A love song for the Buddha

Among all the diverse teachings in the early Buddhist texts, there is only one love song. That there is even one is a remarkable thing; and that it’s central conceit is so bold is even more remarkable.

You can read the story on DN 21, but here I’d like to present my translation of Pañcasikha’s verses. Normally I take a very prosaic approach to translating verse: if I can convey the meaning in a way that is not too offensive to the ear, I’m happy. But given the extraordinary context, I thought it would be apt to sprinkle a little rhyme and rhythm in the lyrics. Enjoy!

My lady Suriyavaccasā, oh my Sunshine—
I pay homage to your father Timbaru,
through whom was born a lady so fine,
to fill me with a joy I never knew.

As sweet as a breeze to one who’s sweating,
or when thirsty, a sweet and cooling drink,
so dear is your shining beauty to me,
just like the teaching is to arahants!

Like a cure when you’re struck by fever dire,
or food to ease the hunger pain,
come on, darling, please put out my fire,
quench me like water on a flame.

As elephants burning in the heat of summer,
sink down in a lotus pond to rest,
so cool, full of petals and of pollen—
that’s how I would plunge into your breast.

Like elephants bursting bonds in rutting season,
beating off the pricks of lance and pikes—
I just don’t understand what is the reason
I’m so crazy for your shapely thighs!

For you, my heart is full of passion,
I’m in an altered state of mind.
There is no going back, I’m just not able,
I’m like a fish that’s hooked up on the line.

Come on, my darling, hold me, fair of thighs!
Embrace me, with your so bashful eyes!
Take me in your arms, my lovely lady,
that’s all I’d ever want or could desire.

Ah, then my desire was such a small thing,
my sweet, with your curling wavy hair;
but now, like to arahants an offering,
it’s grown so very much from there.

Whatever the merit I have forged
by giving to such perfected beings—
may that, my altogether gorgeous,
ripen in togetherness with you!

Whatever the merit I have forged
in the wide open circle of this earth—
may that, my altogether gorgeous,
ripen in togetherness with you!

Absorbed, the Sakyan meditates,
at one, self-controlled, and ever mindful,
the sage aims right at the deathless state—
like me, oh my Sunshine, aiming for you!

And just like the sage would be rejoicing,
were he to awaken to the truth,
so I’d be rejoicing, lady,
were I to end up as one with you.

If Sakka were to grant me just one wish,
as Lord of the holy Thirty-Three,
my darling, you’re the only one I’d wish for,
so strong is the love for you from me.

Like a freshly blossoming sal tree
is your father, my lady oh so wise.
I pay homage to him, bowing down humbly,
to he whose daughter is of such a kind.


Thanissaro Bhikku sees this poem as a comic diversion: DN21

But, the Buddha’s answer to Sakka’s very first question is so thought-provoking and explains the hostility that seems to be present everywhere these days…

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All I have to say is…

:laughing: :joy: :rofl:
What an epithet!


The point of the sutta, it seems to me, is to convey the Buddha’s gentle teaching to Sakka that he has gotten things quite mixed up. The song, which is a song of seduction and carnal desire, impertinently compares the desire of the lover for his quenching by the love object to the desire of the arahant for truth, and compares the spiritual gifts of the faithful to the arahants to the sensual gifts of the lover to the beloved. But the Buddha points out that the desire and obsession of which Sakka sings, charming as they might be made to appear by the poet, are at the root of envy, selfishness, ordinary possessive love or “dearness”, and the hatred, violence an enmity which flow from them.


I got to scratching my head around this metaphor, isn’t it a bit mismatched? Wouldn’t someone who is currently sweating, or currently thirsty be equatable to a trainee rather than an arahant (someone who is already cool)? Just wanted to check that I’m not missing some implication about the breezes arahants might enjoy.


I wouldn’t necessarily recommend thinking about it too much!


Pedant’s curse.


Dear Bhante @sujato,

I have been a bit (big understatement of the year) stressed trying to finish the manuscript of the book I’m helping a great monk to write. Then came this poem…

Thank you so much for making me laugh so hard.

If I were still young and starry-eyes, I would just worshipped the poet for his/her linguistic skills.

Again, thank you so much, ka. :smile:


P.S. Yes, when I was young, I wanted to be a poet or a novel writer. Ha! Ha! :smiley:

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You will be pleased to know, when I was working on this, in my dark moments of despair, struggling with recalcitrant rhyme or mulish meter, I recalled how you once told me of the translations of Shakespeare into Thai by King Vajiravudh, and how he was able to make it both very accurate, as well as beautiful and idiomatic Thai. That gave me some inspiration to keep going!


Dear Bhante @sujato,

You’ve done a wonderful job. It’s really a linguistically beautiful poem. To me, the fact that such a sensually beautiful poem lives in a high truth-revealing document shows how we have deluded ourselves and our fellow human beings.