Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 36:
sududdasaṃ sunipunaṃ yatthakāmanipātinaṃ |
cittaṃ rakkhetha medhāvī cittaṃ guttaṃ sukhāvahaṃ || 36 ||
36. The mind is very hard to see and fine, it falls on what it wants. One who’s wise should guard the mind, a guarded mind brings happiness.
The Story of a Certain Disgruntled Monk
While residing at the Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha spoke this verse, with reference to a young disgruntled monk who was the son of a banker.
While the Buddha was in residence at Sāvatthi, a certain banker’s son approached an elder who resorted to his house for alms and said to him, “Venerable, I desire to obtain release from suffering. Tell me some way by which I can obtain release from suffering.” The elder replied, “Peace be unto you, brother. If you desire release from suffering, give alms-food, give fortnightly food, give lodging during the season of the rains, give bowls and robes and the other requisites. Divide your possessions into three parts: with one portion carry on your business; with another portion support son and wife; dispense the third portion in alms in the religion of the Buddha.”
“Very well, Venerable,” said the banker’s son, and did all in the prescribed order. Having done it, he returned to the elder and asked him, “Venerable, is there anything else I ought to do?” “Brother, take upon yourself the three refuges and the five precepts.” The banker’s son did so, and then asked whether there was anything else he ought to do. “Yes,” replied the elder, “Take upon yourself the ten precepts.” “Very well, Venerable,” said the banker’s son, and took upon himself the ten precepts. Because the banker’s son had in this manner performed works of merit, one after another, he came to be called Anupubba. Again he asked the elder, “Venerable, is there anything else I ought to do?” The elder replied, “Yes, become a monk.” The banker’s son immediately retired from the world and became a monk.
Now he had a teacher who was versed in the Abhidhamma and a preceptor who was versed in the Vinaya. After he had made a full profession, whenever he approached his teacher, the latter repeated questions found in the Abhidhamma, “In the religion of the Buddha it is lawful to do this, it is unlawful to do that.” And whenever he approached his preceptor, the latter repeated questions found in the Vinaya, “In the Religion of the Buddha it is lawful to do this, it is unlawful to do that; this is proper, this is improper.” After a time he thought to himself, “Oh what a wearisome task this is! I became a monk in order to obtain release from suffering, but here there is not even room for me to stretch out my hands. It is possible, however, to obtain release from suffering, even if one lives the householder’s. I should become a householder once more.”
The Buddha said, “Monk, are you discontented?” “Yes, Venerable, I became a monk in order to obtain release from suffering. But here there is not even room for me to stretch my hands. It is possible for me to obtain release from suffering as a householder.” The Buddha said, “Monk, if you can guard one thing, it will not be necessary for you to guard the rest.” “What is that, Venerable?” “Can you guard your thoughts?” “I can, Venerable.” “Then guard your thoughts alone.”
Explanatory Translation (Verse 36)
sududdasaṃ sunipunaṃ yattha kāmanipātinaṃ
cittaṃ medhāvī rakkhetha cittaṃ guttaṃ sukhāvahaṃ
sududdasaṃ [sududdasa]: extremely difficult to be seen; sunipunaṃ [sunipuna]: exceedingly subtle; yattha kāmanipātinaṃ [kāmanipātina]: focusing on whatever target it wishes; cittaṃ [citta]: mind; medhāvī: the wise one; rakkhetha: should protect; guttaṃ cittaṃ [citta]: the guarded mind; sukhāvahaṃ [sukhāvaha]: brings bliss
The mind moves about so fast it is difficult to get hold of it fully. It is swift. It has a way of focussing upon whatever it likes. It is good and of immense advantage to tame the mind. The tamed mind brings bliss.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 36)
sududdasaṃ sunipunaṃ: two characteristics of the mind. One outstanding quality of the mind is that it is extremely difficult to be seen. Although it is capable of a vast variety of activities, it cannot be seen at all. It moves about unseen. It forces, persuades, motivates, all without being seen. The other quality of the mind referred to in this stanza is that it is very subtle. It is because of this that the mind cannot be seen or captured in any way. The stanza stresses the fact that happiness comes to him who is capable of guarding this imperceptible and subtle entity–the mind.