Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 160:
attā hi attano nātho kohi nātho paro siyā |
attan’āva sudantena nāthaṃ labhati dullabhaṃ || 160 ||
160. Oneself is refuge of oneself, who else indeed could refuge be? By good training of oneself one gains a refuge hard to gain.
The Story of the Mother of Kumārakassapa
While residing at the Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha spoke this verse, with reference to the mother of Kumārakassapa.
Once, a young married woman asked permission from her husband to become a nun. Through ignorance, she went to join some nuns who were the pupils of Devadatta. This young woman was pregnant before she became a nun, but she was not aware of the fact at that time. But in due course, the pregnancy became obvious and the other nuns took her to their teacher Devadatta. Devadatta ordered her to go back to the household life. She then said to the other nuns, “I have not intended to become a nun under your teacher Devadatta; I have come here by mistake. Please take me to the Jetavana Monastery, take me to the Buddha.” Thus, she came to the Buddha. The Buddha knew that she was pregnant before she became a nun and was therefore innocent; but he was not going to handle the case. The Buddha sent for King Pasenadi of Kosala, Anāthapiṇḍika, the famous rich man, and Visākhā, the famous donor of the Pubbārāma Monastery, and many other persons. He then told Elder Upāli to settle the case in public.
Visākhā took the young woman behind a curtain; she examined her and reported to Venerable Upāli that the woman was already pregnant when she became a nun. Venerable Upāli then declared to the audience that the woman was quite innocent and therefore had not soiled her morality (sīla). In due course, a son was born to her. The boy was adopted by King Pasenadi and was named Kumārakassapa. When the boy was seven years old, on learning that his mother was a nun, he also became a sāmanera under the tutelage of the Buddha. When he came of age he was admitted to the Sangha; as a monk, he took a meditation topic from the Buddha and went to the forest. There, he practiced meditation ardently and diligently and within a short time attained arahatship. However, he continued to live in the forest for twelve more years. Thus his mother had not seen him for twelve years and she longed to see her son very much. One day, seeing him, the mother nun ran after her son weeping and calling out his name. Seeing his mother, Kumārakassapa thought that if he were to speak pleasantly to his mother she would still be attached to him and her future would be ruined. So for the sake of her future (realization of Nibbāna) he was deliberately stern and spoke harshly to her: “How is it, that you, a member of the sangha, could not even cut off this affection for a son?” The mother thought that her son was very cruel to her, and she asked him what he meant. Kumārakassapa repeated what he had said before. On hearing his answer, the mother of Kumārakassapa reflected: “O yes, for twelve years I have shed tears for this son of mine. yet, he has spoken harshly to me. What is the use of my affection for him?” Then, the futility of her attachment to her son dawned upon her and then and there, she decided to cut off her attachment to her son. By cutting off her attachment entirely, the mother of Kumārakassapa attained arahatship on the same day. To them the Buddha said, “Monks! In trying to reach the devā world, or in trying to attain arahatship, you cannot depend on others, you must work hard on your own.”
attano attā hi nātho paro ko hi nātho siyā sudantena
attanā eva dullabhaṃ nāthaṃ labhati
attano [attana]: to one’s own self; attā hi: one’s own self; nātho [nātha]: is the saviour; paro ko hi: what other person; nātho siyā: will be (your) saviour; sudantena: well disciplined; attanā eva: one’s self only; dullabhaṃ [dullabha]: difficult (to be attained); nāthaṃ [nātha]: help; labhati: will receive
The saviour of one’s self is one’s own self. What other person could be your saviour? This is a difficult kind of help–being your own saviour. It can be achieved only through self-discipline.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 160)
Venerable Kumārakassapa: Kumārakassapa took to a monk’s life with the consent of the king. He retreated to a forest known as Andhavana. There he listened to a sermon on the Ant Hill allegory. To Kumārakassapa, the sermon was a revelation. The ideal that was before him for one hundred thousand æons (kalpās) was at last realized. The wealth of meaning unfolded by the sermon gave realization to Nibbāna that so long eluded his grasp. The bewildering variety of imagery fascinated him who through the ages was pining to be skilled in dialectics, the Buddha Padumuttara’s prophecy has come true, as with the prophecies of all other Buddhas. Kumārakassapa had no equal among his peers for dialectical oratory.