Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 115:
yo ca vassasataṃ jīve apassaṃ dhammamuttamaṃ |
ekā’haṃ jīvitaṃ seyyo passato dhammamuttamaṃ || 115 ||
115. Though one should live a hundred years not seeing Dhamma Supreme, yet better is life for a single day seeing Dhamma Supreme.
The Story of Nun Bahūputtika
While residing at the Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha spoke this verse, with reference to Bahūputtika, a mother of many children.
Once in Sāvatthi, there lived a couple, with their seven sons and seven daughters. All the children got married and the family was doing quite well. Then, the father died and the mother kept all the property without giving anything to the children. Her sons and daughters wanted the inheritance, so they said to their mother, “What benefit do we get from our property? Can’t we make it multiply? Can’t we look after our mother?” They said such things again and again so their mother thought that her children would look after her, and she finally divided up the property without leaving anything for herself.
After a few days had passed, the wife of her oldest son said to her, “Apparently this is the only house our excellent mother visits; she acts as though she had given both parts of her estate to her oldest son.” In like manner did the wives of her other sons address her. So likewise did her daughters address her whenever she entered their houses, from the oldest to the youngest. With such disrespect was she treated that finally she said to herself, “Why should I live with them any longer? I will enter the Sangha and live the life of a nun.” So she went to the nuns’ convent and asked to be admitted to the Sangha. They received her into the Sangha, and when she had made it her full profession she went by the name of Bahūputtika the nun because she was the mother of many children.
“Since I have entered the Sangha in old age,” thought she, as she performed the major and minor duties assigned to nuns, “it behoves me to be heedful; I will therefore spend the whole night in meditation.” On the lower terrace, putting her hand on a pillar, she guided her steps thereby and meditated. Even as she walked along, fearful that in the dark places she might strike her head against a tree or against some other object, she put her hand on a tree and guided her steps thereby, and meditated. Resolved to observe only the Dhamma taught by the Buddha, she considered the Dhamma and pondered the Dhamma and meditated.
The Buddha, seated in the perfumed chamber, sent forth a radiant image of himself, and sitting as it were face to face with her, talked with her, saying, “Bahūputtika, it is better that one lives only for a moment seeing the Dhamma I have taught than to live a hundred years without seeing what I taught.”
Explanatory Translation (Verse 115)
uttamaṃ dhammaṃ apassaṃ yo ca vassasataṃ jīve
uttamaṃ dhammaṃ passato ekāhaṃ jīvitaṃ seyyo
uttamaṃ dhammaṃ [dhamma]: the Supreme Teaching of the Buddha (the noblest of doctrines); apassaṃ [apassa]: who does not perceive; yo ca: if some person; vassasataṃ jīve: were to live a hundred years; uttamaṃ dhammaṃ [dhamma]: the Supreme Teaching of the Buddha (the noblest of doctrines); passato [passata]: the seer’s; ekāhaṃ [ekāha]: one day’s; jīvitaṃ [jīvita]: life; seyyo [seyya]: is nobler.
A single day’s life of a seer of the Noble Teaching of the Buddha is by far greater than the life of a hundred years of a person who does not see the Noblest Teaching.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 115)
Dhammaṃ Uttamaṃ: the Noblest of the Noble–Teaching of the Buddha. Dhamma, the Teaching of the Buddha, is the way to transcend the world. The Dhamma is described as nine-fold: the four paths, four fruits and Nibbāna–(the deathless).