Revised February 13, 2019; May 21, 2020
Appamādō amata padam
pamādō maccunō padam
appamattā na meeyanthi
ye pamattā yathā matā.
(Dhammapada Verse 21, Samavati Vatthu)
- Appamāda is “doing without delay” and pamāda is being delayed.
- Mata (pronounced “matha”) is death, and amata is deathless, another word for Nibbāna. Maccunō (pronounced “machchunō“) is also dead, and so is meeyanthi.
- Pada means “word” (most of these words are also Sinhala words).
- Appamattā is one who is not delayed, pamattā is one who is delayed.
- Yathā is “true status”.
Now we can extract the MEANING of the verse as:
Hastening is a “deathless word”
Delay is a “death sentence”
One who makes haste attains the deathless status
One who is negligent is already dead
1. Thus someone who is delayed in seeking Nibbāna (either due to not knowing Buddha Dhamma or just procrastinating in following the Path) is like a dead person even while living. He/she will be facing innumerable deaths in the future.
- But someone who strives and attains Nibbāna has already reached the “deathless state”. Because after attaining Nibbāna, all future deaths are stopped: No more future rebirths and thus no more deaths.
- One actually attains the “deathless state” when one becomes one of the 8 Noble Persons (attha purisa puggala). This is because once one becomes an Ariya (Nobel Person), one will never lose it, and will never be born in an apāya. Thus one can be said to be “born” as an Ariya when one becomes a Sōtapanna Anugāmi; see, “Sōtapanna Anugāmi – No More Births in the Apāyā“.
2. There are two reasons for the urgency:
- The time of death is unpredictable. Even a young, healthy person may die via an accident or other unforeseeable cause.
- As we get old, our brains start to degrade and thus our minds will not be able to grasp the Dhamma.
3. Many Buddhists that I know say they want to “enjoy life while young” and then start focusing on Nibbāna at old age long after retirement. But one may not reach old age, and even if one did, the mind may not be able to grasp the deep message of the Buddha.
- Most people come to the conclusion of postponing practice because they think attaining Nibbāna (or the Sōtapanna stage) is a mere act of following some rituals that can be done at any time. This would be a big mistake. The Sōtapanna stage is reached via comprehending the true nature of this world, anicca, dukkha, and anatta, and that needs a sharp mind and a lot of contemplation.
4. The Buddha was once traveling with some bhikkhus and they saw an old beggar couple. The Buddha told the bhikkhus that the man’s name was Mahādana (meaning rich), and he was indeed a very rich person, and the woman was his wife; they both were of “tihétuka birth”, i.e., they were born due to a very potent good kamma (done with all three good roots of non-greed, non-hate, and wisdom) from a previous life.
- Thus, the Buddha said, if they started on the Path when they were very young, the man could have become an Arahant and the woman an Anāgāmi; if they started when they were young (20’s), they could have become Anāgāmi/Sakadāgāmi, and if they started on the Path in the middle age they could have attained Sakadāgāmi/Sōtapanna stages. Instead, they lived a very lavish life, wasted their wealth, and became beggars. Now they were too old to comprehend anything.
- It is unfortunate to see many people today postponing the practice to their “old age”. It is a good idea to start early and at least keep a slow pace.
- There are four factors that contribute to the capability of attaining Nibbāna: āyu (age), vaṇṇa (lively), sukha (comfort), bala (ability). These are due to past puñña kamma. See #13 of “Kanha (Dark) and Sukka (Bright) Kamma and Kammakkhaya.”
- Some people may have sufficient vaṇṇa and bala even at a very old age. Thus a normal person cannot look at a given old person and say, “this person seems too old to attain Nibbāna“. Only a Buddha can determine whether a person is too old to grasp the Dhamma. Yet, in general, as one becomes older the brain gets weaker.
Here is a recording of the verse recited by a Venerable Thēro:
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