Dhammapada 11: Old Age


Translated by Ven Nārada

146. What is laughter, what is joy, when the world is ever burning? 1 Shrouded by darkness, would you not seek the light?

147. Behold this beautiful body, a mass of sores, a heaped-up (lump), diseased, much thought of, in which nothing lasts, nothing persists.2

148. Thoroughly worn out is this body, a nest of diseases, perishable. This putrid mass breaks up. Truly, life ends in death.

149. Like gourds cast away in autumn are these dove-hued bones. What pleasure is there in looking at them?

150. Of bones is (this) city made, plastered with flesh and blood. Herein are stored decay, death, conceit, and detraction.

151. Even ornamented royal chariots wear out. So too the body reaches old age. But the Dhamma 3 of the Good grows not old. Thus do the Good reveal it among the Good. 4

152. The man of little learning grows old like the ox. His muscles grow; his wisdom grows not.

153. Through many a birth I wandered in saṃsāra, 5 seeking, but not finding, the builder of the house. Sorrowful is it to be born again and again.

154. O house-builder! Thou art seen. Thou shalt build no house again. All thy rafters are broken. Thy ridge-pole is shattered. My mind has attained the unconditioned. Achieved is the end of craving.

155. They who have not led the Holy Life, who in youth have not acquired wealth, pine away like old herons at a pond without fish.

156. They who have not led the Holy Life; who in youth have not acquired wealth, lie like worn-out bows, sighing after the past.

End Notes

[1] This world is perpetually consumed with the flames of passions. It is completely surrounded by the veil of ignorance. Being placed in such a world, the wise should try to seek the light of wisdom.

[2] As good and pleasant.

[3] The nine supramundane states are the four Paths, the four Fruits and Nibbāna.

[4] Such as the Buddhas.

[5] These two verses, the first paean of joy (udāna) uttered by the Buddha immediately after His Enlightenment, are not found elsewhere. As the Venerable Ananda heard them from the lips of the Buddha they have been inserted here.

Here the Buddha admits his past wanderings in existence which entails suffering, a fact which evidently proves the belief in rebirth. He was compelled to wander and consequently to suffer, as long as be could not discover the architect who built this house, the body. In His final birth He discovered by His own intuitive wisdom the elusive architect dwelling not outside but within the recesses of His own heart. The architect was Craving or Attachment (taṇhā), a self-created force a mental element latent in all. The discovery of the architect is the eradication of craving by attaining Arahantship which, in this utterance, is alluded to as the end of craving.

The rafters of this self-created house are the defilements (kilesa). The ridge-pole that supports the rafters is ignorance (avijjā), the root cause of all defilements. The shattering of the ridge-pole of ignorance by wisdom results in the complete demolition of the house. The ridge-pole and the rafters are the material with which the architect builds this undesired house. With their destruction the architect is deprived of the wherewithal to rebuild the house which is not wanted. With the demolition of the house the mind attains the unconditioned which is Nibbāna .