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Pali Canon - Last Vandana

by Sangharakshita

The Last Vandana Seminar

Held at Padmaloka on 19 December 1982, 26 December 1982 and 2 January 1983.
Present: Venerable Sangharakshita, Subhadra, Prasannasiddhi, Subhuti, Kovida, Vessantara,
Kevala, Vajrananda, Khemapala.
Sangharakshita: I think everybody knows that this Last Vandana as it's usually called was
introduced from India. In India our Buddhist friends usually recite it or chant it at the end of
all meetings especially the meetings which are held at night. And it was introduced I think
only a couple of years ago into Britain. As far as I remember the selection of verses from the
Dhammapada which make up the Last Vandana was made by Dr Ambedkar quite a number
of years ago. I seem to remember hearing first this chant on an HMV record quite a few years
ago, it must be well over twenty-five years ago, as part of the build up to the mass conversion
in 1956. He got a quite well known Marathi musician to record refuges, precepts and various
verses in a quite musical sort of way. I think there were two records in circulation, both HMV
As far as I can remember this Last Vandana was on one of those records and it sort of caught
on more than, I think, the other things on the record. But anyway it is almost universally used
that is to say, chanted or almost sung at the end of meetings among the untouchable Buddhists
in India. It's quite an appealing sort of tune and I think was put to the words by this particular
musician (and stretched over) two records and I think played on those two records. So it does
seem that the chanting of this Last Vandana as it is called - Last or Final - In India people call
it Last or the Final Vandana - ( )Vandana they call it in Marathi. They have it right at the end
of the proceedings. Not Last Vandana in the sense that you'll never recite it again. It's the
Final Vandana - once that's chanted it means the proceedings are definitely over. Hm? So I
hope that since it's been introduced in England and since it is chanted at most Centres and
most Communities it would be good if you at least knew what the Pali words mean. I think
people actually on the whole don't know. Well it's quite clear from the way they chant
because following our Indian friends they rhyme the first word of one verse on to the last line
of the previous verse. It doesn't make sense at all. For instance ( ) as regards the previous
verse leaves out an important syllable as regards the succeeding verse. So clearly they don't
know the meaning of what they are chanting. So I thought that we ought to go through these
verses. I don't know how long it is going to take. It may take us an hour, it may take two
hours, it may take up the whole period. We'll just see. But another reason I thought we could
go through these verses was that in one of the verses occurs the word Dhammacari so this
might give us an opportunity [2] to see what Dhammacari means, and also discuss perhaps
some of the implications of the change over within the Order, from Upasaka or Upasika to
Dhammacari or Dhammacarini.
Anyway let's first of all see what we've got in the Last Vandana. So maybe we could read the
English translation - just straight through.
Kevala: The Last Vandana: Verses that protect the Dharma.
Not to do evil:
to cultivate the good:
to purify the mind:
This is the Teaching of the Buddhas.
Lead the righteous life,
not one that is corrupt.
The righteous live happily,
both in this world and the next.
He is not versed in Dharma who
merely speaks much. He who hears
but a little (of the Teaching) but
sees the Truth and observes it well
indeed, he is truly called 'one versed in Dharma'.
No other refuge than the wake,
refuge supreme is there for me.
Oh, by the virtue of this truth,
may grace abound and victory!
S: All right so first of all it's the Sabbapapassa akaranam - that verse is well known. I'll give
you the reference in the text. This is verse 183 of the Dhammapada.
Sabbapapassa akaranam,
kusalassa upasampada,
sacitta pariyodapanam,
etam Buddhana sasanam.
It's the whole of the verse. So what came next after 'this is the teaching of the Buddhas'?
Kevala: The next verse ...
'Lead the righteous life,
not one that is corrupt.'
S: Ah. OK Let us stop there. (Pause) Yes 'Dhammam ducaritam care - Dhammacari sukham
seti asmim loke paramhi ca.'
This translation reads - 'Lead a righteous life. The righteous live happily both in this world
and in the other.' So this is verse 168. But it's only... the verse consists of four lines or four
half lines. What is taken is three out of the four lines. The first line is omitted as not
