Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 344:
yo nibbanatho vanādhimutto vanamutto vanam’eva dhāvati |
taṃ puggalam’eva passatha mutto bandhanam’eva dhāvati || 344 ||
344. Who without woodness inclines to the wood, free in the wood to woodness returns. Do not regard that person well who free returns to fetters.
The Story of a Monk who Disrobed
While residing at the Veluvana monastery, the Buddha spoke this verse, with reference to a monk who was a pupil of the Venerable Mahākassapa.
As a pupil of the Venerable Mahākassapa, this monk had achieved the four mental absorptions (jhānas). But one day, as he went for alms-food to his uncle’s house, he saw a woman and felt a great desire to have her. Then he left the Sangha. As a layman, he was a failure as he did not work hard. So, his uncle drove him out of the house, and subsequently he became mixed up with some thieves. All of them were caught by the authorities and were taken to the cemetery to be executed. The Venerable Mahākassapa saw his pupil as he was being led out and said to him, “My pupil, keep your mind steadfastly on a subject of meditation.” As instructed, he concentrated and let himself be established in deep mental absorption. At the cemetery, while the executioners were making preparations to kill him, the ex-monk was very much composed and showed no signs of fear or anxiety. The executioners and the onlookers were awe-struck and very much impressed by the man’s courage and composure and they reported about him to the king and also to the Buddha. The king gave orders to release the man. The Buddha on hearing about the matter sent his radiance and appeared to the thief as if in person whereupon He gave the stanza.
At the end of the discourse, the thief who was steadfastly keeping his mind on the arising and perishing of the aggregates discerned the impermanent, unsatisfactory and non-self nature of all conditioned things and soon attained sotāpatti fruition. Later, he went to the Buddha at the Jetavana Monastery where he was again admitted to the Sangha by the Buddha and he instantly attained arahatship.
Explanatory Translation (Verse 344)
yo nibbanatho vanādhimutto vanamutto vanam eva dhāvati
taṃ mutto bandhanam eva dhāvati taṃ puggalaṃ eva passatha
yo: some one; nibbanatho [nibbanatha]: free of forests (craving); vanādhimutto [vanādhimutta]: taking pleasure in the life of the forest-dwelling truth-seeker; vanamutto [vanamutta]: freed from the forest of craving; vanam eva: to that forest itself; dhāvati: runs; mutto [mutta]: freed from the bonds of the householder; bandhanam eva: to the same bond; taṃ puggalaṃ [puggala]: that person; passatha: behold
Having left the forest of desire (i.e., the life of a householder), he takes to the forest of the practice (i.e., the life of a monk); but when he is free from the forest of desire he rushes back to that very forest. Come, look at that man who having become free rushes back into that very bondage.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 344)
In this verse, the image of forest (vana) is used to give several significance. Firstly, the person is free of the forest–meaning the underbrush of craving. Thus freed, he leaves the forest which signifies the solitude of the forest hermitage. Such a person, once free of the forest of craving, rushes back to the forest of worldly life. At the end of it all, he returns once more to the solitude of the forest hermitage.