Mahākāla – The Corpse


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This poem is from the Theragatha. The Theragatha preserves 264 poems of elder monks and is the eighth section in the Khuddaka Nikāya. The Khuddaka Nikāya is a collection of short texts in (mostly) verse. The Khuddaka Nikāya is the last Nikaya (collection) of the Sutta Piṭaka, the second book of the Pāli Canon. [1]

This poem directly shows the wisdom of understanding the reality of human life and the inevitable conclusion for every life. When understood in the context of Dependent Origination [2] and Four Noble Truths, [3] this poem contains the wisdom of a Buddha.

When the inevitable end of all human life is seen correctly and without passion for self-preservation and continued preservation of wrong views, the immediacy of taking to the Dhamma and developing the Eightfold Path becomes apparent. As the Buddha taught in the Bahiya Sutta, [4] no one can know when death will occur. The singular importance of awakening, of gaining full human maturity and developing profound insight into Three Marks Of Existence [5] is no longer ignored.

Mahākāla – The Corpse

Theragatha 2:16

A strong and determined woman
     prepares a corpse (for cremation)
She breaks thigh-bones
She breaks arm-bones
Cracking open the head,
     like a bowl of curds
She sits with the heap beside her.

Those rooted in ignorance (of Four Noble Truths)
     foolish in their views
Return to suffering and stress
     again and again.

So, understanding truth, rooted in wisdom, (of Four Noble Truths)
     abandon craving and clinging (for impermanent objects, events, views, or ideas)
(Through Right Effort) Determine to never lie
     with your head cracked open ever again.

End of poem


  1. Pail Canon
  2. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
  3. Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
  4. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  5. Mindfulness Of Bahiya
  6. Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths. and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


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