Buddhist Scriptures, by E.J. Thomas, , at sacred-texts.com
The Dhammapada, consisting of 423 verses, is accompanied by a commentary, which gives a quasi-historical account of how each verse came to be uttered. The following is the commentary on verse 174.
"Blind and unseeing."—This exposition of the doctrine was spoken by the Master while dwelling at the Aggālava shrine, about a certain weaver's daughter. One day, when the Master had arrived at Ālavī, the inhabitants invited him, and gave alms. The Master, after the preparation for the meal, by way of giving thanks said: "Uncertain is life, certain is death. Of necessity I must die, and my life ends in death. Practise reflection on death, thinking, life is unsure, death is sure. For they who do not practise reflection on death are at their last hour like a man who is terrified at seeing a poisonous snake, and filled with terror they utter a cry of fear and perish. But they who practise reflection on death are like a man who sees a poisonous snake from a
distance, and going with a long stick he throws it away, and is not terrified. Therefore let reflection on death be practised."
On hearing this exposition of the doctrine the rest of the people went away intent on their business; but a certain weaver's daughter, who was about sixteen years old, thought, "Wonderful is the teaching of the Buddhas," and she practised reflection on death. The Master went from thence, and reached Jetavana. Now the girl practised reflection on death for three years. Then on a certain day the Master at dawn, observing the world, called her to mind, and considered, "How may she be?" And he had the knowledge that, "This girl from the day when she heard my exposition of the doctrine has practised reflection on death for three years. I will now go there and ask the girl four questions; and when she explains them I will express approval at each of the four points, and will utter the verse. By means of the verse she will be established in the fruit of the First Path (entering the stream), and through her the teaching will be profitable to many."
Then with an assembly of five hundred brethren he left Jetavana, and by degrees came to the monastery at Aggālava. The people of Ālavī, hearing that the Master had come, went to the monastery, and gave him an invitation. The girl also heard of the Master's coming and, glad
at heart, she thought, "Verily the moon-faced, great Gotama Buddha, my father, my lord, my teacher, has come. After three years I shall see the golden-hued Master again. Now I shall be able to see his golden-hued body, and hear his sweet, most excellent doctrine." But her father, going to the workshop, said, "My daughter, some one has ordered a robe from me, and a foot of it is not yet woven. I will finish it to-day. Get the shuttle ready for me quickly, and bring it." She thought, "I want to hear the doctrine of the Master. My father calls me, so how shall I be able to hear the Master's doctrine? I won't get my father's shuttle ready and bring it." Then she thought, "If I don't prepare the shuttle, my father might strike and beat me, so I will prepare the shuttle and give it to him and afterwards I will hear the doctrine." So, sitting down on a chair, she prepared the shuttle.
The inhabitants of Ālavī waited on the Master, took his bowl, and stood for him to give thanks. 1 The Master thought, "I have come a journey of thirty leagues for the sake of a noble daughter, and now to-day she does not take the occasion. When she takes the occasion I will give thanks." And he sat down in silence. When the Master is thus silent, no one in the world of gods and men dares to say anything to him.
Meanwhile the girl prepared the shuttle, put it in a basket, took it to her father, and then went to the edge of the assembly, looking for the Master. The Master raised his head and saw her. At the sign of his looking she perceived, "The Master seated in such an assembly as this looks for me and expects my coming, even into his presence he expects my coming." Setting down the shuttle-basket she went into the presence of the Master. But why did the Master look at her? It was thus that he thought, "If she goes and dies like the common people, her future state of existence will be uncertain, but by coming into my presence she will gain the fruit of the First Path, and her future existence being certain, she will be reborn in the Tusita heaven." But there was no liberation for her, if she died on that day. She, understanding that she was being looked at, approached the Master, and entering within the six-coloured rays (of his halo), saluted him and stood on one side. And on her saluting the Master, who was seated silent in the midst of such an assembly, as she stood there, he said to her, "My girl, whence have you come?" "I do not know, reverend sir." "Whither will you go?" "I do not know, reverend sir." "Do you not know?" "I know, reverend sir." "Do you know?" "I do not know, reverend sir." So the Master asked her the four questions, and the multitude
murmured, "See, for shame, this weaver's daughter talks with the All-enlightened One about whatever she wants; surely when she was asked whence she had come, she should have said from the weaver's house, and when asked where she was going, she should have said to the weaver's workshop." The Master, silencing the multitude, asked, "My girl, when you were asked whence you came, why did you say you did not know?" She replied, "Reverend sir, you know that I have come from the weaver's house, and in asking whence I have come you asked whence I have come in being re-born here, and I do not know whence I have come in being re-born here." The Master said to her, "Well done, well done, girl, you have explained the question that I asked you." And expressing approval he asked further, "When you were asked where you will go, why did you say you did not know?" "Reverend sir, you know that I shall take the shuttle-basket and go to the weaver's workshop. But you asked me where I shall be re-born when I go hence, and I do not know where I shall be re-born, when I go hence after death." Then the Master said, "You have explained this question also," and a second time he expressed approval, and asked further, "And why did you say that you knew, when you were asked if you do not know?" "Reverend sir, I know that I shall die, and hence I spoke thus." The Master
said, "You have explained this question also," and, expressing approval, asked further, "Why, when I said 'Do you know,' did you say you did not know?" "I know indeed that I shall die, reverend sir, but that I shall die at such and such a time, such as at night or by day, I do not know, and therefore I spoke thus." Then the Master said, "You have explained this question also," and the fourth time he expressed approval, and, addressing the assembly said, "None of you knew what she said, and you only murmured. They who have not the eye of wisdom are blind, and they who have the eye of wisdom are seeing." So saying he spoke this verse:
When the teaching was ended, the girl was established in the fruit of the First Path, and the teaching was also profitable to the multitude.
Then she took her shuttle-basket and went back to her father. Now he had sat down and was fallen asleep, and she, without noticing, handed him the shuttle-basket. The shuttle-basket knocked against the top of the beam of the loom, and fell, making a noise. He woke up, and seizing the loom he dragged it along. The beam moved, struck her on the breast, and she
fell down dead. Then her father looked at her fallen down with all her body blood-stained, and saw that she was dead. And great grief came upon him, and, lamenting, "No one else can extinguish my sorrow," went into the presence of the Master, and told him of the matter, saying, "Reverend sir, extinguish my sorrow." The Master consoled him, saying, "Sorrow not, for in the endless round of existence, even as at the time of your daughter's death, the tears that are shed are more than four oceans." And he preached a discourse of the endlessness of birth and death. The weaver, with his sorrow appeased, asked the Master for admission to the Order, and receiving ordination he in no long time attained to Arahatship. (Dhammapada Comm. 174.)
59:1 This consisted in giving them some instruction in the doctrine, as at his previous visit.