B. Bodhi trans. footnotes
275 Ven. Kum̄ra Kassapa was an adopted son of King Pasenadi of Kosala, born of a woman who, not knowing she was pregnant, had gone forth as a bhikkhunı̄ after having conceived him. At the time this sutta was delivered he was still a sekha; he attained arahantship using this sutta as his subject of meditation.
276 According to MA, this deity was a non-returner living in the Pure Abodes. He and Kumāra Kassapa had been members of a group of five fellow monks who, in the Dispensation of the previous Buddha Kassapa, had practised meditation together on a mountain-top. It was this same deity who spurred Bāhiya Dāruciriya, another former member of the group, to visit the Buddha (see Ud 1:10/7).
277 The meaning of the deity’s imagery will be explained later on in the sutta itself.
278 Kummāsa: The Vinaya and commentaries explain it as something made of yava, barley. Ñm had translated the word as bread, but from MN 82.18 it is clear that kummāsa is viscous and spoils overnight. PED defines it as junket; Horner translates it as “sour milk.”
279 MA: Just as a bar across the entrance to a city prevents people from entering it, so ignorance prevents people from attaining Nibbāna.
280 Dvedhāpatha might also have been rendered “a forked path,” an obvious symbol for doubt.
281 MA states that the four feet and head of a tortoise are similar to the five aggregates.
282 MA: Beings desiring sensual enjoyments are chopped up by the butcher’s knife of sensual desires upon the block of sense objects.
283 The symbolism is explicated at MN 54.16.
284 This is an arahant. For the symbolism, see n.75.
75 Mahānāga. The nāgas are a class of dragonlike beings in Indian mythology believed to inhabit the nether regions of the earth and to be the guardians of hidden treasures. The word comes to represent any gigantic or powerful creature, such as a tusker elephant or a cobra and, by extension, an arahant bhikkhu. See Dhp, ch. 23, Nāgavagga.
excerpt from Piya Tan's article
2.2 PAST LIVES.
In the time of Padumuttara Buddha Kassapa was a learned brahmin, and having heard a monk ranked foremost in eloquence, he wished for a similar distinction and did many acts of piety towards that end.
During the time of Kassapa Buddha (the Buddha just before ours), when his teaching was declining,
Kumāra Kassapa, together with six other monks, vowed to live a life of rigorous asceticism on a mountain-top to attain liberation.
On reaching the summit with the help of a ladder, they threw it off, and began to meditate.
The eldest attained arhathood in three days, and the second attained non-return, but the remaining five died of starvation on the seventh day without any attainment.
These five companions were Pukkusāti, Bāhiya Dārucīriya, Dabba Malla,putta, the wanderer Sabhiya and Kumāra Kassapa.
2 It was the non-returner brahma who appeared before Kumāra Kassapa and gave him the riddle.
3 This same brahma also suggested to the wanderer Bāhiya to meet the Buddha.
This Potaliya Sutta parable refers to the lust-driven reactions of an ignorant worldling.
At this level, however, as the brahmin directs us to dig deeper into the ant-hill, we have reached the depths of our un-conscious latent tendencies, especially that of lust, and we are told abandon this, too.
(10) The cobra (nāga).
The final object dug out from the ant-hill is the nāga, which is here best con- textually translasted as “cobra,” even “king cobra.”
At the close of the Anaṅgaṇa Sutta (M 5), Sāriputta and Moggallāna are called “the great nagas” (mahā,nāga).
28 The word nāgais commonly used in early Buddhist texts to refer serpents, especially those of great strength and powers,29and it often refers to the cobra, the most venomous and revered of Indian snakes.
30 Figuratively, nāga means “hero, saint,” sym-bolizing great spiritual strength and endurance.
A popular etymology of the naga’s excellence is that “he does no evil” (āgun na karoti),31 that is, he is faultless.
32 In this sense, nāga is often used as an epithet of the Buddha and the arhat.
33 In the riddle, the brahmin says of the cobra (nāga), ‘Let the naga be! Spite not the naga! Pay hom- age to the naga!’34 The Pali verb for “spite” (ghaṭṭesi;
3rd sg ghaṭteti) is interesting and has two main senses, the literal and the figurative.
Literally, ghaṭṭeti means “he strikes, beats, knocks against, touch”;
35 and figuratively, “he offends, mocks, objects to.”
36 The meaning is that although all the nine previous objects are to be thrown away or abandoned, only this last one should be left untouched, that is, the arhat.
For, he is the liberated being who is no more under the power of any of those objects, and as such deserves our respect and emulation.