Therīgāthā Translation Questions

It’s not surprising since we often see people pointing out that the Theirgatha is likely the oldest collection of religious women’s writings. But of course they weren’t written down. And when they were collected I’m sure there was never the idea that only original, personal compositions would be included. Instead I think of them as “their” verses in the sense that they were what these women liked and used for liberation. And some of that (most?) was their own creations.

1 Like

There’s a saying “Everyone’s got a book in them. They rarely have two.” I know I wrote a couple of metric lines of poetry, and any more would be too much trouble. In a culture of people swapping and reciting poems, it’s understandable that all people would dabble a bit. For example, it’s easy enough to see the difference between poetic marvel in SNP, and the understated depth of Dhp, compared to the more amateurish tone of Thig. I say this with best of intentions, which gives credence to its historical claim.

Also it’s hard to overemphasise the understated beauty of Ven. @sujato’s translations, and how valuable they are especially for a Pāli learner, which becomes ever more obvious when comparing it to other translations.

For example, I appreciate the zeal of Davids, and what Ven. Thanissaro is hoping to achieve, but they overshoot the dramatic pulse, taking away from the humble pride. And Ayya Soma’s offers an interesting read on some of the more weirder things that can be read differently, but I usually gravitate towards Ven. Sujato’s understanding in any case.

Only those of Susan Marcott have a similar elegant simplicity, yet her collection doesn’t cover all the poems. And to be honest, I can understand not wanting to translate last two poems - but even their lateness and inclusion in the collection tells an important story about how we should approach it all ever critically.

Anyway, on the topic of translations - am I correct to assume that khanda in tamokhandhaṁ padāliyā is an obvious reference to aggregates? In none of the translations is it made obvious.

In translating to Turkish, since there’s no widespread buddhist lexicon yet, I’m using a word that can be used both for aggregates and heap of darkness. Which I think would be useful as I hopefully delve into more translations especially of prose kind.

Oh, I think that the last chapter (thig16.1) is one of the most amazing texts in the whole canon.

But then again I’m not fussed by all this early/late business.


Ubbirī is another tricky one for authorship, thanks to all for the comments.

I have understood this in line with the commentary, where she is crying “live, mother!”, confusing her mother with her daughter from grief—which to me seems like a poignant and realistic touch. Is there any reason why the vocative must be separated from the cry?

The verse has two vocatives: amma and ubbiri. The speaker of the verse is addressing Ubbiri by her name, which would be unusual if it were her daughter. Pali is pretty consistent that a given speaker uses the same vocative for a given addressee.

Assuming amma and ubbiri are two separate people, then amma must be part of the quote that is spoken by Ubbiri, supporting the commentary.

Normally yes, but this kind of idiom is found in the Thera/Therigatha, such as this verse by Tālapuṭa in Thag 19.1:

For many years you begged me,
Bahūni vassāni tayāmhi yācito,
“Enough of living in a house for you!”
‘Agāravāsena alaṁ nu te idaṁ’;
Why do you not urge me on, mind,
Taṁ dāni maṁ pabbajitaṁ samānaṁ,
now that I’ve gone forth as an ascetic?
Kiṅkāraṇā citta tuvaṁ na yuñjasi.

Yes there is a reason. I prefer to take the most straightforward approach by not assuming something new (i.e. the speculation about her mother ostensibly calling her daughter as “mother”, and why that may have been so).

The verb krandasi in the first line is in 2nd person - and the speaker is the girl’s voice addressing her mother, so naturally she addresses her mother as ‘amba’ in vocative in the same sentence.

In the second line, the vocative urvari is another sentence nestled within the quote. Within that quote, the mother is speaking now to her daughter by addressing her by name.

Amba and Urvari are referring to two different people, the first vocative is the direct speech of Urvarī to her mother, the second is the mother addressing her daughter within the quotation. They are two different sentences so the vocatives do not need to address the same person.

Then once she has quoted her mother in the first and second lines, Urvarī continues speaking.

There is nothing unusual in a mother calling her daughter by name. The amba in the first line is not spoken by the mother, but the urvari in the second line is within the quote spoken by the mother.

Not sure what you mean here.

I am saying

  1. “amba” is addressed by the daughter to the mother (and therefore is not part of a quotation) and
  2. “urvari” is addressed by the mother to the daughter (and is therefore within the quotation).

Not sure how your reading of the commentary can be right without introducing additional speculative content.

This isnt someone addressing themselves in 2nd person. It is someone conceptualizing their mind as a separate entity (from the speaker), and then addressing it in second person.

I’m looking at the verse feeling like I too, like Ubbiri, am going mad, until I realized that you’re reading the first two lines as containing two separate cries from the mother:

“(Please be) alive”
“Please come back to your senses, Urvarī”

So the daughter is reporting that the mother is saying these things. I think I understand you now!

I’ve always understood that the second line is not another cry, but is a voice of admonition from the speaker to the mother, “get a hold of yourself!”. Whereas you read it, if I am correct, as saying, “come back to life!”. I’ve had a quick look around and I can’t find any close parallels to this phrasing that would decide this point.

Most translators, including myself, take the daughter’s name as Jīvā, hence the line about 84,000 named Jīvā. Obviously a pun is intended as well.

Under your reading, if I understand correctly, the daughter is called Ubbirī. But the verses as a whole are associated with “the theri Ubbirī”. So we are now to assume that the daughter Ubbirī was formerly a nun, then died, then came back as a spirit to speak to her mother? This seems like a fairly heavy set of assumptions.

Further, the “hero” of the poem is clearly the mother, the woman who gets it together and practices for arahantship in the second and third verses. If I understand you correctly, under your reading we don’t even know her name, only that she was Ubbirī’s mother. Possible, I guess, but it seems unlikely.

It still seems to me that the commentary’s reading is more satisfying and lets us make sense of the verses with the one simple assumption that a grieving mother as a sign of confusion called her daughter “mother”.


It is also possible that she’s first crying to her mother, then crying for her daughter?

Like a child dropping on the floor would cry for his mother in agony (“Help me mom!”) so is this mother first calling to her mother, then to her daughter?

OK, thanks. A new meaning dawns now, it sounds clearer. So,

The Buddha says to Urvarī – Calling out to your daughter with the words “Amba Jīve”, you cry in these woods. [Amba & Jīve are vocatives here; Jīve being the vocative of Jīvā, the ‘e’ ending of which is presumably lost in Pāli due to sandhi with iti, and is replaced with the lengthened ‘ā’, else the vocative is irregularly taken as Jīva which then becomes long as a result of sandhi].

Alternatively the ‘Amba’ is the Buddha addressing Urvarī by saying – Hey mother (Urvari), you are crying out for your daughter saying “(My dear) Jīvā”

The Buddha continues – But hey Urvari, collect yourself (i.e. gain a control over your feelings).

The Buddha continues – because you have birthed this very same Jīvā in 84000 former lives, and when they died every time all their bodies were cremated right here in this cremation ground, so which of those 84000 do you bewail now? [i.e. these births, deaths and grieving is getting very very repetitive & impulsive, so get out of it with wisdom]

Then Urvarī, in response, with her new found understanding declares her grieving is over, and she has reached the peace with going for refuge, and thereafter becoming a sthavirī.

Thanks for talking this through. :pray:


Right, exactly. So I think there are at least two possible readings here, and although I think I’ll stick with the commentarial one for now, i do find your reading attractive. It’s a dramatic scenario!

Just a couple of minor grammatical points:

  • The detail about the spelling of the vocative jīva vs. jīve is interesting, and taken in isolation, would suggest that the meaning is rather the imperative here: “live, mother”. But the punning is deep in this one! I feel like translating her name as “Liv” to get it across.
  • In the second line, there is no close -ti, so no explicit indication that it is a second quote. Sometimes this is omitted, though.

