The problem with words

Dūraṅgamaṁ ekacaraṁ
asarīraṁ guhāsayaṁ
Ye cittaṁ saṁyamissanti
mokkhanti mārabandhanā

These are the Pali words of verse 37 of the Dhammapada. These words do not change but the interpretation of them does. So, how reliable are translations when key concepts can be presented differently by each translator?

Here are various translations:

1 Wandering far and wide on its own, without form, the mind lies in the heart-cavern within. To bring it under control is to be freed from the bonds of ignorance.

  • *Rendering by Ajahn Munindo**

2 Those who will restrain the mind that roams far, is lonesome, without a body, hidden, gain release from the bonds of Māra.

  • Anandajoti Bhikkhu *.

3 Wandering afar and solitary, formless and resting in the cave of the heart is the mind. Those who shall subdue this mind are liberated from the bonds of Mara.

*   BuddhaRakkhita Thera**

4 The mind travels far, wandering alone; incorporeal, it hides in a cave. Those who will restrain the Mind, are freed from Māra’s bonds.

 *Venerable Sujato*

5 Those who bridle their mind which travels far, moves about alone, is without a body, and hides in the chamber of the heart, will be free from the bonds of Mara, the tempter.

 *Max Muller*

6 Wandering far, going alone, bodiless, lying in a cave: the mind. Those who restrain it: from Mara’s bonds they’ll be freed.

 *Venerable Thanissaro*

So, these translations are fairly consistent at the beginning and the end but it is the middle part that interests me. The Mind is “hidden”, “hides in a cave”, rests “in the cave of the heart”.

Is the mind hidden? If so, hidden from what and by what? Is it to be found in any old cave, or is there a special one we can travel to? Is the cave, the cave of the heart? If so, what is the cave of the heart and how does this differ from the Mind?

I personally like Buddharakkita Thera’s translation. As a meditator, it makes perfect sense to me.

The ancients thought the physical basis of the mind was the heart. They didn’t know the function of the brain. The contemporary medical ideas are revealed in the Visuddhimagga.

First of all, Ajahn Munindo’s is not a translation. It’s an interpretation that removes facts like Māra, etc. So that should never be used if you want to know what the Buddha said.

Second, why in the world do people keep reading Max Muler’s translation? It was published in 1881. Good grief.


There is certainly an echo of Plato’s cave there, isn’t there?

So… if I’m reading the commentary correctly (probably not!) it’s explaining that the metaphor is referring to rebirth.

The mind has no body, but comes and inhabits the “cave” of the chest (as @paul1 pointed out, assuming that the heart is the physical seat of the mind)

But I get the sense that the meditator himself is also hinted at, for the meditator also wanders alone and inhabits caves… so here a parallel is being drawn between the wandering of the seeker and the wandering of the mind across saṃsāra… a kind of commiseration between the meditator and his unruly mind…


The mind and its spiritual life is hidden from the exterior world, conventional reality. What the practitioner achieves is separately done.

This separation is developed in the early stage of practice:

““In this way he remains focused internally on the body in & of itself, or externally on the body in & of itself, or both internally & externally on the body in & of itself.”

—Majjhima Nikaya 10

" [3] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’[2] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.’

—Majjhima Nikaya 118

I really warm to this notion that “the meditator also wanders alone and inhabits caves”…
The work of meditation undertaken by all of us is by its very nature solitary. It can be uncomfortable, even frightening, and yet, the solitude can also be a refuge