27 April 2023

An island which no flood can overwhelm

One of the most fascinating source stories or nidhaana katha of the Dhammapada is that of the brothers Mahapantaka and Culapantaka. Chulapantaka, the younger and generally seen as a dullard, is overcome with self-doubt and is about to return to lay life when the Buddha, having noted the same, gave him a simple exercise.

The young bhikkhu was given a clean piece of cloth and instructed to rub it which uttering the word ‘rajoharanam (taking on impurity) over and over again. Culapanthaka noting that the cloth had become soiled perceived the impermanent nature of all conditional things.

The Buddha then appeared before him and said, ‘It is not the piece of cloth alone that is made dirty by the dust; within oneself also there exist the dust of passion (raga), the dust of ill will (dosa), and the dust of ignorance (moha), i.e., the ignorance of the Four Noble Truths. Only by removing these could one achieve one's goal and attain arahatship.’

This is the back-story of the 25th Dhammapada verse, the Culapantaka Vattu.


samyamena damena ca

dipam kayiratha medhavi

yam ogho nabhikirati.

Essentially, this: through diligence, mindfulness, discipline and control of senses, a wise person can become an island which no flood can overwhelm.

The keyword as far as the exercise of waiting this goes is ‘island.’ That’s what we are. It doesn't take some kind of exceptional intellect to tell us that we are eminently flood-prone. Collectively, we have not bothered to reflect on the process through which impurities are taken on. Where is the due diligence? Are we mindful? Are we disciplined? Have our senses been rendered dull? Should we be surprised, then, that we are not an island that cannot be overwhelmed by flood?

Interestingly, when at the house of Jivaka at which the above exercise was recommended by the Buddha, when libation water was about to be poured, the Buddha is said to have covered the bowl with his hand and asked if there were any bhikkus left in the monastery. ‘None,’ was the answer, but the Buddha knew that the bhikkhu Culapantaka was in fact in the monastery and had requested that he be fetched.

The messenger had set forth and when he reached the monastery discovered that there were a thousand identical bhikkus. He had returned and reported. The Buddha had instructed him to call out to Culapantaka. When he did this, the one thousand replied, ‘I am Culapantaka.’ Finally the Buddha told him to get hold of the one who first said he was Culapantaka. The moment he did this, the rest disappeared. Apparently, after the meal, as directed by the Buddha, Arahat Culapanthaka delivered a religious discourse confidently and bravely, roaring like a young lion.

That was the ‘dullard,’ who had not long before been wallowing in self-doubt. And that is the transformation that can be wrought by one who is diligent and steadfast in striving.

What of the ‘one thousand’? The Arahat Culapantaka roaring like a lion could be read as a metaphoric articulation of communicative power. It was like a thousand voices saying the same thing in unison. It was like the aggregate of a thousand minds.

If such is the kind of power that a single individual, labeled as a dullard, could acquire, we can easily extrapolate to the resources that would accrue to an entire community that has practiced diligence and is steadfast in striving. We can stop this side of those regions of perfection associated with the word ‘Enlightenment’ and think about the basics that we could do.

The piece of cloth or handkerchief can be anything we want it to be. Focused and diligent reflection would, theoretically, empower us with some sense of the accumulation of impurities. And that consequently would pave the way for comprehension of the dimensions of impermanence and more importantly the relevant conditions, the causality.

A single individual thus empowered no longer has a voice, but is a chorus. Enough to create an island that is flood-resistant. A nation thus empowered will resist all machinations that seek to tear it apart.

There’s cleansing obtained from understanding how things get soiled and crucially that the soiling has something or a lot to do with the dusts that exist within ourselves, within our nation (never mind the garbage dumped on us by external entities which, we must not forget, constitute flood-waters that must be resisted); the dust of raga, dosa and moha. 
You and I can become islands which no flood can overwhelm. Our nation too can be flood-resistant. 

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart