Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 21-23:
appamādo amatapadaṃ pamādo maccuno padaṃ |
appamattā na mīyanti ye pamattā yathā matā || 21 ||
etaṃ visesato ñatvā appamādamhi paṇḍitā |
appamāde pamodanti ariyānaṃ gocare ratā || 22 ||
te jhāyino sātatikā niccaṃ daḷhaparakkamā |
phusanti dhīrā nibbāṇaṃ yogakkhemaṃ anuttaraṃ || 23 ||
21. Heedfulness is the Deathless path, heedlessness, the path to death. Those who are heedful do not die, heedless ones are like the dead.
22. The wise then, recognising this as the distinction of heedfulness, pleased with the spheres of Noble Ones, in heedfulness rejoice.
23. They meditate persistently, constantly they firmly strive, the steadfast to Nibbāna reach, the Unexcelled, Secure from bonds.
The Story of Sāmāvati
While residing at the Ghosita Monastery near Kosambi, the Buddha spoke these verses, with reference to Sāmāvati, one of the chief queens of Udena, king of Kosamby.
There lived in the city of Bhaddāvati a treasurer named Bhaddavatiya, and he was a friend of the treasurer Ghosaka, although Ghosaka had never seen him. For the treasurer Ghosaka heard, from traders who came from the city of Bhaddāvati, of the wealth and age of the treasurer Bhaddavatiya, and desiring to be friends with him, sent him a present. Thus, although neither had seen the other, they dwelt as friends.
After a time, an intestinal disease broke out in the house of the treasurer Bhaddavatiya. When this disease breaks out, the first to die are flies;afterwards, in regular order, insects, mice, domestic fowls, swine, cattle, slaves both female and male, and last of all the members of the household. Only those that break down the wall and flee, save their lives. Now at that time the treasurer Bhaddavatiya and his wife and daughter fled in this manner, and intending to seek the treasurer Ghosaka, set out on the road to Kosambi. While they were still on their way, their provisions for the journey gave out, and their bodies became exhausted from exposure to wind and sun, and from hunger and thirst. Reaching Kosambi with difficulty, they bathed in a pool of water in a pleasant place and then entered a certain rest house at the gate of the city.
Then the treasurer said to his wife, “Wife, those who travel this way are not courteous even to a mother who has borne a child. Now I have a friend who, they say, dispenses a thousand pieces of money daily in alms to the blind, the poor, and other unfortunate persons. We will send our daughter there, have her bring us food, remain right here for a day or two and refresh our bodies, and then we will go and see my friend.” “Very well, husband,” she replied, and they took up their residence right there in the rest house.
On the following day, when meal-time was announced and the blind, the poor, and other unfortunate persons went to obtain food, the mother and father sent forth their daughter, saying, “Daughter, go bring us food.” So the daughter of a wealthy house, pride overcome with misfortune, hid her shame, took a bowl, and went to the poor folk to procure food. “How many portions will you have?” she was asked. “Three,” she replied. So they gave her three portions. She carried the food back to her parents, and the three sat down to eat together. The mother and daughter said to the treasurer, “Master, misfortune comes even to prominent families. Eat without regarding us and do not worry.” After a good deal of urging, they prevailed upon him to eat. But after he had eaten, he was unable to digest his food, and when the sun rose, he died. The mother and daughter wept, wailed, and lamented.
On the following day the young girl went the second time for food. “How many portions will you have?” “Two.” She carried the food back to her mother, and after a good deal of urging, prevailed upon her to eat. The mother yielded to her pleading and consented to eat, but died on that very day. The young girl, left alone to herself, wept, wailed and lamented over the misfortune that had come upon her. On the following day, suffering the pangs of hunger keenly, she went weeping in the company of beggars to procure food. “How many portions will you have, daughter?” “One,” was her reply.
A householder named Mittā, remembering that she had received food for three days, said to her, “Perish, vile woman. Today, at last, you have come to know the capacity of your belly.” This daughter of a respectable family, modest and timid, felt as though she had received a sword-thrust in her bosom, or as though salt water had been sprinkled on a sore. She immediately replied, “What do you mean, sir?” “The day before yesterday you took three portions, yesterday two, today you take but one. Today, then, you know the capacity of your belly.” “Sir, do not think that I took these for myself.” “Why then did you take them?” “Sir, the day before yesterday we were three, yesterday we were two, today I am left alone.” “How is that?” he inquired.
