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Verse 40: The Story of Five Hundred Bhikkhus

While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verse (40) of this book, with
reference to five hundred Bhikkhus.

Five hundred Bhikkhus from Savatthi, after obtaining a subject of meditation from the Buddha,
travelled for a distance of one hundred yojanas* away from Savatthi and came to a large forest
grove, a suitable place for meditation practice. The guardian spirits of the trees dwelling in that
forest thought that if those Bhikkhus were staying in the forest, it would not be proper for them
to live with their families in the trees. So they descended from the trees, thinking that the
Bhikkhus would stop there only for one night. But the Bhikkhus were still there at the end of a
fortnight; then it occurred to them that the Bhikkhus might be staying there till the end of the
vassa. In that case, they and their families would have to be living on the ground for a long time. So,
they decided to frighten away the Bhikkhus, by making ghostly sounds and frightful apparitions.
They showed up with bodies without heads, and with heads without bodies, etc. The Bhikkhus were
very upset and left the place and returned to the Buddha, to whom they related everything. On
hearing their account, the Buddha told them that this had happened because previously they went
without any weapon and that they should go back there armed with a suitable weapon. So saying,
the Buddha taught them the entire Metta Sutta (discourse on Loving-Kindness) beginning with the
following stanza:

Karaniyamattha kusalena
Yanta santam padam abhisamecca
Sakko uju ca suhuju ca
Suvaco c'assa mudu anatimani.

The above stanza may be translated as follows: He who is skilled in (acquiring) what is good and
beneficial, (mundane as well as supra-mundane), aspiring to attain Perfect Peace (Nibbana) should
act (thus): He should be efficient, upright, perfectly upright, compliant, gentle and free from

The Bhikkhus were instructed to recite the sutta from the time they came to the outskirts of the
forest grove and to enter the monastery reciting the same. The Bhikkhus returned to the forest
grove and did as they were told. The guardian spirits of the trees receiving loving-kindness from
the Bhikkhus reciprocated by readily welcoming and not harming them. There were no more ghostly
sounds and ungainly sights. Thus left in peace, the Bhikkhus meditated on the body and came to
realize its fragile and impermanent nature.

From the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha, by his supernormal power, learned about the progress
of the Bhikkhus and sent forth his radiance making them feel his presence. To them he said,
"Bhikkhus just as you have realized, the body is, indeed, impermanent.

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

Verse 40. Knowing that this body is (fragile) like an clay jar, making one's mind secure like a
fortified town, one should fight Mara with the weapon of Knowledge. (After defeating Mara) one
should still continue to guard one's mind, and feel no attachment to that which has been gained
(i.e., jhana ecstasy and serenity gained through meditation).

(*=yojana: a measure of length about twelve miles.)

At the end of the discourse, the five hundred Bhikkhus attained Arahatship.

Translated by Daw Mya Tin, M.A.,
Burma Pitaka Association, Rangoon, Burma 1986.

Saved: 24 December 2016   https://What-Buddha-Said.net/Canon/Sutta/KN/Dhammapada.Verse_40.story.htm