Why is the Buddha described as without a trace

Why is the Buddha described as without a trace?

This is actually a mistranslation of the verse; Burlingame Buddhist Legends is a little better:

The Buddha, unlimited power, the one without a trace.
Which way can you lead him?

To understand this verse, it can be helpful to see the context. The Buddha uses poetry and images. Here is the Pali leading to the verses in the commentary (it's about Mara's daughters):

puna māradhītaro "uccāvacā kho purisānaṃ adhippāyā, kesañci kumārikāsu pemaṃ hoti, kesañci paṭhamavaye ṭhitāsu, kesañci majjhimavaye ṭhitāsu, kesañci pacchimavaye ṭhitāsu, nānappakārehi tam palobhessāmā" ti ekekā kumārikavaṇṇādivasena Satam Satam attabhāve abhinimminitvā kumāriyo, avijātā, Sakim vijātā, duvijātā, majjhimitthiyo, mahallakitthiyo ca hutvā chakkhattuṃ bhagavantaṃ upasaṅkamitvā “pāde te, samaṇa, paricāremā” ti āhaṃsu.

tampi bhagavā na manasākāsi yathā taṃ anuttare upadhisaṅkhaye vimuttoti. atha satthā ettakenapi tā anugacchantiyo “apetha, kiṃ disvā evaṃ vāyamatha, evarūpaṃ nāma vītarāgānaṃ purato kātuṃ na vaṭṭati. tathāgatassa pana rāgādayo pahīnā. kena taṃ kāraṇena attano vasaṃ nessathā ”ti vatvā imā gāthā abhāsi -

Burlingame translates this as follows:

The daughters of Māra said again, “Many and different are the tastes of men. Some like girls, others like women in the prime of life, others like women who have reached middle life, while others like women who have passed middle life. We will try it in different forms. “So, one by one, they took the forms of women of different ages, each creating a hundred feminine forms through supernatural power. And under the guise of girls, women who had not given birth, women who had given birth, women who had given birth to two children, women who had reached middle life, and women who had reached old age approached the Blessed One six times and said to him: "Monk, we would be your humble slaves."

But the Blessed One paid no attention either, but remained free, as if the elements of being had been completely destroyed. [197] But when they did not withdraw afterwards, the teacher said to them: “Go; what do you see that you strive like this? Such acts should be performed in front of those who have not freed themselves from desires and other evil passions. However, the Tathāgata has freed himself from desires and other evil passions. Why do you want to try to get me under your control? “With these words he pronounced the following stanzas:

The Buddha's answer in the verses contains the following statement:

taṃ buddhamanantagocaraṃ,
apadaṃ kena padena nessatha.

The actual literal translation is:

This Buddha, whose pasture is limitless;
pathless, which way will you lead?

The line refers to on the images of a creature that is not limited by fences, that is, with unlimited Gocara (lit.Willow). Such a creature has nowhere to go, as there is no way to contain it.

The incorrect translations are therefore as follows:

Gocara should be "pasture", not "reach" (it loses the images, if nothing else) and certainly not "power".

Nessatha should be "lead", not "trace"

So what's the real meaning?

The comment says:

kena padenāti yassa hi rāgapadādīsu ekapadampi atthi, taṃ tumhe tena padena nessatha. buddhassa pana ekapadampi natthi, taṃ apadaṃ buddhaṃ tumhe kena padena nessatha.

Which way - while those for whom there is only one way out of [all] starting with the way of lust, you can lead on that way. But there is not even a way for the Buddha; this pathless Buddha - which way will you lead?

The meaning is clear; While it is possible to carry on ordinary worlds with the carrot or the stick of defilements, there is no dependence on enlightened beings who do not have such defilements.

A creature with a defined pasture can be guided due to fences and ropes. A creature with a limitless pasture (like the Buddha) cannot be led like this. The idea then is not to be attracted to defilements and thus not have a definable path that Mara can restrict or incite.

Ultimately, it's just poetry (ancient poetry) and shouldn't be taken literally. A proper understanding of the use of the word pada may require knowledge of the Maghadese slang spoken 2500 years ago.

Crab tub

That's a tremendous answer. Many Thanks. May I ask - what is the comment you are talking about. Is there a canonical commentary for the Dhammapada or a specific one?


@CrabBucket The Dhammapada has an official Pali commentary, the Dhammapada Atthakatha. It and the vast majority of the official Pali Commentaries were written by the Sri Lankan monk Buddhagosa in the 5th century. See a field guide to postcanonical Pali literature.


^^ The translation of Buddhist Legends does not include the word comments, only the stories.


Oh, I made a big mistake in my answer - I confused pada with pāda: P There probably isn't the play on words that I suggested. Answer edited.