering, tragedies, and depression for yourself?

506. The grass torch burns the hand that grabs it, not the hand of the one who dropped it. Sensual pleasures are compared to a burning grass torch. As long as it is grabbed, it burns the holder.

507. Do not lose noble happiness for the sake of a little happiness from sensual pleasures! Do not suffer afterwards like a fish that has swallowed the hook!

508. Restrain your sense faculties from sensual pleasures. These beings have been bound by sensual pleasures like a dog that has been leashed by a chain. Like starving people slaughtering a dog, these sensual pleasures will do the same to you.

509. You are experiencing immeasurable pain and various distress of the mind due to your intoxication with sensual pleasures. Therefore, give up and abandon these sensual pleasures.

510. Wherever sensual pleasures exist, every birth and every existence is bound by old age, death, and sickness. At a time when unageing Nibbāna is available, what is the use of sensual pleasures?

511. Nibbāna is unageing and deathless. Nibbāna is the only base for the state of unageing and deathlessness. Nibbāna is the state that is devoid of sorrow, lamentation, obstructions, stains, fears, and depression.

512. Many attained deathless Nibbāna. Even today, if one reflects on the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha, one can attain Nibbāna. If one doesn’t strive one won’t attain it.

513. Sumedhā, not delighting in the conditioned world, spoke in this way. Getting the attention of King Anīkadatta, she threw her cut hair on the floor.

514. King Anīkadatta stood up with joined hands worshiping Sumedhā’s father and begged him, “Let Sumedhā become a nun. May she attain the unshakeable liberation, the Noble Truth.”

515. Her mother and father let her go. Frightened by sorrow and fear, Sumedhā became a nun. She attained the six supernormal knowledges while she was practicing the path as a trainee-nun. She attained the highest goal, liberation.

516. She started life as a princess, but now as a nun, her new experience of Nibbāna was an amazing and marvelous thing for her. In her last stage of life, through her ability to recollect past lives, she revealed the meritorious deeds that she had done in her previous lives.

517. “In the time of the Blessed One, Koṇāgamana, I built a monastery with my friends Dhananjāni and Khemā. We offered the monastery with its park and residence to the community of monks headed by the Buddha.

518. As a result of that merit, for ten times, one hundred times, a thousand times, and ten thousand times we were born among gods. What need is there to talk about rebirth among humans?

519. When we were among gods, we were very mighty and powerful. What need is there to talk about power when we were among humans? Once, I became the woman-jewel as the chief queen of the wheel-turning monarch who possessed seven jewels.

520. I gained all these wonders as a result of offering a monastery in the time of Koṇāgamana Buddha. That meritorious deed was the origin and that was the root. In this life, I experienced Nibbāna. Sumedhā, who delighted in the Dhamma, attained ultimate freedom.

521. Whoever places confirmed confidence in the words of the Buddha, who has incredible wisdom, and practices accordingly, will become disenchanted with everything included in existence. Having become disenchanted, they become liberated from everything.”

These verses were said by Arahant Nun Sumedhā.

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Therīgāthā 16.1: The Verses of Arahant Nun Sumedhā (447-521)

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