We still don’t have an explicit parallel for the idiom attānaṃ adhigaccha, it would be really nice to see if this is used elsewhere. I found two texts that use the phrase, but I don’t know if the contexts are relevant:


vicārayan vicāro 'pi nātmānam adhigacchati /
yadā tadā nirullekhaṃ param evāvaśiṣyate //MU_2,19.24//

yadi tvam ātmanātmānam adhigacchasi tat svayam /
etat praśnottaraṃ sādho jānāsy atra na saṃśayaḥ //MU_4,39.15//

Bhagavad Gita 5.7

baladevaḥ : īdṛśī mumukṣuḥ sarveṣāṃ preyān ity āha yogeti | yoge niṣkāme karmaṇi yukto nirataḥ | ataeva viśuddhātmā nirmala-buddhiḥ | ataeva vijitātmā vaśīkṛta-manāḥ | ataeva jitendriyaḥ śabdādi-viṣaya-rāga-śūnyaḥ | ataeva sarveṣāṃ bhūtānāṃ jīvānām ātma-bhūtaḥ premāspadatām gata ātmā deho yasya saḥ | na cātra pārtha-sārathinā sarvātmaikyam abhimatam - na tv evāham ity ādinā sarvātmanāṃ mitho bhedasya tenābhidhānāt | tad-vādināpi vijñājñābhedasya vaktum aśaktyatvāc ca | evambhūtaḥ kurvann api viviktātmānusandhānād anātmany ātmābhimānena na lipyate acireṇātmānam adhigacchati | ataḥ karma-yogaḥ śreyān ||7||

1 Like

Right, so I’ve got a couple more questions now with the famous Thig 5.2 of Vimalā. For reference:

Mattā vaṇṇena rūpena,
sobhaggena yasena ca;
Yobbanena cupatthaddhā,

Vibhūsetvā imaṁ kāyaṁ,
sucittaṁ bālalāpanaṁ;
Aṭṭhāsiṁ vesidvāramhi,
luddo pāsamivoḍḍiya.

Now aññāsamatimaññihaṁ we’ve got “I despised other women”. But I think it means literally “others like me”, isn’t it?

So, I think there’s a subtle difference, because she doesn’t despise all women - just her competition, and probably those in her line of work who were of comparable beauty and status. So I think it gives the translation a subtle depth to say “Others like me”, as in, other women working just like her and her competition, unless of course I’m botchering the grammar somehow.

And for the second question, commentary explains bālalāpanaṁ as how Ven. Sujato translates it. But following the example of Ayya Soma, isn’t this something like: “I adorned this body with fancy paints (probably referring to makeup) and empty chatter”, which makes sense as she’s the one catcalling customers at the brothel door, hence a hunter laying traps.

Those are today’s inquiries to you venerables. :slight_smile:

1 Like

You’re right, it should be “I looked down on others”. Not sure why it should say “like me”? It’s aññāsaṃ + atimaññi + ahaṃ.

This is also at MN 106:2.2, where I have the following note:

As for bālalāpana, at sn22.95:13.2 we find bālalāpinī in a similar context, which there follows right after the death of the physical body. This suggests that lāpinī there has the sense “lament” which is attested in Sanskrit. Bālalāpana is found at thig5.2:2.2 of a beautiful body; see too ja421:5.3. In later Sanskrit, bālalapitaṁ is used by Jayarāśi Bhaṭṭa in his Tattvopaplavasiṁha in the sense “prattle of fools”.


Seeing how people consistently translated this as “other women”, and Ayya Soma’s interesting “I despised anyone who was not my equal.”, I though it was thus aññā + sama + atimaññi + ahaṃ. :slight_smile: Which probably should’ve been aññāsamātimaññihaṁ. Which probably is gibberish in Pāli (so should be something like aññāsamamatimaññihaṁ?) But, perhaps metre considerations and all.

Only saying “Others” also could have a different meaning, with how little she thinks of her customers and so.

This gives an interesting context especially since it’s also related to sensual pleasures!

Thanks a lot Bhante!