Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 123:
vāṇijo’va bhayaṃ maggaṃ appasattho mahaddhano |
visaṃ jīvitukāmo’va pāpāni parivajjaye || 123 ||
123. As merchant on a perilous path, great wealth having but little guard, as life-loving man with poison so with evils heedful be.
The Story of Mahādhana
While residing at the Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha spoke this verse, with reference to Mahādhana the merchant.
Mahādhana was a rich merchant from Sāvatthi. On one occasion, five hundred robbers were planning to rob him, but they did not get the chance to rob him. In the meantime, they heard that the merchant would soon be going out with five hundred carts loaded with valuable merchandise. The merchant Mahādhana also invited the monks who would like to go on the same journey to accompany him, and he promised to look to their needs on the way. So, five hundred monks accompanied him. The robbers got news of the trip and went ahead to lie in wait for the caravan of the merchant. But the merchant stopped at the outskirts of the forest where the robbers were waiting. The caravan was to move on after camping there for a few days. The robbers got the news of the impending departure and made ready to loot the caravan; the merchant, in his turn, also got news of the movements of the bandits and he decided to return home. The bandits now heard that the merchant would go home; so they waited on the homeward way. Some villagers sent word to the merchant about the movements of the bandits, and the merchant finally decided to remain in the village for some time. When he told the monks about his decision, the monks returned to Sāvatthi by themselves.
On arrival at the Jītavana Monastery, they went to the Buddha and informed him about the cancellation of their trip. To them, the Buddha said, “Monks, Mahādhana keeps away from the journey beset with bandits, one who does not want to die keeps away from poison; so also, a wise monk, realizing that the three levels of existence are like a journey beset with danger, should strive to keep away from doing evil.”
Explanatory Translation (Verse 123)
mahaddhano appasattho vāṇijo bhayaṃ maggaṃ
iva jivitukāmo visaṃ iva pāpāni parivajjaye
mahaddhano [mahaddhana]: an extremely affluent; appasattho [appasattha]: accompanied by a small retinue of caravans; vāṇijo [vāṇija]: like a merchant; bhayaṃ maggaṃ iva: (avoiding) the risky path; jivitukāmo [jivitukāma]: being fond of life; visaṃ iva: just like poison; pāpāni: evil acts; parivajjaye: shun totally
A rich and wise trader carrying goods will scrupulously avoid a risky road (a road known to be frequented by bandits), especially if he does not have an adequate retinue of caravans to ensure safety. Again, an individual fond of his life will very carefully avoid poison. In the same way, one must totally shun evil.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 123)
appasattho: minor caravan of traders. The expression ‘sattha’ denotes a band of merchants. They travel from one place to the other trading their merchandise. At times they travel in formidable caravans. In ancient times such caravans were made up of carts and wagons drawn by oxen. Since they had to traverse a variety of terrain at times they were attacked by bandits. To counter such attacks, the merchants travelled in large groups, capable of dispelling an attack by bandits. In traditional commentary sattha (the merchants) are described as being of two categories: (1) janghasattha: hawkers and vendors who travelled mostly singly carrying their merchandise themselves; (2) sakata sattha: those who travelled about filling carts with their merchandise. In the days of the Buddha, these caravans of carts were an outstanding feature in the economy. In this stanza, a habit of these extremely wealthy merchants is stressed. If they were very rich but if the caravan is small (appasattho) they would avoid ‘fearful paths’ (bhayaṃ maggaṃ). Fearful paths were those known to be inhabited by bandits.
pāpāni: evil of body, speech and thought. These are rooted in lust (lobha), hate (dosa) and mental confusion (moha). These are emotional acts that bring unhappiness to both oneself as well as others. Evil is as dangerous and distinctive as bandits and poison.