The Gatha of Canda Theri

Before, I had fallen on evil times:
no husband, no children,
no relatives, friends,
no way to obtain clothing & food.
So, taking a staff & bowl in hand,
begging for alms from house to house,
feverish from the cold & heat,
I wandered for seven full years.
Then seeing a nun
obtaining food & drink,
I approached her & said:
“Let me go forth into homelessness.”

She, Patacara, from sympathy,
let me go forth;
then, exhorting me,
urged me on to the highest goal.
Hearing her words,
I did her bidding.
Her exhortation was not in vain.
I’m a three-knowledge woman,

Thig 5.12


The remarkable thing is that if there was any simmering resentment in her about the suffering heaped on her by life and the world, then she somehow managed to overcome it - wish she had said a verse or two about that part of her path. The world would be bleak as hell for someone burdened with so much pain, loneliness and ache and to still find inner strength to embrace the Dhamma is just…tenacious.


We identify with our autobiographical memories - the pain and worry becomes ‘mine’. ‘My life’ then is filled with suffering and pain.

If someone sees through ‘me’ and ‘mine’ they stop seeing the guy or girl in the photograph as continuations of them-‘selves’. They can stop ‘owning’ that mass of pain. They also need to come to the present and reliving old memories and act as if it happening now, when it is in the past - all just water under the bridge. Cliched as it is, coming to the present; remembering to come to the present and let memories be memories of the past, is helpful.

Focusing and noticing what is positive in the present is helpful to stop clinging to memories of the past.

With metta

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It’s not easy, though.

The ache that fills the mind of someone who is dragged through hell day after day, for years, is not easily overcome or forgotten. A monk who begs for alms-food has the saffron robe for support - his or her condition is voluntary. For someone who hasn’t yet encountered the Dhamma but is forced to grovel and beg, there is not much mental armour to face the world. It’s just wretched misery stretching across years. The putrefying stagnation of a life that is reduced to a daily ritual of just pushing another day behind, while yearning for what seems to be unattainable in the world is just hellish.

Seven years of raw ache and misery. And she overcame it all to become an Arahant…

Though monks and nuns look like they have it together, they must necessarily project that to the lay population. We have little access to their struggles. The ‘grass’ isn’t always greener…or easier though it might be tempting and give hope of some kind of salvation or at least solution.

Firstly, unlike in the Buddha’s time there is treatment for some of these conditions. I think the Buddha would approve of anyone trying to reduce their suffering using medicine or psychology. It is not possible to practice when the mind is overcome by suffering.

When the days are good, wretchedness fades away. This shows that our estimates of our life are coloured by our moods. Moods don’t last or at least come to an end. It’s best not to let the mood decide how good or bad it is, as it isn’t objective but rather think how an outsider might consider your life (or even better- don’t think about such matters as all the brain can produce is more negativity). Negative estimations can feed into lowering mood some more. When anxious everything look threatening. When bored everything looks unexciting. When low in mood everything is negative. It’s only the mood talking and is not really reality. Exercising is effective for resetting all these mental states (just see the research!).

There’s a certain ‘cold’ comfort in low mood- it’s a form of attachment to it. Some even make their low mood their identity. It’s a subtle trap and not worth the price. Metta meditation, especially towards oneself, in an extended way (say 30 minuets) can be helpful. Another is to take the ‘sweetness’ (piti) of metta - or even the memory of the sweetness of food and develop it, concentrate on it and hold it in the focus of your attention. I’m thinking that it might help with seretonin release in the brain. Problem solving and not letting them fester, is another helpful thing to do.

With metta

We have the Therigatha/Theragatha to get an overall picture of the ascetics who didn’t bother about lay opinion and revealed their inner struggles. :slight_smile:

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True, but I wonder if they had been approved by the Buddha to be memorized for posterity. You see a more troubled layer in the vinaya, which had to retain the root story for the rule to make sense, I think!

with metta