She then told him the whole story from the beginning. As he listened to her story, he was unable to control his tears, but was overcome by the power of the grief that arose within him. Finally he said to her, “My dear girl, if this is the case, do not worry. Hitherto you have been the daughter of the treasurer Bhaddavatiya, but from this day forth you shall be my very own daughter.” And he kissed her on the head, conducted her to his own house, and adopted her as his own oldest daughter.
One day she heard loud and piercing screams in the refectory, whereupon she said to her foster-father, “Father, why do you not keep these people quiet when you dispense alms?” “It is impossible to do it, dear daughter.” “Father, it is quite possible.” “How would you do it, dear daughter?” “Father, put a fence around the refectory and hang two gates through which the people may pass in and out, allowing only sufficient space for one person to pass through at a time. Then direct the people to pass in through one gate and out through the other. If you do this, they will receive their alms peaceably and quietly.” When the householder had heard her plan he remarked, “A happy device, dear daughter,” and did as she suggested. Now up to that time her name had been Sāmā, but through her construction of a fence she received, the name Sāmāvati. From that time on there was no more tumult in the refectory.
Now the treasurer Ghosaka had long been accustomed to hear this noise in the refectory and rather liked to hear it; for it always made him think, “That is the noise in my refectory.” But after hearing no noise at all for two or three days, he asked the householder Mittā, who came one day to wait upon him, “Are alms being given to the blind, the poor, and other unfortunate persons?” “Yes sir.” “How then does it happen that for two or three days past I have not heard a sound?” I have arranged matters so that the people now received alms without making any noise.” “Why didn’t you do so before?” “I didn’t know how, sir.” “How did you happen to find a way just now?” “My daughter told me how to do it, sir.” “Have you a daughter whom I have never seen?” Then the householder told him the whole story of the treasurer Bhaddavatiya, beginning with the outbreak of the plague and ending with his adoption of the young girl as his own oldest daughter.
Then said the treasurer to him, “If this is the case, why did you not tell me? My friend’s daughter is my own daughter.” So he sent for her and asked her, “Dear girl, are you the daughter of the treasurer?” “Yes, sir, I am.” “Well then, do not worry; you are my own daughter.” Then he kissed her on the head, gave her five hundred women for her retinue, and adopted her as his own oldest daughter.
One day a festival was proclaimed in this city. Now at this festival daughters of respectable families, who do not ordinarily go out, go on foot with their own retinue and bathe in the river. Accordingly on that day Sāmāvati also, accompanied by her five hundred women, went right through the palace court to bathe in the river. King Udena stood at his window and saw her. “Whose are those playful girls?” he inquired. “Nobody’s playful girls, your majesty.” “Then whose daughters are they?” “Your majesty, that is the daughter of the treasurer Bhaddavatiya, and her name is Sāmāvati.” Then the king conducted Sāmāvati and her retinue to the royal palace and elevated her to the dignity of Queen Consort.
Still another maiden gained the dignity of chief consort of the king. She was Māgandiya who had once been rejected by the Buddha when her father sought the Buddha as husband for her. After she became chief consort she found that the other chief consort Sāmāvati was an ardent follower of the Buddha. She planned to take her revenge on the Buddha and to harm Sāmāvati and her maids. Māgandiya told the king that Sāmāvati and her maids had made holes in the walls of their living quarters and were being unfaithful to him. King Udena saw the holes in the walls, but when the matter was explained to him he did not get angry.
Māgandiya kept on trying to make the king believe that Sāmāvati was trying to kill him. Once, Māgandiya inserted a snake into a lute and covered the hole with a bunch of flowers. The snake came out hissing. The king was furious. He commanded Sāmāvati to stand and all her ladies to line up behind her. Then he fitted his bow with an arrow dipped in poison and shot the arrow. But Sāmāvati and her ladies bore no ill towards the king and through the power of goodwill, the arrow did not hit the target. The king realised the innocence of Sāmāvati and he gave her permission to invite the Buddha and his disciples to the palace for almsgiving and religious discourses.
