I have been annotating the Kevaḍḍhasutta, and I find I am adopting most of the interpretation proposed by @Sunyo.
It’s not without problems, but gives a clean interpretive lens.
Just adding a couple of details here. To justify separating the first two lines as a distinct question, there is the verb gādhati at the end, but equally important is that this merely rephrases the original question.
The next lines, with the derived material properties of long, short, coarse, fine, beautiful and ugly, are used in two contexts elsewhere:
- snp3.9:45.1: a list of things that ought not be stolen
- snp1.8:4.3: a list of sentient beings (texts omits beautiful and ugly, but they obviously apply)
Thus I think the dhammic sense is that these are aspects of the material world that are desirable (or undesirable), i.e. not just “raw” materiality (the four elements) but the aspects of “form” that we actually get attached to.
I agree with including anantaṁ in the first line of the question, but it then means we conjoin “invisible” and “radiant all round”. So either:
- we choose one of the other meanings of pabhaṁ (“giving up” or “ford”)
- or the line expresses a paradox: it is invisible since those of lesser attainment cannot grasp it, yet it is all-radiant since it lights the path to Nibbana.
The latter is a nice meaning, and is the sense I am currently accepting, but it’s just an unusual way for the suttas to express themselves.
By the way, when the commentary (which began the whole “consciousness is Nibbana” problem) interprets pabhaṁ as “ford”, it is evidently drawing on the meaning of gādha, which can indeed mean “ford”.
Now, there are a couple of other data points that need mentioning. The term anidarṣana appears in the Udānavarga where it has an interesting sense. These are Dhammapada style verses, but have no direct parallels in Pali. In the Cittavarga we find:
bhrūṇadheyam idaṁ cittaṁ niḥsāram anidarśanam
This mind is pregnant, coreless, invisible
Here it is clearly describing the ordinary mind and has nothing to do with either Nibbana or advanced meditation. It just means that the mind cannot be seen.
In the Brahmanavarga it appears twice in one six-line verse, which I split here for convenience. Here’s a quick and dirty translation.
arūpiṇaṁ sadā cittam asāram anidarśanam
The formless, coreless, invisible mind, always
damayitvā hy abhijñāya ye caranti sadā smṛtā
having trained, those who, having directly known [that mind], wander ever mindful,
kṣīṇasaṁyojanā buddhā lokeṣu brāhmaṇā hi te
the Buddhas who have ended fetters, they are the brahmins in the worlds.
Here again anidarśana clearly refers simply to the ordinary mind, which is understood.
arūpam anidarśanam anantam asudarśanam
Formless, invisible, infinite, not beautiful,
sūkṣmaṁ padam abhijñāya ye caranti sadā smṛtāḥ
the subtle state, having directly known, those who wander ever mindful,
kṣīṇasaṁyojanā buddhās te loke brāhmaṇā iha
the Buddhas who have ended fetters, they are the brahmins here in the world.
With the addition of the epithets “infinite” and “formless”, this sounds a lot more like the formless attainments. The “subtle state” would normally be a reference to Nibbana. I’m not really sure what asudarśanam is doing here.
I’m not entirely clear what is to be made of these lines. But clearly we do have a sense of nidarśana as simply the ordinary mind being “invisible”. The last lines are more reminiscent of the Kevaddha verses, but I don’t know what to make of that. The Udānavarga is probably a later expansion, and it’s possible these lines were adapted from the Kevaddha sutta, rather than being an independent source.