On the "far shore" in dhp 385

Ven Sunyo makes the following astute observations about Dhp 385:

Dhp385: Yassa pāraṁ apāraṁ vā, pārāpāraṁ na vijjati; Vītaddaraṁ visaṁyuttaṁ, tamahaṁ brūmi brāhmaṇaṁ. “When one does not recognize the near shore, the far shore, or both; stress-free, detached, that’s who I call a brahmin.” This sounds off, as ‘far shore’ usually means nibbāna, and the brahmin knows nibbāna. I think the meaning of pāraṁ here is paro loko, as Snp1.1: So bhikkhu jahāti orapāraṁ where you do translate it as ‘the next world’. The apāraṁ then is equivalent to ora, ‘this world’, meaning no rebirth in this world. The intended meaning of vijjati then is ‘exist’, not ‘recognize’, as for the brahmin there exists no rebirth in this world and others. That makes intuitive sense with the genitive/dative yassa, “for whom it does not exist”, i.e. who does not have, like common similar constructions with atthi.

This is a sensible suggestion. Let’s look deeper.

BB has a discussion of this point in his translation of the Uragasutta, where he adopts the commentarial reading. I copy it here for convenience:

The expression that recurs in the refrain orapāraṃ, “the here and the beyond,” might be seen as problematic, for it is used here in a sense that differs from the way this dichotomy is typically depicted in the suttas. Generally, in the Nikāyas, the here (oraṃ) or “near shore” (orimaṃ tīraṃ) represents saṃsāra, the round of birth, aging, and death, and the beyond (pāraṃ) or “far shore” (pārimaṃ tīraṃ) represents nibbāna, the ending of the round. The near shore is described as risky and dangerous, the far shore as secure and free of danger, and the aim of the practice is to cross from the here to the beyond, from the near shore to the far shore, as in the famous simile of the raft (at MN I 134). This metaphor plays a prominent role in Sn as well, particularly in the Pārāyanavagga (chap. V), “The Way to the Beyond.” In the Uraga Sutta, however, the giving up of “the here and the beyond” cannot mean that the liberated monk transcends the duality of saṃsāra and nibbāna, an interpretation that would be contrary to the whole tenor of the Nikāyas. “The here and the beyond” must be conceived in relation to the dualities found within the sphere of conditioned existence, “here” likely representing existence in this present world, “beyond” existence in future lives, or “here” representing existence in the desire realm, “beyond” existence in the realms of rebirth corresponding to the higher stages of concentration

So Ven Bodhi and myself concur in following the commentary to read orapāra in Ud 1.1 as “this life and the next life”, as opposed to the expected sense of “this shore (samsara) and the far shore (nibbana)”.

In Dhp 385, however, all three of the translators represented on SuttaCentral retain the standard translation of “this shore and the far shore”.

Norman also follows this translation, but in his note he says he thinks it means “this life and the next life”. He cites Brough’s edition of the Gandhari Dhammapada for this. Unfortuantely the cited page 202 is missing from the version on the internet archive. Norman doesn’t mention the commentary.

Other Indic versions have essentially the same reading.

  • Pdhp is letter for letter identical: “pdhp40:1”: "yassa pāram apāram vā pārāpāraṁ na vijjati
  • Uv is also virtually identical: yasya pāram apāraṁ ca pārāpāraṁ na vidyate
  • gdhp1 seems to pair this verse with the pure paccha one, which seems sensible. The remaining text is fragmentary, but appears similar: yasa pari avare ca para …

So that’s no help.

The commentary here is interesting, and quite different to its explanation of Snp 1.1.

Apparently someone asked the Buddha what pāra meant, and he realized that it was Mara. He said, “Wicked One, what is the pāra to you? It is attained by those free of desire.” Then he taught the verse.

The word analysis, however, defines pāra and apāra as internal and external six senses. Na vijjati is for who does not grasp them as self. Cone notes this passage, but does not comment on the explanation.

Thus the commentary appears to offer two quite contradictory explanations: pāra/apāra either means “far shore/near shore” as normal, or the internal and external senses. This is really unusual, normally the commentary is much better edited than this. It looks to me like the story and the word commentary come from two different sources with two different interpretations.