Māgandiya, realising that none of her plots had materialised, made a final, infallible plan. She sent a message to her uncle with full instructions to go to Sāmāvati’s palace and burn down the building with all the women inside. Sāmāvati and her maids-of-honor, being advanced in spiritual attainment, continued to meditate in spite of the danger. All perished in the fire.
The king suspected that it was done at the instigation of Māgandiya but he did not show that he was suspicious. Instead, the king pretended to be very pleased with her and said that he would grant her a great favour, and honour all her relatives. So, the relatives were sent for and they came gladly. On arrival at the palace, all of them, including Māgandiya, were seized and put to death in the palace courtyard.
When the Buddha was told about these two incidents, he said that those who are mindful do not die; but those who are negligent are as dead even while living.
Explanatory Translation (Verse 21)
appamādo amatapadaṃ pamādo maccuno padaṃ
appamattā na mīyanti ye pamattā yathā matā
appamādo [appamāda]: sanity; amatapadaṃ [amatapada]: is the path to deathlessness; pamādo [pamāda]: insanity; maccuno padaṃ [pada]: is the path to death; appamattā: those who are sane; na mīyanti: do not die; ye: those who; pamattā: are insane; matā yathā: (they are) like the dead.
The path to the Deathless is the perpetual awareness of experience. The deathless does not imply a physical state where the body does not die. When an individual becomes totally aware of the processes of experiencing, he is freed from the continuity of existence. Those who do not have that awareness are like the dead, even if they are physically alive.
Explanatory Translation (Verse 22)
jhāyino sātatikā niccaṃ dalhaparakkamā te dīhrā
yogakkhemaṃ anuttaraṃ nibbānaṃ phusanti
jhāyino [jhāyina]: the meditative; sātatikā: unceasing in effort; niccaṃ [nicca]: constantly; dalhaparakkamā: steadfast; te dīhrā: those wise individuals; yogakkhemaṃ [yogakkhema]: free of bonds; anuttaraṃ [anuttara]: unsurpassable; nibbānaṃ [nibbāna]: stillness; phusanti: touch.
Those wise individuals who steadfastly practice meditation, reach a level of understanding that enables them to experience Nibbāna. Those wise individuals who unceasingly continue in their meditation, firmly and steadfastly, experience Nibbāna, which is the supreme release from all bonds.
Explanatory Translation (Verse 23)
etaṃ visesato ñatvā appamādaṃ hi paṇḍitā
appamāde pamodanti ariyānaṃ gocare ratā
etaṃ: this; visesato [visesata]: especially; ñatvā: recognizing; appamādaṃ hi: established in mindfulness; paṇḍitā: the wise ones; appamāde: in mindfulness; pamodanti: take delight; ariyānaṃ [ariyāna]: of noble ones; gocare: fit way of behaviour; ratā: delighting in.
Those who are truly wise are especially aware of the need for sanity. They take delight in sanity. They take pleasure in the pursuit of sanity because it is the region of the supernormal.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 21-23)
Appamāda: this is an expression found in numerous contexts in the Teachings of the Buddha. Even in his last words this occurs. The exact significance of appamāda is “sanity” absence of madness which, according to Buddhism, is not a normal (puthujjana) state but a supernormal (Ariya) state. The Buddha meant by this term constant alertness and keen awareness of the process of experiencing. The trainees were advised to be constantly aware of the experience within to avoid involvement with existence (bhava). Therefore this alertness is a constant state of mind of the advanced trainee and an Awakened One.
Amata: Nibbāna, the ultimate goal of Buddhists. As this positive term clearly indicates, Nibbāna is not annihilation or a state of nothingness as some are apt to believe. It is the permanent, immortal, supramundane state which cannot be expressed by mundane terms.
Na mīyanti: do not die. This should not be understood to mean that they are immortal. No being is immortal, not even Buddhas or Arahants. The idea implied herein is that the heedful, who realize Nibbāna, are not reborn, and so do not die. The heedless are regarded as dead because they are not intent on doing good, and are subject to repeated births and deaths.
Nibbāna: ni + vāna, lit., departure from craving. It is a supramundane state that can be attained in this life itself. It is also explained as extinction of passions, but not a state of nothingness. It is an eternal blissful state of relief that results from the complete eradication of the passions.