appropriate. So that's verse 168. The second third and fourth lines or half-lines
All right 'asmim loke paramhi ca'. Then it goes on to 'Na tavata dhammadharo' So that is
verse 259 of the Dhammapada.
Na tavata dhammadharo
yavata bahu bhasati
yo ca appam pi sitvana
Dhammam kayena passati,
sa ve dhammadharo hoti
yo Dhammam nappamajati.
So that's the whole of verse 259.
Then comes:
N'atthi me saranam annam,
Buddho me saranam veram.
Etena sacca-vajjena,
hotu me jayamangalam
- repeated for the Dharma and the Sangha. This of course comes from the Tiratana Vandana.
And then after that comes
Namo Buddhaya,
Namo Dhammaya,
Namo Sanghaya.
So that is the Last Vandana.
So a verse from the Dhammapada, three quarters of a verse, another whole verse and then
those portions of the Tiratana Vandana concluding with the salutations to Buddha, Dharma
and Sangha. So is that clear?
All right. So let's go through these verses because in some cases the meaning isn't as clear as
it might seem to be.
So Sabbapapassa akaranam. I don't know whether I've gone through this anywhere before. I
have a feeling I have but never mind. Buddhadasa's translation here is 'not to do any evil' but
that's not quite literal. Literally it's the non-doing of all evil. Sabbapapassa - 'all evil' that
means, akaranam - 'the non-doing'. 'of all evil the non-doing' or - 'the non-doing of all evil'.
Papa being equivalent to akusala.
Vajrananda: You said equivalent.
S: Or virtually synonymous. 'Kusala' of course means skilful. 'Papa' does mean evil or even
sinful. It's nearer probably sinful than evil. The equivalent is the non-doing or
non-performance of all sin. But the English idiom would be the non-doing of any evil. We
wouldn't speak of abstention [4] from all evil, we'd say abstention from any evil. (Pause) But
one could paraphrase it as complete abstention from the unskilful.
Subhuti: Does it have a different connotation at all to akusala?
S: I would say that papa has a more sort of emotional connotation. It's more sort of
emotionally loaded. You know 'kusala' is a more neutral term you could say almost a
scientific term, a more psychological term.
Subhuti: So there is a - in a sense a problem about the translation of words for evil, sinful and
skilful into English because of the connotations of sin in a Christian context, but unskilful
seems rather cold in a way.
S: Weak.
Subhuti:: Yes.
S: You'll see in the next line 'kusala' which is the opposite of 'akusala' is introduced so this
suggests that papa does in fact stand for or is equivalent roughly to 'akusala' because in the
next line kusala is introduced and clearly there's an antithesis. But I don't know that we
should be so shy of the word sin. I've more recently come to think that in objecting too much
to the word sin people are almost trying to say that nothing should be considered wrong at all
- in other words they should be able to get away with anything.
Subhuti: Probably the dangers have been sufficiently underlined by now.
S: Yes, I don't know whether it's worthwhile going into what sin literally means
etymologically. Perhaps you'd like to go and get my.. the four volume dictionary. I don't think
we've ever gone into it.
Subhadra: I usually think of sin as something very bad. (Laughter)
S: I'm just looking up 'papa' Vedic 'papa'. Latin (papior?) also English (Passion?) Greek
(pemo) suffering evil. It's evil, bad wicked sinful.
I have got the Oxford English Dictionary but it doesn't give much information. "sin: Old
English syn ... Old Scandinavian sundea ... Old High German suntea ... The stem may be
related to that of Latin sons, sont-is, guilty... transgression of the divine law and an offence
against God; a violation (esp. wilful or deliberate) of some religious or moral principle."
[quotation revised] So sin then would seem etymologically to be derived from the idea of
guilt which would have been originally a legal concept therefore. A legal concept [5]
transferred to the ethical sphere. Whereas 'papa' represents an experience of suffering that is
to say suffering is understood to be something evil. So 'papa' is really that sort of action the
consequences of which are evil because they bring about suffering. Do you see what I mean?
Whereas it's axiomatic for Buddhism that unskilful action is productive of unhappiness. So
papa is that sort of action which is evil because it brings evil upon you. Do you see what I
mean? There's a sort of cause and effect relationship between the two things. (Pause) So papa
isn't really well translated by sin, it's probably better translated by evil because I mean any
form of suffering is usually recognized as an evil.
Kevala: That's what we have ...

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