At the very least, this shows the problem has been around for a long time.

One issue that is not addressed by Norman is the rather unusual inclusion of the pārāpāraṁ “both sides” option. So far as I know, in passages that talk about the “near shore” and “far shore” as samsara/nibbana, there’s no “both sides” option. When talking about the “this world” and the “next world”, however, we do find phrases such as:

nevidha na huraṁ na ubhayamantarena

It’s not exactly the same, but it might be considered a variation.

I believe that the inclusion of pārāpāraṁ might have suggested the idea of internal/external senses to the commentary, for these are normally presented in this kind of three-fold pattern: internal, external, internal-external. Now, the basic meaning of pāra is “other”, so it yields a sense of “self, other, self-other”. So the commentarial explanation makes sense in this way. The problem with it, though, is na vijjati. In the other verses of this chapter where na vijjati is used, it is, as expected, the defilements that have ceased. For an arahant, of course, the senses still work as normal. Thus the commentary has to add an additional explanation, that it is the attachment to the senses that does not exist. It’s not impossible, but it is starting to get tenuous. We have to assume a unique meaning for pāra, then apply a layer of interpretation because the special meaning doesn’t actually work.

There is, perhaps, a further possibility. Pāra, as well as meaning the “far shore”, can also mean “crossing” or “bringing across”. These senses seem to be more prominent in Sanskrit. This makes sense in context, as it is a description of a brahmin. It would also explain why Pali interpreters struggle.

This verse then would be more similar to the common pattern in the Atthakavagga of “taking up and putting down”. The brahmin is no longer engaged in the process of crossing over, of returning, or of (continually) crossing over and returning.

This agrees with the only other occurrence of pārāpāraṁ in the EBTs, at dn13:24.4, where it is part of a call, “cross over to this shore from the far shore” (‘ehi pārāpāraṁ, ehi pārāpāran’ti).

This seems to me like the best choice at the moment.

One for whom there is no crossing over
or crossing back, or crossing over and back;
stress-free, detached,
that’s who I call a brahmin.


Interesting suggestion, bhante. Seems plausible. (I didn’t realize Ven. Bodhi had made the exact same observation or I would just have referred to it.)

It could of course also be one of those cases where multiple interpretations are intended, just like AN6.61 on craving being the seamstress, with the “both sides” there being similar to the “this shore” and “other shore”.


Indeed it could, although “many interpretations” doesn’t mean “any interpretation”. As always in such cases, it is wise to avoid imputing doctrinally strong or innovative readings to an ambiguous verse. Which is why, as you pointed out, the most obvious reading fails.


Is it also possible that idea being communicated is that one should not take up / cognize nibbana as some kind of thing, identifying or grasping at it conceptually etc? This is not a strange teaching and it is found in MN1 which states:

He directly knows extinguishment as extinguishment. But he doesn’t identify with extinguishment, he doesn’t identify regarding extinguishment, he doesn’t identify as extinguishment, he doesn’t identify that ‘extinguishment is mine’, he doesn’t take pleasure in extinguishment. Why is that? Because the Realized One has completely understood it to the end, I say.

This would allow for us to accept the more widely accepted reading no? Thus, a Sugata is someone who has “gone well” to the other shore, but it is precisely because they did not cling or take up this shore and the other shore that they are able to make it across.

This is just a thought I had.


Good point, that would be another reading.

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Bhante. Could you kindly explain why the above words (ā vs a) are spelt differently? Thank you

Do you think this also might help point to how dhamma is defined when used in the context of nibbana?

The initial vowel is lengthened (guṇa), indicating that pāra is formed by “secondary derivation” (taddhita) from para. This is a common grammatical process, where one of a number of different suffixes is added to a word to create a derived meaning. Here the suffix is -a, but it disappears in the actual word, and instead we detect the form by the lengthening of the initial vowel. This is the same process by which, for example, jina (the victor) becomes jaina (a follower of the Victor, a Jain).

Such secondary derivations can take a wide variety of senses (anekattha). In this case, para (“other”) takes on a sense of locality, “the place which is other”, i.e. the “far shore”.


Sounds excellent. Thank you :pray:t2: