Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 182:
kiccho manussapaṭilābho kicchaṃ macchāna jīvitaṃ |
kicchaṃ saddhammasavanaṃ kiccho buddhānaṃ uppādo || 182 ||
182. Human birth is hard to gain, hard for mortals is their life, to come to Dhamma True is hard, rare the Buddhas’ arising.
The Story of Erakapatta the Nāga King
While residing near Bārānasī the Buddha spoke this verse, with reference to Erakapatta, a king of the nāgas.
Once there was a nāga king by the name of Erakapatta. In one of his past existences during the time of Kassapa Buddha he had been a monk for a long time. Through worry over a minor offence he had committed during that time, he was reborn as a nāga. As a nāga, he waited for the appearance of a Buddha. Erakapatta had a very beautiful daughter, and he made use of her as a means of finding the Buddha. He made it known that whoever could answer her questions could claim her for a wife. Twice every month, Erakapatta made her dance in the open and sing out her questions. Many suitors came to answer her questions hoping to claim her, but no one could give the correct answer.
One day, the Buddha saw a youth named Uttara in his vision. He also knew that the youth would attain sotāpatti fruition in connection with the questions put by the daughter of Erakapatta the nāga. By then the youth was already on his way to see Erakapatta’s daughter. The Buddha stopped him and taught him how to answer the questions. While he was being taught, Uttara attained sotāpatti fruition. Now that Uttara had attained sotāpatti fruition, he had no desire for the nāga princess. However, Uttara still went to answer the questions for the benefit of numerous other beings.
The first four questions were: (1) Who is a ruler? (2) Is one who is overwhelmed by the mist of moral defilements to be called a ruler? (3) What ruler is free from moral defilements? (4) What sort of person is to be called a fool?
The answers to the above questions were: (1) He who controls the six senses is a ruler. (2) One who is overwhelmed by the mist of moral defilements is not to be called a ruler; he who is free from craving is called a ruler. (3) The ruler who is free from craving is free from moral defilements. (4) A person who seeks for sensual pleasures is called a fool.
Having had the correct answers to the above, the nāga princess sang out questions regarding the floods (oghas) of sensual desire, of renewed existence, of false doctrine and of ignorance, and how they could be overcome. Uttara answered these questions as taught by the Buddha. When Erakapatta heard these answers he knew that a Buddha had appeared in this world. So he asked Uttara to take him to the Buddha. On seeing the Buddha, Erakapatta related to the Buddha how he had been a monk during the time of Kassapa Buddha, how he had accidentally caused a grass blade to be broken off while travelling in a boat, and how he had worried over that little offence for having failed to do the act of exoneration as prescribed, and finally how he was reborn as a nāga. After hearing him, the Buddha told him how difficult it was to be born in the human world, and to be born during the appearance of the Buddhas or during the time of their teaching.
Explanatory Translation (Verse 182)
manussa paṭilābho kiccho maccāna jīvitaṃ kicchaṃ
saddhamma savanaṃ kicchaṃ buddhānaṃ uppādo kiccho
manussa paṭilābho [paṭilābha]: winning human existence; kiccho [kiccha]: (is) difficult; maccāna: of mortals; jevitaṃ [jevita]: life; kicchaṃ [kiccha]: (is) difficult; saddhamma savanaṃ [savana]: hearing the Dhamma; kicchaṃ [kiccha]: (is) difficult; Buddhānaṃ uppādo [uppāda]: the birth of the Buddha; kiccho [kiccha]: is difficult and rare
It is rarely that one is born as a human being, in this cycle of rebirth. It is difficult and rare to get the opportunity to hear the good teaching. It is, indeed, rare for the birth of a Buddha to occur.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 182)
maccāna jīvitaṃ: life of a mortal. The word macca (mortal) is applied to a human being because he is subject to death. All forms of life are subject to death. But the term macca is especially significant to human beings; because, of all animals, the human beings are the only ones that can become aware of the inevitability of death.