A small question of meaning

One of the verses of Vangisa, found in Snp 2.12 and Thag 21.1, has the lines:

So taṁ namassaṁ acari mutyapekho,
Āraddhavīriyo daḷhadhammadassī.

It refers to Nigrodhakappa always living honoring his teacher the Buddha.

When I translated it, I assumed that all the epithets here were in nominative and in agreement, and that it meant something like:

Yearning for freedom, energetic, firmly seeing the teaching,
he wandered in your honor.

However, Norman, Bodhi, and the commentary are all in agreement that daḷhadhammadassī is in fact an epithet of the Buddha, and hence must be a vocative.

Okay, fine, but what does it mean? Norman has “seer of what is firm by nature”, Bodhi has “the one who shows the durable”.

The commentary says:

The one who shows the durable: He addresses the Blessed One. What is “durable” is nibbāna, so called because it is indestructible. And the Blessed One shows that, therefore he says “the one who shows the durable.”

On which Ven Bodhi notes;

The suffix –dassī usually means “a seer of,” but Pj II explains it on the basis of the causal verb dasseti, to show, and thus I render it “one who shows.” Norman renders the expression “seer of what is firm by nature,” but Jayawickrama also follows the gloss of Pj II with “you who point out the immutable state.” I follow Pj II in taking it as a vocative addressed to the Buddha (daḷhadhammadassī ti bhagavantaṃ ālapati), not as a description of Nigrodhakappa.

“Durable” and “immutable” are, on the face of it, a bit of a stretch, since daḷha means “firm, strong, solid”, not really “lasting”. But okay.

It’s worth noting that daḷhadhamma is a common compound used in a very specific way, and never found in the sense attributed to it here. It’s part of the stock description of an expert archer, where it means “strong-bowed”. There seems to be a confusion in the root between dhamma and dhanu. It seems hard to apply such a meaning here, though.

But as to the traditional interpretation, it relies on a series of somewhat unlikely assumptions:

  • dassi doesn’t usually have a causative sense
  • Nibbana is not elsewhere called daḷhadhamma
  • daḷha doesn’t quite mean “immutable”. It’s more likely to be used in the sense of “strong, resolute”
  • Purely subjectively, inserting a vocative to the Buddha at the end of a series of terms extolling someone else feels odd, especially when the semantic and phonetic range of the epithets overlap (daḷha, āraddha). Surely these are meant to chime together.

None of these is in any way definitive, but they make me feel queasy.

Perhaps the solution is found in looking more broadly at Vangia’s idioms. Twice elsewhere in Vangisa’s poetry we find dhammadasa in the sense of “Seer of Truth”. Perhaps we have been misled in treating daḷhadhamma as a unified term after all, when we should have been looking at dhammadassī. The phrase then meaning “resolute seer of the truth”.

I’m by no means sure, but I have hesitatingly changed my translation to:

He wandered in your honor, yearning for freedom,
energetic, a resolute Seer of Truth.


Thank you, Bhante. Inspired by Ayya Sabbamitta’s recent translations, I’ve started studying the Vangisa suttas, which are relatable and joyous. Your new translation resonates.


Bhante I just read Snp 2.12, lovely translation :anjal:

Just curious do you think this happened right at the beginning of the Buddha’s dispensation before the Sangha was formed when there was still only the 5 mendicants that looked after him when he was doing the ascetic practices?

Referring to this line:
“So declared the Blessed One, the leader of the five.”
Iccabravī bhagavā pañcaseṭṭho.

Well it is spoken by Vangisa about his teacher, so it must come from a time when the Buddha’s students’ students were now teachers in their own right. So probably towards the end of the sasana.

But yes, that is what those lines are referring to, it’s remembering the start of the dispensation.

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LOL Bhante as soon as I posted my question, I realised that I had once again asked a silly one but thankfully you are one of great patience :anjal:

I did realise that this must have happened towards the end of the sasana, and contemplated deleting my post but no, I thought people should be aware of my silliness :rofl:

Thanks again and hope all is well :anjal: :slight_smile:

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That doesn’t sound like a good metric at all. From the moment Ven. Sariputta shared a verse with Ven. Moggallana you have someone who has never met the Buddha teaching someone else to the point of noble attainment. Granted, their relationship is not what one would call teacher-student. But from the beginning of the sasana you have the Buddha sending out monks to spread the Dhamma. Certainly this would have begun real teacher-student relationships.

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