Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 37:
dūraṅgamaṃ ekacaraṃ asarīraṃ kuhāsayaṃ |
ye cittaṃ saññamessanti mokkhanti mārabandhanā || 37 ||
37. Drifting far, straying all alone, formless, recumbent in a cave. They will be free from Māra’s bonds who do restrain this mind.
The Story of Monk Saṅgharakkhita
While residing at the Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha spoke this verse, with reference to the nephew of the monk Saṅgharakkhita.
Once there lived in Sāvatthi a senior monk by the name of Saṅgharakkhita. When his sister gave birth to a son, she named the child after the monk and he came to be known as Saṅgharakkhita Bhāgineyya. The nephew Saṅgharakkhita, in due course, was admitted into the Sangha. While the young monk was staying in a village monastery he was offered two sets of robes, and he intended to offer one to his uncle, monk Saṅgharakkhita. At the end of the rainy season he went to his uncle to pay respect to him and offered the robe to the monk. But, the uncle declined to accept the robe, saying that he had enough. Although he repeated his request, the monk would not accept it. The young monk felt disheartened and thought that since his uncle was so unwilling to share the requisites with him, it would be better for him to leave the Saṅgha and live the life of a layman.
From that point, his mind wandered and a train of thoughts followed. He thought that after leaving the Sangha he would sell the robe and buy a she-goat; that the she-goat would breed quickly and soon he would make enough money to enable him to marry; his wife would give birth to a son. He would take his wife and child in a small cart to visit his uncle at the monastery. On the way, he would say that he would carry the child; she would tell him to drive the cart and not to bother about the child. He would insist and grab the child from her; between them the child would fall on the cart-track and the wheel would pass over the child. He would get so furious with his wife that he would strike her with the goading-stick.
At that time he was fanning the monk with a palmyrah fan and he absent-mindedly struck the head of the monk with the fan. The monk, knowing the thoughts of the young monk, said, “You were unable to beat your wife; why have you beaten an old monk?” Young Saṅgharakkhita was very much surprised and embarrassed at the words of the old monk; he also became extremely frightened. So he fled. Young monks and novices of the monastery chased after him, caught him, and finally brought him to the presence of the Buddha.
When told about the experience, the Buddha said that the mind has the ability to think of an object even though it might be far away, and that one should strive hard for liberation from the bondage of passion, ill will and ignorance. After the Buddha recited the stanza near the end of the discourse, the young monk attained sotāpatti fruition.
Explanatory Translation (Verse 37)
dūraṅgamaṃ ekacaraṃ asarīraṃ guhāsayaṃ cittaṃ
ye saññamessanti (te) Mārabandhanā mokkhanti
dūraṅgamaṃ [dūraṅgama]: travelling vast distances; ekacaraṃ [ekacara]: moving all alone; asarīraṃ [asarīra]: body-less; guhāsayaṃ [guhāsaya]: dwelling concealed; cittaṃ [citta]: the mind; ye: if someone; saññamessanti: (were to) restrain; (te) Mārabandhanā: they from the bonds of death; mokkhanti: are released
The mind is capable of travelling vast distances–up or down, north or south, east or west–in any direction. It can travel to the past or to the future. It roams about all alone. It is without any perceptible forms. If an individual were to restrain the mind fully, he will achieve freedom from the bonds of death.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 37)
dūraṅgamaṃ ekacaraṃ asarīraṃ guhāsayaṃ: traveling far, living alone, without body, lying hidden. These are four more attributes of the mind mentioned in this verse. Travelling far means that it can stray far away from the starting subject of thought. Living alone means that it can think only of one thing at a time. Without body means it is not an entity that occupies space, because it is only an activity which may be seen as physical or mental. Lying hidden means that it is intangible.