About the monk called Dhammika

In AN 6.54 we meet a certain Dhammika. He’s a bit of a lad. He spreads himself over seven monasteries and insults any visiting monks so much that they all leave. The local lay followers eventually become so annoyed they drive him out of the district, whereupon he went to the Buddha.

It’s a lovely moment: the Buddha tells him to leave his troubles aside, “for now you have come to me”.

In typically impeccable style, the Buddha calms him down, tells him some nice stories, and leads him to admit his fault and to aspire to do better.

Actually, there are many interesting things in this little sutta. It has an unusual number of obscure readings and linguistic peculiarities. But this little note is simply intended to discuss one question: Was Dhammika a monk?

There’s a Chinese parallel at MA 130, but so far as my very limited readings has revealed, it doesn’t affect the argument here.

Dhammika is a somewhat obscure individual. Ven Bodhi says that he is unknown elsewhere in the Nikāyas. But in fact there are four verses of the Theragāthā attributed to a Dhammika (Thag 4.10). While these are not necessarily the same person, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be. The verses do share a certain thematic similarity with the sutta; however we will leave this question aside.

In his translation, Ven Bodhi opens by referring to Dhammika as a “resident monk”. But the text does not refer to Dhammika here or elsewhere as a bhikkhu. The Pali is simply āvāsika, “resident”. Normally, of course, the term does refer to monks, so the translation is understandable. And throughout, Dhammika is referred to using the standard honorific for monks, āyasmā, although this is not always restricted to monks.

However, when the Buddha speaks with monks he always addresses them as bhikkhu. Here he uses the unique form of address “Brahmin Dhammika”. There seems no reason to do this, unless he is not actually a monk. (In the Chinese he uses just “Dhammika”.)

This problem of identity resonates with a number of the teachings of the sutta. The stories feature several non-Buddhist teachers of the past. The Buddha makes the point that insulting them, harmful as it is, is not as bad as insulting a realized monk. There seems to be no particular reason to focus so much on external teachers, unless perhaps, as a “brahmin”, Dhammika is not yet fully committed to the Buddhist way.

When the Buddha asks Dhammika if he is familiar with the ascetic’s duty, he has no clue. The Buddha explains to him that he should not abuse others, even if they abuse him.

The phrasing here is identical with that of another sutta, AN 4.200, except that there bhikkhu is used where our text has samaṇa, “ascetic”. Our text seems to avoid actually describing Dhammika as a monk.

Finally, we come to the curious reading towards the end of the sutta. The MS text says:

na no sama­sab­rahma­cārīsu cittāni paduṭṭhāni bhavissantī’ti.

With variant readings āma­sab­rahma­cārīsu (bj, s1-3), sabrahmacārīsu (si, pts1). MA 130, unfortunately, appears to have no parallel to this passage.

Ven Bodhi accepts the easy reading sabrahmacārīsu and translates:

We will not let hatred arise in our minds toward our fellow monks

However I think we should accept the lectio difficilior, āma­sab­rahma­cārīsu. This is found in both the Sinhalese text and also in the commentary. Ven Bodhi addresses the difficulty in interpreting this, noting that Cone’s DOP gives the meaning as “house”, but cites only this passage. However, CPD gives a couple of other references.

Still, I suspect the actual meaning is related not to this, but to the BHS āma, noted in Edgerton:

āma, defined in ŚsP as = religious longings … ŚsP 486.4–5 …mahāsattvasyāmaḥ; 7 āmaḥ, dharmatr̥ṣṇāḥ; 14–15, 22, etc., dharmatr̥ṣṇā āmaḥ

This is, admittedly, very obscure and not found elsewhere in Pali. But it makes a nice reading if we accept that Dhammika is not a monk: you shouldn’t abuse those you want to have as your spiritual companions.

It appears that Dhammika is staying in the monasteries hoping to ordain. But due to his abrasive personality and lack understanding of Dhamma, he drives the monks away before they give him a chance. Luckily for him, the Buddha’s patience and kindness won him over.

The text does not say what became of him. But if the Theragāthā verses are indeed the same individual, it seems he did become a monk and realized the fruits of practice.


Thank you, I have another favorite Sutta now! :heart: :pray: