Chapter II — Pairs of Verses
Culaka: The Call of the Peacocks
Translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki.
For free distribution only.
This highly alliterated poem, attributed to the elder monk Culaka, plays with the prefix su- , which occurs no less than 14 times in these two short stanzas. It has three primary meanings, covered successively through the poem: 1) lovely or well-formed; 2) good, thorough, or well done; and 3) it is often used as a simple intensive prefix, meaning something like "very" or "most."
The plaintive call of the peacock, commonplace during the three-month rainy season retreats undertaken by the Buddha's monks and nuns, is a favorite theme of their nature poetry preserved in the Theragatha and the Therigatha.
The first stanza reflects the balanced appreciation of the natural world that comes from the focused but equanimous mind in meditation. Pleasurable sensations, such as the ones described here in response to the beauty of nature, can be experienced mindfully by those devoid of craving, without the tendency present in most of us to cling to the pleasure or resist its inevitable passing away. Early Buddhist poetry often points out the beauties of nature, but seldom lingers on them.
The second stanza leads one on to higher aspirations. It inspires the listener (for the was primarily an oral tradition) to give up the mundane pursuits of the worldly life, engage in the purifying and clarifying enterprise of meditation, tread diligently the straight path pointed out by the Buddha and, finally, attain in this very lifetime the perfection of the human condition.
The peacocks — with lovely feathers, lovely wings,
Lovely blue necks and lovely faces,
Call out — a lovely song with a lovely sound.
This great earth has lovely waters and grasses;
There are lovely clouds in the sky.
Meditating with a good sound body and a good mind,
It is good to go forth well
In the good teaching of the Buddha.
Experience that highest, unwavering state!
Most pure, subtle, most hard to see.