Note: In these verses the monk Telākani relates his struggles on the path to enlightenment using beautiful similes and metaphors. You may find that the translation on SuttaFriends.org gives more information on the meaning behind them. The Buddha is the teacher he talks about as the one who truly offers him help.
For a long time, sadly,
though I keenly contemplated the teaching,
I gained no peace of mind.
So I asked this of ascetics and brahmins:
“Who has crossed over the world?
Whose attainment culminates in the deathless?
Whose teaching do I accept
to understand the ultimate goal?
I was hooked inside,
like a fish gulping bait;
bound like the demon Vepaciti
in Mahinda’s trap.
Dragging it along, I’m not free
from grief and lamentation.
Who will free me from bonds in the world,
so that I may know awakening?
What ascetic or brahmin
points out what is frail?
Whose teaching do I accept
to sweep away old age and death?
Tied up with uncertainty and doubt,
secured by the power of pride,
stiff as a mind beset by anger;
the arrow of covetousness,
propelled by the bow of craving,
is stuck in my twice-fifteen ribs—
see how it stands in my breast,
breaking my strong heart.
Speculative views are not abandoned,
they are sharpened by memories and intentions;
and pierced by this I tremble,
like a leaf blowing in the wind.
Having arisen within,
what belongs to me burns quickly,
in that place where the body always heads
with its six sense-fields of contact.
I don’t see a healer
who can pull out my dart of doubt
without a lance
or some other blade.
Without knife or wound,
who will pull out this dart
that’s stuck inside me,
without harming any part of my body?
He really would be the Lord of the Dhamma,
the best one to cure the damage of poison;
when I have fallen into deep waters,
he would give me his show me the shore.
I’ve plunged into a lake,
and I can’t wash off the mud and dirt.
It’s full of fraud, jealousy, pride,
and dullness and drowsiness.
Like a thunder-cloud of restlessness,
like a rain-cloud of fetters;
lustful thoughts are winds
that sweep off a person with bad views.
The streams flow everywhere;
a weed springs up and remains.
Who will block the streams?
Who will cut the weed?”
“Venerable sir, build a dam
to block the streams.
Don’t let your mind-made streams
cut you down suddenly like a tree.”
That is how the teacher whose weapon is wisdom,
surrounded by the Saṅgha of seers,
was my shelter when I was full of fear,
seeking the far shore from the near.
As I was being swept away,
he gave me a strong, simple ladder,
made of the heartwood of Dhamma,
and he said to me: “Do not fear.”
I climbed the tower of mindfulness meditation,
and checked back down
at people delighting in identity,
as I’d obsessed over in the past.
When I saw the path,
as I was embarking on the ship,
without fixating on the self,
I saw the supreme landing-place.
The dart that arises in oneself,
and that which stems from the conduit to rebirth:
he taught the supreme path
for the canceling of these.
For a long time it had lain within me;
for a long time it was fixed in me:
the Buddha cast off the knot,
curing the damage of poison.
Note: “Deathless” is a term for Nibbāna. SN 11.4 Vepacitti tells the story of the asura being captured by Sakka (Mahinda)
Read this translation of Theragāthā 16.3 Telakānittheragāthā: Telakāni by Bhikkhu Sujato on SuttaCentral.net. Or read a different translation on SuttaFriends.org. Or listen on Voice.SuttaCentral.net. Or explore the Pali on DigitalPaliReader.online.
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