The Buddha's Path to Wisdom
1. (v. 7) Mara: the Tempter in Buddhism, represented in the scriptures as an evil-minded deity who tries to lead people from the path to liberation. The commentaries explain Mara as the lord of evil forces, as mental defilements and as death.
2. (v. 8) The impurities (asubha): subjects of meditation which focus on the inherent repulsiveness of the body, recommended especially as powerful antidotes to lust.
3. (v. 21) The Deathless (amata): Nibbana, so called because those who attain it are free from the cycle of repeated birth and death.
4. (v. 22) The Noble Ones (ariya): those who have reached any of the four stages of supramundane attainment leading irreversibly to Nibbana.
5. (v. 30) Indra: the ruler of the gods in ancient Indian mythology.
6. (v. 39) The Arahat is said to be beyond both merit and demerit because, as he has abandoned all defilements, he can no longer perform evil actions; and as he has no more attachment, his virtuous actions no longer bear kammic fruit.
7. (v. 45) The Striver-on-the-Path (sekha): one who has achieved any of the first three stages of supramundane attainment: a Stream-enterer, Once-returner, or Non-returner.
8. (v. 49) The “sage in the village” is the Buddhist monk who receives his food by going silently from door to door with his alms bowls, accepting whatever is offered.
9. (v. 54) Tagara: a fragrant powder obtained from a particular kind of shrub.
10. (v. 89) This verse describes the Arahat, dealt with more fully in the following chapter. The “cankers” (asava) are the four basic defilements of sensual desire, desire for continued existence, false views and ignorance.
11. (v. 97) In the Pali this verse presents a series of puns, and if the “underside” of each pun were to be translated, the verse would read thus: “The man who is faithless, ungrateful, a burglar, who destroys opportunities and eats vomit — he truly is the most excellent of men.”
12. (v. 104) Brahma: a high divinity in ancient Indian religion.
13. (vv. 153-154) According to the commentary, these verses are the Buddha’s “Song of Victory,” his first utterance after his Enlightenment. The house is individualized existence in samsara, the house-builder craving, the rafters the passions and the ridge-pole ignorance.
14. (v. 164) Certain reeds of the bamboo family perish immediately after producing fruits.
15. (v. 178) Stream-entry (sotapatti): the first stage of supramundane attainment.
16. (vv. 190-191) The Order: both the monastic Order (bhikkhu sangha) and the Order of Noble Ones (ariya sangha) who have reached the four supramundane stages.
17. (v. 202) Aggregates (of existence) (khandha): the five groups of factors into which the Buddha analyzes the living being — material form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness.
18. (v. 218) One Bound Upstream: a Non-returner (anagami).
19. (vv. 254-255) Recluse (samana): here used in the special sense of those who have reached the four supramundane stages.
20. (v. 283) The meaning of this injunction is: “Cut down the forest of lust, but do not mortify the body.”
21. (v. 339) The thirty-six currents of craving: the three cravings — for sensual pleasure, for continued existence, and for annihilation — in relation to each of the twelve bases — the six sense organs, including mind, and their corresponding objects.
22. (v. 344) This verse, in the original, puns with the Pali word vana meaning both “desire” and “forest”.
23. (v. 353) This was the Buddha’s reply to a wandering ascetic who asked him about his teacher. The Buddha’s answer shows that Supreme Enlightenment was his own unique attainment, which he had not learned from anyone else.
24. (v. 370) The five to be cut off are the five “lower fetters”: self-illusion, doubt, belief in rites and rituals, lust and ill-will. The five to be abandoned are the five “higher fetters”: craving for the divine realms with form, craving for the formless realms, conceit, restlessness, and ignorance. Stream-enterers and Once-returners cut off the first three fetters, Non-returners the next two and Arahats the last five. The five to be cultivated are the five spiritual faculties: faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. The five bonds are: greed, hatred, delusion, false views, and conceit.
25. (v. 374) See note to v. 202.
26. (v. 383) “Holy man” is used as a makeshift rendering for brahmana, intended to reproduce the ambiguity of the Indian word. Originally men of spiritual stature; by the time of the Buddha the brahmins had turned into a privileged priesthood which defined itself by means of birth and lineage rather than by genuine inner sanctity. The Buddha attempted to restore to the word brahmana its original connotation by identifying the true “holy man” as the Arahat, who merits the title through his own inward purity and holiness regardless of family lineage. The contrast between the two meanings is highlighted in verses393 and 396. Those who led a contemplative life dedicated to gaining Arahatship could also be called brahmins, as in verses 383, 389, and 390.
27. (v. 385) This shore: the six sense organs; the other shore: their corresponding objects; both: I-ness and my-ness.
28. (v. 394) In the time of the Buddha, such ascetic practices as wearing matted hair and garments of hides were considered marks of holiness.