A few rather insignificant notes on the Dhammika Sutta that you can mostly likely live without

I’m picking up my translation work after something of a break, and I’d like to continue making a few little notes on things that I come across that may be of interest.

The Dhammikasutta (Snp 2.14) records the questions of a certain Dhammika, a layman with a retinue of 500 followers. His question is somewhat elaborate and elevated praise of the Buddha, but boils down to what is the good conduct for both monastics and lay folk. Here are few translation issues.

The question of Dhammika is:

Kathaṅkaro sāvako sādhu hoti

Now we can read this as implying a change of state: how does a disciple act in order to become a good disciple? Or more simply, “how does a good disciple act?” Norman has the former, Bodhi the latter. The verb hoti in such cases can convey either sense. I feel that here it seems to be placed to convey the sense “become”.

The phrase is echoed in verse 19, with the almost identical line:

Yathākaro sāvako sādhu hoti

Here both Norman and Bodhi have the “become” sense, with Bodhi rendering “how one should act to become a good disciple”. Surely they should be consistent.

what does one do to become a good disciple,

doing which one becomes a good disciple.

In verse 11 we have the lines;

Iriyāpathaṁ pabbajitānulomikaṁ
Sevetha naṁ atthadaso mutīmā.

The tricky part is the phrase atthadasa. The suffix -dasa means “seer”. Attha is possibly second only to dhamma in its ambiguity, so it’s often hard to parse out in context. Often it means simply “the good”, “benefit”, or “goal”. Rather more technically it can mean “meaning” as in the interpretation of a text. Here, Norman has “goal” while Bodhi has “the good”. In this context, I usually render “meaning”, though without any great confidence.

But I think it is supported in this case. It’s talking about someone at the beginning of their practice, who, having heard the teaching, would start practicing the lifestyle because they get the point, i.e. that this is something to be applied.


A reflective person, seeing the meaning,
would adopt the deportment proper to a renunciate.

Another little detail where former translations can, I think, be improved is in the parsing of the two verses 17 and 18. We have one verse that speaks of how, when they had learned the Dhamma, a mendicant would make use of requisites such as almsfood and lodging, only after “appraisal”.

This term saṅkhāya is often rendered as “reflected” or similar, but the exact sense is a little more specific. It’s related to the word to “count” and it means “after appraisal, after assessment”. I’m trying to change all my translations to reflect this sense. Using “reflects” is not wrong, it’s just a little vague.

Anyway, the next verse repeats a similar phrase, but in a different voice: it starts with “therefore” and appears to speak of the mendicant in an indicative rather than optative voice. The verb is, however, implicit. Norman adds a (should) in brackets; but this basically makes the two verses have a similar meaning. Bodhi keeps the indicative sense, but renders the opening tasmā hi as “for”, which rather obscures the nature of the connection between the verses. A mendicant should be careful when using requisites because they are unsullied?

The point here is that, after hearing the Dhamma, and after carefully appraising the use of requisites, the mendicant makes use of them and that is why they use them unsullied.

Alms, a dwelling, a bed and seat,
and water for rinsing the dust from the cloak—
after hearing the teaching of the Holy One,
a disciple of splendid wisdom would use these after appraisal.

That’s why, when it comes to alms and lodgings,
and water for rinsing the dust from the cloak,
a mendicant is unsullied in the midst of these things,
like a droplet on a lotus-leaf.

Okay, so next we find in verse 23, a line about lying. It refers to different situations in which one would not lie. Now, in Buddhism, or early Buddhism at least, no lie is allowable. Yet the most serious lies are always said to be those in a formal context, much like our lying under oath. So here it begins by mentioning the sabhā and the parisā “councils and assemblies”.

So far so good. But the next line has an idiom meaning something like “one on one”. The connection between this and the previous line is not clear:

Norman: When gone to the audience hall or assembly, he should not speak falsely to a single person.
Bodhi: One who has entered a council or an assembly should not speak falsely to anyone.

So the sense from these translations seems to be that it refers to not lying to anyone at all in an assembly.

Here’s the Pali:

Sabhaggato vā parisaggato vā,
Gone to a council, or assembly,
Ekassa veko na musā bhaṇeyya
or one on one, they would not lie.

There seems to be three , i.e. three cases. (I.e. veko resolves to vā eko. There is a variant ceko but I don’t think it materially affects the translation.)

Thus ekassa eko doesn’t mean “a single person in the assembly” it means that the rule applies, not just in an assembly, but also one on one.

Well, that’s about it I think, the rest has been well-translated by the excellent scholars who have gone before me.